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 

 

Teaching Social Justice and Equity Through Mathematics

By the time students reach high school, they are already being streamed into different academic levels that often limit their full potentials for growth and development. This streaming pathway closes the door of opportunity for many underserved and racialized students. It is important that educators develop multiple entry points, honour different ways of knowing, and provide numerous opportunities for students to experience success in mathematics.  When mathematics is introduced as a tool for understanding the world, we are helping to liberate the minds of students and championing the educational goal of creating informed citizens who will contribute to, and participate in, an inclusive and democratic society. An inquiry-based approach to mathematics with a focus on teaching for social justice and equity (which values multiple perspectives, the social construction of knowledge, and interconnects student experience with mathematics) can empower students to develop both mathematical and social/political knowledge. 

 

As an intermediate classroom teacher, as well as a special education teacher, I have learned over the years how to embed culturally relevant and responsive equity and social justice issues into my numeracy program as a form of engaging students and empowering them to understand and confront inequities inside and outside of the classroom. This personal philosophy and teaching pedagogy did not happen overnight or within my first five years of teaching. It really required, from me, a personal philosophical understanding and belief in what it means to educate young minds and to effectively prepare them for the realities of life. Over time, through my experience of navigating the educational system for myself and for the students and families I service in my numerous roles, I began to develop an equity lens approach to my teaching practices. As an avid math enthusiast, I took numerous math AQ courses and got my math specialist. These AQ courses were instrumental in my discovery of the connection between numeracy and equity. I began to see beyond the numbers in teaching mathematics to a place where the numbers themselves took on deeper societal meaning in terms of what they represented, who they represented (or did not represent) and the impact of these numbers on various groups of people within our society. I’m telling you, it was a very enlightening experience for me to reach that level of understanding about mathematical justice. If you have never taken a math AQ course, I implore you to consider taking one for your own personal and professional growth and development. 

 

Where do you begin?

Dr. Bev Caswell who works at the University of Toronto, OISE, developed an inquiry-based Math and STEM social justice program for junior and intermediate students. The Robertson Program focuses on creating a space for student voice and authentic learning experiences in the classroom and out in the community. Furthermore, the lessons incorporate 21st century competencies, universal design of learning, differentiated instruction and culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy. They are also connected to the new Ontario math curriculum and have a cross curricular approach that infuses math, STEM, history and relevant global systemic issues. As a central staff, my role is to build teacher capacity in implementing effective teaching practices in the classroom. This program is something that I recommend to teachers as a supplemental resource to their numeracy program. 

Here are some lessons I would like to highlight: 

 

  1. Historical Figures in One Minute – a lesson for students in grades 4 to 7. This lesson makes convincing arguments and informed decisions regarding the data and graphs collected to discuss why some groups appear to be over-represented while others remain severely under-represented.
  2. Water Inquiry – a lesson for students in grades 4 to 8. This inquiry-based, water-focused lesson integrates mathematics, environmental science, geography, Indigenous rights, language arts and social justice issues.
  3. Price Check – a lesson for students in grades 4 to 8. This lesson explores socioeconomic reasons for the price difference in grocery store options in different locations in Canada.
  4. Milk Bag Project – This is a Google Docs presentation of the lesson for grades 4 to 8 students. This lesson focuses on the City of Toronto’s packaging-reduction bylaws passed in 2008. Students complete a collaborative inquiry on how many plastic bags (from a 4-litre milk plastic bag) it would take to make 10 mats (as described in the lesson).

 

So what?

Sometimes it can be scary to try something new or to teach in a way that can perhaps seem foreign and unconventional. However, this is exactly why we need to take a social justice and systemic approach to our teaching practices. A social justice approach to teaching mathematics should include equitable and inclusive teaching practices, high expectations for all students, access to rich, rigorous, and culturally relevant mathematics to promote a positive learning environment. To me, the results are more rewarding than the burden of planning, documenting and evaluating. We should feel honoured to be part of the process in which we are helping to build a better future for all by empowering students to understand how to navigate the world around them and how to confront systemic inequities in all aspects of their life. 

My first experience as an official mentor

Yesterday began my first official day as a student-teacher mentor. So for the next six weeks, I will be blogging about the experiences of having a student-teacher in the classroom.

