Image generated by DALL-E 2 with prompts from author
Image generated by DALL-E 2 with prompts from author

love…”what is it good for?”
love…”exciting and new.”
love…means nothing to a tennis player

L O V E is an often overused word

Keep reading if you used the word ‘love’ somewhere in a conversation today.
Here are some examples: “I love this song.” “Do you love this sweater?” “Wow, do I love this book.” “Bye mom. I love you.” I could go on because the very air around us abounds in love throughout the day at school, but so often it seems that we miss the opportunities to them all in, let alone enjoy them.

Where are you going here Gourley?

Last week the first talk from TED 2023 was shared by Angus Hervey (click link) and it serves as the inspiration for this post.* As you know I can dig into some uncomfortable spaces here and felt the need to spread a little sunshine after hearing the ideas worth spreading from this year’s TED.

It’s April, late April to be precise. Spring is somewhere in the air. I know because I felt it at the beginning of the month with a week of unseasonally warm days. I loved how some were complaining that it was too hot. I also loved not having to scrape frost off of my windshield or see remnants of blizzards past on my lawn as well. I even put away my super warm toque until next year. I loved seeing the first flowers poking through the brown matted grass. I love how nature keeps its own time. With a spring in my steps I have found it really easy to get up before the alarm clock as light and warmth pour into my room to start the day.

I love knowing that the we will keep getting closer to the sun for a couple more months. I love feeling the change of seasons and the decisions being made to remove layers of sweaters, winter boots, hats and gloves. I love the fresh and hearing the birds sharing their songs with me each morning. I love how having windows open allows for nature to visit the classroom. I love how learning spaces can be expanded exponentially when more time outdoors is included. Math, Phys Ed, Social Studies, Science, and every other subject just got a lot more fresh.

I love how students get so excited to be taking the learning outdoors. I love how much planning goes into preparing for these memorable moments and the amount of faith it takes to pull them off with so many variables at throughout the day. I love how students can still be goofy at heart – staff too for that matter.

I love how this year has flown past without a single moment of hybrid teaching. I love how OT positions have been filled more frequently. I love how well schools run when there are no outside forces undermining and gaslighting the incredible work done each day on behalf of students, their families, and the community. I love that students know we are working hard for them.

I love being an educator.

* The actual talk has not been posted however the article above captures the goodness contained therein.

Snow Day = No School Day

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.

As an elementary special education teacher, I teach in a hybrid class of some students learning synchronously online and some learning in-class. It’s a juggle of competing agendas as teaching online and in-class are very different due to different ecologies of learning. Ecology is defined as “the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment; it seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them.”

In-class ecology of learning

In-class learning happens in a physical environment of personal connections. In-class students learn by watching and listening to teachers while they also complete their work. Teachers can address specific students’ needs by reading body language and answering students’ questions.

Classroom learning is personal in nature.

In-class ecology is based on interactions between participants that occur face-to-face with the opportunity to directly deal with students based on need. Needs are determined by teachers being able to assess students’ needs by their knowledge of student learning profiles and emotions identified via body language. Classrooms also provide students with opportunities to interact with other students and move while learning.

Classroom learning is fostered by relationships and the interconnections between students, parents, and teachers.

Online ecology of learning

Online learning happens in a virtual environment of auditory connections. When students learning online, they learn mostly by listening through a screen via an online platform. Teachers explain concepts through images and speaking with little or no eye contact with students. As students often have their cameras off (i.e., their choice to protect their privacy at home), teachers cannot assess students’ level of engagement nor can they assess students’ understanding of lessons. Further, since students learn via camera, they miss the opportunity to engage in learning by manipulating objects such as with math manipulatives or creating experiments in science.

Online learning is void of the personal nature found in classroom learning.

Through a camera, teachers cannot develop the fulsome relationships key to the evaluation of students’ understanding and need for support. In addition, teachers are highly limited in the understanding of students’ learning profiles or emotional needs.

The assessment of work is also a challenge as teachers cannot directly witness products or collect observations in assessing success criteria. Conducting assessments via conversations is challenging as other students are literally in the same space as the student being assessed.

