Ontario’s Children: Our Hope & Light

Photo by RDNE

In the heart of young minds, a world unfolds,
Where seeds of change and justice are sowed,
Ontario’s children, our hope and light,
Embrace the path of equality, shining bright.

In elementary schools, a sacred space,
Where lessons weave a tapestry, embrace,
A tale of courage, empathy, and grace,
Of breaking chains, to reach a higher place.

In classrooms where the laughter rings,
A symphony of voices, diverse things,
Their innocence, a canvas so pure,
Where colours of acceptance shall endure.

Oh, let them learn of struggles faced,
Of heroes who, with love, embraced,
The fight against oppression’s might,
To carve a future that’s just and right.

Teach them the power of unity,
That strength resides in diversity,
No voice too soft, no heart too small,
To stand for justice, one and all.

As whispers of the past float by,
Lessons of history, they can’t deny,
The pain of prejudice, we must reveal,
To kindle empathy, foster what’s real.

To understand the wounds that scar,
And strive to heal, near and far,
In this young realm, we plant the seed,
Of anti-oppression, urgent need.

In every story shared and heard,
A tapestry of humanity is stirred,
To weave compassion into the core,
And let injustice exist no more.

For as they learn with open hearts,
A world of change, this love imparts,
A generation, bold and wise,
Embracing truth, no compromise.

Ontario’s children, a beacon strong,
In their hearts, a justice song,
They’ll rise above, lift others high,
A future bright beneath the sky.

So let us teach with love and care,
Anti-oppression, always aware,
In elementary schools, the power resides,
To shape a world where all love abides.

time off time

I received a very encouraging email today while working from home as a result of an imprecisely unplanned present from Mother Nature in the form of a pause prior our previously planned end of school for our winter break. The message could not have come at a more perfect time either. It read;

“I hope you can log off, unplug, relax and enjoy starting asap.  You have all worked so hard under ever-changing and difficult circumstances but the common thread is that you put our students at the forefront of everything you do.”

Perhaps serendipitously as I was adding the quote above, another message arrived in my still open board email inbox. It read;

 “thank you for the work that you do each and every day to support the learning, well-being and achievement of our students. What you do matters. It matters to our students; it matters to our families; it matters to your colleagues and it matters to our community.”

These two messages may not give you the feels as you read them on the first pass. In fact, the version of myself from December 2021, would have been the first skeptic in line however this year, I could not help feeling the sincerity in them both knowing who sent them. I am very fortunate that messages from these senders are not uncommon either. I thought it a good idea to add my own sentiments as well, hence the idea for this post.

It’s time off time folx. As of 3:45 pm on Dec 23, 2022 you have led your classroom of learners for the year. You can also take some satisfaction in knowing that 4 tenths of the school year are now in the books or 2 fifths if you’re in my class and have to reduce your fractions. With all those numbers bouncing around in you minds it is truly time off time.

Time off time to…

  • rest
  • relax
  • reach out to help
  • reach out for help
  • rejuvenate your mind
  • reflect on all of your hard work
  • reconnect with friends and family
  • remain still for as long as you choose
  • remember those who are no longer with you
  • re-establish personal boundaries and respect them

Whether you are a new teacher or pulling a decade plus teaching experience with a long rope, it is important for each of us to recharge our mental and physical batteries. This job is demanding and as I have shared in the minutes in between and survival tips,  self care is crucial to being able to burn brightly without burning out each day. That’s it. That’s the message. Wishing you all a restful, relaxing, and restorative winter break. It’s time out time for this teacher.

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/.

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

 

Bring Back Specialist Teachers

Back in the day (I always feel so old whenever I say that) I remember we used to have a full-time librarian, an in-school nurse, a guidance counsellor, as well as design/technology and family study teachers. Nowadays, some of these teachers are so rare to see in elementary schools; there seems to be a huge decline in specialist teachers across the province. Instead of eliminating these specialist teachers in elementary schools, students should be having access to more of these specialist educators. By this, I also mean specialists in various subject areas such as the arts (music, visual art, drama, dance) and in core subjects (literacy, numeracy, science and social studies). Under the current provincial funding formula, the majority of Ontario schools don’t have access to these specialist educators and, to me, that is a huge detriment to the education system in our province.

