Tone Policing

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more that it has become easier to vilify the messenger and the way in which the message was delivered, rather than to listen to and reflect on the message. While tone policing has been around forever, the experience of having my words discredited because of “how they were delivered” is something that is relatively new for me. Perhaps this is because I have been speaking up more or simply because others are tired of hearing about their discrimination. 

I remember being in a meeting and after having asked a question about an issue of equity, being yelled at by the meeting organizer because that wasn’t the place or the time for that type of question. Believe me, it’s never the time for a Black woman to ask for equality. I remember another person in the meeting coming up to me after to ask me to share my vision with her, so she could go and deliver my vision to the meeting organizer. They mentioned that I seemed angry when asking the question and that I should have been calmer when speaking. This was highly insulting because, at that moment, I realized that it wasn’t really about the message, it was about who delivered the message. My question, no matter how nicely or calmly asked, would not have been well-received because it highlighted a “problem” in the group. The other person saw my question as being valid in the meeting and rather than in that moment speaking up, they chose to capitalize on my “vision” and consider how they might better be able to communicate my simple question. To this day, years later, this question still has not been answered. To my knowledge, no steps have been taken to implement the much-needed action related to my question. The deflection worked. 

This is just one example of the way in which tone policing works to keep the status quo. It happens in many environments and also happens in schools when issues around changes in practice or policy are brought up. Often those choosing to bring up an issue are racialized and/or marginalized, and it is through our lived experiences that we try to shed light on what is problematic. In these moments we are often perceived as angry, enraged, or upset – which we have every right to be – without actually considering that we already know: that being angry, enraged or upset at work is not permissible for us. We school our words and manage our temperament to ensure we are not perceived negatively and still, any challenge to the status quo, can easily give us these labels. The focus shifts to our perceived behaviour rather than the “problem” at hand. 

In a profession that calls itself a practice, shouldn’t there be room to grow? If we are all on a “learning journey”, why are some so offended at the thought of having something to work on? If ever you find yourself getting defensive by the words of a colleague, someone you work with, or a student, might I suggest you try the following? 

Sit With the Discomfort

Take some time to sit with what you are feeling and consider that perhaps what you are feeling in this moment, might just be a fraction of what the other person might be experiencing on a more frequent basis. If ever I have highlighted a racist or discriminatory practice, know that I have probably experienced this practice many times before – both as a child and an educator. Having to experience it again is uncomfortable for me. No longer can I sit through this discomfort nor will I silently allow for students to sit through the discomfort so that others will be comfortable in their “fun”.

Understand that in education, once we become teachers or administrators, the learning doesn’t stop there. There are always new things to learn and ways to reflect on practices that are harmful and exclusionary. The discomfort that you might be feeling can lead to action and change, if you decide to do something about what was discussed. 

Consider the Message

What is it that the other person wants you to hear? Why or how might this information be valid to your practice and/or growth as an educator? What steps do you need to take in order to bring about change? Consider thinking about where you might be able to do your own learning about this issue. Remember, it’s not up to the person who brought the situation to your attention to relive the experience and teach you how to change. Change comes from doing your own work. 


I can’t tell you how many people have said that they are reading and learning, with little or no action. This reminds me of the James Baldwin quote, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” It’s through action that real change occurs. If there’s all this reading and learning, shouldn’t action accompany it? Shouldn’t there be a shift in practice that is evident? It’s through your actions, that racialized and/or marginalized people will know that you have truly heard the conversations we have been trying to have. 

I do want it to be said that I am not condoning disrespectful dialogue. In no way do I believe that people should be disrespectfully spoken to by others. As someone on the receiving end of some pretty disrespectful and harassing comments, I understand this all too well.  Rather, I’m speaking to the intense need that some have to immediately discredit the words of another when they are called on their discriminatory language and/or actions. It’s easy to say that the person didn’t say what they had to say in a manner that was “nice”. For example, I’m really not sure how you tell someone “nicely” that their words or actions were racist or xenophobic. 

Sadly, tone policing is also often the precursor to campaigns of intense gaslighting in order to make the messenger consider the way in which they delivered their message and to detract from much-needed work to improve workplace conditions for all. When a conversation is one that is uncomfortable, please consider the message, rather than focusing on the messenger. Sit with the discomfort. Do your own learning and act. 

Anti-Racism and the Fight for Black Lives

I recently joined educators from across the province to participate in ETFO’s powerful four-part webinar series called, “Anti-Racism and the Fight for Black Lives”.  It was an amazing professional learning opportunity, and it should be mandatory for all ETFO staff and members.

The program involves watching a short video clip each week, and engaging in courageous and critical conversations about anti-Black racism with other educators.  ETFO released the video, “Anti-Racism and the Fight for Black Lives” during the 2020 Annual Meeting, as part of the ETFO’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy.  This video is available to all members on, along with guiding questions to explore on your own or with your colleagues. 

In the video, we hear the voices of Sandy Hudson, who is a political activist, writer and the founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, and Phillip Dwight Morgan, who is a journalist, poet and researcher.  The interview is moderated by Alejandra Bravo, who has a history of working for progressive social change with grassroots, immigrant and labour groups. 

What does it mean to fight for Black lives?

Throughout the interview, Sandy Hudson and Phillip Dwight Morgan share knowledge and insights about how educators might use this moment of “awakening” to fight for Black lives and demand systemic change.  One of the issues that we discussed each week was the impact of police in schools and in communities, and the call to action to defund or abolish the police, and re-imagine different ways to respond and care for each other.

Each session was organized and facilitated by ETFO staff Alice Te and Matthew Sinclair, and included opportunities to break out into smaller groups to share ideas and reflect on the guiding questions.  The active and deep engagement of the participants was inspiring.  Educators from Kindergarten-Grade 8 leaned in to listen, learn, ask questions and share resources. 

