Attitude of Gratitude

I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness -- it's right in front of me if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude.

Many years ago I remember watching a gratitude themed Oprah episode.  There was a gratitude journal that the guest had developed and was relaying all of the benefits of writing down things that you were grateful for each day.  The power of suggestion (I’m a sucker for an impulse buy for self-improvement) lead me to the nearest Chapters to purchase one of those journals that weekend.  I certainly didn’t fill that journal. I think I lost interest in a couple of months because it felt as though I was writing the same thing over and over again.  I realize now that gratitude, like mindfulness and meditation, is a “practice.”

Gratitude practice is most effective when life is rough.  It sounds counterintuitive.  It is much easier to be grateful when things are going well right?  Easy to “count your blessings” when you are sitting on a beach in a resort in the Dominican Republic.  I personally feel the power of the gratitude practice when life isn’t going according to plan.  Though, I want to be clear here, there is a fine line between true gratitude practice and “looking on the bright side” or “finding the silver lining.”  That bright-side-silver-lining thinking can border on toxic positivity which isn’t helpful.

Gratitude practice means different things to different people.  For me, it is connected to daily journaling.  Each night since the fall I have been writing about my day in terms of gratitude before going to bed. Some nights I might write for 5 minutes.  Some nights I write for a half hour.  It might read something like, “I’m grateful that we got outside for a walk, that my son felt good about his essay after all of the struggles and tears, that we were able to eat a healthy meal, for Hello Fresh being delivered to my door and for the opportunity to reach out and connect to some new teachers through professional learning today.”  I try to reflect on the events of my day in terms of gratitude.  I could write in my journal that the technology in my professional learning session that day was glitchy, we got off to a rocky start trying to get everyone into the WebEx room, and there were links that didn’t work even though I had tested them twice. Instead, I choose to be grateful for the connection and discussion that I had with the teachers that day.  It isn’t that I ignore that bad things happen or think about how things can be improved, but ruminating on the bad things that happened during the day right before going to bed isn’t going to ensure much of a restful sleep.

In some of the professional learning opportunities that I have recently hosted with new teachers we have discussed the struggles of the current climate in the classroom.  It is important to have a safe place for teachers to voice those concerns and have someone listen with compassion and empathy and ask curious questions.  I will often say that there are many things that I can’t help them with, but that I am there to “embrace the suck” with them.   At the conclusion of those discussions my final question is always, “What is a recent personal or professional success that you’ve experienced that you would like to share with the group?”  This ends the discussion on a note of gratitude. It is SO easy to get caught up in venting and complaining about the situation in education right now. Teaching it is NOT an easy job on any given day but the difficulties have grown exponentially with the pressures that COVID has added.  So when we can take a moment to remember why we continue to go to work each day, why we got into the job in the first place and what our recent wins have been, I think it brings a feeling of hope.

Sometimes I practice gratitude in a less formal way that is more like mindfulness.  Recently while walking on a treed trail on a bright, sunny, winter day with my best friend, I stopped mid sentence and just looked around at the beauty.  I said to my friend, “I just had to take a minute to take this in.  We are so fortunate to be able to walk here.”  It only took a moment.  I don’t do that all of the time, we’d never get anywhere on our walks! However, remembering to do it every so often helps me to deal with stress and the bad things when they do happen.  If in the moment of a stressful situation I can take a moment to breathe and practice gratitude it sometimes keeps the emotions from escalating.  When conversing with someone who is frustrated and perhaps complaining or lashing out I try to remember that this person is doing the best they can at that moment and that each opportunity to interact with someone who is suffering is a chance to learn and I try to be grateful for that.  Author Andrea Owen in her book, “How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t” would call it an AFOG-another flipping opportunity for growth.  When I remember to think about gratitude in a not so great moment, I might do it raised shoulders and through gritted teeth, but I keep trying.  It is, after all a practice.

“If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.” -Brene Brown

Rejuvenation Through Creation

For me as a kid, there was no better feeling than opening up a new box of 64 Crayola crayons.  The big box with the flip top lid and the sharpener on the side.  I can remember agonizing over which colour to pick first and being so thrilled by the perfection of the colour palette in neat rows in that box.  I loved to draw and colour. I could do it for hours never lifting my attention from the page.  In adulthood, I abandoned doing art for pleasure.  It seemed silly for me to sit around and draw or paint for no real reason.  I felt I should be doing something productive.  A few years ago I began to create art again and realized how much I had missed it and how much joy it brought to my life. I create digital art now, which isn’t quite the same rush as opening a box of crayons but it is easier to share with others-like the picture above.  I have recently learned about the health and wellness benefits of creating. Creating is rejuvenating, it is rest and it is soul food.

Dan Tricarico, in his book “Sanctuaries: Self-Care Secrets for Stressed-Out Teachers”, he talks about how people get lost in an activity that you love so much that the rest of the world seems to fade away.  He calls it a state of “flow”.  I find myself getting into that state of flow when I draw, create music, write, cook or do jigsaw puzzles.  It isn’t that passive state of binge watching something on Netflix.  However, sometimes life’s answer is just that.  The state of flow is active and when I emerge from that state of flow, I feel rested and invigorated.  In Jessie Scholl’s article, “Go With the Flow: How States of Blissful Concentration Can Boost Your Overall Health and Well-Being” she states that, “Flow triggers the opposite of a fight-or-flight response.  Breathing becomes more relaxed, muscles loosen, and heart rate slows.  The specific biochemistry associated with flow varies depending on the activity, but the overall benefits to health and well-being are the same. ”  In fact, a 2018 Forbes article, “Here’s How Creativity Actually Improves Your Health” written by Ashley Stahl, claims that creativity increases happiness, reduces dementia, improves mental health, boosts your immune system and makes you smarter. Well, who doesn’t want all of those things?

You don’t have to be a professional musician, writer, artist or athlete to practice flow.  You can do it with any activity with some level of skill that requires you to pay attention.  It is really a type of active meditation.  Flow can be found with exercise, writing, dancing, baking, gardening, robotics or whatever activity brings you joy.

