In loco contractus

It has taken a lot of restraint to ignore the volumes of micro-aggressive, passive aggressive, aggressive, and macro-aggressive comments flying around the Twitterverse about education since our most recent contract with the government expired this past August.

And then there is the elected official du jour with the education portfolio.

I have tried not to focus on the orchards of low hanging fruit being grown by our current Education Minister at the behest of his leader and his agenda. Elected or not, it is imperative of this incumbent and every other MPP to serve the public better. This means, any disinegenous attempts to villify our profession through weak one-liners and scripted media apperances as a scare tactic have to end. Saying you want a deal and then not bargaining will never be deemed as negotiating.

Despite not having a contract, all educators continue their tireless work on behalf of students to educate, encourage, and move forward even though our government managed to cut teachers and course offerings, and then wrote themselves a nearly 5 month absence note with a retro-active pay raise for good measure. This is not a sustainable situation. It is however, a recipe for a toxic and uncertain future.

What the province’s students need now is a government that sees, supports, and serves them and not the interests of corporate bullies or privateers bent on profiting from manufactured crises in public education. Instead they are blasted with a daily dose of misinformation without consideration of the present or the future. Our youth deserve a future and the truth.

This is what they are getting.

In between not negotiating, there have been absolutely zero authentic moments when this elected official sat at the table, conducted meaningful dialogue with teachers, or made an unscripted appearance at a public school without a camera crew. Maybe he should read my Undercover Boss post.

Instead it’s a steady stream of steamy slurry being served to the public via social media and scripted segments. #somethingsmells

Ontario education minister deletes tweet after social media backlash

“Lecce’s office told Global News on Thursday that the location of the photos was chosen due to timing and convenience, saying the decision was not made in an effort to avoid going to one of the province’s public schools but instead so as not to create a disruption.”

“My negotiating team stands ready for meaningful, good-faith bargaining 24/7, to reach the deals Ontario students and families deserve. There is a path to a deal, and it requires all parties to be reasonable and fair and put the needs of our children first.”

“Strikes hurt kids. Our Government has been clear, we want deals that keep students in class. For teacher unions to leave the table, to turn their back on our children, and to escalate to the point of compromising their education, is deeply troubling for parents and our Government.”

Cue Dr Carol Campbell from OISE and a litany of very committed educators who, to no surprise, have provided the corrections and descriptive feedback. Follow the thread all the way through. I especially like the part where the OntGov will never leave the table and be available 24/7. The OSSTF is also working hard at fact checking the M.O.Ed’s claims. #onceateacheralwaysateacher

There is nothing helpful about using the hashtag #strikeshurtkids that could ever be considered conscionable compared to the budget cuts being inflicted in our province. For so many people concerned about the public purse, a vision prescription update may be forthcoming to help them see the red ink that will stain the ledgers of future generations of Ontarians. When the people are denied adequate and equitable access to the world class education system that already exists in Ontario, the costs will make the current deficit look like an OLG winfall. The shortsightedness of this will end up costing us all. #antithetical #malfeasance or #unethical #incompetance

Think of overburdened social service systems, the disenfranchisement of students who have had their course options stolen, or of the marginalized/at-risk youth who deserve more interactions with opportunities and adults who are equipped to support them. Think about the danger to the economy of an underprepared/underserved workforce. This is why we need to keep up the struggle and fight against the visionless economic tyranny of the day. #cutshurtkids

Cuts Hurt Us All

Not to be overlooked, our collective rights as a union are being threatened by a pack of budget wolves that is blind to all but the bottom line. Few if any, have ever dared to step foot into the very institutions they wish to “save” and witness the magic and miracles being performed by teachers and support staff everyday without a press conference or a contract. Now that’s putting students first. #ETFOStrong

Speaking of immovable objects

Here’s an open ended question for your classroom or next staff meeting.

Q: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

I love asking questions like this. They tend to force people to engage a different set of neurons to come up with the answer(s). Usually, the room gets quiet at first, but then what follows can be quite rich and edifying.

