Celebrating us

We did it.

We brought another amazing decade of learning to a succesful close with passion, creativity, and purpose. For ETFO it has been 21 impactful years in the service of public education, students, and educators.

It’s my 11th year as an ETFO member, and I am looking back at the past decade with some mixed feelings. Perhaps it is a function of the time of year when all of the best and worst lists are being shared in the media? Regardless, I am thankful to be an educator who works with wonderful students and amazing staff at a great school.

On the other hand, I am also intrepid about what is continuing to widening gap between student needs and the resources with which to support them. What will the future look like if government cuts and policies changes go unchallenged? This got me thinking about how instrumental the work of ETFO is to supporting us and I found myself browsing through pages of resources, messages, and initiatives via etfo.ca

Whether you are newer to the profession or a veteran educator, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the positive impacts made by our union that have helped us get us here, and as we prepare to for 2020.

Let’s take a moment to break down some of the numbers from 21 years of ETFO:

  1. Membership ~ Let’s use 75 000 as the mean number of teachers from past to present.
  2. Days of Instruction ~ 21 years x 190 days = 3990 days
  3. Minutes (days x 300 minutes of instructional time x membership) ~ 8.9775 x 10 ^10 minutes

For the sake of my own brain, I am going to say a lot of learning has occured as a direct result of tens of thousands of past and present caring ETFO educators. Millions of moments curated that have culminated and contributed to millions of positive impacts in and out of classrooms. Millions of moments where struggles turned into opportunities and hard work paid off. Millions of students who have gone on to do amazing things. Millions of lessons learned with millions more still to come.

Without becoming too nostalgic, I think it’s a great time to take stock of all the amazing things that have happened that have ensured the voices of elementary educators will be heard. 21 years on the shoulders of giants who have stood tall in the face of adversity to prepare a way for future teachers to succeed. To all of those who have taught before and alongside me, I am grateful.

Grateful for:

21 years of lessons learned in and out of the classroom.
21 years of remaining on the cutting edge of technology and ongoing teacher training
21 years of inclusivity and equity
21 years of looking out for the safety, mental health, and wellbeing of our membership
21 years of dispelling myths with facts
21 years of commitment to something bigger than themselves
21 years of standing up for students, their families, and to make public education better/stronger 
21 years of fighting against the malicious mandates of socially and fiscally tyrannical governments
21 years of solidarity

Such success is something to celebrate. Especially, with a strike mandate of 98% in favour this past Fall. Our collective voices and our profoundly positive professional impact will not be dismissed or ignored.

While certain media factions seek to villify our profession, we know that we possess the power to light the way for public education well into the coming decades. When elected officials undermine our collective good in the short term, we remain focused on the future by standing together now. Side by side, ours are the shoulders to stand on.

As I shared earlier in this post, the numbers show that the possibilities grow everyday an ETFO educators enters a classroom. Bring on 2020!

Cheering you on everyday and looking forward to celebrating an even better future in education. Thank you for reading.

Daring Classrooms

I state the obvious when I say that teaching is a demanding job.  If you are reading this, you are most likely a teacher and this is not news to you.  I’d like to highlight a resource that feeds the soul of a teacher (and quite frankly a human being) while also providing some strategies for integrating that soul feeding into your classroom practice for your students.  Wait, what…that exists?  It is a website from Brene Brown called Daring Classrooms.  If you haven’t heard of her yet, you can find “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and/or her Ted Talk on Vulnerability.  She is inspirational in leadership, in life and in work.  Here is a snippet from her #DaringClassrooms website:

“Teachers are some of our most important leaders. We know that we can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection.

But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do as teachers, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.

Teachers are the guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe and be curious and explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. Students deserve one place where they can rumble with vulnerability and their hearts can exhale.

And what I know from the research is that we should never underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong—even one—where they can take off their armor. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life.

Teachers: Everyday should be Teacher Appreciation Day. I am so grateful for you and your willingness to show up and create brave, safe spaces where our children can learn, grow, and be seen.”

Some of the short (8-12 minute) video resources from Daring Classrooms include:

How do we avoid the pressure to please?

How do teachers manage oversharing?

How do we help parents understand failing as part of the learning process?

Does the word “disappointed” shame students?

In addition to the video resources there are free downloads for resources, parenting the classroom and daily life.  There are pdfs that you can print out for working with students.  My favourite one is the list of core emotions.  Sometimes when students have triggers they can’t always name or explain the emotion that caused the trigger in behaviour.  Being able to learn about the names and the definitions of core emotions is helpful for students to self-regulate.

Every year in a classroom brings new challenges.  In fact, every day in a classroom will bring on a new challenge.  I hope that as you lead your own #DaringClassroom you will find this resource helpful and that it may feed your teacher soul.

Prom Project Hamilton

On Saturday, April 13th at Delta High school in Hamilton, the Prom Project held an amazing event. This event is supported by the same foundation who gave my students our grant for our inquiry project, the Hamilton Foundation for Student Success.

The Prom Project allows students to pick out outfits free of charge to wear to their upcoming school events such as grad or prom. There were thousands of dresses, suits, shoes, accessories, hair stylists, make up artists and even on site seamstresses to help kids who needed their pants hemmed or their dresses taken in. I was able to volunteer at this amazing event along with many other teachers, principals and other adults from around Hamilton. The event was record breaking with almost 500 students walking away with new outfits. These outfits help increase their confidence knowing that they will have an outfit to wear to these events.