Don’t have the “time” for a creative pursuit?  It definitely requires some intentional effort to ensure that you take some time each day to pursue what you enjoy doing. It doesn’t have to be for hours but make it a specific small goal. In building anything into a routine or ritual, micro habits are key.  These are tiny steps towards implementation that grow into longer lasting habits. When I started creating art again, I just started with doing 5 minutes a day.  I just drew something.  I wasn’t worried about perfection or even completion.  I started getting lost in the flow and those minutes eventually became hours over time.  I continued to build my time until I created the habit to attempt to do something creative at least twice a week.  Beware of your inner perfectionism critic if you have one, like I do.  Give yourself some self compassion if you get out of the habit.  No one is keeping score and it is meant to be for you and your health and wellness.  When I get lost in stress and the life’s duties I often think, I should probably create something and get into that flow state-it has been a while.  Ultimately, I never regret taking that time away from the rush and hustle.

If your activity is just one more thing on your to-do list, it isn’t going to bring you joy and happiness.  In order for something to really feed your soul, it has to be something you value, something authentically you and something that you want to do because it brings you a sense of flow, peace, focus and energy.  Hopefully you will find something that gives you that “new box of crayons feeling,” whatever that means for you.

Sick Days for All

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It takes a crisis to elevate worker rights issues. The Covid-19 pandemic is no exception.

No Paid Sick Days Put Workers at Risk

Paid sick days are a critical part of the workers’ employment agreement. Paid sick days are as important as a salary or hourly wage as they impact how much employees get paid. Without paid sick days, workers go without earnings. For workers who are paid minimum wage, taking a sick day means they go without pay and thus may have to decide between paying their rent or buying groceries.

“Essential” Government Sponsored Paid Sick Days (CRSB)

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal government provided the Canada recovery sickness benefit (CRSB) program to support workers who missed work due to the consequences from the Covid viral spread. This meant workers were paid to stay home if they were sick and/or in quarantine. From a public health perspective, regardless of a pandemic, workers should stay home if they are ill as they are likely to spread infections to others.

No Paid Sick Days Results in the Spread of Illness to Communities and Workplaces

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, workers regularly went to work sick as they had no options to stay home and lose pay. Workers who go to work sick spread their illness to others, thus creating more illness in the workplace. This results in more workers having to make the decision to either go to work sick or stay home with no pay. Spreading illnesses in workplaces increases sick leave and decreases productivity with more workers staying home. Further, sick employees can pass on their illnesses to clients and customers.

No Paid Sick Days Impacts Parents and Guardians

Parents are significantly impacted by a lack of sick days due to the regular occurrence of childhood illnesses. As a parent of two young children, I had to stay home many times due to my children’s illnesses. At the time, my former spouse refused to stay home with his children so I could go to work. He cited that it would be a CLM (i.e., Career Limiting Move) as “men did not take time off to take care of children”.

As I was only allocated five sick days a year, I ended up using my vacation days. I had many meetings with my supervisor about the multiple days I was taking off as he stated “it didn’t look good.” I was the only woman in my department that had young children. I ended up going several years without any vacation days, using them all to take care of my children and/or attend gynecological appointments. A manager noted that maybe I should consider taking an early maternity leave (which was only 5 months at that time.) The bias came across loud and clear, “pregnant and parenting women should not be working here”.

No Paid Sick Days Means Women Face Labour Inequity

Women, especially single parents, are disproportionally impacted by having to take time off to care for children. Further, women are usually tasked with caring for elderly relatives. The lack of paid sick days disproportionally impacts women creating significant inequities in their labour rights.

Paid Sick Days are Essential for All Workers

In highlighting the need to provide paid sick days, the CRSB program highlights that workers do not have adequate coverage when they become sick. Public health professionals and policy experts state that an adequate number of paid sick days would give the low-wage and essential workers income protection and job security they need to stay home to care for themselves and their families.

Paid Sick Days With Conditions

Even when workplace sick days are available for circumstances dealing with Covid-19, conditions may apply. A close relative of mine, who works for a large Canadian telecommunications company, was put in a precarious situation.

Over the Winter holidays, his roommate travelled to Portugal. Upon returning, this roommate did not quarantine separately in another location. Instead, the person returned to the house he shared with others. My close relative was put in a predicament as he could no longer pass Covid screening protocols due to the presence of his roommate. He was left with four options:

Receiving daily pay:

  • Collect pay by lying to his employer that his roommate had Covid symptoms and quarantine for 14 days
  • Collect pay by working and staying in a hotel room using his own money
  • Collect pay by working, disregarding Covid screening protocols and taking risks of passing on Covid to customers

Losing daily pay:

  • Inform his employer that he did not pass Covid screening protocols due to his roommates international travel and quarantine for 14 days with no pay

For a young person, who must deal with the high costs of rent, it is a hard decision to make. Readers can make their own judgements on which decision the young man made. Readers can also reflect on how they would handle this precarious predicament.

Labour Advocacy for Paid Sick Days

President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Patty Coates, said that provincially mandated paid sick leave is necessary to support workers in their lives. She noted that having to apply for CRSB is arduous as workers need to know how to apply for it and then must wait for funds to arrive. Further, people who apply for these benefits must also know how to negotiate and have access to computer systems in a language that they can read and understand.

Advocacy For Paid Sick Days

Labour unions advocate for fair and equitable labour practices for all. As union members, we have friends and family who face unfair and inequitable labour practices. We must push forward to support all workers.

The @ETFOPeel Twitter campaign posted:

“Now, more than ever, we “must” protect essential workers and our communities with:

  • Increased pandemic pay
  • Paid sick leave
  • Enhanced Health and Safety at work
  • Better access to COVID testing”

The Peel Elementary Teachers’ Local highlights:

“Join @ETFOPeel members in taking action” For more information click here

“Join Peel’s public elementary teachers in helping to give voice to these critical demands  now by visiting the ‘Take Action’ page of the Warehouse Workers Centre of Peel Region, and the ‘Take Action’ page of the Decent Work & Health Network.

