Creating a Safe Space for 2SLGBTQ+ Students and Families

Growing up as a queer kid in a small town, my experience in school wasn’t always very welcoming. Everything felt like it was designed in a way that assumed that I – and everyone – was cis and straight, from the books we read to the forms we took home and the way everyone spoke in class. Because I didn’t fit into the world they were presenting me, it felt like there was something wrong with me.

When I became a teacher, I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to avoid doing the things that made me so uncomfortable as a student. I don’t want any of my students to feel like they or their families aren’t seen, valued, and most of all, completely normal. 

There are many simple ways that you can make your classroom more welcoming to queer students, families, and colleagues. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some things I would like you to consider for your own practice:

Drop the words “Mother” and “Father” from your communication home. I still see educators doing things like sending home student information forms with a ‘Mother’ field and a ‘Father’ field. This only serves to ‘other’ students whose families don’t fit this image. While you’re at it, why not make sure you have more than two fields for parents/guardians?

Stop playing “boys versus girls” or using gender as a way to split up students in class. Not only does it reinforce archaic notions of some imaginary divide between genders, but it also puts some of your queer students in an awkward and difficult position. You should never be creating a situation where a student has to out themselves or mis-gender themselves just to participate.

Include 2SLGBTQ+ content in your class without always making being queer “the point” of the lesson. While it’s important to openly discuss queer issues and perspectives in your classroom, it’s also important to make sure that you are including queer content without feeling like you need to justify it in some way. Your students need to see themselves in your teaching, but they also need to believe that you see them as a normal part of the world that doesn’t always need to be pointed out, discussed, and defended.

Schitt’s Creek did that very well, if you are familiar with the show. The writers included queer storylines without making them about trauma. They presented the world how it should be, how it can be, and it was beautiful.

Don’t wait until you have a queer student (that you know about) to offer support to your students. My school has a few genderless washrooms and I make sure to point them out to my students in the first week of school so that they know they’re available. I have a “Positive Space” sign up in my classroom at all times. I keep my language inclusive, making sure that I’m not saying things like “your mom and dad” and instead say “your family”. I share information about Youthline the same way that I share info about Kids Help Phone.

Stop assuming kids are “too young” to talk about the 2SLGBTQ+ community. There is no such thing. Kids aren’t too young to learn about cis/het families, so what’s the difference?

Teach gender-neutral language. I teach FSL, and I introduce gender-neutral pronouns alongside “il” and “elle”. It takes no extra effort on my part – I’m already teaching pronouns in Language Arts. You know what’s really cool? When they have the language ahead of time, they often use it openly, without hesitation, and without prejudice.

There are so many other things you can do to create a more welcoming space for your queer students and families, but I’d be here all night if I tried to capture them all. Those are just a few suggestions of small but meaningful changes you can make to help your students feel safe and seen. I hope you give them some thought.

About those special days at school Pt 2.

This post is a continuation of About those special days at school Pt 1. Both seek to make sense of a number of events in and out of the classroom over the month of October. I believe it serves as an excellent snapshot of the incredible amounts of effort, organization, and attention that educators put into this calling on behalf of students even when faced with the extraordinary circumstances of 2020. In that context alone there is nothing to refute. However, my goal is to continue working through this month’s mind purge along the contiuum towards anti-racist education and equity – something that cannot be contained by a day, a month or a year. Hence…

I get it. I feel the fatigue of being an educator during a pandemic.
I see it in your eyes and via your posts on social media.

I get that not everyone is at the same place on the anti-racist continuum.
This is not a virtue signalling contest. We are not playing.

I’ve heard that we have to tread lightly for fear of offending someone’s feelings(privilege). This is not about codling your fragility or mine at the expense of someone else’s existence. There will be no emotional power plays allowed here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hold power. In fact that has been one of the biggest barriers to authentic change in the past and now because we are part of a system that has held all of the power. I’ll let that sink in.

You, me, us have benefitted for a long time from the systems that have been created to oppress others. Don’t run away. I promise something good can come from all of this if we listen, unlearn, and work together.

I know that acknowledging and reconciling issues of systemic racism take a lot of emotional energy. I hear it directly from friends, in group chats, and through the silences about how draining and frightening it can be. There has never been a better time to recharge your batteries than by taking the next steps along the continuum with others on the same journey. You’ll find you have more stamina to overcome your fears than you thought.