Among those 500 students who received outfits were 12 students from my own school. With the help of the prom project volunteers, the boys and girls found outfits that were their size, got these outfits altered and even left with their hair and makeup done. They received a swag bag full of helpful treats for their lives such as soap and other beauty products. It was awesome to see all the community partners there who donated their time, products and style capabilities to make the event the success it was.

You can still volunteer for the May 4th event by visiting http://www.promprojecthamilton.ca/. Follow the hashtags #PPH2019 and #promprojecthamilton for more info about the event. Pictured below is myself along with six students from my school who went home with Copley suits, Michael Kors suits and much more! An amazing event that really benefited so many children in our city!

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Be Strong in the Face of Poor Government

FDK (too soon)

EQAO (to help real estate $)

Class sizes (to build resilience)

Drill and Kill Math (We’re Open for Worksheets)

Funding formulas (creative govt accounting to underfund boards)

Antiquated HPE curriculum (since no one needs to learn about consent)

Don’t let them fool you.

Despite what the government says to the contrary: public consultation involves asking many more people than a few plum political campaign contributors. The world is not flat, and Ontario has one of the best education systems in the world.

Be strong. We serve over 2 000 000 future voters, taxpayers, and consumers who will be impacted by the short sighted and overt actions of the current government to undermine our profession. Why would anyone want to risk losing 2 000 000 votes to curry favour with businesses who prefer to pad their bottom lines rather than pay their share of taxes. It’s time we start to boycott the companies that lobby our governments for an even slimmer share of their tax obligations while holding jobs over everyone’s heads. It’s time to unite.

Be strong. The work you do has meaning. Yours may be the only kind words and smiles that a child receives each day. That snack you pay for and provide means more to that child than you could ever know. The time you invested in coaching students(teams, academics, life) long before and after the day is done continues to impact their lives long beyond the years in school. You are equipping students to do great things in their own lives and the lives of others.

Be strong. The time you spend learning, creating, and collaborating with colleagues matters. None of us is a strong or as smart as all of us when we work and stand together. Stand together, support each other when times are tough and the government tries to undermine our confidence and that of the public in us with misinformation.

Be strong. You matter. Education matters. Our students matter. We matter. And because we do, it’s time to work, even more closely together, to support one another for the collective good, not the corporate coffer.

Be strong. screenshot-www.etfo.ca-2019.03.31-21-50-18screenshot-www.etfo.ca-2019.03.31-21-50-37

Let’s Talk About Shame

Author Brené Brown from her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” writes that there are three things that people need to understand about shame:

1.  We all have it.  Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience.  The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for empathy and human connection.

2.  We’re all afraid to talk about shame.

3.  The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.

While reading this it resonated with me as a teacher.  How many have you experienced Professional Learning Shame?  I’m a professional learning hoarder.  I consume professional learning whenever possible and yet, often I feel shame while experiencing professional learning.  I listen to another teacher who is courageous in sharing strategies and ideas that are meant to help me in my job and ultimately I end up thinking that I must be a poor teacher because I don’t do those things in my classroom. Often I come away feeling worse about myself.  I’ll think, “Well great, obviously everything that I’ve been doing has been ineffective and I need to add THIS onto everything else.” or “I haven’t been doing THAT in my classroom. Clearly I’m not working hard enough. What must my colleagues think of me?”

Shame makes us think that we are somehow not worthy.  I know that I’ve convinced myself of not feeling worthy when I compare my work to other teachers in my school, on Twitter or (cringe)…Pinterest.  I find it difficult to look at myself professionally through an asset lens.  The best way to stop feeling that shame is to talk about it.  Once shame is talked about it tends to lose power and it is easier to let it go.  So, I’m talking about it in a public forum so I can work on building up that resiliency.

I’ve felt shame as a teacher in social situations with people who aren’t educators.  I’ve felt judged, compared and found unworthy.  More than once I’ve heard, “Teachers are paid too much and have far too many holidays and benefits and they’re really just babysitters.”  Whenever a Provincial Government talks about making cuts to education, it sends a message that teachers aren’t worthy of maintaining the current working conditions and fuels the public perception held by some that teachers are unworthy of what we earn.

In our school, whenever EQAO results are returned and we have our fall meeting to talk about the school improvement plan for the year, we celebrate for a nano second the areas in which the student have succeeded and focus intently on the shortcomings.  As a school we know that we all share in the responsibility for the cumulative education of students and feel shame when we look at where we didn’t succeed, but some of my grade 3 and 6 colleagues have told me about how they feel solely responsible for EQAO scores and consequently, feel shame.

Well, this is a downer of a subject, get over it Fenn.  What can we do?  It’s the nature of our job right?  Nope.  There are some great pointers that Brené Brown shares about becoming shame resilient:

1.  Understand when you are feeling shame and recognize what messages and experiences trigger shame for you.

2.  Remember not to equate being imperfect with being inadequate.

3.  Share your stories with people you trust and own your stories.

4.  If you feel shame, name it.  Talk about how your feeling and ask for what you need.

Teachers are constantly in receipt of feedback about their job; from parents, students, administrators, colleagues, the public and themselves.  Staying open to criticism and feedback is what helps us improve education for our students.  We need to take risks to remain open so that we can experience improvement.  However, what we should also try to remember is that everyone is flawed and imperfect but that doesn’t mean that we are lacking.