You can also send your own email to your federal MP and provincial MPP.”

I’ve included more media on labour’s push for paid sick days.

Rest and be well,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deborah Weston, PhD


Occasional Teaching Online (part 2 of 3): My Challenges

I will never forget my first supply day for virtual learning. Even though I am early into my teaching career, I believe this experience has changed the way I will reflect on my teaching practice for years to come – dare I say forever?

As I logged onto my first Google Meet with no idea who was greeting me on the other side, so many things raced through my mind and my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. Nerves. Excitement. Fear. 

In my last post I reflected on my realization of the power of connection and children’s drive for relationships. As I continue to venture on with positivity and optimism, I cannot ignore the raw emotions I have felt, the challenges I have faced and the questions I have unanswered. 


“I don’t know”. 


In my personal and professional life this year, “I don’t know” has been part of my daily conversations with colleagues, friends and family. Last year, saying this out loud would have felt like admitting defeat, accepting failure even. As the uncertainty and the unknown continues, we are being forced to live in a world of “I don’t know”. The challenge is constantly turning the “don’t know” into “let’s try” with a smile on our faces. Of course we want to support our students, their families, and our communities. Of course we want to embrace change, challenge, and even failure. But, the reality is, we are navigating this new path in which there are no correct answers, there is no manual, and there are no instructions.  

Openly admitting what I don’t know feels uncomfortable and scary. But discomfort is required for growth and change. I share my challenges with you as a means of connection. Maybe you don’t know either – and that is okay. Additionally, admitting the unknown provides opportunities to gain insight from those who may know, those who have ideas and those who can say “I have been there, and I know how hard it can be”. 

As an OT I have felt it challenging at times to engage with students who are not turning on their microphone or camera, for whatever reason. I want to get to know them but am also mindful how vulnerable they may feel turning on their video to chat with a complete stranger. How are you supporting student engagement and providing a safe space for all? 

How are you supporting students with special needs, learning challenges and students who are working with limited resources? I once taught in a class where one of the students did not have paper or pencils. 

How are you supporting students through technical difficulties or navigating new online platforms? I have been doing a lot of screen sharing. I often share my own screen and/or ask students to share their screen if they are comfortable. I am finding this method to be extremely time consuming. Although sometimes necessary, it can also be very distracting. When students share their screen, it puts the issue they are having on display for the whole group to see. This can be helpful if someone knows how to solve the problem, or harmful under certain circumstances and can intensify feelings of helplessness for some students. 


*Holds breath* 

No correct answers.

No manual. 

No instructions. 



There is beauty in this.

It may be hidden or the view may be obstructed right now. But it is there. Together with our students and our colleagues, we are the creators, we are the inventors, we are the pioneers.

Covid-19 Testing Privilege

The Story of COVID-19 Testing in Ontario | Public Health Ontario

Covid-19 Testing Privilege: Are we really all in this together?

After experiencing some symptoms on the Covid-19 list, I booked off school and set out to get tested. I wanted to make sure I would return to my school Covid free, keeping my students and my school safe.

First Test

This was my second time getting a Covid test. In April of 2020, it took 4 days of waiting before I was able to get a Covid test. It took me over a week to get the results as the website told me I needed to speak to a nurse several times … what! Did I have Covid? The answer was no as the website/system was not working properly. I hoped that the second time around would be easier and faster as I had to self isolate for 10 days.

Second Test

It took me a bit of time to figure out where I should go for a test as the available options were not evident. I found many websites with contradictory information as to whether I needed an appointment or not. After trying to book an appointment online with little success, I opted to book my appointment over the phone.

I wondered about a possible source of my undiagnosed symptoms. As I purposely keep my contacts to a minimum, only going to school and back home, I knew if I was infected the source would be my school. I also knew that if I was off, it was unlikely that I would have a supply teacher cover my class.

The person on the phone asked me if I had been in contact with an infected person. I responded that I was not sure as there were four cases of Covid in my school and two closed classrooms. I had no idea which classrooms were closed as staff were not told. I also had no idea which students were in these classes. As my classroom is near the Behaviour Teacher Assistant’s room, I interact with many students who pass by.

The person online stated that I should be fine since “students were learning with social distancing in place.” I almost peed my pants at the statement and corrected the person saying that students in my school were in crowded classrooms sitting about six inches apart … instead of six feet. I did not give the person on the phone a hard time as I knew they were just doing their job. After five minutes, I had an appointment the next day.

Waiting at the hospital

As my partner drove onto the hospital grounds, I noted a very small line for Covid-19 testing. It was easier than the first time as I had a short wait to get into the hospital to be processed. As I knew what to expect, the very long probe that was inserted into my nose (almost touching my brain) was not a big deal. The drive, test, and return home took 40 minutes.

While waiting in line, I spoke to a woman with her grandchild. It turned out that he was her great grand child! She told me that she spoke to her mother every night on the phone before they retired to bed. Wow, five generations in one family as the boy had a living and healthy great-great grandmother.

Privileged assess in health care

As I looked around, I noted that the people in the Oakville hospital, like me, had a great deal of privilege. The people all arrived to the testing location by car. Women could get tested without their children in tow, as they had adults to watch their kids. People had extra money to pay for parking their cars and access to Internet and/or a phone to book an appointment. Due to lower Covid outbreaks in Oakville, the testing lines were shorter than lines in Toronto, Peel, and York.

Challenges of Single Parenting

As I reflected, I remembered the days when I was a single parent. My children were four and six years old. My son, TWS, had undiagnosed ADHD and he was a tornado of a child, never able to stay still. As a single parent, it was taxing to take him anywhere.

