kids these days – student version

What is the first song that comes to mind when you think of your students?

Is it Them Kids by Sam Roberts Band or Kids by MGMT? Solid tracks if so. However, after nearly three months in this grade six homeroom, the song that keeps playing the loudest in my head is The Kids are Alright by the Who. To be more precise, one line from the song’s chorus. La phrase juste.

“The kids are alright.” – gush warning pending in proceeding paragraphs

I am not going to dwell on the inner workings of the melody, harmony, and verses of this classic rock masterpiece, except to say that the Who provide a superbly sonic conduit to get me to the one line in the chorus that is the soundtrack to this year so far. I can’t explain it either, but I know that teachers young and old of my generation can join together in harmony knowing that the kids are alright and won’t get fooled again. Amen.

After 5 incredibly educational years as a SERT, Transitions, and FI Lang/Math teacher the return to a homeroom classroom has brought with it a breath of fresh air that I was not able to have while my role was trifurcated. I feel a bit selfish being able to teach in my own classroom all day long. It feels good to linger a little longer in a subject area when the magic is happening, safe in the knowledge that causing any changes to the daily schedule are not going to affect my colleagues.

I think that the universe agreed that the past 3 years of online, in person, and hy&r!d instruction helped me build up enough karma points this year? I would have also been good with unadulterated good fortune as an explanation, but I think there is more to it than that. I believe that it has to do with the kids these days who are walking through the door each day.

Bringers of joy

I am happy, inspired, and excited for what is going to happen each day. Sometimes it is the little things like the way they are suddenly able to pause for a moment of redirection without making it a big deal. Maybe it is when they all want to volunteer to do something and even when some don’t, they still accept their fair share of a task. Perhaps it is their willingness to share their thoughts

We have created ideal communities, solved school and global problems using design thinking models, done research/designed devices to support bees as a keystone species in great danger, discussed, read, and written about racism (anti-Black, AAPI, and anti-Indigenous) and identity, we have reviewed a lot of Math and have taken some extremely large bites out of fixed mindsets that were taking over Math learning, these growth mindset habits are happening in French class too.

Add in a lot of personal reading, writing, and constant creative opportunity time, the days are speeding by faster than I care to reckon. Each time I think I am raising the bar, my students are already figuring out how to launch themselves over and above it. It’s not perfect, but I think that’s what makes this year special. This class possesses something I haven’t seen in a while, a spirit of otherliness and collaboration that has allowed for some very positive partnerships leading to meaningful outcomes. It is their collective willingness to give their best, try out new approaches, and learn to see things through the eyes of others that makes me sing that chorus.

Do you know what makes me happiest about all of this? 

I get to do work with them tomorrow and the days after that all the way through June because the kids these days are alright.

Beyond One Day – Truth & Reconciliation through curriculum planning.

Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day Bead Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

Schooling or Learning?

For many, when presented with both, schooling is the same as learning, and learning seems to be something that only occurs in schools. Is this the case, however?

At ETFO’s Public Symposium titled ‘Generation Black: You’re Next!’,  Dr. Carl James highlighted why educators must pause and reflect on the similarities and differences between these two concepts. 

What is schooling? According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary (2022), schooling is defined as “the education you receive at school”. When cross-referenced with various dictionaries (Marriam-Webster, Collins, and Cambridge dictionaries), they all provide the same definition – education received at an institution, whether at a primary, secondary, or tertiary level. 

Learning, however, is not as straightforward in its definition. Going back to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, learning is given different definitions within various contexts. According to all the dictionaries mentioned above, learning is a process that occurs in multi-settings in multiple ways, beginning when an individual is born. 

“For educators, the ability to teach is a privilege, but in a broader sense, it is a privilege that runs parallel to the responsibility of teaching relative to the complete history of ideas and events that have shaped and continue to shape human growth and development” (Dei, Karumanchery, & Karumanchery-Luikb, 2004). 

Since learning is a continuous process, and schooling is one of the environments in which learning occurs, how can we, as educators, ensure that learning is facilitated meaningfully within the school environment?

