the eyes tell our stories

Trigger warning: This post may be triggering to some folx as it discusses the emotional and physical toll happening on our students and our profession. I hope you read on.

A student asked to speak with me the other day. They said things weren’t going so well. They didn’t have to say a word. Their eyes told the story of someone who had been going through a lot lately. They shared and I listened while resisting every urge to cry along with them. How has it come to this I thought? How have so many of life’s weights been placed on a student who deserves to enjoy these years without worry, fear, or doubt?

While they spoke, it became known that these feelings of sadness and dread have been building up for a couple of years already. It struck me a bit odd as this student comes across as one of the most well liked, bright, and optimistic persons. If they were struggling, then how many more have not found the courage to come forward? My mind raced around how best to support them in the moment, but then moved to thoughts of what needs to happen on the macro level of our classrooms.

Despite some training, my mental health first aid kit is still only partially stocked, and unless additional social workers can be added to our school, I fear things will only be getting worse.  If it is happening in one school, then it is probably happening in many others. Notwithstanding the already existing immense work loads placed on centralized caregivers in school boards, it does not appear that supply will meet demand any time soon.

I guess that my best move for this particular person will be to check in with them a little more frequently, contact family to construct a cohesive support plan, and to recommend seeking some help from a social worker if at all possible. I am also going to build in some wins for them throughout the week. These could be a few more affirmations or intentional opportunities to have fun in their day.  Maybe this approach could help in supporting staff as well? Read on.

They didn’t have to say a word. The eyes told a story of someone who has been crying a lot lately. What happened before coming to school? How were they going to make it through another day when the sound of fast paced walks toward their door meant another part of the day, intended to plan and organize, was going to be co-opted again. How can this continue to happen when things are supposed to be safer, better, and back to normaler? Cue the tears. Cue the sadness. Cue the confusion. It’s hard to hide the stress or frustration. With all of that to manage, anger is never far behind. So when someone asks what is causing the tears specifically, the answer is nothing and everything at the same time.

Nothing because there is nothing we can do about what is happening other than mask up, make sure the kleenex box is full, and brave out the current chaos of each day. Everything because the number of issues provide more than enough straws to collapse every camel’s back. Mixed messages, inaction, anti-vaxxers, non-maskers, insane rates of infection, lost preps, fatigue, and having to complete the same system work with less time due to time that has been ‘liberated’ from one’s daily schedule.

Image
via https://twitter.com/MikeJToronto/status/1520175065333219329?s=20&t=NLlivpQQu-yLApHE3_iEUA

I looked into the mirror. My eyes were dull, glassy, and dry. Thankful that another week has passed where I did not have to be out of the classroom. Thankful that I did not have to isolate. Relieved that time outside of school meant a chance to disconnect and recharge.

Although there is no single thing to attribute this current state. It could be because of the daily dread built up from what is happening in schools right now. It has gone far beyond any occasional days when OT jobs went unfilled to a sadly predicatable and unprecedented time in our profession. When was the last time you ever heard of 9 unfilled OTs at one school? Last week comes to mind.

If it hasn’t been mentioned before, the folx caring for this province’s most precious resources are having a tough time and are being pushed to the brink of exhaustion and anxiety. It seems that once again, pontificating politicians have put their heads in the sand when it comes to equipping educators to meet the realities of the day with the resources they need.

Let’s start by having more teachers available to cover the amounts of educators having to take time to quarantine due to illness/exposure to COVID19 or to care for an infected family member in the same home. As we enter the final months of the school year I am not feeling super confident that things will change and that has me worried about my own energy and emotional levels.

Despite every educator’s individual efforts, ‘things ain’t goin’ so good’. No amounts of extra time or out of pocket expenses are going to fix what is happening. We need personal supports for students and staff more than ever not affirmative memos and lipservice from elected/board leaders. Help.

always good things on Isabella

Long before becoming an educator, I used to spend my free time checking out cool places around Toronto. My time in the city was usually spent on Yonge Street between Bloor St and Queen St. On other days, I sat in on court cases at Old City Hall or was exploring other neighbourhoods (Queen W, Spadina, Kensington Market) within walking distance to the subway. There are so many good memories from those days. I felt so independent while getting to see a side of the city that my parents and friends from the boroughs did not.

