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.

 

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.

 

kids these days – educator version

I googled “kids these days” to see what would pop up on my browser and was neither surprised nor happy. In fact there was a complete absence of anything necessary to help me create a catchy opening. By necessary, I mean humorous. 

Of the 4.1 billion possibilities: a bunch of clichéd book titles, a podcast, and some music videos were all that filled the first page. Despite my optimism, all I got was not a lot. So much for this roundabout approach yielding anything interesting as a way to set this piece up. I gave it a shot, and based solely on such underwhelming search results, it is on to plan B.

Plan B: In other, more accurate, words, “the kids are alright”.

For the past month, I have been working with a teacher candidate (TC) from a Toronto area university. Happily, I might add. He now joins a mighty group of amazing educators (14+) who have patiently pursued and plied their practice in my classroom. For the record, the expression shared in the title of this post has yet to enter my thoughts when I consider the preparation, professionalism, and passion being shared each day through our interactions, in the classroom with students, and among the rest of our school community. And when you thought that things couldn’t get any better, our school has been fortunate enough to welcome an additional 3 other teacher candidates into our classes.  

Life is good and it is happening at the speed of education everyday at my school, and it is aided, in part, by the presence of 4 teacher’s in training. We are fortunate to be sure, but it could and needs to happen more often. Which was why it came as a surprise prior to welcoming my TC, to learn it has been a struggle to find host teachers. 

Granted, the last 2 or 3 years must have been very difficult for new teachers to find placements in host schools due to reasons well beyond anyone’s control. At first it was understandable as we were all forced back and forth between our school and home bases to teach on line for the first two years of COVID19, and then came the soul murdering hy&r!d learning model that still triggers my gag reflex each time I think about it. Despite the pile up of so many uncontrollable obstacles, pivots, and uncertainties I still happily welcomed 3 teacher and 4 CYW candidates into our school community. Difficult yes, yet still possible and worth it every time. 

I get that the idea of hosting a student teacher right now might be something educators have put to the side for a while, but now that we are back to school, for now, there is still a lot of upside to a TC in the new non-normal we are teaching in. With another practicum cycle only 5-6 weeks away, I wanted to share this post to encourage you all to consider being a host teacher/mentor at your school. Yes there is additional work to do, and it is worth it. 

So here is my pitch: we need more teachers to host teacher candidates. 

Here goes: firstly, without adding too much sentimentality, we all owe our host teachers some props for helping us as we were getting started. This friendly yet simple reminder never hurts once in a while. I know that my experiences as a TC all those years ago continue to anchor my practice in some way. Whether it was based in inquiry, equity, or photocopied busy work, the potential impact of those first 100 days in the classroom are what equipped me to become a host teacher. For the record, I left the photocopying busy work behind almost immediately.

Imagine if you could go back to when you were a student teacher. What advice would you have wanted to hear? What noise would you have tuned out? This is what pushes our profession forward. My goal remains to help each student teacher turn ripples of potential into limitless waves of possibility long beyond their practicums.

Even those who have not considered because they are newer to the profession I encourage you to do it. Imagine the opportunity to reflect on the growth you have made since you were in their shoes? Imagine the wisdom you have gained since you walked into the classroom as an OT, an LTO, and now as a teacher with a contract? It’s time to give back and get even more in return. 

Are there benefits?

Yes. No classroom is ever hindered by having a well prepared and supportive additional educator in the room. Need more? Sprinkle in daily doses of fresh thinking around curriculum, assessment, and educational philosophy as part of the deal. The daily conversations with my TC have been reflective and thought provoking. It is a two way superhighway of ideas and next steps. Still on the fence? Student teachers are extremely enthusiastic about planning units and lessons, and make good collaborators whether it is in planning or co-moderated assessment. 

Are there drawbacks? 

I have asked folx from different schools what their take on the idea of hosting TCs, and the answers have lined up pretty consistently in favour of them. I have also heard, “Oh, they are a lot of work and I don’t want to take that on that responsibility and paperwork.” This is a valid answer at times, and yes there is a bit of paperwork (mostly digital now), but is often used far too often without realizing the benefits, ideas, and support that a TC brings as well. Any additional work is far outweighed by their contributions in support of students. 

“I had a student teacher once, and they tried to take over my class.” There is always a possibility that a very excited and ambitious educator will come bouncing through your door for their practicum, but it is also a chance for you to impart that wisdom you’ve worked so hard on accumulating. If it is not going to be a good fit, be honest about it right away. I did have occasion to decline working with a candidate after the first day it became very clear they were neither prepared nor able to work respectfully with the students in my classroom. 

“I am not used to giving over control of my classroom.” I get it. We are used to ‘be the one and only’ in our classrooms however fresh views and voices bring a level of excitement along with them and it is good to learn how to let go knowing that you are not abdicating your role, but making room to equip the next generation. 