Since I have been teaching for longer than five years now, I am eligible to have a student teacher in the classroom. Since I was remote last year, I did not jump at the opportunity as I thought it would be more beneficial for that student teacher to learn in a physical classroom. This year, I could tell I have an incredible class who would give that teacher candidate a lot of experience and I was excited at the opportunity! Not only is having a student teacher an amazing opportunity to inspire the next generation of teachers with new ideas and methods but it also allows for all students to get an extra adult in the room. That is an incredible opportunity for all for those six incredible weeks.

My student teacher started yesterday and was visibly excited to start her practicum. She had been waiting for her placement to begin as her experience in the physical classroom got cut short last year as we switched to virtual. I could tell right away that her positive attitude and attentiveness would do so well in my 7/8 classroom.

The day started well with introductions, routines and the basics. As the day unfolded, I could see her getting to know the students and having chats with them. This was great to see as this is the best way to get involved right at the beginning. Almost immediately, a student shared about how they hadn’t slept the night before and how they were feeling upset. Right away, my student teacher got to see how if a student isn’t feeling mentally healthy or ready for the day, they cannot succeed in the classroom. I let my student know that they were heard and that we would support them at school and look to help them at home. Mental health and student well-being will be and should always be the main focus in the classroom so it was important for my student teacher to hear that discussion on her first morning.

During our planning time, we had great discussions around why she had decided to go to school for teaching, her teachable areas, any aspects of her placement that she was feeling anxious about, any extra-curriculars she would like to be involved in and a few more questions to get our journey together started. These answers are important to set the foundation for her placement. I also asked her to complete a small task for homework, to write out the seating plan and to write down any small comments or observations that she had made about the students on her first day.

This morning, when she shared all the observations she had gathered, I was shocked with how much she had learned about my students after she had only met them for five periods. I mentioned how knowing the learners, their needs and learning habits will ultimately determine the way that she teaches for the next six weeks. I cannot stress enough how thrilled I was to hear all she had observed in that short amount of time.

After school today she came to assist with volleyball, which was great to see. Funny enough, we have the same coaching interests so it will be great to see her get involved in these activities as well. I am so excited for this journey as I can tell she is an eager university student who was meant to be a teacher. I am happy to pass on all that I know and of course, guide and help her through this journey. I was so fortunate enough eight years ago to have two associate teachers who did so much for me. They made me the teacher I am today and allowed me to explore so many aspects of this profession. I can only hope I will do the same for her.

SERT= (joy + journey) x job

Fall 2021 marks the start of my 5th year as a co-SERT (Special Education Resource Teacher). Please, no gifts. Although, you can read on if you’re feeling generous?

2021 is also the first year that I finally feel comfortable in the position. Up until now, I’ve felt competent, somewhat confident, but never comfortable. If your school is like mine, there is a lot going on in SERTLandia as I fondly call it, and a lot at stake. Thankfully, I have been really blessed to have a patient and savvy mentor to work with throughout this time. There haven’t been many days when I didn’t need her wisdom, experience, and support to keep me on track while growing in the role. 

First, some background info

I never wanted to be a SERT. I initially took the course so I could be more adept in my work with students in the classroom. After completing Level 1, I figured a little more wouldn’t hurt so I enrolled in Pt 2. Did you know that many school boards offer their own AQ courses, and as luck would have it, my board provided an affordable option for staff. ETFO does too. The learning, although difficult to keep up with while teaching fulltime was worth it in resources, stories, and deeper understandings about how to truly support students whether they were identified or not in my classroom. Once Pt 1 and 2 were done, I retreated back to my comfort zone and began to apply ‘the learning‘. Or so I thought. 

“I will quit if I ever have to be a SERT.”

I actually said that to a superintendent during a conversation over needing her signature on an application for my SERT Specialist(pt 3). I know, as well, that the role of SERT looked different from school to school and board to board based on a number of things such as allocation of resources (human and financial). I know that many schools have 1 SERT lifting the weight for an entire community as well. So I count myself lucky to work in a team environment.

My ‘never’ was now a yes, but what I didn’t factor into that impetuously made statement was how the experience and knowledge gained from parts 1 and 2 began to take hold in such tangible ways in my classroom. My classroom management improved along with my ability to differentiate more for students who struggled but were otherwise not identified. I learned the value of growth plans and asking for help. Suddenly, it made perfect sense to go for my specialist to finish the learning I had started. It was nothing short of an incredible experience. Yet, I still did not have my heart or mind set on becoming a SERT. I did have some fun writing my own IEP with accommodations though. I think every teacher should do this at least once in their career.