Food, fashion, and music filled most Saturdays – mostly music. It was fun way for a dorky kid from the suburbs to check out the latest, weirdest, and rarest vinyl from around the world while exploring the city. Whether it was blues, punk, jazz, rock, or worldbeat, there was always something new to add to my collection. Such were the joys of a teenager with some disposable income and parents who let him visit the city unaccompanied.

In between the record shops, l managed to discover a number of other cool spots along the way. Some by luck and others via ads on the radio(usually CFNY). For a while, the ads seemed as interesting as the music.*

Hearing those ads made each destination sound cooler than the next, and represented a departure from the boredom that was suburban retail in my corner of the city. The ad copy and the music made a huge impression on me, and there was one place I will never forget because of it. It was located at the corner of Yonge and Isabella. It was The House of Lords Hair Design.

For over 50 years, this legendary address was known for its avant garde hair stylists and punk rock ethos. They catered to clients of all ages and tastes. David Bowie got his hair cut at the House of Lords: that’s right, Ziggy Stardust. My father was also the barber for my first 13 years of haircuts. As such, I was resolved to end the cycle of home barbery and go where the cool people paid other cool people to cut their hair. In hindsight, I need to thank my dad for the motivation to get out there and earn some dollars at an early age and pay for my own before my social life really kicked into gear.

Okay story time is over. The House of Lords closed in 2017, but even after those last locks fell and were swept away, there is still lots good on Isabella. Only a brisk walk eastward now leads us to ETFO HQ.

If you have ever had an opportunity to visit this modern building you would remember it much like that happening salon just down the street from days gone by – a hive of activity. Other than the joys of finding street parking, ETFO headquarters has everything: Advocacy, administration, AQs, and activism are all happening inside of an open and light filled steel and glass structure located at 136 Isabella St. That includes the family of staff who work on our behalf.

I’ll never forget my first visit as a guest speaker for a summertime AQ course. The memories of meeting teachers from across the province who had gathered for the sessions made me feel closer to my colleagues despite our usual geographical differences.

And then COVID-19 hit. Opportunities to visit and learn on Isabella morphed into virtual gatherings for most of the past 2 years, yet the spirit to connect, share, and grow never went away. Now as we emerge from various levels of isolation, it is great to know that there are so many opportunities waiting for us to learn, connect, share, and grow.

Writing that last sentence just gave me a mini-crisis of conscience. What else have we all been doing in the last 2 years but learning, connecting, sharing, and growing? Sheesh!!

Crisis over, I did want to share some resources with you all that would be great opportunities for the constant learner, connecter, sharer, and grower in all of us.

Start by visiting https://www.etfo.ca/resources. Here you’ll find info on Equity, Women in Action, Project Overseas (hopefully returning in 2023), and much more. After you have browsed and bookmarked it is time to click on Upcoming Professional Learning Events, where there is something happening every week in areas of intersectionality, identity, gender sexuality alliance, leadership, communication, collective bargaining, and social justice. But wait there’s more! Would you like to add another AQ to your already impressive OCT transcript?

Did I mention I used to write ad copy? Some habits die hard because ETFO offers AQs too. Having taken several over the years, I must confess that the most relevant and supportive instruction came from ETFO colleagues turned AQ instructors. Check out this year’s course offering via https://etfo-aq.ca/catalogue/. Looking through the catalog shows that the instruction is evolving to meet the needs of educators with courses in Integrated Arts, Inclusion, and Teaching 2SLGBTQ+ students.

With so many to choose from, most educators could take two courses per year and never run out of options over the length of their careers. Luckily, courses are scheduled throughout the year and can be taken remotely to ensure that travel and distance do not become barriers to opportunities. In fact, registration for summer AQs is now open. Hint hint.

There are always good things on Isabella. As teachers, we have a home there; a space to call our own. A place that supports educators and wants to see us succeed by providing the best learning possible. Suddenly, I feel the need to take another course. Any suggestions?