 

What are specialist teachers?

While there is a formal definition by the Ontario College of Teachers, the day-to-day definition of a specialist teacher might change depending on one’s professional perspective and philosophy. Specialist teachers bring a wide range of both formal qualifications as well as informal learning and experiences to their classrooms. They are specifically trained (often through additional qualification courses) in the subject matter to which they teach. Funding for schools also plays a role in the way schools and school boards access and utilise specialist teachers. There continues to be a disparity between urban and rural schools in relation to the availability of, and access to, specialist teachers in a variety of settings and subjects. As the number of specialist teachers continues to decline across the province, it will affect the administration and organization of the education system and the allocation of resources. This will undoubtedly have a huge impact on student choices, student mental health and student success.

 

What does the literature say about specialist teachers? 

The literature seems to say that as the curriculum goes through revisions, year after year, and students move into higher grades, the subject matter increases in complexity and therefore the skills, content and expertise required by educators also increase. Specialist teachers are additionally trained to understand, interpret and deliver curriculum to students with more effective pedagogical strategies to reach all learners with diverse needs and to improve student overall success and achievement. These teachers themselves report feeling more confident in their understanding of the curriculum and more prepared to teach in their specialist field compared to other teachers. However, it is important to note that the magnitude of a well prepared, effective and confident teacher in the classroom cannot always be measured in a tangible way. The focus here is really on the overall success, achievement and wellbeing of students. 

 

What does the literature say about the relationship between specialist teachers and student achievement? 

Bring back specialist teachers to elementary education! Specialist teachers are able to deliver a high quality and rigorous program for all students. However, the evidence on whether such instruction leads directly to improved student achievement remains inconclusive. More research is needed in this area to make any substantive claims on the effectiveness of specialist teachers. I think that more specialist teachers in elementary schools, however, would likely serve to support students positively and contribute to their social, emotional and intellectual development. I think that specialist teachers are an important aspect to ensuring high quality education for all students and therefore should be a consideration for any successful education system. 

ETFO completed a literature review of research that examines the effectiveness of specialist teachers to the quality of education in elementary schools. The 2015 review reveals that, “Overall, the literature surrounding specialist teachers in a range of content areas appears to support the claim that specialist teachers can positively impact student achievement and contribute to student success at the elementary level.” You can find more information on the following ETFO website: 

The Importance of Specialist Teachers

if you are not learning…

Fill in the blank.
As an educator there is always something to______________:

  • do
  • feel
  • learn
  • repeat
  • unlearn
  • lean into
  • chase after
  • reflect upon
  • run away from
  • learn more from
  • do better next time
  • experience differently

Each of the above resonate with me as a reflective practioner/teacher and as I look back, my thoughts keep returning to whether I see myself learning alongside my students or not?

It isn’t the first time I’ve tossed this thought around. Believing I was on the verge of an intellectual breakthrough to explain it all, this time I wrote, “If you are not learning, then you are not teaching” in an earlier draft of this post. A rhetorical call to action if you will.

Knowing that there is nothing new under the sun (Proverbs), I wanted to check if this brilliant quote was mine or would it be attributed to someone else unbeknownst to me? Enter American economist Vernon L Smith*. Well it was fun while it lasted, but that did not take away from the quote’s truth in my mind. If I wasn’t learning then I was not teaching. So I asked myself,
“Self?”
“Yes.”
“Are you learning?”
“Yup.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ll get back to you.”

It is within this meditative metacognitive space where I frequently find myself dwelling this year. Maybe it’s because the season we’re enduring makes things seem bleak. Or maybe the extended time indoors during global pandemic allows time to make some sense out of things that exist within and beyond our control. Cue the next quote from Smith.