What is your positionality?

In our first session, the facilitators shared a definition of anti-oppression work as the “active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual and systemic oppression”.  Alice Te and Matthew Sinclair acknowledged that we are all in different places on our learning journey towards equity and racial justice, and that being an ally sometimes means standing UP, standing BEHIND, or standing WITH others, depending on your positionality.  

Throughout the program, we were encouraged to move from individual to collective action, and think critically about how we can use our privilege as educators to work towards systemic change.  As an educator who is committed to learning and unlearning what anti-oppression looks like in schools, I am always grateful for the opportunity to learn from and with other educators about how to disrupt institutional racism.

How can we transform Canadian institutions?    

In order to change or transform systems of education, we must first recognize that schools are not safe or equitable spaces for all students, families, staff and community members.  Schools continue to reinforce White privilege, and create barriers for Black, Indigenous and other racialized students.  Please read the following ETFO VOICE articles about the impact of institutionalized racism in schools:

Anti-Black Racism in Education and Black Students Navigating the Pandemic by Stephanie Fearon

Sisters in the Struggles: Racialized Women and Microaggressions in the Workplace by Angelique Cancino-Thompson

Can you spare some change?

In Part #1, Sandy Hudson invites us to think about the difference between fighting FOR Black lives and fighting AGAINST anti-Black racism.  She says, “It is not enough to be a good person.  You have to be ready to accept a change in your living conditions, so that everyone else’s living conditions, in particular Black people’s living conditions can change.”  Alejandra Bravo agrees: “Solidarity is only real if it costs you something.”  

Educators have a lot of political and economic privilege, which can be used to fight against anti-Black racism.  As we consider how we might change or transform our institutions, we need to be ready to put our money where our mouth is, and fund direct action.  We also need to recognize how institutions are interconnected and advocate for change so that all communities have equal access to health care, housing, paid sick days, food security, accessible transit, etc.  

Two organizations that are working hard and deserve our financial support are: and  

Why defund police?

Part #2 focuses on defunding the police.  In the video, Sandy Hudson challenges us to shift how we think of safety and security in our society.  She explains that police have historically harmed many communities, including Black, racialized, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQ+, and the underhoused.  This harm and violence is still ongoing, and police actually make some folks feel less safe.  Hudson shares facts about how police budgets are allocated, and argues that funding must be provided to support services that are more effective, and to build alternatives.  

Why are police in schools?

As part of this program, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Phillip Dwight Morgan, and hear more about his personal experiences and his advocacy work.  Morgan encouraged us to critically reflect on the role of School Resource Officers (SRO’s) and police in schools, and to consider the impact for Black staff, students and their families.  He also questioned where police are located in Toronto schools, and the racial bias of defining “high priority” neighbourhoods as areas that have a higher percentage of racialized families.  These discussions helped me to understand where the call to defund the police comes from, and how it connects to the fight for Black lives.

What is the role of educators?

In Part #3, we discussed other forms of anti-Black racism, racial profiling and bias that need to be addressed in schools and other spaces for youth.  We also shared ideas about how we can use our position to best create and promote changes in our school and local community.  

In our break-out groups, we talked about the importance of representation, and the need to hire more Black educators.  We also talked about centering stories of Black resilience and pride, innovation, love and joy.  Educators from rural and northern communities talked about how they might teach students about anti-oppression without “othering” or reinforcing “us/them” inequities in their predominantly White communities.  Everyone agreed that addressing anti-Black racism in our schools benefits everyone.   

ETFO has developed many resources to support educators to engage in this work, including White Privilege Lesson Plans and ETFO Black 365 Canadian Curriculum.  Please share any resources that you have used in the comments below.  

What does solidarity look like?

Part #4 focuses on the need for awareness and action.  In the video, Alejandra Bravo asks if changing our individual behaviour will help make Black lives better.  Sandy Hudson and Phillip Dwight Morgan criticize the impact of individual acts of solidarity, if they do not include the call to action for systemic change.  For example, many folks are comfortable hanging a poster that says, “Black Lives Matter” or posting a black square on their social media, but they are not comfortable advocating for the abolishment of police.  

The discussion in our break-out group was interesting because we all have colleagues that are at the beginning of their learning journey, and need to do the individual work to recognize how they are impacted by and complicit in reinforcing oppression and privilege.  We talked about how we might support all members in our school community to engage in courageous conversations about racial justice and anti-oppression work.  After participating in this program, I understand that fighting for Black lives must also include advocating for systemic change and funding direct action to fight against anti-Black racism.

What are the next steps?

ETFO has a lot of privilege and political power to advocate for systemic change.  I look forward to hearing about the next steps that ETFO will take to continue to fight for Black lives.   

I am grateful to ETFO and all of the educators who created this professional learning opportunity, and I am inspired by the members who showed up every week to actively engage in this critical work.  I encourage everyone to watch the videos, and to participate in the webinar series when it is offered again.  


The Future of eLearning

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Given that we are at a time in history where a pandemic is pushing school work onto eLearning platforms, I can see growth in the technology of eLearning platforms for many students.

In our immediate future, eLearning will allow students more flexibility in choice and mode as they learn. This means that students could take courses offered by schools, other than the school they attend. Options could include a blended approach which comprises of specified times where they attend classes for hands-on activities.

Note that I see students developmentally ready at a high school level, as I believe students in elementary school require more ongoing face-to-face support with their teachers. In addition, students who are at or below grade 3 level should be limited in their eLearning as they still require personal interactions to learn and socialize with others.

I’ve highlighted some applications that are being used or will continue to be used on eLearning platforms.

