the past has passed

As a K-13 student, growing up, I was fooled into believing that the sage on the stage method was the only tried and true instructional practice that would lead to my success as a student. We were taught, tested, drilled, homeworked, derogated, compared to others, overlooked, underestimated, expected to listen to hours of lectures each day, and told “it has always been done this way”. 

There were some really bright spots along the way to be fair, but as many students, unfortunately, find out things change drastically year over year. Even if my experiences were not the norm, there are still others who went through something similar. The cherry on this crud sundae that I am sharing with you is that it was all amplified tenfold in university, but that post will have to wait. Until now, I really never had the scope or tools to consider why? 

After spending the better part of this month reflecting on the past year, it seemed like a good idea to look forward at the road ahead rather than through the rearview mirror of what truly belongs in the past. 

the audacity of it all

Why would anyone so young and uneducated dare to expect anything different let alone differentiated? It seemed that education even into the 2000s was more about control and conformity than the pure pursuit of knowledge, deeper understanding, and meaningful opportunities to put learning into action. Many teachers of a similar vintage as mine learned quickly that those desks were in rows for a reason, that the ancient textbooks weren’t going to cover themselves, and that the first assignment of each year was going to be a retell of what you did on your summer vacation. UGH!!!!

This time provided many eye-opening experiences that required some working out before stepping through the classroom doors in 2009. They can be summed up in a few words: sterile, rigid, and underinspired. 

I never really liked the oppressive nature of my past educational experiences. I have worked hard to unlearn them since becoming an educator. Lately though, I have been reckoning with these truths again as I try to shake them once and for all. Admittedly, it takes effort not to let them creep back into my interactions disguised as something else. Being stuck in a rut can fool you into believing it is a well worn path. Taking time to be mindful of this is especially important as I welcome another 2 teacher candidates into the classroom for Term 2.

I guess we all have to confront our own needs, wants, and desires in the workplace and see if they align with our current realities or not. In that spirit here’s my reflection exercise for you to try if you went through a similar schooling experience or wish to avoid inadvertently providing one for your students. 

taking stock

How much of your past experience from being a student is guiding your leadership in the classroom? I had to work on this especially knowing that learning in the 70s  and 80s was so drastically draconian and undifferentiated.

How do you infuse positive talk with your students each day? More importantly, how are you including positive listening to them? Avoid repeating phrases we were told as students at all costs? Here’s a classic: “If you just work harder you will get it eventually.” For me, eventually was years afterward no thanks to those teachers. What I needed was time and a clearer breakdown of the concept along with some guided practise. Please know that students are usually trying their best why wouldn’t they? 

Here’s another blast from the past: “How come you are the only one who doesn’t get this?” This might as well have been my theme song for grade 13 Math Functions and Relations? How is that supposed to help me or the other students who are too paralyzed with fear to raise their hands? I’ve felt this sentence trying to pass over my teeth and past my lips, but have also developed strategies to make sure it doesn’t happen. 

One more car from the trauma train: “Your brother never had a problem with this.” This was what my sister had to endure. She never deserved to be treated that way. To this day she continues to inspire me despite the attempted spirit murder she went through. It is a terrible injustice to compare siblings in the classroom. Please for the love of pound cake do not let this happen and call it out when it does. 

And finally, and more positively, how are you embracing the future? Does it include space and time for student voice, creativity, equity, intersectionality, identity, inquiry, design thinking, team problem solving, and otherliness? If not, what, other than the chains of the past, is holding you back from adding one, two or all of them to your classroom?

I am asking these questions of myself as a reflective exercise too because we have all come across it through our own years of sitting at our desks while educator after educator leads us through the lesson(s). Yet, even as we were taught multiple intelligences, strengths based learning, zone of proximal development and so much more from Gardner, Maslow, Marzano, Friere, hooks et al. If you are thinking “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” right now you can still benefit from a little proactive maintenance knowing that it is crucial to constantly refine what we do and how we do it in order to ensure a way for our students engage, wonder, and grow towards the future and not the past.