SERT certification in hand, I retreated to the safety and comfort of my classroom once again. With new knowledge and perspectives in the tool box, things seemed to click even more. Throughout the entirety of the 3 AQ courses for Special Education Specialist I developed an even deeper respect for the SERT team in my schools. I witnessed the wonders that they worked everyday and the students who they supported. They made it look so easy, but I saw how much work they put in each day. I struggled to see myself in their shoes.

Qualified, but terrified

I was so terrified of the responsibilities, the paperwork, and the meetings that seemed endemic to the job. I love being in the classroom. I also feared making mistakes and letting students slip through the cracks. I was convinced that being an ally was a great way to support the awesome SERTs in my schools. However, the more I learned, the more I was able to apply outside of the classroom to help student teachers and fellow educators. Then the call came with an offer to be a co-SERT. 

New school. New Role. What was I thinking? 

As I have shared in past posts, I am a huge proponent of educators switching schools to explore new teaching opportunities and to stretch outside of their comfort zones. I believe that moves to new schools open educators up to new learning experiences and provide excellent ways to learn from others. This can lead to discomfort as well, but that is usually where the best growth happens for you personally and professionally. As a result, in 2017 I started teaching at the 4th school of my 12 year career – so far. In each case, I did not have a single reason to leave such wonderful colleagues and students behind, but for no other reason than to learn more. 

I can clearly recall the disorientation that came at the pace of SERT life and trying to balance out my instructional obligations those first weeks. I questioned whether my decision to join a new school was going to coming back to bite me. Thankfully, a supportive admin, co-SERT, and staff alleviated most of that stress. I wanted to do a good job, but I wasn’t even sure what that looked like. That was how new it all felt to me. That meant a lot of silent observation followed by a lot of questions. By October that first year, things seemed much clearer. Clearer, yet not clear. 

Fastforward to 2021

100s of IEPs, growth plans, IPRCs, SEA claims, academic tests, in-school meetings, student support sessions, teacher consultations, CPI calls, and parent convos later have all contributed to a very incredible set of insights into the needs of learners. I am not sure whether I will be a SERT in the future or not, but I will never regret taking the AQs or this job. They have been incredible tools in my growth and practice as an educator. My experiences as a SERT have been transformational and I wouldn’t go back in time and talk myself out of this opportunity even if I could. *  

So whether you dip your toe in the water and do SpEd Pt 1 or dive in for a 5 year swim, I encourage you all to take join me. The water is fine. 

If you would like to share your own journey about becoming a SERT or if you want to chat more about becoming a SERT please add a comment below and I’ll pass it on to my mentor. She still has all of the answers.  

* Well I might go back and buy some shares in Tesla, but that is a story for another dimension.

 

Why I Teach Through an Equity and Anti-Oppressive Lens

Lately, it seems that all I hear throughout the education system is about equity and anti-oppression. These seem to be the latest buzzwords in our profession and they permeate throughout everything we do. Teachers are encouraged to develop a belief statement about equity and anti-oppression work and to embed it into their philosophy, pedagogy and teaching practices. However, have you ever stopped to seriously ask yourself, what does it really mean to teach through an equity and anti-oppressive lens? I have, and the answer was quite revealing. 

 

First, I had to reflect upon my own understanding of equity and anti-oppression in order to truly recognize my role and position as an educator. To me, equity is liberation of the mind, body and soul. It is a human right to have the freedom to think, act and feel in your true authentic self, without fear and discrimination. Equity is a sense of being included, valued and respected in all spaces and in all communities. Inequality and discriminations occur when certain spaces and communities deny you of your rights as a human being. Equity and Anti-oppression is a framework used to address and dismantle these inequities and discriminatory practices, which are often systemic in nature and deeply embedded into our habits and norms. Honestly, that took years for me to understand and to define through my own lens. I had to reflect upon how, and acknowledge that, my own (limited as they are) power and privilege (as a middle-class male educator) contributed to the systemic inequalities that exist in our society and throughout the education system. I also had to think about what role I could play to be an agent of change. I think my understanding of equity and anti-oppression align strongly with ETFO’s Equity Statement

 