Tired or not, this does not mean we cannot take on the necessary work that needs to be done to undo 400+ years of colonialism and systemic racism in our country and education system. I fear that failing to face our discomfort(fear) or to foster learning around systemic issues will be far more detrimental to the future than any ignorantly bliss days we have without it. This is not the time to sit on the sidelines of history. There is too much at stake, but with so much happening all at the same time, it is easy to see how it can be put on the back burner in our schools. It doesn’t have to mean that the heat is off though.

My October

October started at a brisk pace. If by brisk you mean tornadic and unpredicatable for students and staff in class and online, you nailed it. So, it should surprise no one that there was not a lot of time to tackle tough topics during that first week with a reorganized larger class and new schedule. Did I mention it was Islamic Heritage Month? Reminder to self. Share with students and ask them what it means to them and how should be approach learning more about it?  Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate that! Remember that the history of Thanksgiving has ties to settlers who broke treaties with First Nations across North America. No school on Monday.

Week 2 – routines falling into place. Did someone switch the hand sanitizer for some cheap booze? Students nearly retching as the virus killing juice splashes their hands. Wipe down markers, pencils, technology, and anything with a surface repeatedly. The realization that some concepts taught during Emergency Distance Education may not be easily recallable or cemented. Looking your way Math. Hey, don’t forget to wear purple to show support and solidarity for  2SLGBTQ+ youth who have been bullied for their identities. Reminder to self. Revist conversation about Islamic Heritage month.

Week 3 – Math, Language, AP level Sanitizing and distancing, classroom closure due to possible COVID 19 Case. Staff and students on edge. Conversations around the Mi’kmaq First Nation and  about Black Lives Matter that leave my bucket filled by students asking more questions and forming some critical connections. Don’t forget to talk to your parents about virtual meet the teacher night next week. Reminder to self. Visit board web site for resources and events for Islamic Heritage month and share with staff. Done and done. Make sure to mention the significant contributions to Math from Islamic and Indian mathematicians. Wonder how to extend learning about Islamic heritage further into future months.

Week 4 – See prior week and add in 2 sessions of virtual meet the teacher night, a morning of PD planning for our staff leadership team, an assessment or two, a realization that Friday is the day before Hallowe’en and that the place is already going a bit bonkers with the excitement. Debate over decorations or not? Not. Debate over distribution of candy in class to students and how to do it safely in times of COVID 19 while tying it into a wonderful Data Management and Number Sense activity. Done and done with a few sweet treats to spare. Send students home happy, safe, and full of treats.

Throughout the entire month we tried to tackle issues that are relevant beyond a single day. No pumpkin spiced worksheets, word searches, or TPT drivel was necessary to make the month meaningful. My only regret was not taking more time to check in one on one with my newer students a bit more. We had a few rough days that still need refining, and their resilience has been admirable despite the long shadows of COVID 19. Next month will be better.

With November smashing down the door, my class will be embracing the learning from a whole new set of special days. Many of them specific to November such as Holocaust education week and Remembrance Day. It is my goal to make each one meaningful and relevant for my students while continuing to instruct through culturally responsive relevant pedagogy and anti-BIPOC racism focus. Sorry, there will be no themed worksheets this month either.

Note to self: Complete progress reports and confirm virtual parent interviews. Stay safe. Stay strong.


Novels That Spark Conversation and Empathy

This year, due to the ongoing job action, Forest of Reading looks quite different in our school. Rather than having a club where students read books at their leisure and then check in with the teacher who read the book for conversation, we’re reading some of the texts as a class.  Given a couple of Silver Birch texts and a brief synopsis of each, I was really interested in My Life as a Diamond. While I’m no baseball enthusiast, the storyline and the age of the main character is what drew me to the text. On their website, Orca Book Publishers Canada gives the following as a description of the book:

“Ten-year-old Caspar “Caz” Cadman loves baseball and has a great arm. He loves the sounds, the smells, the stats. When his family moves from Toronto to a suburb of Seattle, the first thing he does is try out for the local summer team, the Redburn Ravens. Even though Caz is thrilled when he makes the team, he worries because he has a big secret.

No one knows that back in Toronto, Caz used to live life as a girl named Cassandra. And it’s nobody’s business. Caz will tell his new friends when he’s ready.

But when a player on a rival team starts snooping around, Caz’s past is revealed, and Caz worries it will be Toronto all over again.

Will Caz’s teammates rally behind their star pitcher? Or will Caz be betrayed once more?

A heartwarming, funny, fast-paced story about the bravery it takes to live as your true self, no matter the cost.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how my students would react to the story but I knew that it would spark conversations around gender and gender identity. We’re about a week and a half into reading the text and students are really taking the time to empathize and some are even noticing their own bias as we’ve been writing reading responses.