Online learning falls short in the building of relationships and interconnections between students, parents, and teachers. As the act of learning is fueled by personal interactions and relationships, without them learning is constrained. Online learning, especially for students with special education needs, is not an effective venue to learn. Further, online learning disproportionally impacts students who come from lower social economic backgrounds where the additional resources of time and money may not be available to support learning from home.

Online and In-Class Learning have different ecologies

Overall, it’s taken me many months to delineate what works synchronously online and in-class via the hybrid model. As learning about how to teach is based on experience, I’ve had some lessons that were not to be repeated and through this process I know what works with my current class of students.

In-class and online teaching “Flip-o-Rama”

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021 was the day my in-class students were to return to school. My online students would remain online but follow along in class via a camera (which was finally provided to me by my board of education after a year of teaching online learning.) But Mother Nature decided not to have us return to school via a big dump of snow – a snow day was announced via Twitter.

My lesson plans for this day were based on teaching in-class at school. We were to get our classroom organized, go over new Covid protocols, discuss plans for our science projects, and learn about anti-racism. I did not plan for another day of teaching online.

I was informed via Twitter by this message “On Feb. 16, 2021, all buses are cancelled & school buildings are closed to students due to inclement weather conditions. Learning will continue at home through remote, synchronous instruction, where possible.”

I understand the need for students to continue their learning and I have been working over 6 days a week to make this happen. I have been stepping up to “learning through remote synchronous instruction, where possible” by making it possible every day since September 2020. As a teacher, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I have worked hard to meet every additional expectation presented to me by my board of education. I have made “where possible”, possible.

Just Pivot In-class to Online

The challenge I face is that I cannot “just flip a switch” (i.e. or pivot) to go from planning for in-class learning to synchronous, online learning. It is not an easy, “flip of a switch”, transition. The reality is that I need to plan more for online learning by making sure students have the materials they need to participate in lessons.

My greatest concern is that, in the future, once the pandemic passes, Snow Days (i.e., inclement weather days) will automatically become online learning days. This will result in teachers having to flip from in class learning to online learning within hours of inclement weather announcements. Parents will have to arrange their day to accommodate their child’s online school by monitoring their work and supporting learning activities where possible. It’s a big ask for teachers and parents.

Setting a precedent for online learning during inclement weather days is a slippery slope.

I can see boards and ministries of education using inclement weather online learning to move more students’ learning, online.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deborah Weston, PhD

The end is here

The end (of January) is here. Thankfully. I thought wrapping up 2019 would have signaled my surrender. I didn’t know another white flag needed to be waved so quickly, but here goes.

The month of January has been particularly trying on my mental health and well being. When I say my mental and health and wellbeing, it’s important to know that it implies the way a lot of my colleagues in education are feeling right now. It’s tough sledding right now. Let me explain what’s been going down.

The usual demons

The entire month has elapsed as a slow motion dream sequence of continually compartmentalized interactions. Meet here, teach now, listen here, discuss there, teach again, receive devastating news, listen, meet, teach, share, support, listen some more, put on a brave face, teach, weep for a student lost in a senseless act, grieve, cope, support, listen even more, meet, teach, and try to make sense of what the heck happened?

I’d like to blame Mother Nature for the storms, poor commutes, and frigid school days, but I can’t because I bought snow tires which ensured that the weather would only be bad on weekends this month. I’d like to say it’s the flu, but I can’t because I got my first flu shot in 10 years. I’d like to say that my students are being difficult, but I can’t because they are truly interesting and engaging learners.

So it’s got to be me right? I’ll own my part of things knowing that I am sharing with 7.2 billion others in January right now. Let me reiterate. It’s been an incredibly difficult month even though my usual January demons were uncharacteristically co-operative? Now that the month is over things can get better right? Either that, or something really bad is in store for the future once the demons get back from vacation. Fingers crossed, salt over my left shoulder, ladders put away, black cats all in their homes, and artificial rabbit’s foot rubbed something more positive is possible. Anything will be better than the start of 2020.