“I believe that all learning is ultimately a form of self-education. That formal schooling is simply a way of introducing you to how to learn. And I think, at some point in my own education, I realized that the most important thing I was learning was that I was learning to learn. It became a lifelong endeavor.”  Vernon L. Smith

After ruminating on this quote, I started wondering whether the conditions created in my class each day genuinely allowed learning to learn to occur? Was it possible to continue being “the guide on the side”(Garfield Gini-Newman) or did I need to model learning how to learn more for them? Were the resources I was curating and creating providing a rigourous, but not spirit crushing challenge or was I underestimating their abilities as learners? Did my students have time to develop their own curiosities rather than those prescribed in the curriculum, and if so were they inspired and empowered to do so?

I wish there was an absolutely definite yes here, but it is not that simple. At least not yet.

Here’s the tricky part, I think that this is happening in some ways in my classroom, but now find myself with a new challenge to learn how to really know it. Suddenly, I feel that some of the pressure around this has been removed. Maybe the reflection had to happen in order to organize my perspective here? As the lead learner in the classroom there is always more to learn. As the guide on the side, I can always “bend, blend, or break” (David Eagleman)  what we are learning to help students go further than in days before.

Like most classrooms, what worked before is not guaranteed to work again or like it did. This in itself  has been an incredible thing to learn. Perhaps acceptance is a more apt term? How often do teachers find themselves holding on to something that worked in the past, but is not working now yet hoping it will miraculously work again in the future? Teachers need to accept that everything we do is done at the speed of education. Whether a day lags on the tarmac waiting for takeoff or jets off at the speed of sound each can lead us to discover and develop some profoundly creative skills if we approach it as pilots and not as passengers.

One final thought.

Remember earlier when I asked myself “are you learning?” I asked again. This time the reply came back as, “As I learn so will I teach.” Thank you for reading. Feel free to share this post and to leave a comment to continue the conversation.

*There is comfort in the knowledge that the quote above is attributed to a Nobel Prize winning thinker because before checking, I thought the words above were mined straight out of my mind. Needless to say, I am happy to share a common thought in esteemed company. Searching out the source of the quote also allowed me to discover some of Smith’s other vast body of work in economics.

what i could’t learn in teacher’s college

12 months in a faculty of education prepared me for a lot of things, but not everything. How could it? Pedagogy, planning, pragmatism, and patience were all part of a very practical preparation and positive preview of what was to come for me as an educator .

Yet, even with rigorous academic, practicum, and professional development poured into the program, a paucity existed due to the finite amount of time for the program to cover the vast scope and variables that are the job. In defence of faculties, it would take several years to cover them and even then, only partially. Perhaps not being prepared for every eventuality was a good thing for me as a teacher because it allowed me to find solutions that did not have their origins in a textbook, but rather ones which were created for each specific moment and context?

I think that there has to be room included in formation of teaching candidates that focuses on situational problem solving. This is where life experience(s) can help out. As a teacher candidate in my forties, I found it interesting to compare worldviews and perspectives, with colleagues who were half my age. It was the times over coffee and in between lectures where some ageless bonds were formed that continue to this day. I also learned that wisdom was ageless as my younger peers so often shared when it came to our discussions about educators having to teach far beyond the curriculum in order to support their students. By beyond, I mean that we had to navigate how we were going to bring humanity into the classroom too.

Outside of lesson planning, curriculum, philosophy of education, and the Education Act there was a lot to cover. I really appreciated the time spent in equity and special education training where we were given numerous real life situations from the classroom to consider and receive coaching on how to best respond. Some of this was really helpful because I at least had a set of tools, but even then there was room for so much more in the kit.

I especially liked the book Beyond Heroes and Holidays and highly recommend giving it a read as a way of sparking staff conversations around racism and equity or as a supportive guide to deeper personal growth. And then came the day when I realized I needed more than that.

Although the seeds were planted in teacher’s college, they did not break through until I was in the classroom where I had to confront a student using racist slurs.