Planning Matters:

In 2020, the Ontario Black History Society examined a Grade 8 history textbook and ‘blacked out‘ any information that did not mention or acknowledge Black people in Canada. Of the 255 pages of information, only 13 pages remained. Indigenous sovereignty, economics, and culture are rarely explored in the K-12 curriculum. Thus, students absorb this information, effectively being erased within their learning, and are expected to repeat this narrative in everyday Canadian contexts as acceptable discourse within society. The impact and contributions of people within the 2SLGBTQ+ community and other cultural communities are erased from ‘settler’ rhetoric and in curriculum/resources used to direct learning. Thus, students absorb this information, effectively being erased within their learning, and are expected to repeat this narrative in everyday Canadian contexts as acceptable discourse within society.

Breaking the cycle of erasure and omission within the classroom is linked to the planning stage. Before planning, take the time to know your learners. Become familiar with the communities in which they live. Foster a classroom environment wherein their experiences inside and outside of the classroom are valued and can be welcomed in their learning space. Cultivate incorporating student input, perspectives, ideas, and resources into Unit and Lesson planning. Develop connections with community members and partners inside and outside the school that can broaden your familiarity with resources that reflect the society in which we live. Approach your planning intentionally, using an anti-racist, anti-oppressive lens, which creates a window for your students to engage with often omitted members of their society and a mirror whereby they see themselves reflected in their learning.

Representation Matters:

“Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming—between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression” (Friere, 2005. p. 88).

In short, representation matters. Recentering multi-representation in learning is one of the vehicles for transformative change that can begin to shine a light on learning our whole in constructive ways.

  • Think about the resources you use and share with your class. Who is reflected? Who is erased? Who is tokenized? Who is omitted?
  • Reflect on your interactions with parents, guardians and members of your school community? Who is made to feel welcome? Who is kept at arm’s length? Whose experiences are valued? Whose experiences are often invalidated?
  • Conduct an inventory of your learning and resource plans. Are you ensuring that your plans reflect the learners in your classroom? How have you challenged yourself to plan and facilitate learning from a social justice, equity, and inclusive lens? Have you included your learners’ interests, backgrounds, and experiences as integral to planning and lesson facilitation?

Assessment Matters:

As stated in the Growing Success policy document put forth by the Ontario Ministry of Education regarding authentic assessment, “Our challenge is that every student is unique, and each must have opportunities to achieve success according to his or her own interests, abilities, and goals” (Ontario Ministry of Education Growing Success, 2010).

Assessment and Evaluation practices in Growing Success (2010) state that “the seven fundamental principles lay the foundation for rich and challenging practice. When these principles are accepted, implemented, utilized, and observed by all teachers, assessment becomes a tool for collecting meaningful information that will help inform instructional decisions, promote student engagement, foster meaningful demonstration of student understanding, and improve student learning overall.

 

References:

Dei, G. J. S., Karumanchery, L. L., & Karumanchery-Luikb, N. (2004). Chapter Seven: Weaving the Tapestry: Anti-Racism Theory and Practice. Counterpoints,244, 147–164. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42979563

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Edition (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. (Original work published 1921).

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. Retrieved from https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Learning. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/.

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Schooling. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/.

Why Representation Matters in Your Teaching Practice

Growing in Ontario as a second generation Filipino largely involved learning someone else’s histories and stories – voyageurs, cowboys, settlers, fur traders, and a whole slew of white protagonists. I didn’t know that I was missing any perspectives, and happily read my way through Shakespeare, Salinger and Austen, dreaming of studying English literature in university.

When I started teaching, I dutifully used whatever resources were provided, excitedly poring over the details of England’s glorious wars and conquests. I genuinely believed I was sharing alternative perspectives through ‘multicultural’ or ‘social justice’ texts written by white authors. I firmly subscribed to the idea that creative works of fiction could be viewed separately from an author’s lived experience, and that a text did not need to be questioned if it contained all the elements of ‘good’ storytelling.

Despite my best efforts to serve my diverse group of students, I was ultimately serving up the same perspective and worldview I had been raised with: Euro-centric, Western, and woefully one-sided.