This January’s tragic events were completely out of our hands. Yet, as teachers, we were all working together in support of our students, as well as one another. At my school, the death of a student on UIA Flight 752 was devastating. Upon confirmation of the news, it was as if the air had been taken from our lungs in a flash. It was hard to breath that day. We were all in shock, and had to put on a strong face for our students and each other as the news unfolded which was not easy.

We are told to try and return things to normal as quickly as possible, but all I remember is feeling numb in the weeks that followed. I wonder how normal I looked trying to hide how it hurt to lose a student? In fact it has taken me a few weeks to even process the feelings in order to share them here.

Despite, therapy dogs, social worker support, and incredibly kind admin/school board officials it has been one of the toughest times I’ve ever experienced as a teacher.  When tragic and senseless events occur the losses are hard to overcome regardless of the supports in place. Finding “normal” again would have been very tough without help, but isn’t enough in itself. This leaves many of us having to manage some of the restoration on our own outside of school.

Setting aside a bit of quiet time to process each day helped. As simple as that sounds, it is hard to shut it all down at the end of the day or over the weekends. Taking time to remember the good things and dwell for some time on positive memories helps healing to begin. Sometimes laughter helps too. Especially, when the humour comes in the form of a joke, a meme, or a witty remark. Thank God for animal videos and Reddit.

As teachers we live and breath our callings. Our learners occupy a huge space of our thoughtlives. We have them with us as we process our days whether we are at school or not. There have been countless times where I’m reminded of a student, past and present, in a casual conversation with friends or family. The life of an educator guarantees that you will accumulate some incredible memories, and this is largely a good thing. For me there has been so much joy in reflection back on 2019, but in contrast comes a much harsher start to 2020 with the loss of a beautiful soul from our school family. As February takes over the calender, I am glad to say the end(of January)is here.

Wishing you all health, happiness, and good memories for the rest of the year and beyond.

Bumps, bruises, and other lessons from play and weather

It’s been Spring for nearly 2 months and I can say that most of the snowsuits in our school have been taken home. Most of them.

It’s also safe to say that our weather readiness has been scaled back from red alert to a beautiful shade of green as the sunshine and warmth arrives. Once again, we have survived Winter’s worst – albeit still recovering.

With the exception of below seasonal average cold days and relentless rain the above statement is true. Well, partially true because it is still very grey out below the constand clouds overhead. Literary scholars might label this as pathetic fallacy. Regardless of location, the weather plays a significant part in everyone’s lives and learning, especially in school.

As of May 22, 2019 we are still dealing with pavement only recesses due to our grass fields still in a wet and muddy state from recent(incessant) Spring Showers. To add to the fun, indoor recesses. When you add it all up, it has meant students are missing out on some crucial time outside. A teacher shared that he knew there had been too many indoor recesses when a student called him dad.

Has the current trend in weather now become a climate crisis issue or a prolonged meteorological anomaly? As it is, the timing of our seasons appears to have shifted slightly and that it feels like Winter and the others are running a month behind schedule? It might make a great Science project to find out.

This is tough because Spring is traditionally a time where we all burst forth with energy and vigour to shake off the wait/weight of Winter to get outdoors, breathe fresh air, ambulate, and soak up some overdue sunshine. However, it has yet full bloom has yet to happen and it is taking its toll.

Like most schools, the outdoor space limits are unable to accomodate numbers. Recent weather has dictated that students be limited to a smaller space(pavement only) if and when they are allowed to go out for recess. This has necessitated some creative ways to schedule, manage, and safely supervise them during these times – emphasis on safely.

Despite splitting the time between Grades 2 to 5 and 6 to 8, students are still arriving in the office with a surprising amount of injuries. These range from cuts, scrapes, sprains, breaks, and bumps. Our office resembles a triage unit somedays and in order to ensure concussion protocols are followed, a team approach is vital.

Our school does this very well. When I 1st arrived at ACPS in 2017, there was already a strong communication infrastructure in place. Staff were expected to carry walkie-talkies while they were on the yard for supervision and or outside for DPA or instruction. This was new for me, but I quickly came to appreciate the connectivity.