 

Teaching to Transgress: Embracing Change

“If the effort to respect and honour the social reality and experiences of groups in this society who are nonwhite is to be reflected in a pedagogical process, then as teachers – on all levels – we must acknowledge that our styles of teaching may need to change” (Hooks, 1994, p.35).

For every teacher in the classroom, there is another teacher out there who inspired them.  As teachers, we often teach as we were taught. We develop our teaching identity and teaching practice based on the teachers we admired growing up or the styles of teaching we witnessed and liked during our time at Teachers College (whether local or international). Unfortunately, many of the teaching styles we emulate are not grounded or founded in anti-oppressive teaching practice since multicultural narratives and diversity of educational perspectives were not the bedrock of learning. This is no longer the case in education. Meaningful learning has been identified as being culturally relevant to learners and responsive in fostering a learning environment that reflects all learners in their diversity. Simply put, do the students see themselves reflected meaningfully in their learning?

“When I first entered the multicultural, multiethnic classroom setting, I was unprepared. I did not know how to cope effectively with so much “difference.” Despite progressive politics and my deep engagement with the feminist movement, I had never before been compelled to work within a truly diverse setting, and I lacked the necessary skills” (Hooks, 1994, p. 41).

To provide context, Bell Hooks was an author, a social activist, and an educator who examined how race, feminism, and class are used as systems of oppression and class domination. She began her career as an educator in 1976 and taught until she passed away in 2018. In her 42-year career as an educator, she emphasized the power that educating from a multi-cultural perspective (a multinarrative) brings to the learning environment.

How dynamic would our classrooms be if we created and fostered space for students to be their authentic selves? How much more engagement would there be if students engaged with learning, not just as something to do, but as a part of who they are?

“The exciting aspect of creating a classroom community where there is respect for individual voices is that there is infinitely more feedback because students do feel free to talk – and talk back” (Hooks, 1994, p. 45). Students see themselves in their learning and recognize that they are part of it.

To better understand how this can be fostered in your classroom, it is first important to understand what a multicultural classroom is. “From language barriers to social skills, behaviour to discipline, and classroom involvement to academic performance, multicultural education aims to provide equitable educational opportunities to all students” (CueMath, 2021). The teacher must be intentional about utilizing teaching styles and strategies that remove barriers and eliminate issues that students often face in trying to adopt a single narrative to teaching and learning.

“Regardless of social class, caste, gender, or creed, a multicultural classroom serves all students and nurtures young minds to learn together. It also seeks transparency and acceptance of all cultural identities in a class without bias or partiality” (CueMath, 2021). A teacher who fosters multiculturalism models acceptance of differences, encourages learning beyond a single narrative and always uplifts multiplicity in learning perspectives as they accentuate students’ diverse identities.

To learn more about how you can create an environment that ‘Teaches to Transgress” and embrace equality and diversity in our ever-changing classroom environments, read through these nine tips that have been provided by OISE Professor Ann Lopez and Richard Messina, Principal of OISE’s Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (JICS).

References

Craig, L. (2017, September 7). 9 ways to create an inclusive environment in a diverse classroom. University of Toronto Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from https://www.oise.utoronto.ca/oise/About_OISE/Dealing_with_diversity_in_the_classroom.html

CueMath. (2021, January 21). Learn about multicultural education and ways to implement. Cuemath. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from https://www.cuemath.com/learn/multicultural-education/

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York u.a: Routledge.

 

Happy New Year

An Ode to the New Year

Photo by: Djordje Vezilic

A New Year
A New Start
We wish each other a Happy New Year
But are we intentional about making the year so?

What’s in a New Year?
A restart to the continuation of the school year.
An opportunity to explore learning in all its forms.
A chance to tap into new ways of doing, of understanding.

Over the past year, there has been so much we have learned or hoped to learn.
We examined, reflected, and challenged ourselves as educators and members of the larger society.