By sheer amount of space on the page devoted to the pros and cons of having a student teacher, it might appear that there are more downsides, but that is only a visual ruse. By far, working with teacher candidates over the past decade has provided a great deal of personal growth along with it. I hope you can make room for them in yours. 

 

read a little bell before the bell

I love to read. It wasn’t always like that though. After taking a literature heavy course load through high school and university, I swore off the printed word for a spell.

It wasn’t absolute avoidance or aversion. I did read the paper from time to time, although selectively. When I took a job in broadcasting during the early 90s, my self imposed reading embargo was over as a boatload of reading came with my job as newsreader, DJ, and local reporter. Even though reading was a key part of those workdays, there was not much desire to do so outside of work.

Fast forward to 2007. 

I’m back in university trying to finish a degree that started in 1984. The interweb had become the main source for reams of digital texts and other content from online libraries and newly prescribed course materials. Once again reading became more like work rather than a daily getaway and reward. I struggled to read anything more than what was required. 

As such, it took some time to find a genuine motivation. About 2 months in, it began to change when by some bit of fortune, the text(s) started became so much more relevant to my life as a 40 something adult. I’d like to call this my mid-life renaissance, but fear it maybe considered a bit to melodramatic. Whether it was a personal essayist, scientist, or philosopher it was as if reading no longer felt like assigned work, but rather as tools  intended to strengthen my heart and mind as an educator. It’s 2022 and my reading game is still going strong. 

Teaching Community by bell hooksThis leads me to my most recent read Teaching CommunityA Pedagogy of Hope by iconic educator bell hooks.  Although it took me a bit of penny pinching to add to my collection, it is worth every dollar. I can’t wait to share this text with others who, like me, are on a journey to create inclusive communities in their classrooms.

Please note: I am not naive enough to think that one book could be the lever that moves all barriers and mountains, but I truly believe that the ideas in this text can be leveraged to make a difference when and where they are applied in our classrooms. Be advised that this book contains much “thought fuel” and plenty of feelings too. 

The greatest feelings I had throughout reading this text were this strange sense of acknowledgement and validation. I may have thought and felt many of the ideas shared, but hooks has organized and articulated them so perfectly and has gifted us with an opportunity to reflect, respond, and put community into action. 

I guess what spoke the loudest across the chapters was an emphasis on disrupting the status quo through compassion and community in education. Reading Teaching Community encapsulated my goals as an educator in a personal and professional manner. I love how hooks puts it,
“…the most powerful learning experience we can offer students…is the opportunity to be fully and compassionately engaged with learning.” Creating this space requires 3 things; commitment, courage, and compassion. None will work unless combined with the others. Notice how curriculum wasn’t mentioned? As @callmemrmorris often reminds us via Twitter. “We teach students not curriculum.”

hooks continues, “Refusing to make a place for emotional feelings in the classroom does not change the reality that their presence overdetermines the conditions where learning can occur.” We have to see our students where they are and not in the spaces we want them to fit within. We have to acknowledge that everyday comes with a raft of emotions that rise and fall. Teachers need to be prepared to accept the highs and lows that happen at the speed of learning. Whether a student is sad, anxious, joyful, angry or a combination they are showing us that they do not feel emotionally safe in that moment and will struggle to be truly present as a result. How we choose to respond to them in those moments will determine whether they feel seen and a part of the community or like an outsider looking in. 

hooks also shares, “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” This is probably the hardest space to occupy as educators. We were conditioned through past experiences and pedagogy to be the centre of our classrooms in the past. However, what was thought to have worked back in the day, was really only a means of perpetuating dominant culture in order to maintain power over students rather than respecting and sharing power with them and empowering them as learners. 

Can you tell that I love this book? hooks also discusses the intersectionality of identity and identity in academia. She writes with clarity and candour that challenged my perspectives while affirming them at the same time. This is why I share that everyone should read a little bell before the bell and I know this will be one of those texts to read over and over as my career continues. 

Happy page turning.

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.

My June To-Do List

Those outside of the world of education may see June as the month that the school year ‘winds down’. Educators know that ‘winding down’ is not our reality come June. Comparable to September, June is the time where my mind races, I have 87 sticky notes everywhere between my car and my classroom, and not even 2 coffees seems to cut it anymore. June is an ongoing to-do list that seems to never end. Oftentimes, my list feels like a game of whack-a-mole…just as I am crossing off one task I am adding another to the list.

