Grinch Day

Taking time to celebrate and do something out of the ordinary is a great way to create community within your classroom and school. We had a very joyous day in December connecting with our grade 8 buddies and celebrating the story of the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas”.

If you are going to have a Grinch Day, you need to embrace your green coloured clothes!


To start the day, we read an interactive book where my students pushed the buttons for the sounds of the Whos, The Grinch and Max. It gave some of my students who were not familiar with the Grinch story some foundational knowledge about the story.

Next, we spent some time on our life skills. We prepared Grinch fruit skewers for all of our grade 8 buddies. We washed, cut and skewed strawberries, bananas, grapes and marshmallows.

With all of our Grinchy food ready to go, it was time to invite our grade 8 buddies over for some relay races. We used green cups and green ornaments and divided our two classes into teams. We took over our hallway and made it into a relay course passing the green ornament between green cups.

Finally, we gathered, ate some yummy green food and watched the Grinch movie. It was such a fun and joyous day.

From my class to yours, we are wishing you a wonderful break and a fantastic 2020!

Celebrating us

We did it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful for:

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

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

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

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

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

Triggers and Habits in Teaching Part One

Dreaded Seating Arrangements

Almost every teacher I talk to says, “I have a really difficult class this year.”  The difficulties identified are most often tied to “behaviour” issues.  In my experience effective classroom “management” can be connected to dynamic programming and developing solid relationships with students. Many of us go to things like Class Dojo or incentive programs to “manage” behaviour and some have their merits.  However, they might “manage” behaviour, but does it help student to learn to self-regulate?  I understand that there are students who have behaviour safety plans that can provide challenges and I do not mean to downplay the effect that even one student’s behaviour can have on an entire class.  However, there are ways in which we can have small tweaks in our triggers and habits in teaching that will have a positive outcome on developing a community of learners.

So what is a trigger?  A trigger in psychological terms can  used to describe sensations, images or experiences that re-visit a traumatic memory.  It can also mean to make something happen very quickly; a reaction.  It is also referred to as an event that kicks off the automatic urge to complete a habit.*  Habits are seen as something that people do often or regularly.  Habits can even be unconscious behaviours and sometimes difficult to stop.  What do triggers and habits have to do with teaching?

Over the years I think I have become more self aware in the classroom about my own triggers and habits.  It is easy to continue to do a routine in a classroom simply because it is something that we have always done. Even when we have sound pedagological reasoning, it can be difficult to change or cease a habit. For example, for many years I put names on the desks of students before they entered the classroom on the first day of school.  I don’t really know why I began this habit.  Besides a wedding, some kind of gala or a reservation at a restaurant, I get to choose where I sit every day.  It is a fairly important life skill.  I’m not going to find my name on a seat on the city bus.  Once I recognized that this routine was purely out of habit and was “triggered” by the first day of school, I decided to change it up.  On the first day of school with a grade 4-5 class, the students came into the room and sat wherever they wanted. I admit that this made the perfectionist in me who loves order, routine and habit rather uncomfortable.  I had some students sit in groups, some in pairs and some on their own.  Then we had a class meeting about how they had felt when they entered the room and had to make their seating choice.  There was talk of anxiousness, sweaty palms, heart rate increase, fear of missing out and for some it was no big deal.  I decided to create a google form to survey the students about where to sit in the classroom, how often we would change it up and who would decide.  The results of the survey were fascinating.  Some students wanted me to choose where they sat and wanted to have that same spot every day for 194 days.  Some never wanted to “sit” in a group but wanted to be a part of it during group work time.  We came up with a plan that each Monday the students would choose where to sit for the week and the students who wanted a regular spot would be able to keep it and the other students would respect their choices without question.  We also had some extra choices for seating that students could go to if their choices for that week weren’t working out.  The students gained incredible insight into self-regulation.  I heard things like, “I sat with Gracie all week and we’re such good friends, I didn’t get my work done so I’m not going to sit with her next week.”  or  “I don’t hang out with Olivia but I know she is a serious student so I’d like to sit with her in a group.”

It isn’t easy to be self aware while we are trying to keep our head above water, collect permission forms, listen to announcements, adjust our day plan for the assembly that was announced, deal with a parent that wants to chat in the hallway AND teach curriculum.  I GET that…however, being aware of triggers and habits and making small tweaks to our teaching behaviour can make a big difference in our classroom community.