As we embark on another new year, one we wish is a happy one,
I implore you to move beyond making resolutions to acting on your resolve.
I encourage you to make the time to learn, unlearn, and relearn.
I challenge you to continue to reflect on and refine your praxis.
And I applaud you as you do the needed work of fostering equitable education for all students.

An ode to this new year.
One that I wish is transformative for you.

 

The Fall Months

The fall reminds us all of many things. The beauty of nature as leaves change from greens and browns to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. The wonder of the fall seasons that we get to partake in every year. The dominance of ‘Pumpkin Spice Lattes’ and all things pumpkin to consume. The excitement of new school sessions that are marked by the “ber” months. The fall months (September to November/December) bring richness, newness, and a sense of adventure. However, for some, there is a ‘sadness’ that fall brings with it.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) affects 35 percent of Canadians. “Another 10 to 15 percent have a mild form of seasonal depression, while about two to five percent of Canadians will have a severe, clinical form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It often starts with fatigue, then symptoms of sadness, lethargy, apathy and depression, said Dr. Robert Levitan, the head of depression research at CAMH” (Kwong, 2015).

The Canadian Psychological Association references “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or Depression with Seasonal Pattern, as a condition that comes and goes based on seasonal changes, appearing in the fall and going away in the spring/summer. If you have SAD, you may find yourself feeling many symptoms of depression, especially irritability, and you may be more sensitive in interpersonal relationships. People often report unusually low energy levels, causing them to feel tired, heavy, or lethargic” (Canadian Psychological Association, 2020).

This disorder may often be regarded as the ‘winter blues’ which can affect many educators who are juggling back-to-school, new schedules, classes, and sometimes responsibilities with little or limited energy to do so (let’s not yet add any home or community responsibilities teachers may have as well). How can one cope when everything just seems so S.A.D? First, it is important to note that you are not alone.

Mental health & wellness resources such as those found on the Ontario Teacher’s Federation website (titled ‘Useful Links for Wellbeing’), as well as resources and services offered by your board are ways in which educators can combat S.A.D. Some boards offer counselling, mental health professional, and community services at low or no cost to educators. These services enable educators to work with a mental health professional to develop strategies, tools, and/or action plans to mitigate/navigate Seasonal Affective Disorder. Similarly, there may be options to connect with paramedical professionals.

Part of the Building Better Schools Plan by ETFO Provincial recognizes that “As the heartbeat of public education, teachers and other education professionals play a critical role in helping to shape the system and develop our students to be the very best they can be. Ontario’s future depends on all of us to protect and build better schools” (ETFO, 2022). There is a richness, a newness, and a sense of adventure that the fall months bring. Part of ensuring Ontario’s future is using available resources and services to protect and capacitate educators’ mental well-being.

Resources to consider

 

References:
Canadian Psychological Association. (2020). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Seasonal Affective Disorder (Depression with Seasonal Pattern). Canadian Psychological Association. Available at https://cpa.ca/psychology-works-fact-sheet-seasonal-affective-disorder-depression-with-seasonal-pattern/
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2022). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Mental Illness & Addiction Index. Available at: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder
ETFO. (2022). Building Better Schools: A plan for improving elementary education. Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Available at: https://www.buildingbetterschools.ca/the_plan
Kwong, M. (2015). Sad Science: Why winter brings us down, but won’t for long. CBC News. CBC/Radio Canada. Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/sad-science-why-winter-brings-us-down-but-won-t-for-long-1.2981920#:~:text=About%20two%20to%20five%20per,effects%20of%20our%20chilly%20moods%3F

Photo by: Iyanuoluwa Akinrinola

smashing pumpkin spiced thinking – school edition

I can almost hear it now, the sound of the last pumpkin spiced anything be sold and the leftovers being shipped back to the warehouses for next year. I am positive that the chemicals that make up these products have a half life and will ensure it’s best before date does not expire for another decade or more.

Who buys this stuff? To my knowledge, I do not think anyone in my circle of friends has ever been excited about pumpin spiced goodies and drinks. Cue the relief. Not that there is anything wrong with it. We all go through a curious phase or two in our lives, but once the trance wears off it’s usually back to the status quo.