Like many other educators over the last 5-10 years, I felt the need to decolonize my work and critically reflect on my own perspective. And while I am still largely on a journey to understand my own complex relationship with Canada and my family’s cultural ancestry, I am certain that we have the capacity and resources to ensure that the students we teach don’t have to be instilled with a worldview that undermines their own sense of identity by ignoring and devaluing their cultural assets.

Use Culturally Responsive Resources

Representation matters. When you don’t see yourself represented in the media you consume or what you learn in school, you can feel alienated from your own community or surroundings. Seeing yourself and your culture in what you learn is engaging, empowering and exciting.

Teachers today likely have access to the most diverse range of authors and stories in the history of publishing. Black, Indigenous, East Asian, South Asian, Latinx, Southeast Asian and 2SLGBTQ+ authors are writing some incredible books for kids and young adults. And no, you don’t have to read every young adult novel or picture book that hits the shelves of your local bookstore: ask the library resource, support staff or consultant in your school or board to suggest some titles, and divide the reading up with your teaching team. Build literature circles or reading units with the titles that reflect the range of identities of the students in your classroom, co-planning and co-teaching as much as possible to save time and energy.

Beyond language arts, there are so many ways to make your programming more culturally responsive and representative of the students you teach. Incorporate the voices and histories of different communities in your social studies, history, or geography teaching. Make independent research and inquiry a regular practice, scaffolding learning by providing prompts or ideas that encourage learners to discover different perspectives and to consume historical and social discourses critically.

If the class or classes you teach is monocultural, students will still benefit from learning diverse perspectives and narratives. Such texts can dispel stereotypes, enable students to develop a more balanced perspective of society, or spark interest and engagement.

Change Isn’t Easy

Doing the work of disrupting the way you teach is not easy and will certainly not happen overnight. It is easy to get triggered by ideas and perspectives that don’t align with the worldview you have held for much of your life. And it can feel onerous to invest time and energy into changing your program. So start with small changes: a new text or approach to assessment, tweaking your discussion questions to provoke a more critical discussion, or connect with other teachers that are intentionally changing their programming to be anti-racist and anti-oppressive.

The effort you place into making today’s learning environment a more inclusive place will pay off when you see students feeling seen, engaged and connected to the place they learn.

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

 

Pandemic Stories in Children’s Literature

I’ve been reading books that seem to have a theme centred around the impacts of the pandemic. Children’s books and YA novels are often some of my favourite reads, whether or not I take them back to the classroom to read or study with students. In this post, I’ll share 2 books that I have recently read.

New From Here – Kelly Yang

If you have read any of my previous posts or follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a Kelly Yang fan, through and through. Her writing is real and vulnerable and I strongly believe that it’s because she writes from her own lived experiences. While I knew that I was in for a treat with New From Here, I didn’t think that I would find myself as emotional as I was while reading through the pages. 

Written from the perspective of ten-year-old Knox Wei-Evans, New From Here shares the impact of the pandemic in a real and vivid way. While not only trying to stay safe from the threat of Covid-19, we also get a real look at the anti-Asian hate experienced, not only by adults but young children. Although my heart ached for the characters in the book, seeing the bravery and advocacy of Knox, not only for himself and his family but also for his classmate, made me hopeful. I journeyed into this profession because I strongly believe that children are the very best humans on the planet. This book was a great reminder of just how great they really are. 

I’ve used other Kelly Yang books in my classroom to talk about themes of stereotypes and racism and would use this book in a similar way. Depending on the relationships we have built, it might also serve as an opportunity for students to share their experiences during the pandemic. Hate and discrimination in a variety of forms have been experienced by many people during this pandemic. Sharing and hearing each others’ stories is essential in learning just how deep the impact of this has been. From this learning, we have an opportunity for change, if as a collective, we choose. While there are many who seem eager to shed their masks and “return to normal”, for many, this isn’t a possibility nor a desire because the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t over and the pandemic of race, rages on.

Ain’t Burned All the Bright – Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

This book came as a recommendation from a colleague – Casey MacDonald – and I’m so grateful! I listed both the name of the author and illustrator because this mixed-media work of art is just that, a work of art. 

Grounded in 2020, and beginning with the pandemic of race, Breath One reminds us of the protests that were happening in many parts of the world after the murder of George Floyd. While we saw black squares and written statements, this is a pandemic that has continued to rage on. While many were panic-stricken with the thought of something new potentially causing harm, long-term injury or death, this was an added layer to merely trying to exist for many communities. 