As we enter into the last month of the school year, I created a to-do list that includes my priorities for June 2022 (in no particular order):

  1. Vote in the provincial election 
  2. Share resources with students and families that celebrate the 2SLGBTQIA+ community as we observe pride month
  3. Observe National Indigendous Peoples Day on June 21st and continue to recognize and use my privilege as an educator to advocate for positive change 
  4. Think about how my DECE partner and I will honour all the hard work our students and their families have put into another extremely challenging school year 
  5. Remain present with students as the days become busier and the weather becomes warmer
  6. Continue to foster a growth mindset with my students. Even though the school year is almost over – we will reflect on all we have learned as we wonder about the things we will learn next.
  7. Spend time with my dad on Father’s Day
  8. Celebrate with co-workers who are retiring after years of pouring their heart into a career in education
  9. Complete Term 2 Communication of Learning reports to reflect all of the wonderful accomplishments our students have achieved this school year
  10. Take care of myself. Breathe. Smile. Enjoy the journey!

What’s on your June to do list?

learn unlearn relearn teach…

To continue: learn some more, unlearn even more than you did before, teach even better, and then repeat.

I am not sure whether it is possible to enjoy anything more in my professional life than teaching – other than learning. Insert witticism here asking why then are students not jumping out of their seats when they are probably being taught something new everyday? I can see it now if it happened; a level of shock on the faces of teachers at what might be considered too disruptive, but oh the joy. All jesting aside, I believe it is within all of us to express and foster this type of joy in everything we do related to life at school.

Imagine if students bristled with excitement at each opportunity to learn something new rather than some of the blank stares and foreboding filled faces that silently shared that work was the only thing on their minds instead of the profound potential that can occur as new neural pathways are paved? What if that happened at a staff meeting? Maybe I am asking too much for that previous line?

Nevertheless, I still like learning new things – preferably by choice rather than prescribed. Not only does new knowledge strengthen my understandings and scalable skillsets, but being a learner helps me see teaching through a different lens from the seat of a student. For me, this is where the excitement happens along with a healthy dose of discomfort too.

Perhaps teaching and learning are simply sides of the same coin? Maybe it’s solely my intuition as an educator/lead learner taking over because nothing brings me more happiness and relief to finally arrive at another of life’s learning destinations only to realize it was merely a stop to refuel along the way.

What some might perceive as a bumpy ride filled with uncertainty and uncertainty is not a fact I wish to conceal from you. Agreed, it has taken some time to arrive at a reasonable level of comfort with this discomfort.  However, I have also realized that it was in each of those moments when I gained the most in perspective and understanding in my roles in the classroom.

Before that happened though, there were some demons to slay. Finances, fatigue, and giving up a bit of family time on occasion. Once these three things were balanced, I was able to focus on some really important AQ courses that I would highly encourage all teachers to add to their transcripts. My top pick is below.

Spec Ed Pt 1 has to be your goto first AQ.* When I took this course, I was working in a French Immersion school where the IEPs were usually for gifted students. Accommodations were for depth and breadth, but the learning about Growth Plans, ISTs, IEPs, IPRCs etc. was invaluable to support my students in the classroom. Since then, student needs in FI or significantly more complex and the role of SERT which was more geared towards supporting students back into the English stream is now focused on shaping the learning spaces to fit the students where they are within their French Immersion experience.

Spec Ed Pt 1 also came with some excellent classroom strategies that are thankfully still in my toolkit over a decade later. Of course once you have SpEd Pt 1, you might as well complete the set with Pt 2 and your Specialist. Don’t fear being forced into the role of SERT just because you have these qualifications. Think of them as gifts of knowledge for you to support every student that steps into your classroom throughout your career.

I vowed to refuse the job if ever asked to be a SERT fearing I would be placed in a space where I would not be able to survive, and then all of that changed 5 years ago – an offer I could not refuse. Stepping into the unknown discomfort zone that is the SERT role has been nothing short of transformational and invaluable to my practice in and out of the classroom. Working with students, peers, families, and system folx has been extremely rewarding even though pretty much clueless for the better part of my first two years. Thankfully, a mentor teacher and supportive admin were there to help me decode the work.

I guess this brings me back to the title of this post learn unlearn relearn teach.

I knew there was more to learn after my B Ed was completed and I entered the classroom. I unlearned some sticky habits and thoughts about student abilities and behaviour from my own schema and schooling by relearning from the experiences and wisdom of others, and now continue to apply new knowledge to my teaching.

That’s it for now, I have to go unlearn something to make room for more lessons ahead.

Next month look for a companion post about AQs and other cool goings-on at ETFO entitled ‘all good things on Isabella’.

*Did you know that ETFO is offering AQs for Special Education this Summer? Click the link to learn more.

The Power of “Thank You”

“Thank you”

2 simple words that mean so much. Especially when they are followed by a reason for giving thanks. 

As an educator of young children, I don’t teach for the “thank you”. I teach for the students, their progress, their laughs, their smiles, and that feeling of sharing a joy for learning. 