Every day, I read the text to students – we only have 1 copy – and they are given a question to reflect upon while we read. Once finished reading a chapter or two, students get writing and talking about their thoughts on a particular section. Some of our reflection questions have included:

  • If you had the opportunity to have a conversation with one of the characters in the book so far, who would it be and why? What questions would you ask? How might those questions help to shape your understanding of what is happening?
  • What do you think Caz’s first day at school might be like? Why?
  • If Caz was coming to Sloane Public School, what 3 key things do you need to tell him about our school community? Why would those things be meaningful to him? Which teacher would you connect him to as a supportive or caring adult? Why?
  • Why is this book an important text for ALL readers?
  • Caz had his first sleepover at a friend’s house in his new city. Did he do the right thing by not telling Hank about his decision to identify as male although he was born female? Why or why not?

Earlier this week, one student was really excited that our questions haven’t been about getting the “right” or “wrong” answer but rather an opportunity to think and sometimes the chance to think something new. While we’re only about three-quarters of our way through the text, they’re making connections with the text and the real world and to their lives. It’s been pretty powerful for us as we think about Caz being just ten years old and yet so very brave. I have a number of students who are the same age and they have said they aren’t sure how they would handle such a decision.


June is here! Well…almost. When I think of June, I am reminded of Pride. And while I think that every day should be filled with inclusivity in all its forms, I know that this doesn’t happen in all spaces. In this post, I would like to highlight two of the amazing resources that ETFO has to offer as we continue conversations around equity and inclusion, specifically for members of the LGBTQ Community.

While this year is slated to mark 50 years since the decriminalization for members of the LGBTQ community in Canada, we know that members continue to face issues of inequity and discrimination on an ongoing basis. In classrooms and schools, now more than ever, I believe that students need to know that these spaces must have room for everyone. In education, everyone deserves to see their whole selves represented and as educators, we have an onus to do just that, no matter of our own biases.

ETFO believes that LGBTQ education and training creates safer working and learning conditions for everyone. As such, on their site, you’ll find an abundance of resources. They have made the work of creating inclusive environments more accessible for educators. I’m highlighting two resources that I think would be incredible opportunities to guide meaningful conversations within classrooms.

The LGBTQ Education Timeline

For the 2014 World Pride, the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) and Pride Toronto collaborated to create an LGBTQ Education Timeline poster. The poster was created to show the historical changes in LGBTQ education and issues in Canada. In 2016, ETFO collaborated with the CLGA to update the timeline and add an accompanying booklet.

Like a bulletin board with memorabilia of important events you’ve gathered over time, the poster is spectacular in its display of information in a clear and concise way for students to be able to read and understand. While the poster gives a visual representation of historical events, the booklet includes more descriptions and links throughout and in the reference section that gives even more in depth information. The purpose of these resources is for educators to gain knowledge for themselves and to use within their classrooms. While digging in, I found myself both being ashamed for not taking the time before to educate myself more and amazed by all of the work that has gone on so far. I think the poster might be a great jumping off point for students in middle or high school to consider what has already been done and what new or innovative ideas they might like to create within their own school communities. The idea being to bring awareness to current issues and as a call for action for greater inclusivity.

The Every Teacher Project on LGBTQ-Inclusive Education in Canada’s K-12 Schools

The Every Teacher Project Recommendations Toolkit is the culmination of a national research effort to advance knowledge on LGBTQ-inclusive education. This Toolkit is a guide to support the implementation of the Every Teacher Project recommendations for all levels of the school system. It was developed for use by teachers, teacher organizations, and others wanting to support the development of LGBTQ-inclusive schools.

I have to start off by saying that the glossary of terms was extremely helpful. For me, understanding, especially as it relates to terminology, is an essential first step when we think about gaining a greater awareness. For that alone, I would say that this resource was phenomenal.

I also really love the appendices with a wealth of further resources. I especially appreciated page 207 which included Days of Awareness/Events and their significance. I’m learning more and more the value that celebrating these days – and not just for the sake of celebrating but for the acknowledgement of individuals for whom these days are significant – is important to students.  The more we highlight for our students the significance these days represent, the greater capacity for empathy we are able to build as students learn to understand the experiences of others. That empathy can lead to actionable change as they are either supported and accepted or work to become allies.