I can still almost feel the time slow down as the blood rushed through my body when it happened. Did I really just hear a student say that? I am pretty sure that my surprise and disappointment were visceral. This was an eye opener for me because that moment did not come with a lesson. Once again, experience became the teacher. What was surprising in that situation was how emotional it all felt. I struggled to process my own responses.

I know that I learned a lot from that event, but knew that my rosy perceptions of innocent school aged children now included a few storm clouds. Hearing from experienced mentor educators added to my comfort and discomfort level all the while building up confidence in the aftermath. It was here where my own experiences and beliefs were transformed into actionable responses rather than reactions in a moment. #learnbeyondthetextbook

Recent news of teachers experiencing anti-Semitic hate perpetuated by students in elementary/middle schools reminds us all that even though we are prepared for some things, we are not prepared for all, especially when it comes to hatred, assault, bigotry or racism. After events like these, it is crucial to have a trusted person to speak with about them. This could be a mentor teacher or administrator who can help process what happened and debrief with you. They can also be there to support you as you overcome. No educator should go through it by themselves

For teachers looking to find or become a mentor, check out the Mentoree website. After years of waiting, I recently joined myself.

I really believe that there are two key elements that need to accompany a B.Ed degree – mentorship and life experience. The absence of one or both will send new teachers out for many challenging days ahead filled with many tests, but few lessons beforehand. And maybe that’s how it is meant to be. A journey of discovery, cutting your path through new spaces. Solving problems as they happen while gathering the tools, surviving the experiences, and keep trying to move forward.

It is so important that educators, regardless of experience, connect with each other whether formally or informally. The days of teachers needing to feel like siloed lone wolves solving every problem that comes their way or its failure thinking are gone. They may or may not be in your building, but there are caring educators willing to offer support, lend an ear, or give advice when asked. Feel free to reach out anytime.

Possible future blog post content below

Since I recommended getting a copy of Beyond Heroes and Holidays, here seems like a good place to suggest some other important must reads for anti-racist educators;

  1. We Want to Do More than Survive – by Bettina L Love
  2. All our Relations – by Tanya Talaga
  3. The Skin We’re In – by Desmond Cole
  4. Black in School – by Habiba Cooper Diallo
  5. Biased – by Jennifer Eberhardt
  6. Caste – by Isabel Wilkerson
  7. 21 Things  You May Not Know About the Indian Act – by Bob Joseph

Feel free to share some of the texts that have pushed you beyond your comfort zones in the comments below. I am always open for book recommendations.

Compassion Fatigue and Teacher Burnout

It is no secret to educators that teaching is an occupation of high stress.  A Johns Hopkins University study ranked teaching as the 4th most stressful job of all occupations.  Educators know that the job is stressful, but sometimes it helps to put a name to something in order to help us cope.  Sometimes, it is enough to know that others are going through what we are going through in order to come to terms with our own feelings. Recently during a webinar workshop from “Right to Play,” the facilitators referred to what some educators are experiencing right now as “compassion fatigue.”  I had heard of this phenomenon relating to emergency response occupations, but I had never really thought about it in terms of education.  What we may consider “stress” in the teaching profession may be explained in better detail by examining compassion fatigue.

According to Joanna Krop, author of  “Caring without Tiring: Dealing with Compassion Fatigue Burnout in Teaching,” compassion fatigue “is a form of burnout characterized by extreme mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion, and it’s an occupational hazard in the caring professions.”

