This past March, I was able to attend the workshop Educating for Social Justice at the ETFO Provincial Office. It was an incredible experience! Sharing space and learning with other like minded educators is always so cup filling. The connections and conversations with other women were so meaningful over the course of the workshop.
To me, social justice in education is multi-faceted. It includes the way we interact with and care for students. It is a mindset that values diversity, equal opportunity to tell one’s story, and celebrates all identities. In this workshop we had so many examples of how to embed social justice in the daily classroom.
Dr. Stephanie Fearon, from York University, was the incredible keynote speaker. Her address was titled “It’s More Than Just Teaching: Storying Liberatory Learning Spaces”. She focused on storytelling and it’s importance in the classroom. I loved the way she used storytelling to share about her own family and identity. She invited us to be active learners in her presentation, and to critically think about how we tell stories and how we might unintentionally perpetuate stereotypes.
Something that I really appreciated was how Dr. Fearon framed the critique circle for us. She demonstrated a lesson for us and asked us to critique the lesson. She had us repeat that we ‘do this in service of the educator’ to ensure that everyone knew a critique was different from criticism. The idea that educators should seek critique of their work when we are striving to better our teaching practice was at the heart of the idea of a critique circle. We are all seeking to improve our practice and build trust in our fellow educators to give feedback that is meaningful and important.
Next, was a presentation by Jen Matsalla titled “Who Am I? Using Visual Arts to Explore Identity”. In this interactive workshop, we had a wonderful community building activity with open ended questions and the opportunity to think and explore our identities and the identities of others. I loved that everyone could have an entry point and it was low risk art activities that would be accessible to every student. Each table created a collaborative arts piece and we put them all together on the floor to make a large, beautiful collage of art.
We had the opportunity to listen to Michelle McKay’s presentation “Engaging in Teaching and Learning About Truth and Reconciliation in the Elementary Classroom”. This incredible early years educator shared with us her experience of working in kindergarten to provide opportunities to build students’ relationships with the land in a meaningful way. The activities she shared helped students to see themselves as stewards and in partnership with the land and community in their neighbourhood. She also shared a video clip with us of students as activists, appealing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for better care of the environment. It was so inspiring!
Lastly, we participated in a series of hands-on activities thanks to Gail Bedeau and Helen Vlachoyannacos. Their workshop, “Teaching Critical Literacy through a Social Justice Stance”, had us thinking about all kinds of texts, from visual designs to short stories and poetry. Using a variety of different strategies, these educators had us work through different tasks to experience and consider how we might use these strategies in the classroom at different grade levels to have students interact meaningfully with texts that share identities and social justice themes.
This conference is a must for educators! As an educator, it was a wonderful opportunity to learn with and from others’ experiences. I came away so inspired by Dr. Fearon’s presentation, with a full toolkit of strategies to use in the classroom, and great connections with colleagues across the province. If you’re looking for the chance to really think about how you can embed social justice into your classroom and teaching practice, this is a great place to start. Hope to see you there next year.


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