The above are just two of many resources available on the site. Please take a look and some time to reflect on your own biases, knowledge and classroom practice. If conversations around equity and inclusion haven’t already been happening in classrooms and schools, there is still a few more weeks to go. Take some time to dig into these resources for yourself and have brave conversations in your classrooms. I’ve said it before, as educators we are in the unique position to help our students develop empathy and to support the next generation as they are eager to create change in the world. Our classrooms and schools need to be safe places for them to be able to do this work!

Happy Pride!

Gender Rights = Human Rights

gender theory

Education is one of the foundations of Canadian society … and so are human rights.

In Ontario, education is a “publically funded education system to support and reflect the democratic values of fairness, equity, and respect for all” (Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119, Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools, Ministry of Education, 2013).

The Ministry of Education recognizes that factors such as race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, gender, and class can create students’ barriers to learning. There is evidence that some groups of students continue to encounter discriminatory barriers to learning. Research shows that when students feel connected to teachers and other students, they do better academically (Goleman, 2006).

So what does this mean to teachers?

Through Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119, school boards must seek out barriers to learning for all students. Teachers therefore must also address barriers to learning due to factors such as race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Recently, the Ontario PC Party passed a resolution to debate recognition of gender identity which was proposed by Tanya Granic Allen of the Ontario PC party.  The resolution read as follows:

“Be it resolved that an Ontario PC Party recognizes ‘gender identity theory’ for what it is, namely, a highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology’, and, as such, that an Ontario PC Government will remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum.”

The debate of whether this “theory” is “unscientific or not”, is not meaningful to all the students in Ontario who differ in their gender identity. Students who differ in their gender identity exist in our schools and in our classrooms.

I will say this again, students who differ in gender identity are real and in Ontario classrooms. Students who differ in gender identity need to be supported through their human rights and freedoms and need to be protected against abuse and bullying.

By not discussing gender identity in classrooms presents the possibility of students who differ in gender identity not being accepted for who they are and how their difference is also real. Not discussing gender identity in classrooms puts these students at risk of abuse and bullying. Not discussing gender identity in classrooms means that teachers are being asked to pick and choose factors that can be barriers to student learning. Teachers must consider all aspects of the Ontario Human Rights code that include honouring students’ diversity in  race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, gender, and socioeconomic status.

In not discussing gender identity, schools who ignore barriers to student learning risk violating the Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119, Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools which advocates for “democratic values of fairness, equity, and respect for all” (Ministry of Education, 2013).

In promoting to “remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum” is not going to happen as this statement is against the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Ontario Human Rights Code supersedes any curriculum and therefore teachers can promote human rights within the Ontario Human Rights Code anytime in classrooms. Discussing gender and sexual orientation issues are part of the Ontario Human Rights Code.  

Be aware, that Tanya Granic Allen has a history of odious discrimination against gender and sexual orientation rights, as well as the rights of other religious groups. The Ontario Liberals released a 2014 Granic Allen video which “spewed hatred and homophobia”. The CBC News article (May 5, 2018) states that “Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford says former party leadership hopeful Tanya Granic Allen will no longer be a candidate for the party” and followed with “We are a party comprised of people with diverse views that if expressed responsibly we would respect”. Ford goes on to state that “However, the fact is her characterization of certain issues and people has been irresponsible” but then Ford continues with “She is a welcome addition to our strong and diverse PC team.”

Granic Allen was removed by Ford “as a candidate for the party in the spring election [2018] after controversial social media messages she posted were made public” (Jeffords, November 17, 2018). Granic Allen is not a Minister of Provincial Parliament of Ontario for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound; Bill Walker, MPP holds that position. Granic Allen, in May 2018, wrote in the National Post that “The accusation by the Liberals and the press that I am somehow against the dignity and human rights of LGBT+ people is a lie” (Granic Allen, May 8, 2018).

Granic Allen also has made comments against, gay marriage and Muslin dress. CBC news cites Granic Allen tweets and blogs dating back to 2013 speaking out “against gay marriage and compares women wearing burkas to ‘ninjas’ and ‘bank robbers.’ (David Donnelly, CBC News, April 10, 2018).

Another article cites Granic Allen as a “kingmaker” for Ford. “Without Granic Allen in the race, Ford wouldn’t have had enough votes to eke out his narrow win over Christine Elliott, and he [Ford] may not have leaned as hard to the right to court social conservative members” (Fitzpatrick, March 14, 2018).

The bottom line is that it does not matter if people differ in their opinions about gay marriage or gender issues, or even Muslim dress; what does matter is that when opinions violate and impact people’s rights and freedoms according to Ontario Human Rights Code, these becomes legal issues.