Transitioning To Mobile Learning Apps

Teaching students through mobile apps may also be an option in learning languages (e.g. Duolingo), practicing math skills (e.g. Prodigy), and practicing reading skills (e.g. How to teach your monster to read).

Virtual Reality

Augmented and Virtual Reality solutions may become a way to teach students about places they cannot directly visit or experience situations they should not experience. Examples include  visiting the Tundra where polar bears live or learning about the impact of drunk driving through Smart Wheels for grades 4 to 6  (a program I participated in with my students. There are even virtual reality programs for seniors now.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning may also be developed to support students with special education needs. Here programs adapt the learning environment to meet each students’ profile of needs and accommodations. These could include having computer programs reading text to students (text to speech) and recording answers (speech to text). Learning environments could also adapt to students’ learning profiles presenting learning with more visuals to visual learners, more audio to audio learners, and the use of augmented hands for tactile learners.

As the learner spends more time with their learning platform, the program would assess how the student learns best and adjust the platform accordingly. There is a debate as to whether personalized learning can really deliver  the same quality of learning as being face to face with humans.

Caveats to eLearning

I have been using aspects of online learning for several years with my grade 4 and 5 students. We use Google Docs/Drive to share work with other students in a collaborative format. My students also use assistive technology like Google Read/Write to complete work and then share it with me via Google Docs.

I’ve been teaching my students with significant learning disabilities online for over 2 months now. As time has gone forward, my students who are very good at working on their own have done well in our online learning environment. My students who need a significant amount of support are struggling more and some students have stopped participating completely (33% not submitting any work, 33% submitting some work, 33% submitting all work on time). Note that all students do not have access to high speed internet and to their own technology (as they are using computers from the school).

The big challenge is that my students are missing the social aspect of school as they once worked and played with their friends. Also, many parents have reported students with increased mental wellness challenges.

The one big take away from this experience is that the parents, mostly mothers, are having to take on the role of a teaching assistant while they run the household, take care of children and the elderly, make meals, do laundry, and work at their own jobs at home. Downloading the work of educators onto parents is not sustainable. This puts further pressures on parents,  mostly women, who do most of the unpaid work in their homes.

In the end, online eLearning will only work for a certain group of students. It will support the students who are already self starters who work well with little supervision from instructors. For the students who need support to learn, online learning may leave them behind.

Ontario’s current flawed model of online learning

All I know, at this moment in time, is that the current model of online learning is flawed as it expands the digital divide between those who have reliable technology and those that do not. Further, the diversity of learners is not being met as students who work well on their own succeed. But some students will not succeed, especially those students with special education needs. Learning for all promotes a safe, supportive, and inclusive society of learners, where no students are left behind.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston


2018 Training Industry Report

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

Class Size and Composition Matters

Class Size and Composition Matters

As a teacher of 19 years, I’ve seen many changes to classroom composition. When I first started teaching, students with behaviour needs where either supported through Educational Assistants (EAs) or in separate contained classes. In addition, students with significant special education needs had additional supports and/or placement options for contained classroom settings. In 2015, I noticed a change in support for students with special education needs.

Much has changed in the last few years with the promotion of student integration and inclusion of special education students into mainstream classrooms. This integration policy further resulted in closures of contained classrooms thus limiting alternate options for students with significant learning and behaviour needs.

Classrooms today are not the classrooms of the past

Classrooms today are not put together like the classrooms of the past. Teachers face teaching students with significant learning delays such as having a student functioning at a grade 1 level in grade 6 classrooms. The gaps between student achievement levels and their placement in their grade level are widening. Teachers deal with a myriad of students’ special education and behaviour needs without additional support from EAs.

Lack of funding to identify and support students with special education needs

The widening gaps may be a result of the lack of funding for students to received psychological educational assessment/testing funded by the schools boards. When parents have resources such as insurance and/or money to cover the cost of this testing, they do not wait the years it takes for their child to get to the top of list. Instead, they pay for the assessment, getting their child tested in a private organization. I had my son tested privately as I was fortunate to be able to cover this cost. This put students from lower socio-economic areas at a higher risk of getting the support they need to be academically successful.

In their annual survey of Ontario principals, The People for Education noted since 2014, “the Ministry has maintained the overall level of funding for special education, but has changed how funding is distributed among boards. The goal was to make the funding more responsive to boards’ and students’ needs. These changes have resulted in some boards getting more funding, while others receive less. Comments from schools indicate that the impact of these changes is being felt on the ground.” People for Education, 2017.

We have children in crisis…wait lists are long, we do not have the services the children require to be successful at school. It is heartbreaking. Cutting an additional million from our school board will have a catastrophic effect on the children. The Ministry needs to re-evaluate this current funding model. Elementary school, Limestone DSB” (People for Education, 2017).

The People of Education further state “Based on available resources, some boards limit the number of students that principals can put forward for assessment each year.”

“Psychological assessment services are rationed essentially to the most needy one or two students a year. System level placements for our most needy students are rationed to an extent we are creating more problems during the wait time. There is a growing parent, staff and student belief that our schools are not the positive and safe places they once were. Elementary school, Hamilton-Wentworth DSB” (People for Education, 2017).

In 2017, the People for Education noted that:

Teachers must manage students with significant behaviour needs with little or no support

In addition, teachers must manage the significant behaviour of students who may or may not have EA support. Often, even when students have funded EA support, staff are pulled to deal with other students who have greater behaviour needs and who may or may not have funded support. Administrators tell EAs that this funding is “assigned to the school, not the student.” This leaves teachers spending a great deal of time managing student behaviour instead of teaching the rest of the class.