Teacher burnout is not something new.  Recently, however, there have been a number of articles written on the topic of teacher burnout.  A few days ago, the CBC released and article with the results of a survey completed by 2,000 teachers about the pressures in education. One third of the respondents are thinking about retiring or seeking a new career.  One third.  Some educators cite that the pressure and stress is coming from trying to maintain the best educational experiences possible for students while also trying to adhere to pandemic rules and guidelines.  Teachers hold themselves to a high level of integrity and service in their work, in addition to wanting to help their students and their families.  Then add a global pandemic on top of the regular burnout reasons.  As if that wasn’t enough, there are so few teachers available for daily occasional work that teachers feel more guilty than ever when they need to take time for their health.  For many educators, teaching isn’t the only thing that is leading to that compassion fatigue as many teachers have the added pressures of taking care of children and/or aging parents. The most challenging aspect of burnout is that what seems to be the biggest factor in burnout is dedication to the job.  The more dedicated the teacher, the more apt they are to experience burnout. Teachers are burning out because they care.  Hardly seems fair.

The question becomes then, how do we counteract compassion fatigue and burnout? From what I’ve researched, it is all of the things that we know are good for our mental health:

  • figure out what you can control and what you can’t and focus on what you can control
  • temper your expectations of yourself and your work (remember that we are in the middle of a global pandemic and the circumstances are different)
  • small steps towards getting outside, eating betting, exercising and doing creative things
  • surround yourself with supportive people and trusted colleagues
  • be aware of toxic positivity or the rabbit hole of complaining about things
  • show your true self to your students, be authentic so that your students have permission to be authentic too
  • quiet time for yourself and for being mindful

All of that sounds wonderful.  All of it sounds like common sense.  However, it isn’t as easy to put into practice as all of the research makes it sound.  This can appear of just another long list of things to do added to an already long list of things to do. Sometimes burnout can get to a point where you feel immobilized or you may even be at the point that just getting through the next breath is all that you can plan.  As someone who generally plans the menu of meals for our family a week in advance so that we can do our groceries, I know the chaos I feel with uncertainty.  Right now my plan is to try to be patient and gentle with myself.  Everything is going a hundred miles an hour and I keep thinking that I have to keep up or somehow I’ll miss the bus.  However, I also know that if I get to the point of exhaustion, I become less self aware and I’ll end up getting run over by the bus and won’t be good to anyone.

It feels like an impossible task to willingly accept less of myself than I normally expect.  I feel like I will let others down.  However, if I don’t temper the expectations that I have of myself and my work I’m going to have tire tracks on my back and that won’t be good for anyone.

Seniority Matters

Seniority in teaching matters because there is much documented research showing that teachers must practice up to eight years before they develop efficacy in their practice. In the British VITAE study of 300 teachers in 100 schools, authors Day, Sammons, Stobart, Kingston, and Gu (2007) showed that teachers’ levels of confidence and self-efficacy continue to grow until around the 7 to 8 year mark. After 8 years, teachers reached a significant turning point in their professional development (Day et al., 2007).

The 7th year of teaching is significant as it marks about 10,000 hours of teaching practice. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, states that in order to master any skill it takes “to a large extent, a matter of practicing … for a total of around 10,000 hours” (Gladwell, 2008). This make sense because teaching is a complex and challenging profession and as a result it takes over 7 years to develop high levels of professional efficacy. Further to this, as teachers’ professional knowledge grows, so does their professional judgement.

In the early years of teaching, there is a great deal of trial and error in developing practices that work with students. I content that this process, while occurring less often, is an ongoing part of teachers’ practices as teachers must meet the needs of many students. This results in developing a myriad of strategies implemented in tandem with many students’ needs.

I personally know that if I need collegial advice, I approach the most senior teachers in my school, as they have the depth of experience and knowledge to guide me. Further, teachers with extensive experience know that the work of teaching is complex, and it is naïve to believe that simple solutions will address complex challenges with students’ learning.

To imply that older teachers should not be teaching because of declining efficacy is to imply that other professionals such as older doctors, lawyers, and politicians should do the same.

I dedicate this blog to courageous teachers who strive to work with their colleagues and do the best for their students day after day.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

References

Day, C., Sammons, P., Stobart, G., Kingston, A., & Gu, Q. (2007). Teachers matter: Connecting lives, work and effectiveness. Maidenhead, UK: Open University

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Hachette UK.

 

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.