*106:Triggers-The Key to Building and Breaking Habits, Chris Sparks, 2018


Best December of Teaching

I just had the best December of teaching ever!! I left school on such a high note on December 21st and have carried the joy right into my holidays. I have been trying to put my finger on what made this December so special and fantastic and I think it has to do with the amount of laughter in my class this month. The staff laughed a lot in our class this December.  My students responded really well to our team’s approach and laughed and laughed right alongside with us. I know it is not always manageable to laugh when we have such a stressful job but it is sometimes the best medicine we have.

Here are some ways we found the joy throughout December:

We visited our old class and had a great day with friends that we hadn’t seen in a while.

visiting other classes

We hung out in the gym



We tried new things.


We did really fun science experiements!!



We made sandwiches and fruit and it was delicious.


We took time out for holiday memory


We built structures


We worked with our friends to complete puzzles


We had dance parties for DPA.

dance party

We made great math patterns.

math puzzles

We did holiday song karaoke


We visited another class to play some games

pattys class

Santa came to bring us some cheer


The staff decorated a pair of ugly socks as part of our team’s special gathering.


We opened our selfie Christmas crackers and took some funny pictures

selfie xmas cracker

We enjoyed our new scarfs that I knit for my class

scarf picture

It was the best December ever!!







School Spirit

What is it? Where do you buy it? How much do you need? Who is responsible for it? Several weeks ago I was part of a re-opening ceremony for a former school that I had taught at in the 90’s. That once old, archaic building had been transformed into an architectural state of the art learning environment. As I watched special guests, children and their families and community members arrive you could hear the oohs and ahs as they entered and saw the amazing interior of the school. If you have ever bought a new home, a new car or anything new, you know the excitement that comes with it.

This is where my post shifts gears. It was not the shiny new building. It was not the posh interior that I was in. It was not the formality of the ceremony, nor the speeches, nor the prestigious opening ceremony that had impacted me. What struck me that night was the immediate feeling I had as I entered the building of being a ‘Wildcat’. It had been almost two decades since I was a part of that staff and community. Yet, that feeling of belonging, that feeling of loving to be there and that feeling of comraderie immediately overcame me. Of course the culminating event that cemented that feeling was when a friend and former colleague lead the entire crowd in the long-standing Wildcat cheer. The building erupted into an atmosphere that resembled a pro sporting event.

When I went home that night still on an emotional high I sat and pondered why I had not had that feeling in such a long time. What was it? What caused it to resurface? I have been in many school settings over my career and not every place created that kind of feeling. According to Wikipedia, school spirit is defined as the emotional support for one’s educational institution. There is no curriculum to create it. There is no instruction booklet on how to teach it. There is only the passion and commitment that the teachers bring to their classroom and school.


This is who I am

Through the winter inquiry my senior kindergarten students and I are involved in at the moment, I have recently been reminded of the importance of seizing opportunities for students that can spark a sense of self and place within the school setting. 

In one of our classes, we have a five-year old Inuk girl who is from Pangnirtung (on Baffin Island), and who was adopted by a family from the south. When we began talking about how people stay warm in the winter, her mother spoke to me of an opportunity for her daughter to bring in and share some of the clothing she has received from her family in Pangnirtung; a spring amauti (anorak), sealskin slippers and mittens, and a pair of sealskin kamik (boots).

Elisapie (not her real name) is a quiet student who plays happily with her friends and who engages in a variety of activities and learning opportunities during her school day without making a big splash. However, since beginning this journey of exploring the wonders of the north with her classmates and her unique connection to it, Elisapie has become a bit of a superstar. She is definitely proud of her uniqueness and this inquiry seems to have offered her an opportunity to step up and claim a place which is her own within the school setting. We have all noticed how she has become more engaged in class – asking where her amauti is every morning and wanting to put it on to go visit other classrooms in the school to show and tell all about it. When one classmate came back to school after an absence, Elisapie said, “I have to show her my amauti and slippers. When can I do that?” I am finding I occasionally need to open a window to get some cool, fresh air in the classroom before her cheeks start to glow red (sealskin is very warm), because she likes to wear them during centre time now. According to her mother, Elisapie talks more about her school day when she goes home in the afternoon, and also mentioned that Elisapie is showing an interest in going to Inuktitut classes to begin learning her language again. In class the other day, Elisapie and two of her best friends took an Inuktitut early reader from the class library and used it to write a message in Inuktitut. It is a collection of words that no one can read at this point, but it is definitely an exercise in writing in Inuktitut.