*Maybe that is what contributed to me becoming a DJ, ad copy writer, and newscaster long before ever becoming an educator.

…and in this corner

….weighing in at the size of that giant elephant in each of your classrooms.

Yup, with a sense of timing so impeccably ironic, that it is only achievable by elected officials, we are once again face to face with maskless learners and colleagues.

Oh the freedom!

This all despite numbers related COVID19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths) increasing across the province. Despite a strategic throttling of information from the current government and an ineptly duplicitous media incapable of calling out the “horse hockey” being shovelled at an unwitting public who is either happily oblivious learning how to live with COVID19 or now scrambling to avoid a negative patient outcome for someone in their life who is immuno-compromised.

Another struggle took centre stage the moment the masks were allowed to come off in Ontario. We are once again facing government sanctioned chaos when it comes to public health policy and education in our province and there are signs of  trouble in nearly every public school. #Onted via Twitter reveals numerous schools with growing numbers of COVID19 cases and exposures among their youngest learners. That means more absences (students and staff), more missed learning opportunities, and more uncertainty in schools/homes.

To no one’s surprise who has actually taught in a school over the past 2 years, students, teachers, and support staff  once again find themselves at greater risk of being exposed to COVID19 now that masking has become optional in public schools.*

Thankfully, at the school where I teach, the number of students and staff still choosing to mask up each day remains around 90%. Odd though how that figure corresponds to another public health statistic at 90%. Hint, it rhymes with vaccination rate. Hmm? Yet, that is not the case inside of many other schools and has the potential to be problematic on a number of fronts. I’ve seen this movie before and as I recall, it ain’t a comedy.

The removal of required masking, limited cohorting, mandatory hand sanitizing protocols, and social distancing have not provided me with the peace of mind that the return of such “freedoms” pretends to promise. So what is can a health conscious public educator do while they are now placed on the frontlines of learning to live with germ warfare?

Psst. Running away and hiding are not options.

The safest moves are to continue limiting our own exposure to potential infections by keeping our distance, masking at all times, sanitizing, and limiting our social interactions. Overcoming a global pandemic entering its 6th wave is going to take a little more time. We have gone through so much and have learned an equal amount about ourselves and others.

I can sense that students are still concerned about this too. I have noticed them still sanitizing their hands and trying to maintain their distances with students who have chosen to go maskless in class. Thankfully, I have not observed any social shunning as of yet which makes me hopeful that this will be the case in the general public when ideologies collide as legislated social expectations are gone. It is in this spirit of care and respect that I encourage you all to stay safe and strong as you continue to serve and shine in your classrooms.

* I was going to make a snappy comment about how private schools did not have  to remove their mask mandates while all public schools were ordered to do so, but I could not think of a good way to phrase it without the use of profanity.

if you are not learning…

Fill in the blank.
As an educator there is always something to______________:

  • do
  • feel
  • learn
  • repeat
  • unlearn
  • lean into
  • chase after
  • reflect upon
  • run away from
  • learn more from
  • do better next time
  • experience differently

Each of the above resonate with me as a reflective practioner/teacher and as I look back, my thoughts keep returning to whether I see myself learning alongside my students or not?

It isn’t the first time I’ve tossed this thought around. Believing I was on the verge of an intellectual breakthrough to explain it all, this time I wrote, “If you are not learning, then you are not teaching” in an earlier draft of this post. A rhetorical call to action if you will.

Knowing that there is nothing new under the sun (Proverbs), I wanted to check if this brilliant quote was mine or would it be attributed to someone else unbeknownst to me? Enter American economist Vernon L Smith*. Well it was fun while it lasted, but that did not take away from the quote’s truth in my mind. If I wasn’t learning then I was not teaching. So I asked myself,
“Self?”
“Yes.”
“Are you learning?”
“Yup.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ll get back to you.”

It is within this meditative metacognitive space where I frequently find myself dwelling this year. Maybe it’s because the season we’re enduring makes things seem bleak. Or maybe the extended time indoors during global pandemic allows time to make some sense out of things that exist within and beyond our control. Cue the next quote from Smith.