Now, do I feel included, valued and respected in all spaces and in all communities in which I engage? Unfortunately the answer is more often no than yes. My race, ethnicity and sexual identity often impact how I think, act and feel in certain spaces and how others interact with me in those spaces. I find myself negotiating and navigating spaces on a daily basis. It can be quite exhausting and disempowering. So, why do I endure this disheartening experience time after time? For the same reason I became an educator. I strongly believe that all people, all students in particular, should be included, valued, and respected in all aspects of life, including their school community. Unfortunately that does not happen in all spaces and for all people/students. I know this because it happened to me as a student and it continues to happen to me as an adult educator. I see the inequities in our education policies and practices, in our classroom management practices and in our assessment and evaluation practices. Most notably, as a guidance counsellor, I am constantly advocating for the rights of Black and Indigenous students, and students in the Special Education system, to receive equitable treatment and access to resources and programs during the high school transition process. Everything that I am, through my lived experiences, and everything that I do for myself and others is embedded in an equity and anti-oppressive framework. 

 

I use ETFO’s Anti-Oppressive Framework to align my thinking and practice. Here is an excerpt from ETFO’s definition and statement: 

 

An anti-oppressive framework is the method and process in which we understand how systems of oppression such as colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and ableism can result in individual discriminatory actions and structural/systemic inequalities for certain groups in society. Anti-oppressive practices and goals seek to recognize and dismantle such discriminatory actions and power imbalances. Anti-oppressive practices and this framework should seek to guide the Federation’s work with an aim to identify strategies and solutions to deconstruct power and privilege in order to mitigate and address the systemic inequalities that often operate simultaneously and unconsciously at the individual, group and institutional or union level. (ETFO’s Equity Statement)

 

Here is another quote that I would like to highlight on ETFO’s Action on Anti-Black Racism, ETFO’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy is focused on creating systemic changes to confront anti-Black racism and provide a more welcoming and inclusive union environment for Black members at provincial and local levels. Given the legacy and current prevalence of anti-Black racism in colonial systems, institutions and society, ETFO Action on Anti-Black Racism –  Building an Inclusive School Workplace and Union brochure provides information on what anti-Black racism is, ETFO’s anti-Black racism strategy and how to be an ally. You can find out more about ETFO’s Action on Anti-Black Racism here

 

Also of importance to share is ETFO’s Human Rights Statement: The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s is committed to providing an environment for members that is free from harassment and discrimination at all provincial and local Federation sponsored activities. Harassment and discrimination on the basis of a prohibited ground are violations of the Ontario Human Rights Code and are illegal.

 

I included these quotes and the Human Rights statement because I am proud to be a part of a union that has in place policies and practices that value and protect the rights of all its members. However, it is up to us, as members and as educators, to ensure that ETFO indeed practices what it preaches, so that we too can feel protected in our commitment to ensuring student equity and developing student excellence. 

 

I say all that to say this, know thyself, know your worth and know your passion. Use all of who you are and what you believe to challenge, support and inspire students. You don’t have to be Black to advocate for Black students, you don’t have to be Indigenous to address Indigenous rights, just like how you don’t have to identify as a woman or a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community to support those who are impacted by gender inequities and homophobia. You really just have to show students, through your actions, how much you care about them and that they do matter, regardless of their circumstances and lived experiences. In fact, I encourage you to empower students to see/use their circumstances and lived experiences as a catalyst for self-empowerment and universal change. Show them that what matters to them also matters to you.  

 

To support you in supporting students and showing them that they do matter, here are some literacy resources from ETFO’s Social Justice Begins With Me Book List that might be of great help to you.

One Year Wiser

What a year it has been! At the beginning of last summer, there were black squares and new policies in place in organizations around the world calling for critical thought and change in the area of anti-Black racism. Some chose to read books, others chose to act with their students, some never moved beyond the black squares. For me, this has been a year of reflection and connection with those in and out of education spaces who are seeking to bring about change. 

My Blackness isn’t something that I can remove in order to fit into spaces that weren’t made for me. As such, this year has been a personal journey in learning how to better navigate. In this post, I share some of the experiences that helped me along and I hope that other Black women in education can find them of benefit in both their personal and professional lives.

Connections Online

Let’s face it, connecting online has been fraught with challenges.  We each have our own stories that we can share about miscommunications or experiences that were less than ideal either while learning or teaching online this past year. The last thing that I felt like doing was more of it! And yet, I signed up for more professional learning this year. Through ETFO, I noticed a number of programs for my own learning and committed to using these opportunities to make some great connections online with other like-minded educators. 