That said, there are still numerous injuries that take place on a daily basis in schools. These can range from jammed fingers from basketball, an errant dodgeball(gator) to the face in PE, a fall from the outdoor play structures, slips/trips on the pavement, or bumps to the head.

An ice pack, a kind word, and a bandage is usually all that is required for most school injuries. However, there are still occasions when more attention is required. This usually happens in two places, the gymnasium and outdoors during unstructered time.

When a child incurs more serious injuries, the office is radioed in advance to alert available members from the 1st Aid team of impending arrival(s). In these instances, gloves are on and ready to avoid contact with blood and other bodily fluids(yes, children come to school with the flu). It can often be very loud as students are in heightened states of distress.

Last week a child received quite a gash on their forehead and there was a lot of blood, their sustained scream could be heard throughout the entire school(I think hearing protection might be required when the gloves go on too). This is where having good calming strategies in place is crucial. With some time and focused breathing, all subsided and we were able to provide First Aid.

Most schools have 4 or 5 staff who are trained in 1st Aid, but I highly recommend getting the training whenever it is offered. The peace of mind in being able to promptly and properly care for an injured student or adult is worth the time and effort. The more hands on deck the better. As I mentioned before, most to all injuries are superficial, thankfully.

The bumps and bruises of play also hold lessons for our students. It is never a bad idea to remind them that they are subjects in and subject to the laws of nature. Whether they know it or not, students naturally and opportunely learn most of the concepts of Physics long before they are ever formally taught:

Gravity, objects in motion, centripedal force, centrifugal force, torque, inertia, balance, rotation, angular momentum, acceleration, deceleration, launch angle, and many others all happen when students are in various states of play. So no wonder, they get hurt sometimes. Students also learn their own limits, how to get up after a fall, how to get mud out of clothes, and about pain.

I’d say some of my best learning came from moments at play where I began to understand my limitations as well as potential. Falling out of a tree or jungle gym Our students are learning this way too when given the time, space, and when weather co-operates. How we frame all of this may help learners appreciate the value of play and the weather and the impact the latter has on the former. Let me break it down.

Here’s what the weather teaches us all:

  1. Be prepared.
  2. Plan for the best, but expect the worst.
  3. Things change without warning.
  4. You often do not get what is advertised in the forecast.
  5. Meteorology is a science that involves observing, gathering, and interpreting massive amounts of data. #ScienceForTheWin
  6. Snow days are fun for students and few others who must still drive to school.
  7. Elementary schools are not, but high schools are air-conditioned.
  8. Always have dry clothes to change into after arrival or dismissal duty during a rain storm.
  9. Snow suits are never meant to be worn after April 30th.
  10. Shh = Sunblock, hats, and hydration when spending time outdoors or see 1. above.

We have all gained first hand life lessons from the above, and am sure there are many more, not mentioned. It means that there is always a lesson, to be found in every situation. That’s what makes teaching so fun and meaningful. Stay safe, active, constantly learning…and dry.

If you have a First Aid or a weather related story, please take time to share in the comments.

The breaks when the weather puts the brakes on bussing.

It’s another day when many school boards have made the decision to cancel buses because of imminently deteriorating weather conditions. While this morning appeared calm and the roads dry and clear on my commute, a massive weather event approached that was significant enough to set a flurry of board contingency plans into action. With first tweets chirping around 6 am, the news outlets began to spread the word.

As I sit at my desk and share this post, I know that families are scrambling to make arrangements to make sure their children are safe whether at home, in transit, and during the 6.5 hours from first bell to pick-up at school.

Cue the blizzard of retorts on social media. Today is the 5th cancellation of transportation this year and my school board(YRDSB et al) will undoubtedly see the comments pile up like the flakes outside.