“I believe that all learning is ultimately a form of self-education. That formal schooling is simply a way of introducing you to how to learn. And I think, at some point in my own education, I realized that the most important thing I was learning was that I was learning to learn. It became a lifelong endeavor.”  Vernon L. Smith

After ruminating on this quote, I started wondering whether the conditions created in my class each day genuinely allowed learning to learn to occur? Was it possible to continue being “the guide on the side”(Garfield Gini-Newman) or did I need to model learning how to learn more for them? Were the resources I was curating and creating providing a rigourous, but not spirit crushing challenge or was I underestimating their abilities as learners? Did my students have time to develop their own curiosities rather than those prescribed in the curriculum, and if so were they inspired and empowered to do so?

I wish there was an absolutely definite yes here, but it is not that simple. At least not yet.

Here’s the tricky part, I think that this is happening in some ways in my classroom, but now find myself with a new challenge to learn how to really know it. Suddenly, I feel that some of the pressure around this has been removed. Maybe the reflection had to happen in order to organize my perspective here? As the lead learner in the classroom there is always more to learn. As the guide on the side, I can always “bend, blend, or break” (David Eagleman)  what we are learning to help students go further than in days before.

Like most classrooms, what worked before is not guaranteed to work again or like it did. This in itself  has been an incredible thing to learn. Perhaps acceptance is a more apt term? How often do teachers find themselves holding on to something that worked in the past, but is not working now yet hoping it will miraculously work again in the future? Teachers need to accept that everything we do is done at the speed of education. Whether a day lags on the tarmac waiting for takeoff or jets off at the speed of sound each can lead us to discover and develop some profoundly creative skills if we approach it as pilots and not as passengers.

One final thought.

Remember earlier when I asked myself “are you learning?” I asked again. This time the reply came back as, “As I learn so will I teach.” Thank you for reading. Feel free to share this post and to leave a comment to continue the conversation.

*There is comfort in the knowledge that the quote above is attributed to a Nobel Prize winning thinker because before checking, I thought the words above were mined straight out of my mind. Needless to say, I am happy to share a common thought in esteemed company. Searching out the source of the quote also allowed me to discover some of Smith’s other vast body of work in economics.

what i could’t learn in teacher’s college

12 months in a faculty of education prepared me for a lot of things, but not everything. How could it? Pedagogy, planning, pragmatism, and patience were all part of a very practical preparation and positive preview of what was to come for me as an educator .

Yet, even with rigorous academic, practicum, and professional development poured into the program, a paucity existed due to the finite amount of time for the program to cover the vast scope and variables that are the job. In defence of faculties, it would take several years to cover them and even then, only partially. Perhaps not being prepared for every eventuality was a good thing for me as a teacher because it allowed me to find solutions that did not have their origins in a textbook, but rather ones which were created for each specific moment and context?

I think that there has to be room included in formation of teaching candidates that focuses on situational problem solving. This is where life experience(s) can help out. As a teacher candidate in my forties, I found it interesting to compare worldviews and perspectives, with colleagues who were half my age. It was the times over coffee and in between lectures where some ageless bonds were formed that continue to this day. I also learned that wisdom was ageless as my younger peers so often shared when it came to our discussions about educators having to teach far beyond the curriculum in order to support their students. By beyond, I mean that we had to navigate how we were going to bring humanity into the classroom too.

Outside of lesson planning, curriculum, philosophy of education, and the Education Act there was a lot to cover. I really appreciated the time spent in equity and special education training where we were given numerous real life situations from the classroom to consider and receive coaching on how to best respond. Some of this was really helpful because I at least had a set of tools, but even then there was room for so much more in the kit.

I especially liked the book Beyond Heroes and Holidays and highly recommend giving it a read as a way of sparking staff conversations around racism and equity or as a supportive guide to deeper personal growth. And then came the day when I realized I needed more than that.

Although the seeds were planted in teacher’s college, they did not break through until I was in the classroom where I had to confront a student using racist slurs.

I can still almost feel the time slow down as the blood rushed through my body when it happened. Did I really just hear a student say that? I am pretty sure that my surprise and disappointment were visceral. This was an eye opener for me because that moment did not come with a lesson. Once again, experience became the teacher. What was surprising in that situation was how emotional it all felt. I struggled to process my own responses.