One ETFO program that I joined was Code Black. The program started in January and concluded in May. During this time there were sessions and online learning that prompted us to explore our leadership skills while developing new skills. One particular session that has stayed with me beyond the day was our second session. This session resonated with me because I had the opportunity to hear from incredible speakers who shared their experiences and I saw similarities within my own experience. Far too often, as Black women, we gaslight ourselves when we face experiences that are unbelievable. We talk ourselves out of believing what is actually happening and what we are experiencing because many of them are unfathomable.  It was in this program that I had the opportunity to truly get to know an incredible educator, Tracy Halliday.  

With any learning, I feel there must come action. As a part of this program, we had to come up with an action plan for an area in education where we would like to see change. Of course being Black women, Tracy and I wanted to work on creating an Affinity Space for Black educators who identify as women. We spent time together dreaming and visioning and I have to say that it was such a pleasure connecting with her to do this work. Although we have yet to meet in person, it was through this online connection that our idea came to life. 

While the pandemic has brought barriers to the way in which we connect, I’m so grateful for the technology that allowed the two of us to come up with this much-needed space. 

Affinity Spaces

Many Black women have found that minimal effort is made to wholly include and/or value our voices and experiences. Often isolated and required to be silent about the injustices that we see and experience – for fear of reprisal – many internalize the daily struggle that it is to be a Black woman. As a result, our overall health and well-being have been impacted in a variety of negative ways. Knowing this, Tracy and I wondered: 

“What if there was a space where we as Black women could voice our experiences and ideas for change within education and actually be heard? What would change for Black women? What would change for education as a whole?”

While we know that affinity spaces aren’t new, we hope that this space can help to support change based on the commonalities in our experiences and the needs of those within the group. Excited about the idea and knowing the power of connections that can be had online, we crossed panels and reached out to another incredible educator – judy mckeown – who we both admire and have learned so much from. She joined us for our first Affinity Space and it was JOY! Space to: speak, be heard, laugh, dream, challenge each other, and grow. That hour alone fueled me with so much energy and was a clear demonstration to me that as Black women, we need these safe spaces to just be. 

It’s summer and once again, which for me, is a time to reflect on what the next year will bring. This summer, I’m taking the time to dream big about the changes and impact that I will have inside and outside of the world of education. As I dream, I’m making sure that I take care of myself and fuel my days with things that bring me joy. I hope that you have a safe and restful summer. Please take care!

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.

Virtual Design Sprint

One of the highlights of this past month was working with a colleague to run a design sprint in their virtual classroom. I had so much fun working with students around a repeatable process that they could use to solve any problem! With our time limited to one day, these Grade 4 students rose to the challenge and created some incredible solutions that absolutely blew my mind!!!

What Is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a repeatable process that when the user is centered, allows students to gain empathy for those for whom they are designing. The process is cyclical and at any point, designers can always return to an earlier point in the process so as to create a more effective solution. 

We started our day using a Jamboard and considered all the problems that exist in the world around us. I think it was at this moment that I knew that this was going to be an incredible day! From the isolation related to dealing with Covid to food insecurity, these Grade 4 students were looking at the world with their eyes wide open. As we worked, the students took time to sort their ideas into categories, looking for similarities that may exist between problems. 

From there, the students each picked just one problem that they wanted to spend the day tackling. This is sometimes very tricky as there are so many different problems that we may be passionate about. Once they picked the problem that they wanted to focus on, the students took some time to research.  In order to create effective solutions, we must understand the problem in an in-depth way. 

Our next step was to consider who was affected and to pick someone for whom we would design our solution. Without actually doing interviews and knowing our users well, this is often difficult because we do make assumptions. This was a key part in helping students to understand that this is a process and once we know more, we often have to rethink the effectiveness of our solutions and sometimes this means going back to the drawing board.

Next, we moved into ideation and used Crazy 8s to come up with some new and innovative ideas. With most groups, there is some worry about coming up with ideas quickly but once again, these students jumped on board and came right along with me. 

In the afternoon, we spent some time paper prototyping and creating pitches for our solutions. After presentations and feedback, the students had the opportunity to reflect on the day: what they learned about themselves and the process, and also how they could use the learning in the future. 

What Was the Learning for Students?

The students walked away with some incredible ideas for how they would create change in the world. Through the use of these design tools, they were excited to consider the next steps to their creations. While I always struggle with the limitation of implementation that sometimes comes with design, with this group, I am actually hopeful for what they might create, given the opportunity to connect with someone who might support the execution of their idea. 