Without sharing the Twitter handles here is a sampling pulled from today’s tweets to some GTA school boards:

Beating the winter blahs

Brrrr! If my teeth weren’t chattering so much I’d be able to truly describe how b-b-b-barbarically c-c-c-cold it is outside right n-n-n-now. Not surprisingly, with such brutally un-balmy temps comes some interesting behaviour at school. Perhaps it’s a function of daylight hours(or lack thereof) or our proximity to one another as we cocoon indoors(achoo), or maybe due to the fact that we are all putting on a few pounds(of extra clothing each day). Whatever the reason(s), my demeanour is in direct dispute with my daily sunny disposition due to a lack of warm temperatures and sunlight in my life.

All this to let you know, the winter blahs have arrived. Yes, I am aware that this is what we all expect and get for living in Canada. Times like this make us tougher as a people and that living in colder climates is statistically proven to increase life spans of inhabitants. For what, so we can suffer the cold longer?

Just because we are polite Canadians does not mean we can’t be miserable about the weather(dangerous drives, snow days, bus cancellations) once in a while as an act of national unity. So winter has officially slapped us all in the face with frosty windows and frigid temperatures I thought it would be a good time to talk about how we can overcome this recurring seasonal challenge that affects staff and students alike.

Recent dips in temperatures have necessitated some strategic planning on many schools supervision staff when it comes to bus duty before and after school. Snow pants, heavy duty boots, layers of clothes(including longjohns), toques, parkas, and mittens all called in for active service when the sleet, ice, blizzards, and wind chills come.

There’s a Norwegian saying, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. Recently, on a particularly cold morning I could feel my eye sockets freezing and I was angry for second guessing the decision not to bring ski goggles to school for bus duty because everything else was comfy and warm.

The cold weather also means that students have not been outside for much needed fresh air. This can compound itself in a number of behaviour issues especially when they are limited to quiet indoor games within the confines of classrooms. On occasion, I have seen the gyms at my old schools opened up for the JK/SK students who are able to work out a few wiggles, but this space can only safely accomodate so many students at once. Often it falls on teachers to up the amount of DPA on days like this to get the heart rates and minds going. Go Noodle is a great way to get everyone moving.

For the older students, staying inside is like a windfall because many in the Junior/Intermediate Divisions are happy to avoid going outside. It’s not so bad if it happens infrequently, however it becomes an issue when students are unable to understand the advantages of a break and some fresh air.

All of this time indoors takes its toll on the mood of a building. It’s as if the cold challenges us to use all of our energy to keep our emotional well-being fires burning. Here are some sure fire ways to keep mind and body stoked while making sure behaviour doesn’t burn out of control;

1. Have students be part of the decision making process well in advance of rough winter days. Let them create the standards and expectations for class behaviour and activities. They are usually more strict than you and more likely to adhere to rules they had a voice in creating.
2. Be patient. When everyone is cold and tired before the day even starts it is best to take things slowly.
3. Increase movement breaks in every class. Consider building active learning into instruction such as milling to music, yoga, counting in French while doing jumping jacks or vertical Math. Worksheets are not an option.
4. Consider Genius Hour or other ways to incorporate technology, inquiry, and presentation skills. I usually schedule this for Mondays so that students have another reason to look forward to coming to school to start the week.
5. Take time to check in and talk with students/staff. A simple smile and hello and conversation goes a long way. Sometimes a little recognition is all it takes.

All of the above have made whole-school life better for me and students when the winter blahs hit. What is working for you? Please take the time to share in the comments section. Thank you for reading. Keep the fires burning.


Importance of Teaching Climate Change

climate change is a hoax

Most teachers agree that teaching climate change is important … but why is climate change really important? Given humans will be facing impending global climate change, why don’t all people care about climate change?

What climate change is and what it is not.

An important thing students need to know is the difference between climate and weather. Climate is seasonal and regional and weather is daily and local. Just because we have a big snow storm does not mean that climate change is not happening. Scientists look at trends over long periods to document regional and worldwide changes in climate.

Another thing students need to know is that climate change does not cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions but earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can cause climate change. In our recent past, earthquakes and volcanoes have lowered the Earth’s temperature on a short term basis.