Have you ever been persuaded to try something that you instantly regretted afterwards? At first, you think you like it because how could all that hype be wrong? Once that fades and the taste kicks in you’re left to be alone with your decision(s). I mean where would we all be without the gift of knowledge regret provides us?

I’ll give you an example: Hammer pants  One of many the blessings of being a certain age is that any evidence of my bad decision making has not been digitally preserved. Case in point with this late 80s fashion craze. I am sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Speaking of good ideas at the time

Starting out as an educator, all of those years ago, I came with my own set of bags packed full of the way that I was going to lead my class. Inside that luggage were many positive, and unfortunately, negative experiences and I was determined to repeat what worked and bury what didn’t. What could possibly go wrong?

What I quickly realized in those first years was there were already several well traveled paths to follow along that started to be seen as ruts rather than pathways to success. I found myself trying to shape my students around the resources in the building rather than the other way around. Things went well, teach, practice, test, and repeat, but it came with a cost. Those lessons never felt like they were relevant to my students. They lacked depth and scope for a number of reasons, some of which are on me as a new teacher, and others because they fell within the “We’ve always done it this way” space.

When my second year rolled around it was easy to follow along the well worn path once more, but instead of proceeding safely along with so many others, I made a decision to wander off to see what else was out there. Don’t get me wrong, I could still see the trail to provide some cardinal directions, but my detours began to provide us all much richer and diverse perspectives. It only took a year to realize that there were many paths to create and pursue that could edify both students and their teachers.

I began to seek out others who wandered off in their spaces and ended up connecting with an insightful and supportive global professional learning network or PLN. All these years later, I am thankful for the connections and kindness that helped me navigate off of what was the norm and around some other ruts that needed avoiding.

Where do I find these amazing folx?

For me, it started out at school board level events and edtech training sessions. It didn’t take long before I joined Twitter when it became a truly global cohort. Yes, Twitter can still be used for good and not evil despite its new owner and legions of misinformed malicious account holders exercising their free speech without facts or accountability. End rant.

I joined weekly discussions via #edchat and then #etmooc and then #CnEdChat to start and started following some of the more experienced and supportive educators on the platform. As time went on, I started a blog called What and Why are Everything to hash out some of my thoughts. Our weekly Q and A discussions on Twitter became sources of great perspective and growth which continue to inhabit my practice to this day. It was almost like I was given permission to be the teacher I wanted to be rather than another educator flattening the well worn path.

What started happening was the democratization of my classroom through student directed learning, Genius Hours, and the use of videos to enhance the scope of my instruction. What better way could there be to bring an expert into the class room with the click of a button rather than read through a text book that had been written years beforehand.

This shift in thinking helped me realize the static and fluid natures of knowledge that we have to balance each day for our students and ourselves. It also moved me past some of my negative experiences as a student. I appreciate how some of the things I went through empowered me not to repeat them just like I would never buy a pair of Hammer pants or pumpkin spiced anything again.

Beyond One Day – Truth & Reconciliation through curriculum planning.

Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day Bead Work

September 30 has been earmarked as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Before this, most educators knew this day as Orange Shirt Day, which stemmed from the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc author from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who shares the story of her experiences in a residential school. The significance of September 30 is profound as it calls for us all as a nation, particularly as educators, to pause and reflect on the effects and impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples (children and adults) to this day. It is estimated that over 150000 Indigenous children attended residential schools in Ontario alone over the span of 100+ years (Restoule, 2013). We know that many of these children did not make it home, while many others still live with the trauma they faced within these schooling systems. 

Orange Shirt Day, now known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is but a starting point for us as educators. How can we collectively move beyond one day to infuse learning about Indigenous histories and present Indigenous impacts into our overall planning across different subject areas? In the ‘Calls to Action’ reported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), sections 62 and 63 emphasizes the need for an educational approach that centers Indigenous histories, accounts, and perspectives in the curriculum, not as a one-off event or as an interruption to learning, but instead as an integral part of developing understanding within Canadian education. 