Respect for all.

Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD


CBC News, (April 10, 2018), Tanya Granic Allen under fire for online comments against gay marriage, Muslim dress, CBC News. Downloaded from

CBC News. (May 5, 2018) Tanya Granic Allen no longer an Ontario PC party candidate after ‘irresponsible’ comments, Doug Ford says, CBC News. Downloaded from

Fitzpatrick, M. (March 14, 2018). Who is Tanya Granic Allen, the kingmaker in the Ont. PC leadership race, and what’s next for her? CBC News, Downloaded from

Goleman, D. (2006). Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, A Division of Random House.

Granic Allen, T. (May 8, 2018). Tanya Granic Allen: I’ve been slandered. It’s time to set the facts straight, The National Post, Downloaded from

Jeffords, S. (November 17, 2018). Social conservatives say their voice is being ignored at Ontario Tory convention, The Canadian Press. Downloaded from

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119: Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools, Government of Ontario. Toronto.

Ryan, R. (November 17, 2018). Ontario PC Party passes resolution to debate recognition of gender identity, Global News. Downloaded from

Drawing The Line

Each year, in Canada, approxScreenshot 2018-09-30 at 9.18.11 PMimately 460,000 women are sexually assaulted, although only a fraction of them report the assault to the police (1). In a day and age where this statistic holds true, it’s hard to imagine that our government is wanting to go back to a time where consent and gender identity aren’t being discussed in classrooms as a part of the Health Curriculum. Simply ignoring the very real issues that our students face in 2018 doesn’t make them go away, nor does it help to develop a society that is action-based and ready to implement change.

Earlier this year I was really excited to hear about ETFO’s and White Ribbon’s resource – Drawing The Line. Now I might be slightly biased as my brother is a contributing author but I was thrilled to see a resource that not only provided data-driven information for educators but also included a comprehensive guide for age-appropriate lessons for students in grades 1 to 8. I love that the guide addresses bystanders and offers students ways in which to respond to to sexual violence. Not only do the lessons connect to the Health and Physical Education Curriculum but expectations also in Language and the Arts are included in many of the lessons. This guide is truly a proactive approach to teaching students about healthy relationships and is one that every educator should read and implement in their classrooms. I know that in the past, ETFO was offering sessions on this resource and I hope that they continue.

Screenshot 2018-09-30 at 9.18.44 PM

With hotlines or tiplines being made available, it’s sad to say that we are in such a time where educators are somewhat in fear of teaching what we know to be essential for our students’ safety and healthy development. We need to be having these conversations because unless we do, nothing will change and perpetrators will feel empowered to continue. As you may already know, at the beginning of September, ETFO filed a legal injunction to pause the rollback of the 2015 Health curriculum. The union believes the government’s directive creates unsafe and unhealthy learning and working environments. In the meantime, how are you working to unpack these issues with students? They’re in the news and on the same social media platforms that students are interacting with. How will the work we do today impact the statistics in the future? In the next year, 5 or 10? If you haven’t already, please check out this resource as well as the other resources that ETFO has to offer.

1. Holly, Johnson, “Limits of a Criminal Justice Response” (University of Ottawa, 2012),

Happy Pride Month!


This June, Peel District School board has raised the Pride Flag at every school for the first time. I didn’t realize the impact that the flying of the flag would have on me until I saw it every single day as I came into school. It gave me such a sense of joy and happiness that I was entering a building that explicitly and overtly demonstrated to my community that our building is a safe space for the 2SLGBTQ+ community!

It is so important that our students and their families see that flag flying high as our students who are queer are some of our most vulnerable students. Rates of suicide and self harm are alarming.  It is paramount that our students feel that they attend a school that values them and promotes a climate of inclusiveness.

In addition to the flag, The Peel District School Board has taken some great steps in recent years to support teachers in providing safer spaces for the 2SLGBTQ+ population. We held our 2nd annual middle school GSA conference this year which is helping teachers bring Gay Straight Alliance Groups to middle schools all over Peel. I also cheered the day I read the following headline in the Toronto Star: “Peel Board Won’t Exempt Kids from Learning About Gay Families, Gender Issues” in 2015.