In 1816, Indonesia’s Mount Tambora exploded in a massive ash and gas cloud, destroying the city of Tambora and killing about 92000 people. The ash and sulphuric acid cloud was so great it blocked the sun and cooled the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere by 3 degrees. That year, the explosion resulted in summer frosts in North American and widespread crop failures as well as outbreaks of diseases and famines in Europe and Britain (Williams, 2016). In 1816, another eruption caused the Earth to cool 2 degrees due to Mount Krakatau’s volcanic eruption.

Further, we need to know that global warming is caused by the release of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Global climate change is the result of this burning of carbon creating a warming greenhouse effect on the Earth’s atmosphere.

What’s up with the importance of climate change?

When humans face serious hazards like terrorism, flu outbreaks, global market crashes, and the result of large exploding volcanoes, we deal with their short term impacts. These impacts do not have the chance of “ravaging the natural world and collapsing civilization” (Gardner, 2018) like the permanent changes that can happen to global climates. Most people understand and accept that global warming is happening, but they are not immediately and directly impacted by the change in climates as these changes come in increments. Global climate change is not an imminent threat … yet.

As humans, we have challenges understanding the long term abstract probability of climate change. We can understand the short term probability of weather as it is felt and directly experienced – like an 80% chance of a large snowfall and very cold weather. We also can understand local warming when our weather changes over time. Climate change is the probability of weather impacting humans (Gardner, 2018).

Humans don’t get long term risks.

We know that smoking causes cancer but people still smoke (Gardener, 2018). We know that consuming alcohol causes health and social problems but we still consume it (Bishop-Stall, 2018). Humans still build houses in flood plains and are surprised when their houses are periodically flooded – as a Red Cross volunteer, people showed me the flood lines in their basements over a 100 year period but were again surprised at the level of flooding in Calgary in 2013.

It is our human psychology that keeps us distant from the abstract impending consequences. Climate change is complex and abstract and we need to trust scientists to help us understand its impact on the long term of human well being.

Humans have stopped global impacts due to human activities.

In the 1980’s, governments met to put policies in place to limit ozone depletion and acid rain by managing the release of ozone depleting and acid rain causing chemicals into our global atmosphere. This is proof that when humans work together, we can affect change.

Real Impacts of Climate Change

As a human, I have been a witness to the impact of climate change on Canadians. As a Red Cross volunteer, I have listened to the stories of people who have dealt with flooding in Burlington, Ontario, in Gooderham, Ontario, and in Calgary, Alberta. I have listened to the stories shared as a result of the life changing impact fires had on people in Fort McMurray.

At home, I have lost 6 trees due to invasive beetles. I have a 3 year old snow blower that has only been used once. As a former geologist, I know that it took millions and millions and millions of years to capture all the carbon we are now releasing into our environment over 300 years up until today – that’s got to have an impact on our global climate.

People cannot feel the threats measured in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide but we can listen to the stories of others who have been directly impacted by the result of global warming. By making and following policies to limit gases that result in global warming and climate change, we can limit the imminent change in our global climate.

Below are some excellent teacher and student resources.

Have a safe and healthy 2019.

Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD


Climate Kids Canada- Information, Games, Activities, Advocacy

Climate Kids NASA – Big Questions, Weather & Climate, Atmosphere, Using resources wisely, Clean energy.

National Geographic- Climate Change for Kids

Tiki the Penguin’s Guide to Climate Change

Ecoschools Today

Ecoschools Lesson Plans for Teachers


Climate Change (according to a kid) Video (all grades)

Crash Course in Climate Change Video (Junior/Intermediate)

Climate Change | Educational Video for Kids (Primary/Junior)


Bishop-Stall, S. (December 30, 2018) Drink. Hungover. Repeat. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? The Globe and Mail. Downloaded from

Gardner, D. (December 22, 2018). Why don’t we care about climate change. The Globe and Mail. Downloaded from

Williams, J. (June 10, 2016). The epic volcano eruption that led to the “Year Without a Summer”, The Washington Post, Downloaded from

Building upon balance

I’m back. You’re back. They’re back. We’re back!!!!!
And it could not have come at a better time. Or could it?