Breath Two delves more into the isolation of lockdown and the experience of relying on one another, within a family, to make it through. I know that during the lockdown it was challenging to compete for space to teach while others are working and still others, learning. The challenge was real and I wonder the impact this may have as we reflect back in a few years. 

Breath Three is a somewhat optimistic look at what is most important when it comes to breathing through both pandemics – Covid-19 & race. Although this text is grounded in 2020, it’s important to note that for many, not much has changed. We’ve moved on from performative statements and symbols and we’ve “opened up” and yet Black deaths are still captured on video and many still remain isolated at home because of the very real threat of Covid-19 to their lives. It’s interesting to sometimes sit and note for whom a “return to normal” is acceptable or wanted.

The imagery in this book is incredible. While the words are powerful, the combination of the two is what really makes this book a work of art. In a number of instances, I had to go back and it was as though I saw more with a second take. This might be a powerful book to support the teaching symbolism with secondary students for Visual Arts. I do love the explanation at the end of the collaboration and wonder if a similar project, perhaps about this subject or another might be an opportunity for cross-curricular learning. 

Two books, very different in style, and specific experiences of the characters and yet the themes of Covid and racism are seen throughout. As the world looks toward “reopening” what will change? What will remain the same? How might these stories help support us in searching for and creating better for and with those most marginalized? I so love how Children’s books and YA Novels can prompt us to consider how we might do better as a society.

Curtis Carmichael- an inspiring teacher and activist

On March 4th, my school staff was lucky enough to listen to one of the most passionate guest speakers I have ever heard. His name is Curtis Carmichael and a talented author, teacher, speaker and activist. He is best known for his bike ride across Canada, striving for change in his Toronto community. He is also known for writing Butterflies in the Trenches, the first augmented reality book of its kind. I will include his website here in case you wish to learn more about his story and specifics.

Carmichael discussed many powerful topics with us, the first one being our job as educators. Here are the things he highlighted:

  • Unwrap each child’s gift
    • Carmichael is a firm believer that every single child has a gift and its our job to “unwrap it” and see for ourselves what makes them so special.
  • Prepare them for the real world
    • Carmichael mentions the importance of not running away from the community where they grew up but looking for ways to make it better. The real world will introduce new challenges for them after their educational journey and we need to prepare them for those

As for his book Butterflies in the Trenches, Carmichael encourages educators to read it with their class and to use the teacher guide it comes with. As he puts it,

    Butterflies in the Trenches is the candid story of Curtis’ life in the public housing projects in Scarborough, Ontario, where he grew up surrounded by trap houses, attending underfunded schools, and avoiding drive-by shootings. He shares raw and intimate stories from his childhood as a drug dealer and hustler and explores the effects of poverty, systemic racism, and police brutality on Black and low-income communities.

His story is so important for other children to hear as they grow up in similar surroundings. Hearing what he did was a meaningful story that all in the room were beyond inspired by. The opportunities he is presenting for young Black Canadians is outstanding and I shared his story with my class the Monday following this presentation. They had many questions about his journey across Canada and all that he has gone through.

Other ideas he speaks about are co-creating classroom activities with your class. Asking them what works and what doesn’t and going from there. I know the year is quickly wrapping up but there is still time to get everyone on the same page. He also mentions “Gamification” which is turning educational premises into games. This will encourage participation from the students in your class and will get them more engaged in their learning.

After Carmichael’s Zoom call ended, I thought about how to continue inspiring community in my classroom. I did an activity with them on the Monday where I asked them about their definition of community. These were their answers:

  • big group of people
  • BLM
  • a large amount of people in a group that agree on a specific topic
  • civilization
  • a place where people work, live and get along

I was saddened to see that “our class” or “a school” didn’t quite make it on the list. I will work harder to create community in my classroom and continue to look at activities that will engage all. The more initiatives that we take on as a class, I find it brings us closer together. We look forward to perhaps celebrating another spirit day as a class or creating a “Pink Day” for the entire school with the other 7/8 students. I was grateful for Carmichael as he reminded me of the importance of community and how co-creation is such a great way to start.