Simply put, Indigenous history is Canadian History. Indigenous peoples continue to shape and influence Canadian society in meaningful ways. 

“In 2015, ETFO endorsed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. ETFO understands that it is integral for educators to move forward into reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada” (ETFO, 2022). Challenge yourself to learn more using the curated information provided by ETFO, and be intentional about infusing Indigenous representation in the various subject areas you may teach. Resources can be found and explored at etfofnmi.ca

Fostering further development and understanding (both in learning and teaching practices) of Indigenous accounts and narratives in K-12 learning communities not as an alternate focus or ‘alternative learning’, but as a central tenet of Canadian education is critical to moving towards reconciliation as we learn and teach about Indigenous peoples of Canada.

For more exploration and information, visit https://etfofnmi.ca/.

References:

Restoule, K. (2013). An Overview of the Indian Residential School System.’ Anishinabek.ca. Retrieved from https://www.anishinabek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/An-Overview-of-the-IRS -System-Booklet.pdf.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Reports – NCTR. NCTR – National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Retrieved from https://nctr.ca/records/reports/#trc-reports.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (2015). First Nation, Métis and Inuit (FNMI). Etfo.ca. Retrieved from https://www.etfo.ca/socialjusticeunion/first-nation,-metis-and-inuit-(fnmi).

My Experience with Project Overseas

If you are a life-long learner who believes in equity, inclusion and public education then volunteering your time and skill-sets with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) Project Overseas (PO) might just be the right experience for you. I myself have volunteered for PO for three years (2017, 2018 and 2019) and I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences in my professional career. Overseas projects have not run in 2020, 2021 or 2022 due to the pandemic. You might be asking yourself, what is Project Overseas and how can I get involved? I will share a few things with you to get you started and also connect you with some websites for additional information.

 

What is the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)?

CTF is a national alliance of provincial and territorial member organizations across Canada (including ETFO). Its head office is located in Ottawa. The goal for CTF is to demonstrate a commitment to advancing education and building teacher solidarity worldwide. 

Here are some ways that CTF supports teachers:

  • Increased influence with government
  • Support for better working conditions
  • Research and professional development
  • Educational resources and services
  • International volunteering opportunities (i.e. Project Overseas)

For more information on CTF, please visit www.ctf-fce.ca 

 

What is Project Overseas?

PO is a collaborative learning opportunity for participating provincial and territorial teacher organizations with other progressive countries throughout Africa and the Caribbean. As a selected member from your union, you and your team of Canadian teachers/members will travel to the host country (usually for the month of July) and work in partnership directly with other facilitators from the host country to co-plan and co-deliver professional development strategies to their lead teachers and administrators in a series of workshops and presentations. In most situations, the experience will be similar to a train-the-trainer model. This is a shared approach to teaching and  learning, as you will learn as much from the host nation as they will learn from you. The goal for PO is to improve teaching and learning around the world, to ensure equitable access to higher education for young girls, and to promote equitable, high quality, publicly funded public education for all. 

 

What was my experience like with Project Overseas? 

My experiences in Sierra Leone and Uganda have been one of the best learning experiences in my professional career. I met amazing educators who were doing amazing things with very little resources, with no, or next to no access to technology and with limited opportunities for professional development. Educators were using tree bark to create soccer balls for physical education. They were using pebbles, bottle caps and seeds from fruits to support students’ learning in numeracy. They were using flattened out empty cardboard boxes as anchor charts to teach concepts in literacy, science and social studies. These amazing educators were so enthusiastic about learning new ideas and sharing their own teaching strategies with us. One of my learning highlights was understanding and appreciating their use of music in teaching new concepts and as a tool for reviewing big ideas. In fact, singing, clapping and movement were used in all aspects and subject areas throughout the learning process. Music was used to welcome people into a space, to bring the group together, to teach a new concept and to review what was taught. Music was used as an holistic and inclusive way of learning. You would certainly be moved, in more ways than one, by your shared experiences and new learning opportunities with PO. You would be certain to learn new ideas that you could bring back to your school community and incorporate into the classroom. 