While our transition from summer to school traditionally begins after Labour Day, there are more and more students starting back to class in August than ever before. This is known in edu-circles as a balanced or modified year. It offers quite a few upsides that benefit our learners and with some time for adjustment, for our profession. So I ask…

Imagine if we all started in August with a balanced school year that allowed the learning to be spread out over a longer period of time, but with a few week long breaks built in? What are the pros and cons of such a shift in a historically established calendar? Is it possible to change a 100+ year old practice?

Helping out on the farm

A balanced school year makes sense on a number of levels. Especially, when we consider that the original reason for a September start stemmed from the need for students to be available to work on the family farm. In some areas of the province, farming is still a factor, but it is very evident, that the majority of the nearly 2 million students from K to 12 live close to or in cities. Most are not feeding a herd, driving a combine, or mending fences in July and August.

However, a greater majority of students are left to swelter in concrete jungles trying to stay cool. There are few if any universally accessible programs that do not require a computer bot like skill in order to register on-line for limited spaces. So no swimming lessons, city camps, or classes for all. In fact, the City of Toronto announced that it will try to add 70 000 new program spaces just to accomodate current demand.

Which means, for the foreseeable future, most students will still be given a summer sentence stuck indoors. It is no secret, our cities lack adequate child care, recreation, youth programming, and social spaces. What if all school boards were able to offer a balanced school year and provide working families with an option that would ultimately save them money in conjunction with municipalities? A kind of multi-tiered approach to community and education.

Who will pay?

With government money used for creating and subsidizing child care spaces, an investment in a balanced school year would relieve, not remove, the pressure by allowing younger school aged children to be in the classroom rather than a daycare centre. This in itself could save families 3 to 4 weeks of childcare costs that could then be spread out over time through the year rather than in one expensive 9 week chunk. Granted, that there are extra weeks off throughout the year, but they are distributed over the school calendar.

The biggest obstacle to all of this is from a purely structural point of view and comes from having to retrofit hundreds, if not thousands of elementary schools with adequate climate controls, aka air conditioning. Recent returns to the classroom remind us all that our elementary schools are woefully equipped to deal with irratic temperature fluctuations and extreme heat. 2 fans per classroom do nothing to cut through the sweltering heat on the first or second floors of any ill-equipped building – even with the lights off.

The bigger question that comes to mind is why our province still chooses to provide air conditioning to students in high school, but not from JK to 8? This type of systemic disparity does not seem fair. Are elementary school students and staff expected to feel they are being treated fairly by the government’s funding model? I can see fingers pointing in all directions here, but not a one is doing a thing to acknowledge or remedy the problem. Students suffering from heat exhaustion do not make good learners. Perhaps it’s time for our grade 5 Social Studies classes to mount a letter writing campaign to ask our government to do its job and serve its future taxpayers. We’d better hurry before that curriculum gets changed.

I feel we are about to see bigger problems in our province if facilities equity cannot be guaranteed in all schools. Think of it like this; the province buys or leases 1000s of vehicles each year. After a few years they are traded in or replaced with newer models and the fleet stays rolling. If Ontario maintained its government auto fleet like its schools, some would have hand crank windows, some might have air-conditioning, some would have low mileage, while others would be up on blocks. Most would need to go to the body shop for repairs and others would have to be towed to the scrapyard. Nobody would want to drive in an unreliable vehicle. So why are our schools being left to deteriorate through underfunding and repair backlogs?

How is it fair to expect standardized results when there are no standard facilities? Is it a class thing? A neighbourhood thing?

As teachers, we take pride in our workspace. We have witnessed all that can be done each year despite the structural shortfalls and disparities from school to school and board to board. We also know that the current funding model for our schools cannot be a band-aid solution. The recent cuts by the new provincial government are leaving school boards with open wounds.

It’s not all bad (well the above part is, but below is all sunshine)

This year’s return to school was ushered in with all of the elation, excitement, and chaos of its predecessors. How could it not be so? At my school over 600 hope-filled students converged on the playground for a surreal moment of truth. Who was going to be their teacher? In which classroom? Main building sauna or luxurious portable? I loved the chaos that was the first day. It was perfect weather for a July day in September. Perhaps in the future you will be reading this message in August. In the meantime, welcome back.