I look forward to sharing about how my students react to his book after we receive our copy next week.

Carmichael on Twitter: @CurtisCarmicc
Instagram: curtiscarmicc

 

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.

Why a Black History Month?

I have often wondered why February was chosen to celebrate Black History, so I did some research and found out some interesting facts. 

It so happens that Black History Month evolved from the work of Carter G. Woodson, a Black American historian and scholar in the 1920s. He actually first established Black History Week in the 1920s as a week of celebration to follow the year’s study of Black history. The week he chose contained the birth dates of two significant people to the abolition of slavery in the United States: February 12th for President Abraham Lincoln who brought emancipation into law and February 14th for Frederick Douglas who advocated for the freedom of Black people. Toronto first celebrated Black History in the 1950s when the Canadian Women’s Negro Association brought the celebration to the city. In 1978 the Ontario Black History Society successfully petitioned the City of Toronto to have the now monthly celebration formally recognized. Black History Month is now celebrated across Canada to honour the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities. 

 

But Why a Black History Month?

I think that all Canadians should be made aware of the historical contributions made by Black Canadians. It’s important to understand the social forces which have shaped and influenced the Black community and their identities as a means of feeling connected to the educational experience and their life experience in Canada. Canadian history should include all people’s history, and Black history should be no exception.

As a school community, I look forward to the day when all people are recognized, included and valued for who they are in our education system and in the broader society. Most importantly, I look forward to when everyday is a celebration of all our histories and all our contributions, and the topic of why a Black History Month would no longer be up for debate.

 

Move Away from Enslavement to Empowerment

In talking about and teaching about Black History, I find it more meaningful to focus on empowering students to become agents of change rather than victims of circumstances. One of the activities I have used is an Art/History lesson on understanding the social justice impact of Black Artists on our society. Below is an outline of my lesson that I hope might be of some use to you. The Google Doc was shared with me from another colleague, but I modified parts of it to make it culturally relevant to my school community.

 

Why are we learning about this anyway?

  1. To highlight the successes and accomplishments of Black visual artists
  2. To learn how Black visual artists use their work to address real-life, complex problems relating to anti-oppression, equity and social justice

Task: Using Google Slides – Research, analyse and recreate a piece of art from one of the Black artists discussed in class: Ernie Barnes, Varnette Honeywood, Romare Bearden, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Annie Lee

  • Describe, highlight and and explain the artist’s creative style and abilities
  • Explain how the artist’s work can be seen from an anti-oppressive, equity and social justice lens
  • Recreate the selected piece of art as a platform to represent your own interpretation and understanding of the message the art represents in the original piece

Impact: Students were able to use digital tools to make discoveries through inquiry and research. They were also able to make connections to what they are learning to current issues and their lived experiences.

Black History Artists – Assignment

 

Notable Black People in Canada – A Breakout

Last summer I had the privilege of working with a school around meaningful uses of technology to spark creativity with students. It was an incredible half-day session where participants had the opportunity to play and get creative themselves, all while considering how the use of tech tools could further support students in learning and creativity. 

As you probably already know, I’m an avid user of G Suite For Education Tools. For years I’ve been using Slides, Forms and Sites to create breakout rooms for students as an interesting way to deliver content and to help further develop the skills of communication and collaboration. For our session, I created a Breakout on Notable Black people in Canada. As this is Black History Month, I thought I would take the opportunity to share it here with readers. 

This Breakout is a series of puzzles designed to help people to learn about the history, experiences, and contributions of a few notable Black people in Canada: The Maroons, William Hall, Hattie Melton, Molly Johnson, and Michaëlle Jean. I had a blast building this Breakout because it gave me an excuse – if you will – to learn more about the contributions of Black people, using tools that I was already familiar with. 

While I’m not sharing the answers to the breakout here, I encourage you to take some time to learn and answer the questions prior to sharing this breakout with your students, if you so choose. You know your students best and I think that it’s always great to have rich conversations both before and after deciding to jump into any new learning. Slide #2 has some great instructions to help guide you if you are not already familiar with breakouts. Do you have what it takes to breakout?