Because of the nature of inquiry, you never know where it will take you and your students. While our winter inquiry is not quite finished, I am very inspired by the learning journey and where it has taken Elisapie in particular and the whole class in general.

We may all have taken workshops on diversity and inclusion which remind us how representation in a school of every child’s culture and people can have a positive impact on their sense of self and place. As teachers, we understand that learning in a school and seeing people and images that, for a change, are familiar rather than largely representative of the dominant white culture, is not only important but imperative for a child’s well-being. None the less, seeing the world from the unique perspective of all of your students may be hard to consider. Furthermore, if you find that each of your students seems relatively well-integrated and engaged in school life, you may not seize on opportunities that may make their school experience even more worthwhile and personal. That is why I feel that workshops, books, and discussions which encourage you to make diversity and inclusion regular aspects of your teaching day are invaluable to individual students as well as the broader school community.


Addressing Equity

The elementary school that I teach at is a K-8 school with approximately 540 students. It has grown over the century with new additions, since its original build in 1923. I have only known the school for the past three years that I have been teaching there. So I consider the school to be diverse with many new Canadians, mostly from Bangladesh. It is also higher needs in terms of the challenges students face for success, according to the Learning Opportunity Index. The family income has declined for families attending the school, as demonstrated by the data. Many of the parents work part-time, multiple jobs, and through the evenings, nights, or on weekends.

What I found interesting to note, is that teachers who have taught at the school for more than ten years, many for more than 15 years, have difficulty seeing the demographics of the school as they are. They continue with the same fund raising projects as they always have, yet lament that there is less participation or interest from the students. They continue to book trips that cost more that an hourly wage that most families would make, then are disappointed in the attendance. It is only in the past year that they have been questioned about the cost required for students to attend their own graduation celebration. The teacher response in regards to how they are accommodating a student population with a decrease in family income, is to encourage students to come forth if they don’t have the funds and the staff will address it or provide the funds, based on the individual situation.

Recently I was talking to a teacher from another school board about equity and teacher bias. She recommended the ETFO publication, Possibilities: Addressing Poverty in Elementary Schools to read.  It is an excellent resource. It not only encourages a change in mindset by educators about assumptions and biases in regards to poverty, but it provides strategies and literature connections to address the real needs of students for academic success and well-being. It also provided information on how to engage parents and the community of a lower income status.

According to TDSB, “Educational research has demonstrated that children from lower income families face more significant barriers in achieving high educational outcomes.” It is essential that we as educators are aware of these facts and barriers, as well as the strategies and supports necessary for the students that are in our schools right now.

Link to ETFO publication:

possibilities.jpg (150×194)



Mike Beetham

Service Learning Projects

Service learning projects are a form of project-based learning in which learning outcomes are accomplished through community service. It is a powerful approach to teaching that provides students with authentic learning experiences in real-life contexts. The outcomes of a quality service-learning project are endless (citizenship, responsibility, character, teamwork). Service learning projects are timeless and can be used at any time of the year.

I have used a service-learning component in my yearly plan for over two decades. In that time, my Junior students have worked with seniors, redesigned local parks, multiple environmental projects with the municipality, projects within our own school community, work at local outdoor education facilities, assisting local charities or community organizations and international projects with Sierra Leone. No matter what the project, the outcomes have been very consistent. First and foremost my students are able to start to look beyond their personal needs and develop a global awareness.

The goodness of all children just shines through like beacons when they know they are helping others. For my current teaching assignment I work with students who have reputations as aggressive, ego-centered individuals who do not care about the people around them. They rapidly lose that bravado when they know that they are making a difference for other people. Throughout this year we worked with our local education centre stacking wood for the upcoming maple syrup program, replanted trees and helped keep their site litter free. The experience of knowing they were making a difference for others created an outcome that was palpable. I am sure that I could see their self-esteem grow in front of my eyes.

My most memorable service-learning project occurred several years ago where my Grade 4 class worked with a group of seniors in a program called ‘Walk A Day In My Shoes’. The end result of our year-long work together was two fold. My students developed both respect and understanding for seniors and for many of the seniors, they found a new purpose in their life. As for me, I was reminded how much I love my profession and the difference teachers can make.