One idea that came from our day was the creation of an app that would record, track and report instances of racism. Clearly, over the past year, the students in the class have been having critical conversations about race and what is happening in the world around us. It’s because of these conversations and the fact that we can no longer ignore that these issues are having an impact on our children, that this student decided to focus on this topic. Although there were many features of this student’s app, I loved that the designer considered the fact that not everyone has data and that the app would work without it. They also made it easy to access and share the information so that even in a difficult situation – such as facing racism – the user would be able to utilize the app to its fullest potential.

With all of the problems and challenges we all are facing these days, I think it’s pretty incredible to learn a repeatable process for designing something new. Whether or not these ideas come to life right away, I know that these students have learned a new way of problem solving and I know that many will take these skills and apply them in the future. 

Interested in learning more about how to run your own design sprint or how to incorporate elements of design thinking into your program for next year? Join me in August for a 3-day Summer Academy Course on Design Thinking for All. You won’t want to miss it!

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.

Final Reflections from a Remote Teacher

Wow, what a year it has been! And to think, we didn’t think things could get any wilder than 2020. I have taught grade seven online since the first week of school and am finishing up next week. I have learned so much this year about myself as a teacher and about the things that children go through each and every day. Taking away the physical aspect of school has been challenging for some students yet so beneficial for others. For most of the students in my class, it was an overall positive experience. I was so lucky to have my 29 incredible students for this online experience. 

As I mentioned in my last blog post, my students participated in an interview with me where they asked questions about their efforts in certain subjects. 

I am pleased to say that many of them took the opportunity to hand in extra assignments or to bump up current ones. My students also had a chance to reflect on the learning skills they were most proud of and ones that they hope to work on in the future. They also had great final reflections about their year online. I posed the question to them, “What are you most proud of about your grade seven year?” Here were their responses:

  • The fact that I am in a class full of kind people
  • I am most proud of my marks and grades. I have been working so hard and it has paid off
  • Not getting distracted 
  • Staying on task and asking questions if confused 
  • Attendance and coming on time 
  • How to use different websites, finishing my work on time and kind of mostly everything because online school can be hard sometimes
  • My participation
  • I think I am proud that I did everything on time and proud that I did well
  • Improved on tech. skills 
  • I try my best and that’s what I’m most proud of
  • Doing my assignments on time, coming to class on time and being respectful to others in the chat or either the mic
  • I’m proud of staying in class and working on difficult work
  • Participating, even if I get the answer wrong
  • I’m proud that me and the class did a whole year of online school
  • How well I did even though I was nervous starting
  • I’m proud of my first term report
  • Doing online learning and enjoying it even though I thought it would be boring
  • Work through the MS teams platform, virtual activities and enjoying the whole experience
  • I’m happy with my marks
  • For making it through the year 
  • Not losing focus from the IRL transition to online learning
  • The fact that i can learn both in this environment and outside in an actual school
  • Being nice 
  • Online learning in general 
  • Finding a really good friend 🙂 

As you can see, it was an overall positive experience as my students learned how to see the positive in almost all situations, especially, learning remotely.

I have also learned many things throughout this year. I have discovered some incredible new programs and have developed some new teaching strategies in math and literacy. I have also discovered some game-changing activities and routines that I hope to keep as a permanent part of my program.

Math:

 I would like to keep using the virtual whiteboard in the classroom, having six (or however many iPads I have) students using the iPad during math. These students will share their strategies with their classmates after solving on their whiteboard platform. This will be a leadership opportunity and I am hoping as time goes on, all students will want to share their strategies. This was my favourite math teaching style that occurred this year as many “ah-ha” moments occurred as a result of the students sharing their work. I think it is much more exciting working on the whiteboards rather than coming up to write on the physical whiteboard. This will also ensure that students can work in their own space if we still need to worry about physical distancing. Other students will work in their notebook or physical whiteboard until it is their day to have the whiteboard app.

 I would also like to save Fridays for games in math as a way to summarize the learning from that week. The games my class loved were: Kahoot and Gimkit (which offers about 12 different types of games within). 

Language

This year I loved meeting with a small group one day a week to teach a lesson and then they would have the rest of the week to work on that activity. I received the most amount of participation during the small group sessions and by the following week, students always had their test completed. Many students commented about how their favourite part of the day was the small language groups. Having that small group size allowed all students to share and have a turn. This was actually the only time where I heard from students that did not participate in the main call. The setting of the small groups made them feel more comfortable.