I know that I learned a lot from that event, but knew that my rosy perceptions of innocent school aged children now included a few storm clouds. Hearing from experienced mentor educators added to my comfort and discomfort level all the while building up confidence in the aftermath. It was here where my own experiences and beliefs were transformed into actionable responses rather than reactions in a moment. #learnbeyondthetextbook

Recent news of teachers experiencing anti-Semitic hate perpetuated by students in elementary/middle schools reminds us all that even though we are prepared for some things, we are not prepared for all, especially when it comes to hatred, assault, bigotry or racism. After events like these, it is crucial to have a trusted person to speak with about them. This could be a mentor teacher or administrator who can help process what happened and debrief with you. They can also be there to support you as you overcome. No educator should go through it by themselves

For teachers looking to find or become a mentor, check out the Mentoree website. After years of waiting, I recently joined myself.

I really believe that there are two key elements that need to accompany a B.Ed degree – mentorship and life experience. The absence of one or both will send new teachers out for many challenging days ahead filled with many tests, but few lessons beforehand. And maybe that’s how it is meant to be. A journey of discovery, cutting your path through new spaces. Solving problems as they happen while gathering the tools, surviving the experiences, and keep trying to move forward.

It is so important that educators, regardless of experience, connect with each other whether formally or informally. The days of teachers needing to feel like siloed lone wolves solving every problem that comes their way or its failure thinking are gone. They may or may not be in your building, but there are caring educators willing to offer support, lend an ear, or give advice when asked. Feel free to reach out anytime.

Possible future blog post content below

Since I recommended getting a copy of Beyond Heroes and Holidays, here seems like a good place to suggest some other important must reads for anti-racist educators;

  1. We Want to Do More than Survive – by Bettina L Love
  2. All our Relations – by Tanya Talaga
  3. The Skin We’re In – by Desmond Cole
  4. Black in School – by Habiba Cooper Diallo
  5. Biased – by Jennifer Eberhardt
  6. Caste – by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. 21 Things  You May Not Know About the Indian Act – by Bob Joseph

Feel free to share some of the texts that have pushed you beyond your comfort zones in the comments below. I am always open for book recommendations.

sometimes nothing is all you have and all you need

There is an expression that goes, “Experience is a terrible teacher, because it forces you to take the test before the lesson.” I share it with others when unexpected things occur. I share it with myself too – a lot. In my mind it seems like it’s constantly happening because each day there are tests for which I have not had any lessons. Well, not all of the lessons. I guess you could say that I knew about some of the lessons although they had not been assigned to me yet.

From the moment when that first bell rings until dismissal and every moment in between we are being tested. Sometimes I think it would be easier to calculate the probable moves on a chess board than to deal with the unplanned and unexpected aspects occuring at the speed of education right now. Maybe the ability to leave something unresolved is becoming another one of my superpowers.

As I mentioned in my last post “no cape required” teachers are growing and showing their super powers everyday on the job despite never really being equipped with the lessons to do so from teacher’s college? Considering how most faculty programs are set up over 16 months to 2 years the extra time seems like a good way to add extra opportunities for practicum experiences as well. With so many variables in this profession, the more lessons that can be shared beforehand the better. Instead the past two + years have done nothing but offer added experiences, and as always sans lessons. If anything, teaching during COVID has certainly improved my improvisational abilities.

Improvising solutions is often like walking through a dense forest without a path to walk along. Like any new path, it takes a while to cut a clear and safe route without a map or guide. You are hoping that tools that you are carrying are going to be able to do the job. After teachers leave the safety of their faculties of education, myself included and regardless of age, are quick to realize that we needed more than theoretical pedagogy and two or three practicum placements in our backpacks. #bepreparedforanything