The People for Education note that

“According to a recent study by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), more than 70% of teachers across Canada are seeing an increase in both the rate and severity of violence in schools. The study reviewed existing publications on the topic, media reports, and survey findings from five CTF member organizations, which included over 40,000 teacher respondents.” (People for Education, 2018)

“The violence educators’ face includes verbal aggression, property damage, threats, and physical assault. Non-physical (verbal/emotional) violence is most commonly experienced by educators, followed by physical violence. The survey results found that between 41% and 90% of teachers (depending on their province) report having experienced violence at some point in their careers.” (People for Education, 2018)

Further, People for Education noted that the highest rates of violence were “reported by women, teachers who work in elementary schools, special education teachers, and teachers who work in schools with lower socioeconomic status and/or large urban areas. According to the report, many teachers are unlikely to report the violence to administrators and police, either due to concerns about job insecurity, concern for student well-being, or lack of knowledge about reporting procedures/policies.” (People for Education, 2018)

Recent cuts to educational funding have further exacerbated this support gap.  Many recent studies (i.e. People for Education, University of Ottawa) have documented increases in violence in classrooms. Violence against teachers significantly impacts classroom and school cultures. When students become verbally or physically aggressive against their teachers, this creates an unsafe environment for learning. A teacher’s job is not just to teach students, their job is to also keep their students safe. When the teacher, who is the adult that keeps students safe, is dealing with aggressive student behaviour, the other students do not feel safe. Further, aggressive behaviour interrupts learning and wastes valuable classroom time.

Teachers’ working conditions = Students’ learning conditions

In one study, teacher respondents from an Ontario elementary teacher union local reported:

  • offensive behaviour with 47% of elementary teacher respondents experiencing threats of violence from students
  • 48% of elementary teacher respondents experienced physical violence from students

The survey respondents indicated that their board’s organizational culture:

  • tolerated behaviours harmful to their mental health and that they felt uncomfortable in discussing and/or reporting violence in their workplace.

In this teacher survey, it was not surprising that these teachers were experiencing signs of stress and burnout – given that the participants showed that they were dealing with significant levels of students’ offensive behaviour in a climate with poor psychological health and safety supports.

Painting a picture of poor learning conditions in classrooms

This paints a picture of teachers’ poor working conditions as they were dealing with inadequate resources and staffing to support teachers and their students. And I posit that poor working conditions for teachers result in poor learning conditions for students.

Teachers should not have to deal with workplace violence issues as part of their job. But it is becoming a commonplace occurrence in Ontario classrooms. Since 2018, during recess duty, I personally experienced being bitten, kicked, punched, and sworn at. All this behaviour came from students who were in the primary grades.

Does this imply that all adults who work with students need to receive Behaviour Management Systems (BMS) training? I personally do not feel comfortable using BMB.

Funding cuts to education, especially in supporting students with special education needs, impacts all students. And when a teacher has a student with special education needs added to their classroom, this means that no supports will follow to help these students. Students must wait for help from the one teacher in the classroom while the teacher deals with the needs of the rest of the students. With the recent cutbacks in funding, teachers’ jobs of meeting all students’ needs just got harder as there are even more students in classrooms.

Students with special education needs should have a safe, supported, and inclusive classrooms

Students with special education needs should be included in mainstream classrooms. To make this work for students and teachers, these students with special education needs must be supported with the assistance of EAs. With the support of EAs, students with special education needs can thrive in school and be with their peers.

Teachers need to teach in safe and supported inclusive classrooms. With inadequate funding, the Ontario Ministry of Education’s of inclusion policy will result in yet another poorly implemented education policy in Ontario.

Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD and special education classroom teacher


Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (February 2018). Behaviour Management Systems (BMB), Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, Downloaded from

People for Education. (2017).  People for Education Annual Report: 2017, People for Education, Downloaded from

People for Education. (2018). National report finds teachers increasingly experience violence in schools,  People for Education, Downloaded from 


Violence in Ontario Schools

Violence in the classroom is emerging as a significant issue for teachers’ working conditions and students’ learning conditions.

In the United States, a national survey of 2998 teachers from 48 states noted that 80% of teachers reported at least one incidence of violence with 94% of respondents stating students as the source (McMahon, Martinez, Espelage, Rose, Reddy, Lane, & Brown, 2014). In another US study, 2324 teachers reported at least one occurrence of student generated violence against teachers. These incidences where not consistently reported even with teachers experiencing multiple occurrences. This was especially significant when there was a lack of administrative support (Martinez, McMhan, Espelage, Anderman, Reddy & Sabchez, 2016). Several authors noted an increase in students’ aggressive behaviour shifting to ever lower age brackets including those students in Kindergarten (Emmerová, 2014; Kirves & Sajaniemi, 2012).

Emerging Trends in the Media

The media has also highlighted the emerging trend of increases in students’ aggressive behaviour. In February of 2019, CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition posted a commentary, “I felt helpless”: Teachers call for support amid escalating crisis’ of classroom violence, summarizing a teacher’s reluctance to report violence in schools over “fear of repercussions”. Sherri Brown, director of research and professional learning at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), described the current state as an “escalating crisis” and also noted that much violence in the classroom goes under reported.

In 2018, a national organization compiled the results of a survey conducted by Elementary Teachers Federation (ETFO) showing that of its 81,000 members, 70% of elementary teachers reported experiencing or witnessing violence at their school workplace during the 2016-17 school year. In addition, the survey results noted that 80% of ETFO members noticed an increase in school based violence and 75% of ETFO members reported school based violence becoming more severe.