Did images of the universe collapsing upon itself come to mind? Were Neutrinos, light energy, and dark matter dancing destructively in your mind? Nice, but this is not a Science blog. I predict nothing happens. This seems to be the most simple answer I can conjure. Especially, when neither entity can be stopped or moved. Let the exchange of ideas begin. This is what I strive to achieve in my classroom.

Lately, something has interrupted our flow. Again.

Fill in the blank.

It’s the most __________________ time of the year.

a) Wonderful (b) Hectic (c) Incredible (d) Stressful (e) All of the above

Here’s a snapshot from last week in my own incredibly hectic and quasi-stressed out classroom.
Tuesday: Students come to school under a cloud of distraction and worry over the provincial government’s mandatory standardized test EQAO. So I prescribed a Math test to get their minds off of the days ahead.

Wednesday to Friday: EQAO testing delivered over 3 days in 6 x 100 minute periods. Followed by a decision to provide 100 minutes of movement time each of those afternoons. After sitting at their desks writing assessments, which are as long as some high school tests, my grade 6 students earned the right to move around. So to the gym and outdoors we fled. Unless Participaction and Ophea are lying to us, an active body leads to a healthy mind and the two are inextricably connected because they add up to happy learners.


Movers and groovers

If we are truly differentiating education to support all learners in Ontario, then why is the standardized assessment basically a read and respond test? How are the needs of all learners honoured here? When will kinesthetic, musical, visual/spatial, and inter-personal learners get their rightful moments to shine? And then there are the students who suffer from anxiety regardless of their incredible skills.

Anxiety is one thing parents and schools do not need to teach students.

Q: Why do so many students come to school worried about this test?
A: They’ve learnt it at home, and then they’re learning it in school.

This revelation comes from an informal poll taken over 8 years of teaching students in grade 6, many, who feel their families put pressure on them over EQAO, and also that the school intentionally or inadvertently perpetuates in the classroom in Grades 3 and 6 does the same.

Despite repeated assurances that EQAO is a meaningless test, with regards to their report cards and chances of getting into university, students and their families are still laying a lot of emotional eggs into this basket. For whose benefit, then, do tests like these really serve? In my neighbourhood it appears to be increasingly financial as homes in “high achieving” schools like Markham and Unionville are in constant demand on the real estate market.  No pressure. 

Think of the money

Are parents sub-consciously stressing children over EQAO scores to influence their property values? Say it isn’t so. Each year on meet the parent night in September, the test is front and centre on the agenda of many in attendance. With some time and clear information, many of their concerns are acknowledged and addressed. However, 8 months into another year, there are still remnants of confusion in the general public. Recent correlations between house prices and test scores are adding fuel to this fire?

So how can you help students overcome test anxiety? Last year I shared some of my strategies. Below you’ll find some others to choose from and build on;

a) Give them lots of tests and worksheets to build up students’ test-taking immune systems? This is a classic technique from the Drill and Kill Society of Educators. This would not be my personal strategy to share, but it is still widely in use. It is easily rationalized with, “Life is a test” and “Everything is a test.” To which I reply, “Life’s tests are, at least, meaningful.”
b) Develop strategies for answering questions? This involves a plan. I always suggest reading the questions over 2 or 3 times while highlighting the key points, skipping questions to revisit afterwards helps students to get past feeling stuck, double checking calculations helps make sure all steps were followed along the way, and re-reading answers afterwards for evidence of understanding. These techniques help students to a point, but are not test taking cure-alls.
c) You could also build higher order-thinking skills that apply understanding, knowledge, application, and evaluation into every response?
d) Don’t forget to look after your body. Drink water, have a snack, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and repeat motivational axiom of your choice. You got this.

Our corner

What did we do to prepare? Nothing. No sheet of paper was harmed in preparation for EQAO in my class. I posted some links to the EQAO homepage via our class web site at the beginning of the year after a parent requested them. Other than that, it’s been a beautiful year of asking engaging questions, interleaving concepts*, and opportunities to develop/use critical thinking in every aspect of the learning lives.