 

With PO, we also had opportunities for cultural exchange. There was usually a cultural event where we shared aspects of our Canadian culture. This might have included a taste of certain food like maple syrup, a Canadian geography game or two, a game of hockey or lacrosse and of course the singing/playing of the national anthem. The host country in return would present a special event which usually included the wearing of traditional outfits, dancing, food and games/plays. In some cases, we were able to visit a cultural museum, a zoo or a school/classroom that might still be in session. 

 

Regardless of which host country you attend, you will make an impact on their access to quality education and you’re certain to return with a new outlook on what it means to be an effective educator, an advocate for change. 

 

Tips on Applying for Project Overseas

  • Get involved with your local/territorial and/or provincial union (volunteer to be a member of a committee, attend local meetings, participate in/lead a workshop or conference, volunteer to be a union steward, or  volunteer as an alternate or delegate at ETFO’s AGM)
  • Check ETFO’s website for information and updates about Project Overseas.
  • Begin working on your resume (including references), as you will need to demonstrate your work experiences and leadership skills 
  • If you also speak French or another language, it would be helpful
  • Consider volunteering with a non-profit organization locally and/or internationally, to gain international and intercultural experiences
  • Reflect on your willingness/readiness to be away from home (your family) for a long period of time, with limited access to technology on a daily basis, sharing accommodations with others, working in partnership with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and experiencing food choices that may be new to you
  • Check out CTF/FCE Project Overseas website to see a list of the various partner organizations in which they participate and begin to do your own research on the culture, costumes and educational challenges of those countries

 

For more information on how to apply for PO, visit CTF/FCE Project Overseas

 

The Butterfly Conservatory

A few years ago, I visited a butterfly conservatory. It wasn’t my first ever visit, but it was my first visit through the lens of an educator as I was a teacher candidate at the time. I left the conservatory in absolute awe. Of course, the butterflies were beautiful, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the facility that housed the butterflies and the dedicated and knowledgable staff members that kept the butterflies safe and content.

I like to think of butterfly conservatories as an analogy for classrooms.

The focus in the conservatory is on the butterflies and giving them exactly what they need to thrive. Not all the butterflies got the same treatment, but an equitable environment was maintained by giving each species of butterfly what was required to meet its needs. Much like equity in our classrooms, students do not all need the same resources or supports to be successful, but they are all given equal opportunity to succeed by receiving individualized supports.

The butterflies can co-exist peacefully in the same space. Despite the creatures being of different species, different colours, or from different parts of the word, they live harmoniously. I like to think that within the core of all humans is a desire to co-exist peacefully with other humans. For some learners, this may take practice, repetition and patience, but the human need for connection and feelings of safety and belonging are innate and essential.

Lastly, this butterfly facility does not run itself and it is not run by just anyone. There is so much “behind the scenes” work that happens at places such as this, to ensure the butterflies and their visitors have an unforgettable experience. There were many tests being done to ensure air quality, temperature and humidity were remaining at optimal levels to accommodate for each different butterfly species present. The butterfly staff were not only knowledgable and had received training on how to care for the butterflies, but they were also passionate and proud to share the butterflies with the incoming visitors. Similarly, school staff are the backbone of the education system and put in invaluable time and effort “behind the scenes” to create optimal learning conditions and plentiful opportunities for students.

My analogy sticks with me and comes to mind often. Maybe this is something you’ve thought of before, maybe you have a more applicable analogy for classrooms, or maybe you’re now creating your own analogy for the first time.

Either way, one thing is true…

An ecosystem like the butterfly conservatory is delicate. It’s fragile. It can be damaged. What are the butterflies to do if their environment becomes destroyed or the homeostasis is disrupted?

Unlike the butterflies, we don’t fly away. ETFO members and education workers stand together in solidarity.

Though we may not be “living” in optimal conditions like the butterflies, we continue to advocate for public education, safe learning environments for staff and students, and equitable learning opportunities for all.

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.