ETFO, in conjunction with many locals across the province, has been doing this work for many years and has so many fantastic resources and professional development opportunities for teachers. I attended the workshop called LGBTQ in the Primary Classroom this past year.  We worked through a variety of scenarios focused on gender identity that many teachers are experiencing with their kindergarten and grade 1 students. Teachers in the workshop were committed to making their classroom a place where students can explore their identities. This included training on language used in the classroom, physical classroom environment and managing the challenging conversations with parents that regularly arise. We also reviewed Peel’s Gender Identity and Gender Expression Guidelines, which I appreciated. Every piece of policy helps support the conversations I need to have in order to provide a safer and inclusive environment for all of my students.

positive space poster

ETFO has created many resources including safe space posters that hang in our classrooms as a welcoming symbol to all and has provided us with training on how to start/facilitate and maneuver dialogues about inclusion. My safe space poster is beside my door. I regularly have students ask me about my safe space poster as we line up. I explain that this poster is to tell people that my classroom is a safer place for transgender, 2 spirit, lesbian, bisexual, queer and gay people. I have explained that to students between the ages of 6-11 regularly for the last 10 years. When you start teaching students about the idea of respect for all at a young age, it becomes part of the norms for our teaching space.


I hope everyone had a Happy PRIDE MONTH!!


A friend shared their thoughts on why cars have huge windshields? To them, it was so drivers and passengers could get the widest/fullest view of what was to come on the road ahead.

They added that the rearview mirror was smaller because it was meant to serve only as a reminder of the road already traveled, and that our focus would be best fixed on the future rather than what has happened in the past.

As part of our role as lead learners in the classroom we are constantly asked to prepare for our students for the future. How well are educators preparing for the future when they are equipping themselves with prescribed resources that are older than their learners? At times it seems like the rearview mirror is blocking the entire windshield. For some, the road ahead is so cluttered by the past that it’s hard to see at all. CC by-SA 2.0 CC by-SA 2.0

I wonder what it would be like to drive where the only view was like a peep hole on a door?

In itself, there is nothing wrong with using a tried and true resource in the classroom. We all have our favourites. My friend said that they use the windshield-rearview mirror analogy when they speak with people who are nervous about taking risks or are so stuck in the past that they are forgetting to live in the present or consider what’s coming.

What I am suggesting is that it should never come at the peril of losing sight of the future and our surroundings based solely on what has worked or been purchased in the past. Our schools are full of textbooks that are outdated the moment they are published. How are you keeping learning fresh and moving forward in your classroom when it comes to resources? I have cycled Language and Math resources this year. I try to give my students something fresh that has not been recycled from previous years’ plans. It took some time and searching, but the energy, encouragement, and engagement have been worth the effort.

As we wind down the instructional year, it might be a good idea to say goodbye to some old friends in order to welcome in some new ones. You might discover something new that has been waiting for you and if not a change is always as good as a rest. I get that change is difficult. I know that veering off of a familiar path can cause many to worry over the uncertainty. I promise that the destination will be worth the decision to make that departure. Make sure you have lots of windshield washer fluid to wash the bugs off on your journey. After all, you want to see the amazing destinations waiting on the road ahead. Bon voyage.

The post within a post

When I wrote this piece, I was intentional with my pronoun choices. In the opening paragraphs, they, them, and their were used instead of she, he, his, and her. I learned this from a wonderful PD session with a former student from the YRDSB who spoke on gender fluidity with our school staff. I mention this here to point out that the use of them, their, and they would serve us well in our writing to recognize that gender and identity are still often not being considered in all spaces, and that our ability to be inclusive and open can be challenged and stretched even further.

If you would like to see more about this please check out this amazing student voice talk by Noah Gibson shared at the YRDSB Quest for Well-being A Collective Responsibility.

Thank you for reading.

What’s up with Ontario’s Health Curriculum?

10 percent

What’s up with Ontario’s Health Curriculum? … 10% is what’s up!

It’s June 2018 and the newly elected Ontario Conservative government is planning to pull the most recently updated 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum. I interpret this statement as meaning that Ontario’s Ministry of Education will use the previous Health and Physical Education Curriculum which was released in 1998.

Up to this point, the Health and Physical Education Curriculum had not been updated since 1998 and in 2010 a revised Health and Physical Education Curriculum was in the works of being released. The addition of same-sex relationships in the specific Health Curriculum resulted in significant political backlash. The release of the revised 2010 Health and Physical Education Curriculum was dropped by the former premier, Dalton McGuinty, within hours after his education minister defended it in the legislature (CBC News, April 18th, 2018).