I wouldn’t call it lack of real world learning opportunities, but perhaps lack of exposure to as many as possible in a guided setting. This could be a function of the academic worlds in which we did battle before becoming educators. As I recall, it was survival of the academically fittest with little other criteria necessary. Who better than the best and brightest to teach the next generation to be better and brighter? Unfortunately, there is often little to reflect the intangible skills and emotional IQ that do not show up on a university transcript. There is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, but I challenge that the emphasis on one criterion for admission is narrowminded and outdated for  granting entrance to something as important as a faculty of education. #wearemuchmorethanourmarks

My acceptance into a teacher’s college came as a surprise. Especially because of my lacklustre transcript. I still have the rejection letters from a few schools, and I understand how hard it is to get into a faculty of education and that decisions need to be made that will yield the greatest academic outcomes. #thefunwasjustbeginning #byfuntheymeantwork

Fortunately, there was one faculty willing to take a chance on me and chose to look beyond my marks and weigh 4 decades of life experiences in youth mentorship, business, and broadcasting as well. For whatever reasons, the one school, which shall remain nameless as to not make the rest feel bad for missing out on me, chose to look at my work beyond the classroom as a metric of my potential to be an educator and I am happy to meet more candidates in the profession who are of a certain age as myself who have worked in other careers/spaces and bring that wisdom to their classrooms too. They saw something in me that I did not, and worked to help me discover it too. #seewhatothersseeinyou

I will leave it here, but offer a few final thoughts to tie this post off, or completely fray it for another day. Educators need someone to believe in them – themselves. They need to know they do not have to have all of the answers all of the time. Educators need to accept that no amount of training teaches them how to do everything in this job until they are on the job. Our incredible abilities to adapt to the unplanned, unexpected, and unpredicatable is uncanny. We need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable at times. Each of us brings something unique and incredible to the communities in which we teach and our students are the better because of it. Finally, we need to show the same amount of grace to ourselves that we are constantly showing others.

Thank you for reading. Stay strong. Stay safe.

PS – not one mention about hybrid learning was made in this post until now.
PSS – DM me if you want to know which school it was.

BTW #hybridhurtskids and please keep reading there’s a disclaimer to follow

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

no cape required

Have you ever seen or heard this one? “I teach. What’s your superpower?” It’s on shirts, mugs, plaques and all sorts of other tchotchkes. I’ve heard it at conferences and keynotes too and it never fails to make me chuckle when I do because it seems like a humble brag even though it is true. To continue the candy coated clichés then, it comes as no surprise that each educator possesses super powers that they use everyday.

You know the ones I’m talking about. Pivoting (easy stomach) to emergency online learning with little to no notice, covering classes while losing prep after prep due to a lack of available occasional teachers due to illness or quarantine requirements, putting on a brave face for students and colleagues who are showing the signs of anxiety at the edge of a nervous breakdowns, and facing a barrage of unrealistic expectations from system leaders who are decades between the classroom and the boardroom. I guess the capes these superpowers come with are back ordered due to supply chain issues like our HEPA filtration units, school nurses, RAT tests, and consistent policy. 

Cape or no cape, I guess it’s not bragging when it’s backed up with actions because I know that it is happening in classrooms in Ontario and beyond on a daily basis. 3 weeks into the new year and the shift is coming to relax restrictions rather than enforce measures to protect the public. Each day another classroom is emptied while caretakers “sanitize” because another student departs with symptoms. Each day our front office team deals with 20% more calls and reports of COVID related absences of students. Each day we prepare to accommodate learners who have stayed home able to choose the hybrid option. Each day the struggle to see something positive in every situation becomes more difficult even for the most enlightened optimists among us. 

That is why, this post comes with its own irony, as I write this month, because it is taking all of my superpowers as an educator just to get through each day right now. I truly believe that it is not normal to wake up feeling restless or trudging home with little left in the emotional tank for family let alone friends or additional school work such as planning and assessment. It is taking every ounce of my superpowers to find the air and the serenity right now. Each exit from school at day’s end feels like emerging from underneath water to finally draw an overdue breath of air. 

The move to online and then back to the classroom this month with little to no regard to the wellbeing of students or educators is once again due to negligence and dereliction of responsibility by the current government. There’s nothing better than making sure families start the year wondering and witnessing ongoing acts of orchestrated distraction, unchecked number vomit news pressers, and photo ops provided confusion in the media for the public. These stage managed wretched events only amplified how an out of touch premier and his party of gaslighting grifters are able to go to inconvenience a province and its 2 000 000 students and make it sound like they are doing their jobs.