I also want to make sure I have another class novel next year. I would love having students as the readers once again and they would pass the book to the next reader after they read a page or two. This was a great way to cover all the reading expectations which I would post as questions that would follow that days reading. They would answer these questions in the chat and in the classroom I would love to have this continue either by them raising their hands or by documenting it in a notebook. 

Routines/Activities:

  • Saying hello to each student in the morning
  • Spending every Monday morning sharing about our weekends and creating a goal for the week (and if they met the goal from the week before). These goals contributed to their self regulation mark.
  • Having student shoutouts at the end of each week. A student would raise their hand and give a shout-out to a specific student who went above and beyond that week or improved in something, etc. It could really be for any reason
  • Independent work periods once or twice a week as catch up periods and instead of breakout rooms, having the middle table open for students who need one on one support
  • Asking how everyone’s break was when they come back in from break 
  • Morning music until the announcements start
  • Student-led movement breaks where students design and lead a 20 minute DPA activity on the days without physical education
  • Discussing current events rather than hoping they didn’t hear the news 
  • Openly talking about all board holidays, special weeks or months in the year and celebrating in our class 
  • Cooking lessons led by students

Teaching online is an experience that I found very rewarding as it really tested all of us to see if we could handle this change. I know that as a teacher I appreciated the challenge and I know my students definitely rose to the challenge. I look forward to blogging about my in-class experiences in September!

Have an amazing summer everyone! 

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.

Top Ten Tips for Attending Virtual Professional Learning for Educators

So much learning is happening virtually now and it is amazing.  I recently attended a virtual EdTech Conference in Nebraska!  This is an opportunity I never would have been able to take advantage of before the pandemic.  I have attended a number of virtual conferences during COVID and I’ve also organized and facilitated virtual learning over the last year and it is a different way to get your learn on!

In order to really get the most out of Virtual Professional Learning here are my go-to suggestions:

  1.  Organize your time and your conference selections in advance.  If there are many choices, take the time to do the research on the session and on the presenter. If there are digital links for presentations on the conference site to add into a digital tote-do it before your sessions so that you aren’t tempted to leave the session in order to do so.  Thank you ISTE LIVE 21  for the digital tote feature!
  2. Be PRESENT.  Be mindful and intentional about your learning.  If it isn’t the kind of learning that you were expecting, hop over to another session otherwise you’ll be resentful of wasted time and learning.
  3. Put your “out of office” email message on and don’t check your email.  If you were in an in-person setting, checking your email would be rude. This is time for your learning so treasure and protect that time.
  4. When possible attend LIVE sessions not asynchronous or previously recorded sessions.  LIVE sessions have opportunities to engage and ask questions which makes the learning is deeper.
  5. Have a PLP (Professional Learning Partner) or two! No one really wants to go to a conference by themselves. Some of the best learning takes place when you share what you learned in a session that your PLP wasn’t able to attend! You double the learning!
  6. Participate in the learning.  If there is a chat feature then put who you are and where you are from in the chat.  Ask questions, engage and connect.  This is where you grow your Professional Learning Network.  In a face to face conference you would sit down and meet new people.  Think of how you would engage with others in a real conference setting.
  7. TWEET! TWEET!  Get the conference hashtag, follow it, retweet and tweet about your learning and the presenters.  Follow those presenters and give them a shoutout. Take a picture of the slide that they are sharing and post it (without people’s faces and names in it.)  It is awesome as a facilitator to see the tweets afterwards.  It is timely feedback and motivational for the presenter.
  8. Take notes.  My PLPs and I recently collaborated on note taking using a Google Slide deck while attending a conference.  We pasted links, took screenshots and put notes of important information into the slide deck so we have the learning for later.
  9. Participate.  As a presenter, it isn’t nice to present to the empty boxes on Zoom or Webex. Just as in person, it is nice to see the reaction of the audience to pace yourself and to know that they are still with you! That being said, if you are eating or dealing with your dog or family or have decided to multi-task, leaving your camera on can be distracting for the participants and the presenter.  If there is a question asked in the chat, respond! There is nothing like being a presenter left hanging.  If there is a poll, a word cloud, a Jamboard,or a Kahoot, play along! The presenter created these things in order to make the presentation interactive for the adult learner.
  10.  Take Breaks.  Make sure you look carefully at the schedule (and the time zone) in order to plan your screen, water, coffee, bathroom, movement or snack breaks.