Up to 2015, the last Health and Physical Education Curriculum was 17 years old. With the impact of social media and an increased access to the Internet, students needed an updated curriculum that included information on online safety, healthy relationships, consent, mental health, and the risks of “sexting”. As an 11-year middle school teacher, I experienced schools already dealing with challenges around these issues. Ontario teachers needed tools to educate students to deal appropriately with the realities of school after 2000.

The 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum, reflects health, safety, and well-being faced in schools now. It was developed in consultation with the ministry, parents, students, teachers, faculties of education, university, colleges, and other organizations such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, The Ontario Public Health Association, and the Healthy Schools Coalition. Further, more than 70 health-related organizations submitted reports for consideration and thousands of people provided feedback (Government of Ontario, February 23, 2015, Updated Health & Physical Education Curriculum). In 2014, more than 4000 parents were involved in the consultation process of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum (CBC News, April 18, 2018).

The now 20 year old Health and Physical Education Curriculum not only had to be updated to deal with the realities of the social media and instant access to information, it also addressed the changing realities of human development. The World Health Organization indicated that “girls are entering puberty as early as seven years old, which is significantly earlier than in previous generations” and “found that providing kids with comprehensive sexual health information helps prevent early sexual activity and negative health outcomes”. In addition, research documented that the majority of parents wanted schools to provide information on sexuality (Government of Ontario, April 2015, Updated Health & Physical Education Curriculum)

What’s in the Health and Physical Education Curriculum?

The 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum has four main sections for each grade (Students also learn about mental health across the curriculum):

  • Living Skills: understanding themselves, communicating and interacting positively with others and learning to think critically and solve problems
  • Active Living: active participation, physical fitness and safety
  • Movement Competence: skills for moving properly and with confidence
  • Healthy Living: learning about health, making healthy choices, and understanding the connections to everyday life

Based on my experience as a teacher, parents usually have few concerns about Living Skills, Active Living, and Movement Competence sections of the Health and and Physical Education curriculum. The Healthy Living section includes topics about food, safety at home, school and in the community, alcohol and other substances, and a section on Human Development and Sexual Health. Some parents are specifically concerned with health education dealing with sexual activity and health. Note that the sexual health curriculum makes up only 10 per cent of the Health curriculum (Basian cited in CBC News, Apr 18, 2018).

Sexual Health Education By Grade

Even today, there continues to be many rumours spread about the Health curriculum. A few weeks ago a parent asked me if the grade 1 students were going to see videos about how to have sex. In May 2015, the Toronto Star Reporter, Robin Levin King, dealt with some of these uninformed claims (copied verbatim from May 2015, Robin Levin King, Toronto Star Reporter):

Uninformed Claims about the Ontario Health Curriculum

The chart below shows what students will learn in the Healthy Living portion of their Health and Physical Education classes. The Human Development and Sexual Health (i.e. sex ed.) component of the Health and Physical Education curriculum guides teachers to plan what they teach with the goal of establishing a foundation of mutual respect, and understanding for diverse perspectives in the classroom. This curriculum is not meant to ever replace the role of parents in educating their children about sexual health.

Chart of Human and Sexual Health by grade


The Human Rights of Gender Equity and Gender Expression

Upholding human rights in Ontario is a fundamental principal of Ontario’s society and culture. In 2012, “gender identity” and “gender expression” were added to the Ontario Human Rights Code. Based on gender equity and gender expression, this made the discrimination and harassment of these persons against the law. This meant that all people should be treated with dignity and respect and have the same opportunities and benefits which includes persons who identify as “transgender, transsexual and intersex persons, cross-dressers, and other people whose gender identity or expression is, or is seen to be, different from their birth sex” (Government of Ontario, 2018, Gender Equity and Gender Expression).

Given that discrimination and harassment of people who identify as LGBTQ2S – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, and/or Two Spirited (i.e. gender identity or gender expression) is against the law, students need to know what these terms mean. Further, students need to know how to deal with harassment that is happening to them or others. These topics are part of the Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum and originate from the Ontario Human Rights Code. Eliminating these topics could result in fewer people being informed of gender based human rights and increased violations of these laws. The Ontario Human Rights Code was revised based on public consultation. To fully implement the new Code, significant legal decisions and policy changes were released in 2014. The Ontario Human Rights Code must be upheld in education curricula and in all Ontario schools.

Relevant Resources and Policies are listed below:


Gender Identify within the Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum

(Source: Health and Physical Education Curriculum Grades 1 to 8, 2015)

When teachers are planning instruction and considering class groupings, they should be aware of and consider the needs of students who may not identify as “male” or “female”, who are transgender, or who are “gender-non-conforming”.