It is political performance art at its worst through a series of non-messages, announcements about announcements and off news cycle timing intended solely to keep everyone stuck to a web of distraction and uncertainty woven by political incompetence. It is also the kryptonite that weakens education and civil society at the expense of future generations who are only learning about their super powers in our classrooms. 

Thank you for reading and for sharing your superpowers. 

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Mentoring Moments: Shifting Power Dynamics in the Education System

In Canada, we embrace the beautiful cultures of the world, the languages and heritages of many cultures that make us unique! What our country can show the world is that DIFFERENCES make us the face of the new Global World, which is our Strength and what we have to offer each and every country.

It is also our biggest strength in education to be able to teach how to maintain peace, be united and show togetherness in times of challenge as we accept the historic past that has brought us together in this beautiful homeland called Canada.

We have strength in our united education workers that work together: we need to advocate for togetherness to build a strong education system that is resilient to changes that  will make it stronger.

Here was a bit about my educational perspectives from the private education I received in Sri Lanka to the public education I received in Canada from the Educational Blog from Doug Peterson Interview that I wanted to share that helped me reflect. He first connected me to my Professional Learning Network when I was new to Twitter and it has been an honour to stay connected!

Shift the Power and make it purposeful

Here is the story behind the cakes! They are special to me…my parents always made us cakes for our birthdays and I have always loved cakes in the family. Celebrations have brought the family together: and this was my last Birthday cake – Ah! Bring on those super powers for the feminist and the males who advocate for women’s rights…We can make a difference in the world.

  1. Advocate for your Students (Make that special Cake to celebrate that you are here!)

  • Teach with the whole child in mind
  • Differentiate for success
  • Each child they bring their best to your classroom
  • Modify and accommodate lessons for it to personalized
  • Let’s student lead the pace and discussion
  • You lead the curriculum and teaching goals
  1. Change your thinking as an Educator (The ingredients in the cake that you pick that makes that cake your making delicious but unique since all the differences are important)

Hold yourself accountable in knowing you are human and you are a life long learner

  • Learn about Equity concepts
  • Know that there is discrimination
  • Understand micro aggressions
  • Be Anti-Racist Educator
  • Teach about isms explicitly with purpose
  1. Ableism
  2. Classism
  3. Ageism
  4. Religion as an ism
  5. Racism
  6. Homophobia/Heterosexism
  7. Sexism
  1. Build Relationships with your community (The “icing” that makes that cake delicious that adds the perfect touch with that sparkle!)

  • Have courageous conversations about the topics that really matter
  • Embrace differences and find common ground in solutions
  • Create safe spaces for discussions that are inclusive and welcoming

Always remember we teach other peoples children, our biggest resource as a community. It is the next generation, they are important these children that we educate and let’s make a difference by teaching them to be the best they can be!

Reflection: What is the one thing you will do to make a difference as we unite education workers, students and parents to create a good education system that embraces diversity ? You can make a difference.

Yours in Education,

Nilmini

References:

Teach Better Team: Let’s Talk Equity Twitter Chat Link 

 

Pushing the Wet’suwet’en conversation forward

I am inspired by students’ reflections and discussions about current events around the world, and especially last week as we learned about the arrests of land defenders and journalists on Wet’suwet’en territory. We talked about what it means for land to be unceded, and we learned that the Supreme Court confirmed through the Delgamuukw case in 1997 that the Wet’suwet’en had not given up title to their land in Northern British Columbia. Here is what we captured during our learning:

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During discussion, one of my students asked an incredible question that caught me off guard: “I thought the Supreme Court was the most important place where decisions are made, and that no one can change their decisions. Why is all of this still happening even after the case in 1997?” 

Despite thinking that I had done enough research on the issue of the Coastal GasLink pipeline passing through Wet’suwet’en land, I did not have an answer for her at that moment. I asked myself: What are the gaps in my understanding of this issue that would leave me without an answer to this question?