The most important thing to remember is that the presenters put time and effort to share their learning and expertise with you.  It is nerve-wracking to present to a group of educators.  Tech savvy people have tech issues too.  Give presenters grace and remember to thank them and provide feedback for their work and expertise.  They will appreciate it!

 

What’s Your Superpower?

 

“What’s My Superpower” is a sweet and powerful book written by Aviaq Johnston and illustrated by Tim Mack. This is the story of Nalvana, an Inuit child who lives in a northern community, and her journey to find her own “superpower”. This book was gifted to me by my educator friend, Ellie Clin. She thought I might be able to relate to Nalvana, and she was right!

As we prepare for the end of year, some of us might be hoping to include student voice in our Report Cards and/or facilitate Student-Led Conferences. This story could inspire Writing, Drama, and Visual Arts, as well as meaningful opportunities for self-reflection and celebration of all of our “superpowers.”

Here is how I am planning to use this book:

1. Listen to the story, “What’s My Superpower?” by Aviaq Johnston, read aloud on-line.

2. Reflect: What is your superpower?
For example: What makes you a good friend? What activities feel easy for you? What are your gifts or talents?

3. Write about your superpower. Give examples.

4. Draw a picture of yourself using your superpower.

5. Optional: Dress up as a superhero and share your superpower with the class.


I shared this idea with other teachers in the school, and invited them to co-create the template and “success criteria”. We have been talking about creating a shared writing task that can be implemented across the grades to help us build a skills continuum or exemplars of student work from Kindergarten-Grade 6. This writing sample could be considered both a self-reflection for Learning Skills and an introduction to next year’s teacher. It could be included in every students’ portfolio, and/or used for moderated marking.

Transforming Power:
I recently participated in professional learning as part of ETFO’s MentorCoaching program. One of the workshops was called “Transforming Power,” and it was facilitated by Indy Bathh and Louise Pitre. The first activity we did together was to share our superpowers in the Chat. This was a wonderful way to introduce ourselves to each other, and to practice naming our strengths.

It is always interesting to reflect on qualities of leadership with a group of educators who identify as women. As you might expect, the impact of patriarchy and misogyny, capitalism and racism reinforce the oppressive belief that women have less value. In a group of union leaders, it was still difficult for some of the women to identify their own superpowers. This reminded me of how important it is for all of our students to know their power, and to feel powerful, and to use their power to make change.


I want to encourage everyone who is reading this blog to pause and reflect. What are your superpowers? Make a list or draw them. Can you think of a time when you used your superpower to support and empower others? HINT: You do it every day with your students!

CommUNITY:
As I reflect on my own superpowers, I think about how I have been successful at creating community this year: in the classroom, in the school, and in professional learning communities.  During this time of isolation, building relationships and making connections has been the most meaningful work I have done.

In the classroom, I support everyone to feel like a VIP every day. We play together, and celebrate our strengths by giving and receiving Heartprints. In GLOW Club, I actively teach about love, pride and resistance. I organize whole-school events, like the WTF embodied Land Acknowledgment, Gender Splendour Week, sing and dance like a Mummer, and strut my stuff on the runway during our Kiki Ball. I listen and share picture books with staff, and acknowledge the powerful work they are doing with their students.

In the school, I facilitate brave conversations with families through Book Club and Community Core Values discussions, and I share resources with families about Settler Allyship and how to talk to children about anti-Black racism. As the Union Steward, I use our BBSAT (Building Better Schools Action Team) distribution list to share information about ETFO campaigns and actions by Ontario Education Workers United and Ontario Parent Action Network. 

As part of my own professional learning, I will continue to share ETFO’s Women’s Equality Project with locals, and collaborate with members in Ottawa to build relationships of equity and justice. I will continue to attend ETFO webinars and access resources.  I hope to finish my Masters of Education next year.  It has been an honour and a privilege to learn with educators in community.

Gratitude:
After 12 years, I will be leaving The Grove Community School. As one of the founding teachers, I am extremely proud of the learning we have done together to create the first public alternative elementary school with an explicit focus on environmental justice, equity and community activism. I am deeply grateful for all of the students, families, educators, and community members I have worked with at The Grove, ETT and ETFO.  Thank you!

Thank you to “The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” for the opportunity to document this unusual year with my Grade 2 students. This summer, my partner and I are moving to Peterborough.  I will be teaching in Kawartha Pine Ridge as an Occasional Teacher next year, which will be a humbling experience.  I will be looking for new allies and educator friends, and re-reading posts from this blog for support and inspiration.