The People for Education’s Annual Report (2017) stated that principals reported significant increases in students’ mental health needs and behavioural issues. Principals stated that mental health issues were taking an increasing amount of their time and that schools had inadequate levels of support from social workers, psychologists, and guidance counsellors. The report went further highlighting that “in 2017, 47% of Ontario elementary schools reported having no access to child and youth workers, 15% did not have access to social workers, and 13% did not have access to psychologists.” People for Education also addressed the increased importance of social and emotional development for students which included self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal relations, and decision making.

At this point, I’ll state my concerns about the response of Ontario school boards in advocating for students using self-regulation and mindfulness strategies in order to address the increases in behavioural needs. Self-regulation and mindfulness strategies do help some students develop their social and emotional capacity but self-regulation and mindfulness strategies do not compensate for the myriad of causes and complex intersectionality of environmental, developmental, intellectual, social, emotional, economic, and mental health needs that may be at the root of students’ behavioural outcomes. Students’ behaviour needs have complex and multi-causal roots. Using mindfulness strategies as a treatment to these significant student behavioural issues is like putting a bandage on a gushing wound.

Violence against teachers significantly impacts classroom and school cultures. When students become verbally or physically aggressive against their teachers, this creates an unsafe environment for learning. A teacher’s job is not just to teach students, their job is to also keep their students safe. When the teacher, who is the adult that keeps students safe, is dealing with aggressive student behaviour, the other students do not feel safe. Further, aggressive behaviour interrupts learning and wastes valuable classroom time.

When dealing with aggressive behaviour, teachers have many options. Often teachers ignore aggressive behaviour to disengage the offending student. The next step in disarming student behaviour includes removing the student from the classroom, contacting administrators, and contacting parents. Even with these steps, students often continue with their behaviour. Parents may or may not engage teachers in their outreach for support. Based on personal experience, when parents hold their children accountable, student behaviour often improves. But when parents do not hold their children accountable and blame the teacher for the behaviour, students often continue forward, sometimes escalating in their actions. When aggressive behaviour significantly escalates, teachers must act to protect their students and themselves from harm.

Disciplinary actions are often a result of continuous issues with students’ behaviour and are administered by school principals. Here, progressive discipline comes into play. The approach of progressive discipline is to provide a continuum of interventions, supports, and consequences that are clear and developmentally appropriate in order to reinforce positive behaviours and help students succeed in school. Interventions include verbal reminders, contact with parents, withdrawal of privileges, referral to counselling, and possible suspension and/or expulsion. Within the context of disciplinary actions, the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) is also considered. As part of the student’s IEP a Safety Plan and a Positive Behaviour Intervention Plan (PBIP) may also be in place.

There is a list of activities that can lead to suspension which include uttering threats of bodily harm on another person, swearing at a teacher or a person of authority, bullying/cyberbullying and any other activities identified in school boards’ policies (i.e. Safe Schools). Principals must consider a number of factors before deciding upon a suspension including students’ age, cognitive ability, social/emotional history, special education needs, and ongoing education.

The challenge with progressive discipline is that students’ circumstances may dictate no suspension and instead initiate a need for increased student support. The challenge with obtaining increased support for students with behaviour needs is that there is inadequate funding to provide this support. Without support to deal with significant aggressive behaviour, students return to their classrooms and the teachers must deal with future aggressive behaviours (see Suspension and Expulsion: What parents need to know.)

Violence tends to be underreported in schools for many reasons including a lack of adequate reporting venues, a lack of time to complete requirements for reporting, a fear of reprisals from administration, and a lack of understanding of the seriousness of  the behaviour upon which it should have been documented before it escalated  (one in which I have been complicit).

Putting Students’ Aggressive Behaviour into Real Life Context.

In the late spring of 2019, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. (OHCOW) conducted a survey to measure the psychosocial factors of elementary teacher members in Ontario. This survey was based on the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire which was developed as part of a survey of the psychosocial work environment among Danish employees. Specifically, this survey used the COPSOQ II (Short) and COPSOQ III (Core) surveys with additional survey questions from the Mental Injury Tool (MIT) Group 2017 edition. Various versions of the COPSOQ survey have been translated into many different languages and are used to measure psychosocial factors in workplaces around the world. The survey participants were members of an ETFO teacher local.

Although the survey results are not a direct representation of the population of all members, it can be used to the gage working conditions in this ETFO teacher local. A total of 496 participants accessed the survey and 396 participants completed the survey. This accounts for an approximate response of 6% of the member population for this local. This sample of ETFO members had a variety of teaching assignments including approximately 33% Primary/Kindergarten, 15% Junior, 12% Intermediate, and 12% Physical Education/Health in participant identification. The majority of teacher participants had 16 to 20 years of experience (28%) followed by 24% of participants with 11 to 15 years, 23% over 20 years, and 19% with 6 to 10 years of experience. Over 85% of the survey participants identified as a woman which is slightly over the 81% of ETFO members who identify as a woman. The majority of participants (96%) worked full time.

In addressing issues regarding offensive behaviour, the participants indicated:

  • 47% experienced threats of violence from students
  • 48% experienced physical violence from students
  • 17% experienced bullying from students
  • 10% experienced discrimination from students
  • 86% experienced any offensive behaviour overall

Survey participants showed high levels of burnout with 69% indicating much worse than average Canadian workers as represented by feeling worn out, physically /emotionally exhausted, and tired.  Survey participants expressed significant signs of stress, irritability, problems relaxing, and feeling tense with 57% indicating much worse than average Canadian workers. Participants indicated challenges with sleeping (46% much worse), somatic symptoms to stress and anxiety (40% much worse), and  cognitive/concentration issues (46% much worse).