Let me know what strategies you use in the classroom to combat standardized test fatigue. Please share in the comments section and keep the conversation going. Thank you.

* More on Interleaving via


My grade five class is almost done their perimeter and area unit. At the close of this unit, I was having trouble deciding what the best option would be, a project or a test. I decided to present both options to the class and then let them select which one they should do.

I then had an issue with letting students who had received an “A” on their reports not do both. I wanted them to challenge themselves by trying both since they had achieved such a high mark on their report card.

Some students reacted very negatively to this thinking they wish they had received a lower mark. I on the other hand, tried to explain to them that since they had such a high mark on their report, they have proven that this unit is not a challenge to them so they should challenge themselves by trying to take on two activities.

It was interesting how many students chose to take the test over the project. I for one, HATE tests and as a child never enjoyed spending time after school studying for them. As a teacher, I dislike giving them as well because they do not offer any creative elements for the child who is writing it. So when some of my students chose the test over the project, I was rather shocked.

I am happy I gave my students the option because I loved seeing students debate over both and then finally arrive on their final choice. I think that when I was in university learning about choices for students, I never really understood the feeling over power it would give my future students. It was amazing seeing them weighing their options and I am happy I was able to give them that feeling.

The test

IMG_4870I am sitting in a room that silently waits for its students.

Merely by the way the desks are arranged, the world knows that it’s not going to be another normal day. Today is test day. Yup, that TEST.

With some trepidation, students will enter the classroom which has now been transformed overnight from a collaborative learning space into a scene from the ’50s. Today, the desks are in columns and rows that border on military precision with a healthy dose of compliance.

It’s go time, show what you know time because it’s standardized test time. So what’s all of the fuss about this time?

For months now something or someone somewhere has been planting seeds of anxiety in the hearts and minds of our learners. It has not come from inside of my classroom, but students are certainly arriving with it to school. As a result, it has led to some powerful conversations around mental health in education, problem solving strategies, and a debate over the logic(if any) of standardized testing. Nothing to fuss about here right?

The test has occupied the minds of some of our students it should be paying rent. Tim Urban might describe this state as a visit from the Panic Monster as he shared in his TED Talk from 2016. If we as educators didn’t put this monster into the minds of our students, then who did? Are there trolls handing out fliers off of school property? Is there a shadowy cadre of edu-data collectors directly marketing test score panic to families?

For the record, of course not. Yet, at the umpteenth time in a day I hear; “I’m nervous about EQAO”, “What if I do bad?” or ” AAAH! Evil questions attacking Ontario”, I know “the test” is having its affect on students and teachers too.

So how do we deal with the reality that this anxiety they’re feeling is real and students need our help/support to overcome it?

To combat these fears in our classroom, we have taken to increasing the physical activity level while differentiating tasks to maintain and broaden engagement. We move more. We laugh more. We work together more. Food helps too. I wrote a post about Test Crackers if you want to know more. For “the test” Samosas are on the menu in my class-veggie of course.

Instead of worrying, we have been developing our collaboration and critical thinking skills to work through challenges.  We’ve intentionally disrupted routines, not only to distract, but to shake things up. My grade 6s have been working hard for nearly 9 months. There is a lot going on at this age socially, emotionally, and  physically. They do not need to be burdened by external pressures or worry.

Since September, assurances and reassurances have been given to students so they know the marks from tests like these will not be seen by admissions committees at Harvard* or even good universities like Waterloo, MIT, and Stanford (lol). Students know that they have all of the tools necessary to succeed without obsessing over practice work booklets or past tests. I can only hope that our safe, and encouraging environment will help them if doubts start to creep in.

And so it begins, students file in, find their places, and standardized testing gets its butt kicked by samosa fueled class of critical thinking grade 6s.

* I’m sure Harvard is good too. I used it here purely for the absurd comedic value. Go Harvard!