For more information about gender identity, gender expression, and human rights, see the website of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Understanding Ontario’s Education Equity Action Plan: Parent Fact Sheet

Teachers should also acknowledge and respect individual differences regardless of sex or gender identity that will encourage student participation and help students learn to collaborate with and respect others. Strategies for encouraging understanding and mutual respect among students include:

  • creating an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere in the class and supporting all students to be active participants;
  • fostering authentic opportunities for students to provide input into learning activities and approaches;
  • providing opportunities for all students to assume leadership roles;
  • encouraging and respecting the interests and abilities of all students;
  • ensuring that responsibilities are shared equally by all students.

 Breakdown of Gender References in Health and Physical Education Curriculum

In 2018, Ontario and the world is a very different place dealing with a plethora of social and economic issues. Education curriculum needs to be updated on a regular basis to reflect society and its issues. Ontario cannot go back twenty years in any curriculum, especially in the Health and Physical Education Curriculum. So that means Ontario’s education curriculum can only move forward.

It took over 16 years to update and implement the last Health and Physical Education curriculum. Updating and revising curriculum takes a lot of people hours and multi-level consultation – this means it also costs lots money to make changes. Simply using a black marker to redact all the controversial parts isn’t going to cut it! My guess is that four years (i.e. a political government rein) is not enough time for the Health and Physical Education Curriculum to be updated.

And for my good friend and colleague @FAPareja,  here’s the curriculum download of all Ontario teachers to access:

Health and Physical Education Curriculum Grades 1 to 8, 2015


Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston


CBC News, (April 18, 2018). The facts about Ontario’s sex ed curriculum, Downloaded from

Government of Ontario, (2018). Gender Equity and Gender Expression)

Goverment of Ontario, (2018). Ontario Human Rights Code. Downloaded from Ontario Human Rights Commission at

Government of Ontario, (2015). Health and Physical Education Curriculum, Grades 1 to 8 Downloaded from

Government of Ontario, (February 23, 2015). News Release Ontario Releases Updated Health & Physical Education Curriculum, Parent Resources: Promoting the Health and Well-Being of Students Downloaded from

Government of Ontario, (April 2015). Ontario Releases Updated Health & Physical Education Curriculum, Parent Resources, Downloaded from

King, R. L., (May 4, 2015). Toronto Star, Downloaded from

Teaching About the Genderbread Person

I’m taking the new ETFO AQ … Teaching LGBTQ Students Additional Qualification Course. I’m learning a great deal about stigma, discrimination, and privilege. PS I’m a LGBTQ2S Ally.



The first day of the course, we discussed the Genderbread Person which really help me understand the diversity in  people, and especially in LGBTQ2S communities. This concept was developed by Sam Killermann. I’ve included several of Sam’s resources below.

Aspects of the Genderbread Person (my understand of the Genderbread Person concept):

Gender Identity deals with how a person thinks about their gender.

Gender Expression deals with how a person presents with regards to gender.

Biological Sex is how male, intersexed, or female a person is born.

Sexual Orientation deals with who a personal is sexually attracted to but no necessarily who they fall in love with. This means that a person may be sexually attracted to another person and want to sleep with them but may or may not be romantically attracted to them.

Romantic Orientation deals with the opposite where a person may be romantically attracted to another person but may or may not to be sexually attracted to them and want to sleep with them.

All of the above occur on a separate continuum. This means Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Biological Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Romantic Orientation are all on a separate continuum. For example a person could identify as male, express themselves as male, be biologically female, have a preference for males both securely and romantically – or in other words, a girl who looks and presents as a boy but still likes to have sex and love boys (based on a real life case).

Remember about 1 in 10 or 10% of our students likely identify as LGBTQ2S so it’s important to understand about the equity issues around the identities. Knowing about LGBTQ2S is not just about celebrating a day of pink, it’s about embracing the issues everyday!

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Check out these resources below

Genderbread Personb v3

One Huge Prickly Reason Why Anti-LBTQ Folks Don’t Change Their Views

Let’s Talk About Bathrooms

5 Reasons Why So Many People Believe Feminism Hates Men and Why They’re Not True

Dear White, Straight, Cisgender, Man People: You Are Privileged

Comprehensive* List of LGBTQ+ Vocabulary Definitions

30+ Examples of Cisgender Privilege

Solution for the “Confusing” Gender Neutral Toilet Sign Issue

Video: Understanding the complexity of gender

Video: From Boxes to “-Ness” A Journey Exploring Gender

Video: Social Justice is for Everyone