Due to the challenges of both parents working, my children’s father and I decided that one of us would stay home to care for our children of 3 and 5 years old. As a result, I was the one to quit my well-paying marketing job. About a year later, my children’s father wanted a divorce. I was in an abusive relationship and I had to get away from this abuse.

I had no income, no vehicle, and few resources. As I could not afford a babysitter, I often took my children to my doctor’s appointments. While I attended an appointment, my son decided to rummage through my “talking “doctor’s reception desk resulting in him being covered with stamp impressions. Another time I had a PAB test done while trying to distract my daughter with a toy.

As a single parent, I could not afford cable TV and we made do with three channels using a “Rabbit Ears” antenna. I could not afford a cell phone until after I got a job as a teacher. I certainly would have not been able to afford internet.

Covid Testing as a Single Parent

As I have become more aware of the privilege I carry in my life, I considered my experience as a single parent going for a Covid-19 test. I imagined this experience through the lens of my own life as a single parent with my own children.

I know I would have had a challenging time booking a Covid-19 test as I only had a landline. It would have taken me time to figure out which location would be best for my circumstances. With no car, I would have had to take public transit which would have meant keeping my son, TWS, from not pulling the “stop request” cord. I would also likely have to transfer to another bus route making the journey more challenging.

Once at the testing location, I would have had to keep my children occupied while we waited. Further, I would have also decided to get my children tested. My daughter, KIS, would have complied to a test as long as there was some reward after. As I could hardly get TWS to agree to swallow medicine, I know he would not have agreed to have a very long probe shoved down his nose … he would have needed people to hold him down. The whole experience would have been a calamity.

After this ordeal, I would have had to get back on a bus to go home while giving my children snacks as a couple of hours would have passed. Exhausted with no extra support, we would have arrived home to have an early dinner and then bedtime.

Service Industry Workers

Most people in the service industry do not have many or any paid sick days. With testing, single parents and their children would have to self isolate until results were posted. This would result in a loss of pay for a parent and a loss of time in school for children. I could write an entire blog about the precariousness single parents face in their employment when dealing with their own health and the health of their children.

With privilege comes more available resources

I acknowledge that I have a great deal of privilege as an educated, employed, English speaking, non-immigrant, married, mobile (not physically disabled), White woman with resources like a car and working internet. As my children are now adults (now almost 27 and 28 years old), I am also relieved of the parental responsibilities of childcare and the monetary need to support them. Not all parents have these resources or privilege.

Are we really all in this together?

Regarding COVID-19, I’ve heard people say “we are all in this together” … but are we? The people who live with limited resources via housing, funds, and access to health care do not have the same privilege as people in higher socioeconomic circumstances. People who must work for minimum wage in service industries such as factories, warehouses, groceries stores or in long term care facilities do not share the same privileges. This community of people only share the disadvantage of being economically insecure which makes them more vulnerable to infection from the virus. As a result, they are not those with resourced privilege and this is likely why the virus is raging in their communities.

So, if you go for a Covid-19 test, remember how privileged you are to have easy access to getting this test.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

COVID-19 test and testing location information

“Ontario considering extended school closures as winter break approaches”


My heart sank down to my stomach as I read headlines such as this one flood the news and every single social media platform that I am a member of. 

I am, by nature, a worrier in general. So this year and all that has come with it has brought immense amounts of stress into my personal and professional life. When schools were locked down in March, I was so positive there would be a quick fix to the problem. Like many people, I figured a two week shut down would obviously solve the issue and we would be back with our students in no time. I often reflect back on how misguided I was in those moments. I wish I would have clung to “normal” life just a little bit harder and appreciated it just a little bit more. 

As an Occasional Teacher, my unique situation of travelling from school to school and class to class leaves me extremely vulnerable in the times of COVID-19. I wear my PPE, I wash my hands, I socially distance, but the fear of contracting and/or spreading the virus hovers over my head each day like a dark cloud. Some days it feels like I am trapped in a small room, where the walls are inching closer and closer to me. Therefore the thought of a closure feels safe to me, it feels comfortable, it feels familiar.

On the contrary, it feels like another closure is equivalent to taking ten massive steps back. Educators have made enormous  progress and countless sacrifices in order to welcome students back into school, and are simultaneously supporting students academic, social and emotional development amidst the current restrictions. Being with students is what sets educators souls on fire. It is the students that inspire me every day to keep going, keep persisting, and keep learning. 

So much unknown. So much fear. What will happen to me? Will I continue to have consistent work? Will students be okay, academically? Socially? Emotionally?…

“Minister Lecce says extended winter break will not be necessary”

New news begins to flood my social media. No extended time away from school, for now anyways. As we move forward, through the cold and flu season while battling a second wave, the fragility of the system we have worked so hard to build back up seems more apparent now than ever. It feels like at any moment, things could come to an unknowing halt. Day by day, month by month we remain unsure, on edge, confused and exhausted in anticipation of what the future will hold. 

My grandmother was an elementary school teacher for many years. She now has dementia and does not entirely understand what is happening in the world or comprehend the devastating impacts of the pandemic. Her and I often chat about teaching, as her short term memory is fading but memories of her work as an educator come easily to her mind. I explained to her my panic, my stress and my feelings of hope and despair all at once. She turned to me and said something I will never forget.

“Teachers will never know what their days at school will look like. We could plan forever and the outcome will still be different than expected. But, teachers are good at change, that’s what we do”. 


No matter what comes our way,

We’ve.  Got.  This.

It’s Too Much: Teacher Anxiety in the Time of School with Covid-19

can't sleep

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 I usually write blogs about educational issues, I’ve decided to make this one more personal. I know that teachers are feeling very stressed at the thought of going back to school in a pandemic while having to face classrooms with up to 30 elementary students. At this point in time, students will return to school with no decrease in class sizes from March 2020.

Issues with teaching in schools in a time of Covid-19

Infection Control

As teachers, we all know that students are “viral conduits” and that we can usually rely on catching some flu or cold before the end of September. In my 20 years of teaching, I’ve contracted H1N1 (2009 swine flu), Whooping Cough twice, various coughs and colds, and had 3 months of bronchitis.

My health was particularly poor when I taught primary grades as students in these grades tend to have less developed immune systems and they like to hug teachers. I taught middle school for 11 years and was sick less often in which I attribute this to the fact that middle school students rarely touch their teachers! What I do know is that no amount of cleaning will be able to keep up with little hands in hallways and classrooms.

Adequate Ventilation

The Ontario Government is complacent to the fact that infections are spread in schools. Elementary school classrooms are usually poorly ventilated as is evident in September and June with no air circulation to combat hot classrooms. Classrooms are also not all the same size but due to equity issues, classes consist of the same number of students. This means a teacher with a larger classroom will have the same number of students as a teacher with a smaller classroom.

Social Distancing Seating

With flexible seating and collaborative learning, many classrooms no longer use desks. Instead, to facilitate a more fluid learning environment, teachers have students sitting at tables in many different groupings. This means that there are not enough desks to put students in socially distanced rows. With underfunding and a lack of hard caps on class sizes, some classes contain up to 30 students or more.  With no cuts to class sizes, this means students will have to sit beside each other.

Social Distancing Hallways

Hallway management is another challenge as students crowd the hall during breaks or classroom changes. Even with arrows and tape on the floor, I cannot imagine having all these students being able to socially distance before, during, or after school. There is simply not enough space to have students move separately through hallways.

Social Distancing Busing

Busing is a further challenge. As an average bus carries 24 students without social distancing, a socially distanced bus would contain only 8 students. I’d like to know where Ontario will be able to find 3 times the amount of buses and bus drivers to drive students to school.

Unknowing Before Schools Closed

In March 2020, when schools first closed, I had no idea what I was about to face. I had a mission to get my classroom learning online and a very steep learning curve to make this happen. Like all the other teachers in Ontario, we worked many hours to make online learning a reality. It is what teachers do for their students. Teachers heard reports for extended school closures hoping for school to open in April, then May, and then June. As online learning work was not to be evaluated, we wrote June 2020 report cards and Individual Education Plans based on assessments and evaluations from before the school closures occurred.

Dealing with Uncertainty and Stress

During this time, I was going through moments of great anxiety which resulted in low-grade panic attacks. This has been an ongoing issue most of my life and in my mid 30s I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression. The first time I took meds, I felt like a curtain had been lifted as I could hear, feel, taste, and see more clearly. In dealing with this anxiety, I considered seeking more medication support. But the idea of more meds was not an immediate option as all medication comes with some side effects. I decided, instead, to manage my anxiety with regular exercise, plenty of water, and eating well.

In addition to my moments of anxiety, I had many sleepless nights between March 2020 and the end of June. I know I am not unique in losing sleep in this uncertain time as I’ve spoken with colleagues and read teachers’ posts on Twitter. Sleepless nights worrying about students is an occupational hazard.

But the exercise, water, food, and light did not help. I reached out to my doctor and started seeing a psychotherapist online. This worked to some extent, but my anxiety was ever-present like a big weight pulling me down. Weekly therapy sessions did help. In coming into summer, my anxiety waivered and became manageable again.

With anxiety and depression, for me, it never really goes away completely. Without meds, my anxiety and depression can become so disabling that my ability to do anything complicated fails me and I’m left on the sofa staring at the ceiling for hours. Even with meds, I can have a low-grade depression staying around like an uninvited guest.

Going Back to School with Covid-19

Given the many challenges that await teachers, it is no wonder why my anxiety is ramping up again. In the past Septembers, I always thought about my return to the classroom with waves of joy. I looked forward to seeing my students, in setting up my classroom, and in catching up with my colleagues. Now, I just feel dread.

Health & Employment

My dread is centred around the health and safety of my school and its community. I worry about my school’s students and my colleagues. I wonder how many students and colleagues will return to school this September given the risks of contracting Covid-19 with little social distancing. There are two reasons why my colleagues may not return to school; personal health and family status.

The first is ongoing health concerns. If some colleagues contract Covid-19, their health would be severely compromised. Colleagues, with health concerns, could also ask for accommodations and work via teaching online instead. Although I am not sure, if a teacher has health issues, they may be placed on short term disability.

The second reason for not returning to school would be to request for accommodations due to family status. This would include needs to provide childcare, eldercare, care to a family member, or living with a family member with a compromised immune system or chronic condition. Here, teachers could work from home via online learning if needed.

As I never completely trust employers, I am concerned that boards may deny teachers paid leave which may precipitate having to go on Employment Insurance. This could be a problem for both the teacher and the employer as teachers would essentially be laid off. Boards would then have to hire teachers back to work. It would also impact teachers as they could lose benefits.

Knowing What to Expect

Another challenge with going back to school is that I have gained a great deal of experience and knowledge since March. Now I have a good idea as to what I can expect to face in my instruction and supervision duties.

I know that some of my students will not be attending school face to face, as attendance is voluntary. This will mean that I will be teaching some students online and some students face to face through a “blended” approach. This will include using synchronous streamed lessons that may or may not be supported with equipment and technicians for set up so it will work seamlessly. I do know that I do not have this equipment and with my previous online experience I know these sessions will likely crash several times a week as they did in the spring.

I also know that some of my students will have a challenging time with social distancing in school, especially at recess. I envision my recess duty will consist of trying to keep students apart. I am shaken at the thought of this!

If schools do shut down again, I know what to expect in teaching online. This means that some students will become completely disengaged and as a result, will miss more learning time which is critical to helping them keep up to their grade level. I know that missing months of learning could present significant disadvantages to students in the long run. This is especially true for students from low socio-economic backgrounds which can limit achievement. Allowing this to happen to any student is highly objectionable.

Evaluation and Reporting

When returning to school, while teaching using online or blended learning, I will be tasked with writing report cards. The ministry of education “recommends that, to the greatest extent possible, assessment, evaluation and reporting activities proceed as usual, with a focus on the achievement of overall expectations and the primary purpose of assessment and evaluation being to improve student learning.” So, this means that assignments will be evaluated as if students were in school.

In evaluating students’ work, I also will not be able to confirm “who” is completing the work. I wonder, if a student does not produce work in an online or blended school year, will I be recording “incompletes” for work not done. Further, will I be taking attendance in an online or blended learning format? Will boards of education be providing additional support for students who are struggling?

I could easily write another page about all the things I think about late at night while I lay in bed awaiting sleep, but I will stop here. What I do know is that I will have my colleagues to support me through this exceedingly difficult time in my career.

It is my greatest hope and prayer that not one person gets sick with Covid-19 as a result of being in schools, where social distancing will not be possible.

Sending my best wishes of health and peace to you and your family.

Collaboratively Yours,

Bitmoji Image




School re-opening smart policy design: How Ontario’s current school reopening policy is not so smart

Education policy implementation is a complex process that requires the input of all stakeholders including teachers, school staff, parents, and school communities. As major players in policy implementation, teachers decode and recode policy texts in the process of understanding and translating with various degrees of intentional and unintentional interpretation (Clune, 1987; Fuhrman, Clune, & Elmore, 1991).

In the complex process of policy implementation, teachers experience challenges with implementing educational reforms where previous policy initiatives have not met their objectives (Fullan, 2001). In the layers of educational initiatives, an “array of policies” implemented simultaneously in schools, can cause policy overload within teachers’ practices (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996; Grossman & Thompson, 2004).

In addition, teachers’ thinking is focused on the complexities and ambiguity of their classroom practice and not necessarily on system-wide views of initiative implementation (Timperley & Robinson, 2000). This means that policies, developed with the system-wide perspective of policy authors, may conflict with the classroom-bound perspectives of teachers.

Teachers’ reactions to the “fragmented and cluttered” policy implementation process  may be viewed as teachers being resistant to change. This instead may be a response to the accumulation of past policy experiences, policy overload, policy fragmentation, policy contradictions, and competing perspectives (Timperley & Robinson, 2000). In other words, most education policies don’t fit into the complex and variable context of teachers’ classrooms.

Even when educational policies do not present the intended results, policy authors still believe the design of their policies is an effective way to make change in education. Greenfield (1993) argues that although this reality “usually fails to shake our faith in such theory” (p. 3), it implies that “we need to ask whether the theory and assumptions still appear to hold in the settings where they were developed before they are recommended and applied to totally new settings” (p. 4).

In other words, are education policies producing the intended results in all schools and classrooms? Policy authors rarely follow up with an audit of the effectiveness of their policies nor do they consider if their policies have resulted in harmful consequences to schools, to school communities, and to students’ lives. This is particularly objectionable when the health and lives of students and teachers is impacted.

What makes good policy implementation?

(Viennet & Pont, 2017)

Smart policy design:

Well developed policies offer a logical and feasible solutions to policy problems. Effective policy implementation is based on the feasibility of adequate resources available to support its successful implementation. These resources should include funding to ensure adequate staffing and supplies to support policy implementation in schools that support the policy’s framework.

For example, if a policy is framed upon students being able to social distance in classrooms, then there should be enough space in classrooms to accommodate students with this level of distancing. If classrooms are not large enough to have over 25 students sitting in desks spread out over the classroom, the policy is sure to fail.

Including stakeholders like educators:

Whether and how key stakeholders (i.e. educators, parents, communities, students) are recognized and included in the implementation process is crucial to any policy’s effectiveness. Without the input of front-line stakeholders, the intended policy objectives could result in unintended consequences.

For example, if a policy is to be implemented in the landscape of schools and classrooms in communities, it is imperative that those with intimate knowledge of the landscape should be consulted in order to unearth any obvious challenges presented. An example of this is the diversity of classroom layouts and its contents. Classrooms are as unique as the people who learn in them. Not all classrooms are the same size or configuration. Further, not all classrooms contain desks and instead have collaborative work areas where students sit at tables. If students are to sit two metres or even one metre away from each other, tables may only have one spot for a student. If a policy is based on a configuration of desk placements, it will fail unless furniture is purchased to meet the policy’s assumptions.

Policy designed for schools and their communities:

An effective policy implementation process recognizes the existing policy environment (i.e. schools before Covid-19), the educational governance (i.e. board and school administration) and institutional settings (i.e. elementary and secondary schools) and the external context (i.e. returning to school in a pandemic). Without input from frontline stakeholders, policy authors may produce policy recommendations that are completely inappropriate for schools and their communities.

For example, implementing a return to school policy based on schools’ past configurations will likely result in a quick realization that this assumption is flawed. The practical conclusion is that there will be no way to fit the same number of students into the same amount of space with the implementation of a social distancing policy.

Sensible policy strategies for schools:

A coherent implementation takes into consideration all the guidelines and resources needed to make a policy operational at the school level (i.e. policy needs to be flexible enough to meet the needs of schools’ in their particular communities).

For example, policy authors may mandate synchronous daily online learning sessions for each classroom. Policy makers may not consider the specific technology and the resultant cost for the set up of these online sessions. One most obvious challenge is that there might not be enough Internet bandwidth to support the synchronous daily learning sessions simultaneously for all classes in all schools in Ontario at the same time. In June of 2020, I personally had my own class synchronous learning sessions crash when my board’s staff meetings were occurring at the same time.

Safe Schools in September?

In summary, without consulting school staff and their communities, policy authors will likely see their policy objectives fail as they did not consider the context in which their policies were to be implemented. On a further note, as school boards are already stretched for funding, no additional funding will result in policy implementation that is not smart and not implemented.

I write this blog in a state of frustration and concern as Ontario’s Ministry of Education released plans to open schools in September 2020. Key stakeholders were not consulted in the making of this policy which have resulted in glaring deficits in it’s implementation, particularly in elementary schools.

As a person who has taught through 20 years of education policy implementation, I know education policies fail more than they succeed. I’ve worked through half-baked policy implementation that was only partly implemented or completely abandoned. I’ve faced the fall out of failed policies such as having hand sanitizer in schools during the H1N1 outbreak as some students became sick from ingesting this substance.

Even the thought of having to manage the social distancing of so many students makes my head spin.

My greatest fear is that school communities will face outbreaks of Covid-19 and people will get very sick. The worse negative consequence is that school communities may have to mourn the loss of a person belonging to their community.

A failed return to school policy may end up failing us all.

Take care of yourself and your communities.

Stay safe.

Deb Weston, PhD – a concerned classroom teacher

PhD in Education Policy and Leadership


Clune, W. H. (1987). Institutional choice as a theoretical framework for research on educational policy. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 9(2), 117-132.

Fuhrman, S., Clune, W., & Elmore, R. (1991). Research on education reform: Lessons on the implementation of policy (pp. 197-218). AR Odden, Education Policy Implementation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change (3rd ed.). Toronto, ON: Irwin.

Fullan, M., & Hargreaves, A. (1996). What’s worth fighting for in your school? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Greenfield, T. (1993). Theory about organization: A new perspective and its implications for schools. In T. Greenfield & P. Ribbins (Eds.), Greenfield on educational administration (pp. 1-25), London, UK: Routledge.

Grossman, P., & Thompson, C. (2004). District policy and beginning teachers: A lens on teacher learning. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, (26)4, 281-301.

Timperley, H., & Robinson, V. (2000). Workload and the professional culture of teachers. Educational Management & Administration, 28(1), p. 47-62.

Viennet, R., & Pont, B. (2017). Education Policy Implementation: A Literature Review and Proposed Framework. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 162. OECD Publishing.

The screens of silence

I am wondering whether the title of this post should be “The screams of silence” because that’s how it feels some days.

It’s week four of emergency distance learning and I am feeling weaker for it. Is anyone else feeling this way from staring at their screen(s) all day? If asked, I’ve been responding with thumbs up and all good, but in reality I am fighting the dissonance disrupting my days, and it relates to the way I feel about what is happening in education right now. To top it off, I am wrestling with self-doubt about whether my instructional act is all together. Add to that the pressure I’m putting on myself to wake up feeling fit and fresh because I am working from the “comfort” of my basement. Being cooped up, I mean observing physical distancing, doesn’t help. See what I mean about interchangeable titles?

Then there is the daily media segment about something or another to do with #QuarantineEducation. This week an article in The Globe and Mail shared Some overwhelmed parents are giving up on distance learning and abandoning at-home schooling. This noise is hard to tune out when we have been asked to stay in place and create something that has never been done effectively on a large scale so quickly. Maybe that’s what is holding my head hostage? Or maybe it’s that my hair is too long? Both make me want to scream sometimes

There is something to be said about the experience of facilitating learning in the vacuum of 2020. It’s cold. As I stare at several connected screens to keeping track of at least 17 other currently opened tabs on my computer, I have to admit this is all a bit daunting – even for this tech-happy educator. If teaching is my superpower, then the screens, meetings, and other digital dungeons trying to contain me have become my kryptonite.

I share this neither in angst nor anger, but out of an admission that the struggle is a real one. It sounds like I am not alone. This surreal situation we are now in was, is, and will never be a positive experience. We were starting to recover from a devasting January and dreadful February only then to be steamrolled by March when an uncontrollable virus unleashed itself on the world. Welcome April, a month that no one would have predicted to be the first of two months away from our schools…so far.

What did we do? We rallied, we pivoted to support our students and each other, and we waited patiently knowing we had to care for our own families too. We were lucky that the start of March Break landed when it did, as it may have helped us to avoid something worse had COVID 19 entered our open schools. Throughout this time we turned to our screens to watch for updates, data, and directions.

While we waited and watched for answers, our thoughts continued to race and the questions began to bubble up. How am I going to reach my learners? How are students who are marginalized by poverty and or other circumstances coping with all of this? What are the expectations from my board, admin, families, and most importantly students? What about my life at home? How will I manage when many of my teaching resources are at school? How much work do I assign? How about due dates? Do I take attendance? What happens when students don’t complete work? How do I assess anything without fear that someone else has done the work?

Everybody was working together. As our profession embraced the challenge of this reality, digital resources were curated, virtual meetings were held, contact was reinitiated with families/students, and a sense of temporary normalcy had made its way back into our weekly M to F routines. Cue some new silences.

The enthusiasm of returning to instruction, albeit asynchronously, signified that something was being done on behalf of families and our students, but the lack of connection through voice and vision has been hard to overcome for this educator. Speaking with many other educators who are feeling the same way, it is the meaningful interactions with peers/teachers and the chance of being heard that students are craving the most right now. We need to make sure they are acknowledged and heard, and the current situation is leaving them without a voice.

Teachers are the conduits for connection in their classrooms and will never be replaced by an emoji, meme, or brief feedback on a task to be viewed in silence on a student’s screen. However, it has been difficult to connect with students due security issues relating to conferencing platforms such as Google Meet and Zoom. This is extremely frustrating for a number of reasons. With those screens dark, students are left to keyboard strokes, Screencastify, and digital classroom posts for their content and updates. This is not the education any of us signed up to deliver. Despite my efforts to adapt and fill my screens with amazing shareable content to carry on, something is missing. The voices of my students. Cue the disconnects. Cue the silent screams at silent screens.

Classrooms After Covid-19

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.

I write this blog in response to the Province of Quebec opening their public schools as of May 11th 2020. As the education of students is challenged with many layers of complexity, I will muse about what classrooms might look like when Ontario’s students return to classroom.

Managing the Spread of the Virus

In minimizing the spread of the virus, schools may be given the responsibility of monitoring students’ level of health. This could mean morning temperature checks, hourly hand washing routines, hand sanitizer stations, and the wearing of masks. Custodians would also be tasked with cleaning areas frequented my students such as hallways and washrooms. This would mean more custodians may need to be hired to keep up with increased hygiene demands.

Further, policy might have to be put in place to send students home who are experiencing signs of Illness. As a classroom teacher, I know that parents send their children to school with diarrhea, vomiting, and fever which is likely to spread infection to others. I am concerned about the occurrence of students’ 11 o’clock fever which results in parent dosing their feverish child with Tylenol at 7 am only to have the fever return when the medication wears off 4 hours later. In 2009, when the H1N1 virus hit, one of my grade 7 classes had 18 students sick with H1N1 after a birthday party. From my students, I contracted H1N1 and was fortunately put on antiviral medication, so I recovered within a few days.

In considering teachers already being tasked with many responsibilities and challenges, I suggest that the responsibility of monitoring students’ health be placed in the capable hands of trained medical professionals. This would mean that boards of education would have to hire health professionals such as practical nurses to monitor students’ health and deal with students first aid needs.

Hallways, Entry, Exit, Busing, Recess, Assemblies

In order to limit traffic and honour social distancing, schools may have to set zones, based on students’ age, to limit contact between grade level divisions. This might mean that students in Kindergarten, primary (grades 1, 2, 3), junior (grades 4, 5, 6), and intermediate (grades 6, 7, 8) will have limited access to different hallways and staircases in order to limit numbers of students interacting.

Further, limiting numbers of students interacting may mean staggered entries and dismissals with each grade division having its own entry and dismissal time.

The number of school buses would have to increase to ensure seating to accommodate social distancing for students riding to and from school (i.e. one child per seat).

Students would have to stay in their classrooms to eat lunch and they would also have staggered recess times to limit contact between students of different ages and the number of students outside for recess at the same time.

Assemblies would be cancelled until the chance of spreading the viral infection was limited. Physical Education classes might have to be limited in size of 15 students only and often held outside to limit the spread of the virus.

Classroom Configurations

Classrooms will have to be set up very differently than they are now as flexible seating and collaborative work will not measure up to the requirements of social distancing. This means that students will be sitting in rows 2 metres apart. Students will not be permitted to get out of their seats to talk to their peers or to wander around the classroom. Classrooms will be much like my grade 5 classroom with all students sitting in rows, doing work with classroom instruction on the board.

Younger students may also have to sit separately during carpet time in their marked spot (while teaching grade 2/3, I used tape to indicate where certain students had to sit).

Connected Collaborative Classrooms

In order to engage in classroom collaboration, students, grades 4 and up, will require computers to work to complete classroom assignments and work collaboratively with other students via online classroom applications.

Class Sizes and Staffing

The Province of Quebec indicated that they would limit class sizes to 15 students. This will present a problem for many boards of education as they simply do not have enough schools and classrooms to accommodate these much smaller class sizes. Further, Kindergarten classrooms usually have up to 30 students in each classroom. In accommodating smaller class sizes, students might have to have staggered use of their classroom with half the class coming to school in the morning and the other half coming to school in the afternoon. Or instead, school boards would have to locate twice the classrooms to accommodate all Kindergarten students.

With smaller class sizes, means hiring more teachers. With class size at about 25 students average per class there will have to be 1.1 more teachers for every two classes currently (25 X 2 = 50 /15 = 1.1). If you have been involved in staffing schools, you will know teacher allocations are usually about percentages as there is usually a teacher in a school with a percentage of a whole teaching job e.g. 0.4 = 40% of time and pay of a whole teacher.

In using the numbers for an elementary school, Kindergarten to grade 8, staffing numbers could change as follows for just classroom teachers not including planning time teachers (i.e. Music, Physical Education, Health, Art, Drama, Planning Time):


Current Staffing

Covid-19 Staffing

Primary Division




Junior/Intermediate Division








In this scenario, there would be a 42% increase in teachers needed to teach smaller classes.

In cutting class sizes to accommodate physical distancing, there could be an over 40% increase in teaching staff as demonstrated above.

Limiting People with Compromise Health

Further, the Province of Quebec is suggesting that teachers over 60 years or with compromised health challenges work remotely from home. Students with compromised health challenges would also be recommended to stay home thus having them continue their online learning.

Dealing with Mental Health

This is a challenging time for all people; students and educators would require more mental health supports available on site within schools. With the stress of social distancing and more structured changes in learning, many students may not be able to cope.

Violence in schools has already been well documented as a significant concern and with more stress in schools, students will have even more challenges in regulating their emotions. Schools will need mental health professionals, more teaching assistants, and more social workers to support these students who are already at risk.

The Bottom Line for People

In the end, with all this planning and adapting of the educational landscape, parents may choose to keep their children at home. As a parent, I know that children are great spreaders of infection. I have personally missed three Christmas celebrations as my young children got sick at the time and then passed the infection on to me. I believe that viruses and bacteria strengthen in young children only to hit their parents like a tsunami – I have pictures on me lying on the floor while my kids open up their presents! Fortunately my children are adults now.

Governments should be cautious in their advocacy for reopening schools as they put staff, students, and the school community at risk of getting sick or very sick, suffering life changing consequences. Be reminded the Infection Prevention and Control is a significant health and safety concern in all workplaces.

Wishing you, your family and friends best health,

Deb Weston

Resources & Recent News Articles

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) technical guidance: Guidance for schools, workplaces & institutions World Health Organization

COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response WASH and Infection Prevention and Control Measures in Schools Unicef

COVID-19 Guidance: Occupational Health and Safety and Infection Prevention & Control

COVID-19 in Quebec: Some businesses will reopen in May, but no return to ‘normal life,’ says premier

How other countries sent their children back to school amid COVID-19

How will schools enforce physical distancing Your COVID-19 questions answered

May opening of elementary schools, daycares ‘a necessary decision,’ says Quebec education minister

No plan to reopen B.C. schools yet, says education minister

What will Canadian schools look like after COVID-19? Here’s what could change