However, when I do get those genuine, ‘from the bottom of my heart’ “thank you” ’s, they often bring me to tears. Thank you can feel so reassuring, so comforting and can be a springboard that launches deep and powerful connections. 

An amazing colleague of mine, who is many years into their career, suggested I keep a journal of these kind words of thanks from parents and families. Initially, I thought this seemed silly. Why would I keep these notes and emails? What purpose would this serve me? But, I tried it anyways. Why not? If I didn’t find this practice helpful I could stop at any point and not tell a single soul I had ever done it. 

Fast forward to the present moment, where various letters, cards and printed emails from families live in the binder I stash at the back of my filing cabinet. I spread the word of this practice, as not a way to brag or boast but to share with you the feelings it has brought me.  

First of all, it brings me joy. What better reason to do anything? Why not document these joyful moments in celebration of student success.

Secondly, I find comfort revisiting these “thank you” ‘s when I feel tired, overwhelmed or broken down. It is easy for me to fixate on a lesson that didn’t go well, or the things that I could be doing differently; therefore doing them better. Flipping through this binder of positive thoughts allows me to reframe my mindset and reflect critically on my practice while being kind to myself.

Lastly, the powerful feelings that these “thank you” ‘s bring me are inspiring. I want to pass this feeling on to my colleagues, my students and their families who show up and work hard every day. I am mindful each day to share my genuine “thank you” ‘s out loud.

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever received?

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever given?

Understanding Gender Neutral Pronouns

There is no doubt that I am very passionate about addressing issues related to equity and social justice, especially any work related to anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-homophobia. For me to fully understand and advocate for social justice and equity, it is important that I am aware of current challenges, barriers and inclusionary practices. However, I would be the first to admit that my knowledge of gender neutral pronouns requires further learning and understanding to ensure I am respectfully honouring the identities of staff and students (in fact, all people) in my community. So, I did some research for my own professional growth and I found out some interesting facts that I would like to share with you. 

It is understood that people who identify outside of a gender binary most often use nonbinary pronouns that are not gender specific. These include: they/them/their use in the singular form. However, I learned that there are other pronouns that are used, such as: ze (pronounced “zee”) in place of she/he and hir (pronounced “here”) in place of his/him/her. This was new learning for me that opened my eyes to the ways in which I address individuals and the assumptions I often make about their identities.

Assuming one’s identity and choice of pronouns based on how they look and/or how they dress can be false and disrespectful to one’s gender identity and gender expression. I learned that pronouns may or may not match one’s gender expression, such as how the person dresses, looks, behaves or what their name is.

In recognition and commitment to equity and inclusionary practices, as well as the Human Rights policies in Canada, it is encouraging to see more people, including workplaces and organizations, supporting individual’s use of self-identified pronouns, in place of assumed pronouns based one’s sex assigned at birth or other’s perceptions of physical appearance. It might seem a simple gesture to some, but it’s an important recognition for others. It’s about letting someone know that you accept their identity as they are. 

The response to the following questions might help you better understand gender pronouns and how you can affirm someone’s gender identity:

What’s the right way to find out a person’s pronouns?

If I was introducing myself to someone new, I would say, “Hi. My name is Gary. I use he/him pronouns. What about you?” However, do keep in mind that for many people who don’t identify as cisgender, it could be more difficult for them to share their pronouns, especially in spaces where they don’t know people and/or they don’t feel comfortable or accepted.

How is “they/them” used as a singular pronoun?

“They” is already commonly used as a singular pronoun when you are talking about someone and you don’t know who they are. Using they/them pronouns for someone you do know simply represents a slightly different way of thinking. In this case, you’re asking someone to not act as if they don’t know you, but to use non-binary vocabulary when they’re communicating with/about you.

What if I make a mistake and ‘misgender’ someone, or use the wrong words?

I would simply apologize for my error. It’s perfectly natural to not know the right words to use, especially when meeting someone for the first time. Consider addressing groups of people as “everyone”, “colleagues”, “friends”, “class” or “students” instead of “boys and girls.” The important thing is making that non-assuming connection with the person and being open to learning new things and new ways of understanding one’s identity. 

What does it mean if a person uses the pronouns “he/they” or “she/they”?

That means that the person uses both pronouns, and you can alternate between those when referring to them. So, either pronoun would be fine. However, be mindful that some people don’t mind those pronouns being interchanged for them, but for others, they might use one specific pronoun in one context and another set of pronouns in another context/space, dependent on maybe safety or comfortability in the space they occupy. The best approach is to listen to how people refer to themselves.

ETFO has a wealth of resources to support your teaching and learning of gender neutral pronouns. I found their Social Justice website very helpful in my research and understanding of gender neutral pronouns. In fact, ETFO has plenty of ETFO 2SLGBTQ+ Resources for students of all ages.