Taking Your Students “on Tour” to build community within the school

I grew up in a very musical household. My family is from the Maritimes where the kitchen party originated. I always had visitors stopping by and music blaring in our house. There were guitars, keyboards, banjos or the spoons being played by anyone who could cram into our home. My parents used to listen to old country while they vacuumed early on Saturday morning singing and dancing. As a teenager, I did not find this amusing, but as a music teacher I know the power of music to bring people together as a community.

The sharing of music can take many forms from evening concerts to performances in assemblies. However, this year I decided to add in a few performances that were much less formal with the goal of letting the music be the catalyst for having some fun (very much like the Maritimes).

I started a recorder consort and ukulele club this year. (A recorder consort is a variety of recorders playing together such as an alto, soprano, tenor and bass) Usually, on the first day of a new club the students’ first question is always about when they will be performing. Both of these clubs were no exception. I told the students that we were going to be going “on tour” with our instruments.

Once both clubs had learned a song or two on their new instruments off we went. During our nutrition break time, we took our instruments and found classes that were willing to sing along, tap along or groove along with our music. We went to 2 or 3 classes per break and had a great time.

All this week as I walked down the halls, students from the classes we performed in have been waving their hands and saying hi to me and the students in the club. In our big school, it is not very often that the grade five students do something with the grade two students or the grade fours with the grade ones. The older students may have brought the instruments but just like in a kitchen party everyone was a participating member of the group. Whether you bring your voice, your stomping foot or your clapping hands the music you create together is what brings you together.


Safe and Accepting Schools in today’s Social/Political Climate

All teachers are familiar with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s initiative for teaching inclusion;

A safe, inclusive and accepting school environment is a necessary condition for student success. Students cannot be expected to reach their potential in an environment where they feel insecure and intimidated. We are committed to providing all students with the supports they need to learn, grow and achieve.
Building a positive and inclusive school climate requires a focused effort on developing healthy and respectful relationships throughout the whole school and surrounding community, among and between students and adults. “

We respect this philosophy and we would not deny our students the full application of this mandate. And yet, for all the anti-bullying lessons, resources, activities; for all the lessons and discussions on civics and character education within our schools, I cannot help but feel as if I am complicit in perpetuating a myth that grown-ups know how to behave properly – when in fact, outside of our schools, our society is anything but civil, respectful, and devoid of bullies. For examples of intolerance and disrespect, we need look no further than the relentless doses of hysteria, stereotyping and racism in our newspapers and in our laws. The media is rife with stories pitting Us against Them, creating fear about Others, and discrimination based on clothing, skin colour, or mother tongue. Meanwhile in stark contrast in our classrooms, we are reading books such as “Children like Me”, promoting diversity and trying our best to ensure that our students learn about community and how Social Justice applies to everyone in our society.

Feeling overwhelmed by the latest news stories, I have been thinking about young students who, on the way to school, or once within its confines, may be unexpected targets of the divisive environment where ignorance, scapegoating, blaming, shaming, guilt by virtue of association, and racial profiling may have trickled down. Our anti-bullying initiatives may be only a Bandaid solution to circumstances of inconceivable scope and which are completely out of our control. Children who are subjected to this intolerance have to navigate through the quagmire with little or no grasp on the realities and myths that may be associated with their lives, and as in many cases of intimidation, because it is insidious nature, teachers may have no clue what these children have to endure. As visible minorities, or as minorities suspected of an affiliation, no matter how remote, children risk being targets of ignorance and vitriol from other children or adults in the community. Sadly, we have so many brutal historical examples of just this type of situation. Therefore, it is essential that, we as teachers, remember to be aware and have empathy to help all of our students feel secure and free from intimidation so that they can learn, grow and achieve, even when we may not fully understand the greater issues that they may be dealing with – politically, religiously or culturally.

And, without a doubt, the world has always been so. Danger from bigotry and intolerance existed long before the implementation of the Safe and Accepting Schools Act in Ontario. We can only hope that the effort we put into promoting diversity and ensuring students are educated within a safe and accepting school environment will eventually make the myth of a society of respectful, civic-minded people a reality. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to make sure that our students know we are an ally they can depend on for help should they need it.