In measuring workplace their Psychological Health and Safety climate, participants indicated it was not so good (25%), poor (21%), or toxic (13%). Further, participants agreed (37%) or strongly agreed (28%) that their board’s organizational culture tolerated behaviours harmful to mental health. Participants disagreed (38%) or strongly disagreed (25%) that their board had enough resources and disagreed (43%) or strongly disagreed (36%) that there was adequate staffing. A total of 44% of participants never or hardly ever felt comfortable discussing workload issues with their immediate supervisor. Finally, when asked about the effectiveness of their board’s violence and harassment policies, 42% disagreed or strongly disagreed that these policies were effective.

In this survey, it is not surprising that these teachers were experiencing signs of stress and burnout – given that the participants showed that they were dealing with significant levels of students’ offensive behaviour in a climate with poor psychological health and safety supports. This paints a picture of teachers’ poor working conditions as they were dealing with inadequate resources and staffing to support teachers. And I posit that poor working conditions for teachers result in poor learning conditions for students.

Under the Workplace violence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act workplace violence is clearly outlined. Further, the Workplace violence in school boards: A guide to the law outlines specifics on how to deal with violence in schools.

Teachers should not have to deal with workplace violence issues as part of their job. But it is becoming a commonplace occurrence in Ontario classrooms. In the 2018/2019 school year, I personally experienced being bitten, being repeatedly kicked while protecting another student, had items thrown at me, being sworn at, had my personal property damaged and destroyed, and being threatened with being stabbed and killed with a knife. All of this behaviour came from students who were in the primary grades.

I write this blog because I care deeply about the impact violence in schools has on teachers teaching and students learning. I understand what it is like to experience violence from students as I have personal stories to tell.

Below I’ve noted some excellent downloadable resources provided by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario which may help teachers, like me, deal with violence in their classrooms – I have the poster in my classroom.

As always, Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD

ETFO Action on Violence in Schools Print Resources

  • A Glossary of Workplace Violence Definitions for ETFO Members
  • Brochure – ETFO Action on Violence in Schools
  • Poster/Wallet Card –  ETFO Action on Violence in Schools

ETFO Action on Violence in Schools Video Resource

ETFO Flowchart for Reporting Workplace Violence and Serious Student Incidents


Emmerová, I. (2014). Aggressive Behaviour of Pupils against Teachers – Theoretical Reflection and School Practice. The New Educational Review, Vol. 35. No. 2, pp. 147–156.

Kirves, L., & Sajaniemi, N. (2012). Bullying in early educational settings. Early Child Development and Care182(3-4), 383-400.

McMahon, S. D., Martinez, A., Espelage, D., Rose, C., Reddy, L. A., Lane, K., & Brown, V. (2014). Violence directed against teachers: Results from a national survey. Psychology in the Schools, 51(7), 753-766.

Before you get hurt…again.

Student: (momentarily non-responsive to verbal interaction) slap, push, slap, hair grab, lunge, slap, yell, cry, run, crouch, cry, calm, apolgize

Staff: (1 CYW, 2 SERT) block, block, reassure, block, supportive stance, reassure, block, redirect, clear space, block, reassure, follow, remain calm, reassure, accept

The slaps(verbal/physical) are like slabs of concrete that a student piles up when they are in distress(feeling helpless, unheard, confused, frustrated, angry, trapped, hurt, and _________).

Our students are using these slabs to construct walls which will insulate and protect them from what they feel are are real threats to their wellbeing, happiness, and safety. All the while, staff are working tirelessly to keep them from walling off completely to the point of hurting themselves or others because the ability for flight has left, and the fight is on…again.

It has been happening a lot more frequently in our classrooms and it knows no age limit as educators are experiencing violence from JK to 12. Has it happened to you? How about to someone in your school?

A 2016/17 survey of elementary teachers showed that 70% of them had experienced or witnessed violence in their schools. That distills down to an average of 7 in 10 educators are on the frontlines of a serious problem. No one wants to work where threats and acts of violence are now daily bi-products of their job? Yet, that’s what many teachers are facing as they enter the classroom each day. Even with NVCI, CPI, SERT, CYW, EA, IBT, BHS, and Social Work support in the building or available from regional teams, incidents are increasing in number and intensity.

Students are taking out their frustration, anger, and anxiety in physical ways directed towards school staff. More than ever, it is being documented and reported more across all age panels. So what’s happening inside our schools where once seemingly uncommon incidents are now daily occurences? All of this cannot simply be dismissed as statistical anomalies.

A reminder

Before you get hurt, or hurt again. Each time a student slaps, bites, kicks, target throws, pushes, strikes with an object etc. a report must be made. If you are injured, seek medical help first. Make sure you tell someone (union rep, admin, a colleague). See the graphic below to make sure you are protected as you have the right to refuse work when you believe workplace violence is likely to endanger you. If you are hurt, it is not the time to play through pain or put on a hero cape. It is your health and well being that must be protected. No one should go to work expecting to be hurt on the job. If you need help, call your union rep or a colleague. Let your voice be heard.

Our schools cannot be left under-supported with an expectation to educate our students in the face of increasing violence and increasingly complex behavioural needs? Our schools need supports in place to ensure safety for all and that includes you.

I will leave you with this final question.

How have spaces of nurture, growth, hope, and community also become places of anxiety, stress, harm, and PTSD for both teachers and students? How are you managing in your school? Please keep the conversation going.

 In case you need some more food for thought

Our notifications, news outlets, and social media feeds are filled with stories, images, and video sharing what’s happening. As I draft this post. CBC News shared a disturbing news story that surfaced online involving a teacher being assaulted by several students in Toronto.

Read more about how ETFO has been lobbying our government to address the issues of violence in our schools.


Education is in crisis – and so are our students

I wrote this in response to the CBC story about violence in classrooms that went live this past weekend. I was – and am – fired up about it.