In my next post I’ll discuss the aspects of greater knowledge retention that come from a more balanced school year. What do you think of the idea of the school year spread out over a longer period of time? Please share and comment to continue the conversation. Thank you for reading.

Further reading

Interesting blog post explaining how education is funded in Ontario.

The decisions

It’s February and another “Snowmaggedon” or ice storm has just passed, is happening now or forecast to be on its way. Not surprisingly, frigid and snowy weather have cost our students a lot of important outdoor time this year. Recently, I knew we’d had too many indoor recesses in a row when a grade 2 student called me daddy. With temperatures below -17°C, our school became a hive of 600+ learners with a lot of energy to burn. Too bad we couldn’t use it to warm the building.

Despite the recent large accumulations of snow, biting sideways winds, and dangerous driving conditions our schools remain open even though busses were cancelled. Props to our caretakers who are on the front lines everyday making our schools safe hours before the first bell. It’s Canada after all, not Texas. We’re equipped for whatever wintry weather gets whipped our way, but it still takes its toll on students, their families, and educators. This got me thinking about all of the factors that are considered in the decision to cancel or not cancel school transport over something so common, yet complex, as a snowstorm in Ontario.

Since the start of Winter in Dec 2017, there have been three occasions where busses have been cancelled in my school board. I can only imagine that the decisions to do so, did not come lightly. From what I’ve pieced together, the simplest way to understand this is to trust there are people whose jobs are to officially figure out and communicate whether it’s too risky for busses to safely pick up students in the morning and then safely return them at the end of the day.

Each school board has developed policies and provisions for a variety of weather related situations. Most seem to operate along the same guidelines, but what becomes fun is how it plays out on Twitter.

Pleading and requests for SBcancellations

On the morning of a storm day, it seems the whole world wakes up early to check news and weather outlets, or the internet for the latest information. Assuredly, a range of emotions are played out as to whether the daily drive is determined to be disrupted. And as fast as you can say social media, a blizzard of micro-agression via micro-blogs covers the digital landscape.

I check Twitter for an official message from my school board first. Typically, any news regarding bus cancellations gets posted around 6:00 a.m. Anything before that is read at your own risk is usually filled with some interesting and short-syllabled reading to start the day. Tweets like these usually come in the form of announcements reminding the board about the snow, pleas to cancel, and not so subtle supplications.

Over the course of about 30 minutes pre- or post-official board announcements most messages shovel some similar emotional paths.

Passive aggressive to dictatorial to dangerous


Perhaps speaking their mind, as if it was truth, would get this person’s suggestions noticed? Crickets for this one.

One of the most daunting tasks for a social media manager at a school board has to be deciding when to engage or keep scrolling. The person who shared this tweet was not finished and proceeded to post a brief, albeit profane, reply that expressed their measure of disappointment. I know this didn’t have anything to do with cancellation of exams because Term 2 has just started. I wonder how bad is this person’s perception of education that they feel compelled to hurl such anger at the school board over a non-snow day?

Not wanting to believe that this sort of thing was limited to my school board, I checked out what was going on in another GTA board like Peel. Not surprisingly, their Twitter feed was piled high with similarly pointed messages from last week’s real snow day. Their approach however, was a bit more interactive as can be seen in this thread of tweets:

PeelResponse to SB Cancellations

Reading on in this thread, I found supportive messages being shared via the board and one of its teachers. The tone is clear and communicates a desire to inform and engage their clientele. I found this level of interaction informative with only a level of snark by those pleading their cases for a snow day in the Twitterverse.

Look at how the student states that the teachers don’t even teach on snow days. A statement I do not agree with. Nevertheless, this is how it is perceived by that particular student. I am sure that teaching has to be adapted to the numbers on snow days, but that learning is always the option and outcome even when snow is piling up.

Read more in The decisions, part 2.