I spent some time finding the answer:

  • While the Supreme Court did confirm the hereditary chiefs’ right to the land and sole authority to sanction development on Wet’suwet’en territory based on pre-colonial law, there were unresolved issues regarding the divisions of power between hereditary chiefs and band councils. The band council system is imposed under the Indian Act (which falls under Canadian law) to facilitate nation-to-nation relationships, but is not recognized under pre-colonial laws and structures used by the nation’s hereditary chiefs.
  • Coastal GasLink claims that all necessary permits were acquired in order to build the pipeline, but the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation argue that they never gave express consent to build on the territory. There seems to be a loophole through which Coastal GasLink got approval for the pipeline because they negotiated an agreement with the Wet’suwet’en elected band council. This is all fine and good if we’re talking about Canadian laws and structures but Wet’suwet’en First Nation is unceded land, meaning that the land is meant to be self-governed under pre-colonial law by the hereditary chiefs (which is also recognized in Section 35 of the Constitution).

I’m happy I spent the time to find an answer to my student’s question; I learned so much and feel much better equipped to continue the conversation. Even still, I have some thoughts about how else I can move forward through the rest of this year and grow as an educator in this area. How can I constantly push myself to find the answers? How can I continue teaching about Indigenous right to self-government and sovereignty, especially on unceded land?

I teach Grade 6, so I try my best to bring these issues back to the heart of what is most important to those most affected. In this case, a commonality in what I read is that the water on Wet’suwet’en land is of utmost importance. “You could swim in that lake and just open your mouth and drink the water, it’s so pristine, and the river is so clear that you can see these very deep spawning beds that the salmon have been returning to for thousands of years,” Sleydo’ says. Whether or not a student understands the legal or historical significance of a conflict like Wet’suwet’en, they will understand the importance of clean water and a thriving ecosystem. Perhaps this fundamental understanding of what is most important could be something that brings groups together to move towards reconciliation.

post parent conference potential

Parent conferences are done. PHEW! Now before you take that giant “PHEW!” as a negative thing hold on for a moment because it is quite the opposite. That “PHEW!” was due to the amount of energy that educators pour into them. Parent conferences are tiring. They come with some emotional highs and lows. Parent conferences come with some eye opening realizations. They also come with their share of next steps. This is where I find the potential for positive things to come.

So instead of a retrospective approach on mid-terms reports and conferences, I want to look forward to the potential that is to come in the classroom.

Now that I have had a couple of days to recover, maybe a moment of reflection couldn’t hurt.

First, the conferences were very positive. Why wouldn’t they be? Next to parents and family, teachers should be the biggest cheerleaders for their students. Even if and when potential is not fully realized there is still growth happening. Returning to school after 2 years of turmoil during emergency distance learning due to a pandemic is no small feat. Finding routines and academic stamina takes time for students and educators, especially this one.

Back to the future (the real one)

So when the conferences happened, it was easy to share what I’ve learnt so far this with parents and guardians knowing this is what will be happening in my classroom going forward.

1. Students will have even more time to wrestle with Math. This is not an issue of quantity or drill and kill methods, but one of developing positive mathematical mindsets in every learner.
2. Students will have even more opportunity for low floor high ceiling problem solving. One question might be all that is needed. See 1.
3. Students will have even more time to read. The most frequent question I get is about homework. Reading is the only activity I consistently assign each day for homework. With students enrolled in sports, music lessons, and etc. they have enough on their plates already. When push comes to shove on this issue, my Google classroom provides digital reading and math platforms for students to work on to refine their skills as well.
4. Students will have even more mental health breaks. Humour, self-directed time, LoFi Hip Hop, and movement breaks are keys. I have learned that a Just Dance video is a good for my wellbeing as theirs. (reply in the comments for my faves)
5. Students will have even more time to share what’s on their minds in a way that allows them to ask questions about their learning and the world around them. There are opportunities for conversations around inclusion and identity. I know that during daily class read alouds has been a great time for this in my room.

All 5 of the above have always been happening in my classroom. Now that I have witnessed the potential that each have provided my students, the more they will be part of their future.