If you’re wondering what you can do to help us, to help these children in crisis, to repair our broken system: make education, social services, and mental health support your priorities when you elect public officials. At all levels. This is not only a provincial issue. This is not only a municipal issue. This is not only a federal issue. It is an issue that must be addressed by all levels of government, by all Canadians, by all elected officials.

Kids aren’t “worse” now. It isn’t because of a “lack of discipline”. It isn’t because teachers are “soft”. This comes down to a total failure of social services and mental health support, because these children are IN. CRISIS. They aren’t choosing this. We can’t “fix” them with the right consequences.

They need homes. Food. Caregivers they can rely on. Stability. Therapy. Treatment for anxiety, depression, PTSD. Academic support. Removal of systemic barriers. They need compassion – to know that the adults in their life see them, see what they’re going through, and are finding ways to help them. Their caregivers need a living wage. Access to housing. Adequate transit. Functional health care. Affordable utilities.

And now, because they aren’t getting these things, all of their peers need these things too. Every child in public school right now could use therapy to help them process what they see on a regular basis. Some of them, like my daughter, are growing up thinking that it’s just a regular part of school to have a child in your class who throws chairs and tries to attack other kids or teachers with scissors.

This is a crisis. This is a disaster. These children – all of them, aggressors and bystanders – are going to suffer lifelong consequences from our government’s abject refusal and failure to address these issues.

Help. HELP. It’s hard for us to tell our stories because we have to be careful not to stigmatize children in crisis, not to give identifying information, not to break confidentiality. Please, trust us when we say there are horrific things happening in schools. Please, trust us when we say we’re doing everything we can but we can’t do any more.

Please, just… trust us. It’s not us. It’s not the kids. It’s not school.

It’s the entire system that’s broken.

As my friends shared this post on Facebook and it made its way out to a few strangers, some people commented that they “didn’t buy the perspective” and that it’s somehow our failing as teachers if there is violence in our classrooms. That if we can’t manage our students’ behaviour, we should reevaluate our capability as teachers.

What a painful, frustrating thing to hear.

“I shouldn’t have set them off by asking him to sit down.”

“If I hadn’t taken a sick day, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I should have gone out at recess to supervise that student (even though it’s not my day to supervise recess and this is my only break today).”

“I shouldn’t have called for help. It only escalated the student more.”

There seems to be no end to the ways teachers blame themselves for violence in schools. Colleagues, let me say this nice and loud:


You didn’t cause this. You didn’t make it happen through your action or inaction. You are doing the best you can within a catastrophically broken system. Our students need us, but they also need everyone else too, because educators alone can’t get the right people into office, the right changes made.

Keep doing what you’re doing. You are superheroes. You are helping. You are making change. Now we just need the rest of our country to back us up.

Dealing with Students using Behaviour Management Training

tantrums meltdowns

Source: The Real Difference Between Tantrums and Meltdowns via @lemonlimeadv


Dealing with Students Using

Behaviour Management Training

The purpose of Behaviour Management Training for ETFO Members is to deal with the growing incidents of violence in schools and workplaces.

As I wrote about earlier in December 2017, there is research to support my own anecdotal observations of increased violence in classrooms. Based on information from ETFO (Action on Violence in Schools), ETFO members are increasing facing violent incidents in schools and workplaces. This violence increases physical and mental harm to both adults and children. With violence, teaching and learning is disrupted. Teachers and students can develop anxiety that violence will occur again.

ETFO’s Professional Relations Services published a PRS Matters Bulletin #98 addressing training offered to teachers and education workers by school boards. I have not been “officially” trained in these areas but I have used some of the strategies. The programs mentioned in the bulletin are copied directly from the bulletin and are listed below:

Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) – This program has a focus on prevention and strategies designed to “safely defuse anxious, hostile or violent behaviour at the earliest possible stage.” “Disengagement skills” are demonstrated and practiced to train educators to remove themselves and others from dangerous situations. Participants are trained to recognize when it is appropriate to physically intervene and implement holding skills to manage aggressive behaviour.

My experience with CPI: I have removed myself and my students from my classroom due to hostile or violent behaviour. To prepared, the students and I talked about our classroom evacuation plan (without the student with special education needs present) and the students came up with the “retreat” signal word. We practiced getting out of our classroom and either lining up or going to a neighbouring classroom to be safe. This worked well and kept all safe and no students were physically touched in the process.

Behaviour Management Systems (BMS) – This program stresses early prevention and intervention techniques. It aims to teach effective and safe physical intervention techniques. The BMS training framework is made up of four phases, one of which is the “Action Phase.” During the action phase, practitioners can “intervene physically” through a series of blocks or releases or by containing the student (i.e., by wrapping “your arms around the student”). There are four written cautions in the workbook specific to containments that mention “positional asphyxiation” and students incurring “a dislocated shoulder.”

My experience with BMS: I have not had much experience with BMS. I have blocked students from leaving a classroom or running down a hallway but I have never touched any students. Personally, with or without training, I will never be comfortable using physical contact to intervene with student behaviour, especially when injury can happen to the student or to me.

ETFO believes that behaviour management training should be voluntary and should be done within the instructional day. Members are not required to sign any waivers with respect to training or in using physical retraints.

As noted in PRS #98, using physical components of BMS and CPT could put members are risk of a possible investigation from the Children’s Aid Society (CAS), and/or Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) or the College of Early Childhood Educators (CECE).

For further information, please contact your local ETFO president or Professional Relations staff in Professional Relations Services at 416-962-3836 or 1-888-838-3836.

I did come across a chart to help distinguish between Tantrums and Meltdowns Posted on Twitter @ONTSpecialNeeds

trantrums and meltdowns

My best advice is to reach out to a supportive colleague for help as this is where I get the most help and support when dealing with challenging student behaviour!

And in the end, it’s up to you as an educator to use your professional judgement to keep your students and yourself safe.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Duty to Report School Violence

Stop School Violence

As an elementary teacher, with 18 years experience, I’ve seen my share of violence in schools. In 3 lockdowns, I’ve had to keep my students quiet, calm, and safe. As a classroom teacher, I’ve had objects thrown at me (like chairs). More than once, I’ve been purposely hit and kicked so hard, bruises were left. I once had a student put an unknown substance in my tea. I’ve been harassed and threatened by students’ parents too many times to count. After making a call to the Children’s Aid Society, I had to be escorted to my car as my student’s mother was harassing me. I have personally witnessed students destroy/trash teachers’ classrooms and their personal property. And based on my own observations, the violence is increasing in schools.

There is research to support my anecdotal observations. Based on information from ETFO (Action on Violence in Schools), ETFO members are increasing facing violent incidents in schools and workplaces. This violence increases physical and mental harm to both adults and children. With violence, teaching and learning is disrupted. Teachers and students can develop anxiety that violence will occur again.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) completed a comprehensive member research survey in June 2017, carried out by Pollara. The survey noted that elementary schools tend to experience more threats and acts of violence than high schools.

The highlights of the report, OECTA Survey of Violence in Schools, were telling:

  • Nearly nine-in-ten teachers experienced or witnessed violence or harassment in schools
  • 94% of all violent incidents were perpetrated by students
  • 70% of teachers witnessed violence
  • 60% of teachers personally experienced violence
  • 15% of incidence involved weapons – 76% were classroom objects, 22% were a knife/blade, 8% were gun/fire arm/shotgun
  • elementary teachers experienced … threats of physical assault 43%; attempted physical assault 42%; actual physical assaults 36%

The resultant impact on teachers was also long term:

  • 58% of teachers experienced significant psychological stress
  • 56% of teachers experienced property damage
  • 40% of teachers experienced physical harm
  • 26% of teachers had to take time off work due to resultant health issues

So what are the schools doing about this violence in schools?

  • 25% of teachers were either encouraged or actively pressured by administrators to not fill out a reporting form (often called Violent Incident Report)
  • 25% of teachers who personally experienced violence were encouraged by administration to not report the incident to police

Teachers also reported that they felt administration did not take violent incidence seriously.

  • 82% of teachers were not given appropriate resources/tools to deal with violent situations
  • 74% of teachers who experienced violence and harassment reported they did not feel safe in their classrooms
  • 72% of teachers reported that students and staff did not receive adequate protection against violence and harassment

ETFO has put an action plan in place, ETFO’s Action Plan on School Violence, to make members’ schools and workplaces safer. This includes excellent videos, a brochure, and a poster. I strongly encourage you to check out these resources as they provide critical information to protect you, your colleagues, and your students against violence in schools.

So what can teachers do to support ETFO’s Action Plan on School Violence?

  1. Make schools and workplaces safe 
  • ETFO’s call to action and strategy to address violence in school board workplaces involves many stakeholders and it starts with collaboration, training and accountability (from ETFO’s Action Plan on School Violence).

2. Know your rights to a safe workplace (ETFO’s Action Plan on School Violence Brochure)

 Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act:

  • Your principal has a duty to provide you with information about the risks of harm from a person with a history of violence.
  • You may refuse to work or do particular work where you have reason to believe that the work is likely to endanger you.
  • If you believe you are being endangered by workplace violence, then report your concerns to the principal right away and get immediate assistance.

School Boards & Principals

  • School boards and principals are required to investigate and deal with reports of workplace violence and serious student incidents.
  • Both, boards and principals, are required to conduct assessments of the risks of violence as often as necessary to continue to protect ETFO members from the risks of harm.
  • Both, boards and principals, are required to take measures and procedures to control identified risks. In the school setting, these steps could include, for example, a safety plan, a behaviour plan, staffing and supports.
  1. You have a duty to report violence in schools (ETFO’s Action Plan on School Violence Brochure)
  • Under the OHSA, ETFO members have specific duties to report workplace violence.
  • Under the Education Act, ETFO members have specific duties to report serious student incidents. These duties are further described in Ministry policies PPM 144 and PPM 145.
  • Should workplace violence cause an injury or illness, an accident/injury/illness report is required. It is just as important to seek medical attention for psychological and emotional harm as it is for physical injury when workplace violence happens.
  • Your duty to report workplace violence and serious student incidents cannot be limited by age, needs or other mitigating factors. If you are having difficulties making these required reports, get in touch with your steward or ETFO local as soon as possible to get support.
  1. Support for ETFO Members
  • Contact your ETFO local for advice and support at
  • You can also contact ETFO provincial staff in Professional Relations Services at 416-962-3836/1-888-838-3836.
  • For information and resources on workplace violence and serious student incidents, visit
  1. Educate yourself and your colleagues on workplace violence

As noted above, ETFO’s Action Plan on School Violence has been put in place to make members’ schools and workplaces safer. I strongly encourage you to check out these resources below as they provide critical information to protect you, your colleagues, and your students against violence in schools.

ETFO’s Action on Violence in Schools

ETFO’s Action on Violence in Schools Poster

ETFO’s Action on Violence in Schools Brochure

Supporting ETFO Members – PRS Matters

I have experienced violence and harassment in schools but I have not been seriously injured. Based on the results from the OECTA Survey of Violence in Schools, I have been fortunate.

Know Your Rights to a Safe Workplace!


It’s up to you to support ETFO’s Action Plan on School Violence.

It’s up to you to fulfill your Duty to Report school violence.

With your support, together, we can make schools safer for our schools, our colleagues, and our students.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston