Invisible, unpaid, voluntary hours


2020/2021 has been a very challenging school year for educators. We’ve worked thousands of hours to make the school year work for our students. It was exhausting, working through weekends with few real breaks away from school tasks.

Thousands of teachers worked long, invisible, unpaid, voluntary hours.

Why did teachers work so hard? It was to ensure students had the best possible education during these very challenging times.

After 21+ years in teaching, I’ve learned a great deal about how my work is valued by boards of education and the Ontario government.

  •  Teachers are expected to work long hours with few supports and even larger class sizes.
  •  Teachers are directed, by their boards and ministries of education, to provide supports that are not directly linked to education such as being responsible for students’ well being and mental health. Teachers are expected to deal with students who have significant behaviour needs with few supports while teaching a class of students. Note that teachers are not trained mental health therapists.
  • Teachers’ time is taken up due to the underfunding of students’ needs, resulting in working through breaks and beyond school hours.

During Covid, teachers were expected to make their online and hybrid classrooms function well. Teachers were given few or no resources to run a virtual classroom with teachers using their own money to purchase technology and curriculum materials (I personally spent a great deal of my own money on student workbooks and technology in which I was not reimbursed.)

The challenges of teaching through Covid were downloaded to teachers as we were left to figure it out on our own. The lack of resources went beyond teaching materials as some teachers were given no planning time during their teaching online (part of the collective agreement.)

Of course, administration praised teachers for their work in one breath, then started asking teachers to do more. It is like asking someone to clean the house on their own time and then asking them to do the windows next!
Teaching in the hybrid model was the most taxing job I’ve had in my entire history of work in 40+ years. I had to attend to students in class, students online, technology and the lesson in which I was teaching. With the addition of behaviour management, my skills were so strained that I became ineffective.

Healthy relationships require limits. Teachers’ working conditions are becoming abusive. If these working conditions are sustained, my relationship with teaching needs to end.

Working long, invisible, unpaid, voluntary hours, I will not stay in an abusive relationship.

Collaboratively Yours,
Deborah Weston, PhD

Note: The Covid-19 Pandemic has brought unique and unprecedented challenges to teaching. ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that in-person instruction and learning in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery and is the most equitable model for all students. In order to support educators during remote learning, several resources have been created to support members.

Attendance Question

NOTE: 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.

What is a practice that you started during online learning that you’d like to continue during in person learning? My favourite is the “Attendance Question”. This daily question screen capture is from the Padlet I set up for my Grade 4 students during an LTO I had this school year.

Every morning, students logged onto our Google Meet and their first task was to answer the daily attendance question. We loved it! Here’s why:

  • Students loved expressing themselves and sharing short bits of information with me and their classmates
  • On Padlet, students are able to both ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on each others posts to ask questions, offer advice or celebrate each others ideas
  • As an educator I loved the check in – first of all I was comforted knowing students were present but mostly I loved it for social-emotional connections
  • Students looked forward to signing on and checking the attendance question and even directed each other towards it
  • It built a great sense of community within our online classroom

I plan to continue using Padlet for daily check-ins with students. Although this platform could be used to get students thinking about new topics within the curriculum, a daily thought provoking question is something that could be introduced in September and carried through until the end of the school year.

During in person learning, I love to embed community circle into each day in some capacity in order to give sharing space to students and work on social and emotional competencies. While learning remotely, the attendance question was used to support community circle. I want to continue this practice to support community circle during in person learning to give students who are hesitant or unable to share aloud a space to express themselves.

In the 2020-2021 school year, navigating technology and all it had to offer was overwhelming to say the least. As I reflect on the heavy use of technology that my students experienced – I remain open-minded towards carrying virtual practices that removed barriers for students into the classroom.

Trouble with Hybrid Learning

ETFO Provincial – Algoma OT

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 a teacher of the hybrid synchronous in class and online instructional model, I’ve been vexed by the real possibility that this model will be sustained in Ontario’s public education system. As a person who studied education policy implementation, I have considered how this model would be implemented. I solely believe that implementing this model, would be detrimental to students and their families.

As a teacher with experience teaching in the Hybrid model, I’ve written a few blogs about the educational challenges faced by students, parents, and teachers. In this blog, I’ll consider the dark side of implementing this model beyond the months of the pandemic as it could become a set mode of instruction in Ontario.

Highlights of the Elementary School Hybrid Teaching Model:

Cost Savings

  • Less infrastructure is needed for online teaching so there will be less need for schools
  • Less schools means less costs for heating/cooling, internet, cleaning, repairs etc
  • Transportation costs would be reduced due to students learning from home, instead of requiring bussing
  • Class sizes could grow as more physical space for students becomes available, while students move to online learning; this would mean more students online and more students in class
  • Less staffing would be required as less onsite students would mean less onsite supports for students with behavioural and special education needs (i.e. as these needs and supports would be provided at home by families)
  • Online learning via laptops would be less expensive than funding classrooms but cost savings may be neutralized by the technological and pedagogical needs of classroom teachers
  • Instructional materials and consumables would have to be virtual so physical textbooks and other printed materials would not be required, consumables such as pencils and markers would be provided by home
  • Physical education, art, and music equipment would not be required as all these topics would be taught online
  • Closing down or consolidating community schools with fewer in class students could occur to safe infrastructure costs

Less Community Supports

  • School clubs, trips, and other extra curricular activities would not be provided to online students as they participate in school from an online platform
  • Social support programs such as Breakfast Clubs and social work would not be provided by schools as students would only do school from home, these supports would likely be downloaded to regional governments
  • Newcomers to Canada would not receive the supports put in place by schools and these supports would be handled by regional governments instead
  • Students with little knowledge of English/French would not be immersed in an English/French language setting and would not become fluent as quickly
  • Special Education, students with special education needs could be taught from home instead of being integrated with their peers
  • Schools, as community hubs, would be diluted as there would be fewer relationships developed with parents and students
  • Downloading the monitoring of class work would be done by family members instead of the teachers and educational assistants who are trained for this purpose
  • Administrators could recommend that students with high physical and behavioural needs move to online learning so schools do not have to deal with these challenges

Hybrid Hurts Relationships

  • Online students would not have the opportunity to develop relationships with their teachers as they would not be in the same physical space as their teachers
  • Teachers would have a harder time getting to know online students as they could not observe them working and interacting with other students
  • Teachers would naturally focus on in class students who are directly in front of them and not online students who are only seen through a camera
  • Assessment and feedback of student work would be challenging as teachers could not guarantee that work was done by the students
  • Teachers would face challenges showing students how to do work, such as math, that is best taught and assessed in person
  • Learning is built on developing relationships between teachers and students – online students would not get to know their teachers as well

Competing Agendas (Online vs In Class)

  • Schools are run by schedules where periods are set for all subjects including physical education, art, and music
  • With the hybrid model two sets of students would have to be accommodated for all subjects like online/in school gym, online/in school art, and online/in school music
  • Result would mean having to provide subjects such as physical education to online students while in class students would be with their gym teacher making coordinating timetables difficult

Long-term consequences

  • Two-tiered system – hybrid teaching would offer two levels of education in one class
    • online learning would provide a watered-down version of school, with no social opportunities to interact with peers and teachers, with no physical education, no opportunities for being part of school clubs and all the other in person opportunities face to face school learning provides
    • online students could become “invisible” participants in classrooms as they are not present and not there physically to get attention
  • Flexible flipping back and forth opportunities could be offered to parents allowing students to go to and from in class/online learning , putting great stress on teachers to accommodate these students’ needs, which would be exacerbated by larger class sizes
  • Not all students do well in an online setting as some students need to be face to face with teachers in order to attend to lessons and stay on task

As a teacher who has experienced teaching online and in the hybrid model, I know that I could not sustain another year of this work. My experience was especially trying as I teach students with special education needs. After teaching all day, trying to meet the needs of my online students, I was left with little energy to do anything else … and if you know me, I’m usually a high energy person.

In a real-life case, a teacher, providing hybrid instruction, was having behavioural challenges with a student. Administration suggested that the student be switched to online to prevent behaviour happening at school.

Imagine …

Due to decreased funding, schools do not have the resources to support all students, especially with behaviour and significant special education needs. Imagine, how this hybrid model could be used to download “problem” students to online learning from home. This would mean that students would not get the appropriate supports provided by professionals in order for them to be successful learners. Administrators could also suggest that students learn online to avoid expensive bussing transportation or physical care needs.

If education costs are put ahead of students’ needs, this can only end poorly for students with significant learning needs.

Speak out to stop the hybrid model from being implemented.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

“Be vulnerable”

A message we are hearing as educators during a pandemic.

What does this mean to you and your practice?


To me, vulnerability seems scary, it seems raw – but, both human and necessary. 

Living through this pandemic has provided us with commonality of experiences. Although we are all experiencing different heartache during this time and no two stories are the same, we share a mutual feeling of exhaustion with our students, their families and our colleagues.


To create a deeper understanding of vulnerability I turned to the work of Brené Brown, researcher and psychologist who is best known for her work in the areas of shame and vulnerability. In her TedTalk from June 2010, ‘The Power of Vulnerability” (, Brown summarizes her research on vulnerability quite beautifully with a powerful take home message:


“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen”. 


To show our true selves to our students is to offer them a window into our souls. This includes expressing our positive and contagious traits of joy, hope, perseverance, inspiration, and integrity. However, in order to find success in vulnerability we need to feel all of our emotions. As much as we would like to carefully select which emotions to feel, Brené Brown unveils, we cannot “selectively numb” undesirable feelings. In fact, in our attempts to ignore negative or undesirable emotions, we “numb” positive feelings – positive feelings that we wish to pour into our virtual classrooms. 


Stress, fear, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion.

To be vulnerable means we are human. 


When we work from a vulnerable place it allows for us to truly stop and listen to what students need, meet them where they are at, and support them with compassion while promoting their self-worth.


Brené Brown studied people who had a strong sense of love and belonging in their relationships. Brown states that the only difference between people who had a strong sense of belonging and people who did not, was the people who felt loved – “felt worthy” of this relationship. 


Vulnerability drives connection.

Connection promotes worthiness.

Worthiness equates belonging. 


Be vulnerable.

Who benefits from Hybrid Online Learning?

Blended Learning


Who benefits from Hybrid Learning?

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.

There has been an ongoing discussion about the possibility of sustaining online learning after the pandemic ends. In addition, there is a possibility that teachers may be online in the fall of 2021. I recently wrote a blog about the pros and cons to online learning which you can access HERE.

I’m currently in my 7th month of teaching using the hybrid online learning model – i.e. teaching students synchronously both in class and online. I’ve been successful in supporting my students’ learning through much cognitive and physical juggling. With my own money, I had to purchase several items to supplement my online learning instruction. I also had to adapt my in-class pedagogy to fit the online students’ needs. In supporting students learning from home, I’ve been making deliveries of classwork materials to the students’ houses!

As I’ve written in another blog, online learning has a particular ecology to it as it differs in space and time to in class learning. I find that time passes more slowly online as each minute counts. In class, students and teachers spend a great deal of time interacting socially with each other within the process of learning. Online, social interactions are limited, leaving behind much of the human part of learning.

Experience with Online Instruction

To put my comments into context, I’ve done a great deal of learning online via many additional teacher qualifications. I have even written an eLearning online course. As an adult, asynchronous learning works best for me as I can choose the time and place to learn. I also do not have to sit for a long period of time and can take breaks as needed.

With synchronous learning, students must sit in front of a computer for hours at a time … which is particularly difficult for those who like to move while they learn.

Cameras On or Off?

Some teachers INSIST that students keep their cameras on so the teacher can see the student sitting in front of their computer. I allow my students to decide whether they will have their cameras on or off. Just because a student is sitting in front of their computer does not ensure that they are attending to the teacher. From a professional point of view, I prefer the cameras off as I do not want to invade my students’ privacy AND the meeting streams better without the cameras on!

Who benefits from the hybrid model of online learning?

Based on my experience, I find that the hybrid model does not benefit either my online students or my in class students. My online students only experience half of what is happening in our classroom as they miss out on the hands-on activities – this is particularly important in learning math concepts with physical math manipulatives. The online students also miss the social aspect of being in school with no chance to socialize with their peers during collaborative class work and lunch and recess.

In class students also miss out in a hybrid environment as the teacher must adapt lessons to meet the needs of online students. This means less hands-on activities and less inquiries that need a collaborative setting.

There are also several equity issues that include access to technology and the reliability of internet services. Further, teachers wonder what constitutes online attendance in class and who is completing the class work. These are issues that could be considered in separate blogs so I will stop the discussion here.

Teacher Burnout

Teachers certainly do not benefit from the hybrid model as it is very taxing on their executive function  – they must juggle the competing agendas of online student needs, in class student needs, lesson planning, answering phones, taking attendance, lesson materials, and teaching curriculum. Ultimately, it is much harder to assess students’ understanding of curriculum through a computer screen. This multitasking leads to teacher burnout.

The hybrid model is not an effective format to meet the learning needs of students or the instructional needs of teachers.

So, who benefits from teaching via the hybrid model? Boards of education and ministries of education benefit because it is cheaper to run programs through the hybrid model. It is a cheaper version of educating students.

It comes down to $$$$.

Think about this.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


Online Instruction of Students with Learning Disabilities

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.

Since March of 2020, I’ve been teaching students with learning disabilities in an online environment. I’ve been wondering how well the online learning environment supports the needs of students with learning disabilities.

As a special education teacher of a contained learning disability classroom, this has been a question that’s been tricky to answer. In addition, I’ve got “skin in the game” as I also have a learning disability and can place myself in my students’ shoes.

As with all debates, there are always two sides and I’ll try to capture the main points of each side.

Online learning supports students with learning disabilities

As online learning is technology based, students can access their tools of technology by using talking word processing and many applications that support their lack of phonemic awareness and reading ability in writing and comprehension. My students seemed to thrive in this area as online learning promoted their use of technology to complete assignments. In addition, the forum also allowed them to explore new ways to present their work that did not focus on text.

For my students, some thrived as they preferred working on their own or collaborating via video with another student. One student stated that they would like to learn online all the time. Note that this student had excellent learning skills and support at home. I had my doubts as they would have missed developing the skills needed to work with others face to face. I felt that the student was missing the opportunity to develop the critical soft skills such as collaborating with peers and in building the essential friendships students need as they grow into adults.

Online learning does not support students with learning disabilities

Although I only have a small sample size of students in which to reflect on this statement, I will summarize what I noticed in this last year.

Students with learning disabilities need a great deal of teacher support to develop their reading and writing skills in order to eventually thrive in a mainstream classroom. The challenge with online instruction is that students must have some level of independence to complete work. Further, their teacher must be able to assess when to support the student and when to let the student work alone.

In Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, teachers must provide just enough support to let the student learn on their own without getting frustrated. As a teacher, teaching online, I was challenged by finding this golden spot as I could not use my senses to determine where the student was in their learning. As learning is linked to emotion, I use my senses and empathy to determine students’ level of success or frustration. Without being able to access this skill through a video link, I noted that students became increasingly frustrated before I was able to sense their distress. This is never good as students usually shut down at this point. This is where learning stops.

During online video lessons, I also noted that students with attention deficits had a great challenge attending to lessons. Often, this resulted in me calling their name several times. In a classroom, when watching students, I can redirect those who are off task. Despite presenting my very interesting online lessons, several students became disengaged. This was especially true for students with learning profiles that were tactile in nature.

Further, online learning does not provide the many accommodations needed to support students’ learning needs. Some feedback from students noted “I need to move around when I learn”, “I like to work beside my friend so we can help each other”, “I prefer doing work with a pencil instead of typing things” and “I really need to go for a walk right now.”

Online learning needs and skills specific to students’ profiles

Success in online learning depends on support from home, adequate technology, and students with good learning skills. Due to managing multiple agenda’s, parents are not always able to support their child online. This includes literally sitting beside their child to help them attend to online lessons. Many students lack adequate technology and/or reliable internet access leaving them at a disadvantage to their more resourced peers. Further, not all students have the learning skills to successfully attend and complete work online, instead needing another person to support them in their work. I’ve included a list of considerations to be made when making decisions to learn online.

Students with learning disabilities may consider online learning if they:

    • are able to follow written and/or verbal instructions effectively
    • enjoy working at their own pace
    • are able to work independently
    • are able to interact with peers and the teacher in a positive way
    • have good online manners
    • are able to communicate and ask questions when they don’t understand an assignment or directions
    • are able to start a task with confidence
    • have parental support
    • have adequate technology and internet to support learning online
    • have adequate executive function to attend to online lessons
    • have adequate self control to not play games or watch videos while online lessons are occurring
    • get one-on-one time with their teacher to support learning on an individual basis

Students should consider not participating in online learning if they:

    • need significant instructional support from teachers and/or educational assistants
    • have challenges attending to lessons online
    • need support to follow through and complete assignments
    • lack adequate support at home to stay focused
    • have challenges negotiating the online environment (i.e. finding assignments, resources, etc)
    • lack support at home (i.e. help with homework & completing class work)
    • have poor learning skills
    • enjoy the social part of school and working with others
    • are behind in multiple high school credits

8 Proven Ways to Overcome Teacher Burnout and Love Teaching Again | Prodigy Education

Teaching online is draining

From a teacher’s point of view, I found teaching online extremely draining. It did not help that at several points in the pandemic, I was teaching synchronously online and in class using the hybrid model. Without being able to use my intuition and empathy to read my students needs and feelings, I felt blind. I was only left with my visual and audio senses which became taxed very quickly.

In online learning, teachers must attend to all students, all at the same time. In an in class environment, teachers can focus on one student at a time, while others work on assigned tasks. With my students online, there were simply too many things to attend to … leaving me little energy to focus on specific individual students’ needs.

Online learning does not support the needs of most students with learning disabilities

In the end, I strongly believe that students who have learning disabilities MUST be taught in an in class environment. This means that teachers can assess, if and when students need support. Further, in class instruction allows teachers to assess and focus specifically on what one student needs to support their learning.

In this pandemic, online learning has been a stop gap to provide students with a classroom environment that is just a hint of what happens in an in class environment. Online learning does not promote collaboration and the occasions to play and interact with other students. It lacks the fundamental need, of students, for opportunities to build social skills and make friends. And I believe these skills are what make us most human.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Occasional Teaching Online (part 1 of 3): My Realization

Full Remote Learning or FRL for short. 

A concept that I had never even imagined myself being a part of in the position of the teacher. Remote learning for post-secondary students was something I was familiar with. In fact, I was learning myself remotely as a Master of Professional Education student, but how would this be possible with children?

I applaud any and all people who have dedicated themselves to ensuring Ontario’s students are safe, engaged and happy during this extremely challenging school year. Educators have put in countless hours and ongoing efforts to reimagine their classrooms (whether they are virtual or face-to-face) all while keeping student’s needs at the forefront of their priorities. This pandemic has forced us all to stop and think and required us to view the world through a lens in which we never have before. Each person with their own perspectives, hardships, wins and realizations. Each person has their own narrative, each educator has a different experience. Personally, my emotions are running higher this year as I feel more nervous, uneasy, confused and overwhelmed than I ever have before. 


“The realization that life is absurd cannot be an end, but only a beginning” – Albert Camus


I am constantly reflecting on my teaching practice and how I can adapt to new changes, learn from them, grow with them and ‘realize’ from them.

In early October, I picked up my first supply call for FRL. I had no idea what to expect. How would I enter this classroom community and have a positive impact on these students? How do I ensure students are provided with chances for sharing? Collaboration? How do I ensure a safe space for students to take chances, ask questions and make mistakes in the era of ‘muting’ your microphones?

The resilience of children never ceases to amaze me. Here we are as educators feeling unsure, uncomfortable even, as students join in as though they have done this 100 times in the past. Teaching and learning online has reminded me to never underestimate the power of connection. Just a few days ago, I was teaching in an FRL grade 5 classroom where a new student had joined the class that same day. Before our scheduled ‘recess’ time, one of the students in the class asked me if he and the new student could remain online with me for a couple of minutes so he could introduce himself. When the rest of the class had left the Google Meet and the three of us remained, he said “Hey! Do you wanna be my friend?” and the conversation blossomed from there. 




It was at this moment I had a realization. It became apparent to me that we cannot stop children’s will to connect, drive for relationships and the innocence in their hearts. Nothing will stop this. Not removing them from the physical school building, not the transition to learning online, not wearing a mask, not social distancing, not a pandemic. Nothing.

The Future of eLearning

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

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

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

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

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

Transitioning To Mobile Learning Apps

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

Virtual Reality

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

Personalized Learning

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

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

Caveats to eLearning

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

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

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

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

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

Ontario’s current flawed model of online learning

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

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston


2018 Training Industry Report

Building professional capacity through teacher collaboration and online learning

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.

Internationally, professional educational bodies and teacher federations in the United States, Britain, and Canada, for example, advocate for learning communities and the teacher collaboration that supports it (American Federation of Teachers, 2011; Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, 2011; General Teaching Council for England, 2003; National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2004; Ontario College of Teachers, 2006).

In Ontario, the Ontario College of Teachers’ Professional Learning Framework specifies that “Learning communities enhance professional learning. The professional learning framework encourages collaboration. It supports ongoing commitment to the improvement and currency of teaching practice as an individual and collective responsibility” (Ontario College of Teachers, 2015, p. 23).

Further, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario defines learning communities as “A group of education professionals who share common visions, values, and goals, and work collaboratively using inquiry, experimentation, and innovation to improve teaching and student learning” (2015, n.p.). The federation supports teachers’ involvement in learning communities when teachers’ participation is voluntary, is based on collegiality, respects members professionalism and autonomy, is supported with funding, and contributes to teachers’ professional growth (Weston, 2015).

The push for promoting teacher collaboration has gone from teachers simply meeting as a group to the hierarchical restructuring of schools in which learning community organization has become embedded in the educational landscape (Gajda & Koliba, 2008). It is important  to note that when collaboration is forced on teachers through administrative bodies, it can morph into managed or “contrived collegiality” (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012, p. 119). An example of this would be when administrators control teacher interactions through managerial meeting agendas, lists of working groups, and data teams (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012). Ideally, through a nonjudgmental collegial lens, collaboration should be focused on the developing, planning, and assessing of teaching practices to meet students’ needs (Lortie, 1975/2002).

Available research suggests that teacher identity norms impact teacher collaboration (Hargreaves, 2010). However, no large-scale quantitative data have been collected to investigate the relationships among teacher identity norms and teacher collaboration. In other words, there is no research that captures how teachers’ identities are implicated in the move towards a professional collaborative culture. “The research is clear on the importance of teacher collaboration in building collaborative communities (Achinstein, 2002; Gajda & Koliba, 2008; Hargreaves, 1991). What is not known is the connection between the way teachers work, the way they collaborate, their identities as teachers, and their identities as colleagues” (Weston, 2015).

In 2015, my research brought some light to what promotes and what suppresses teacher collaboration. Using quantitative research methods, my research found that the data indicated two clusters of teacher identity norms. The norm cluster of innovation, interdependence, and cooperation showed positive correlations with collaboration and the norm cluster of conservatism, individualism, and competition showed negative correlations with collaboration. The data showed that teachers highly valued collaboration as part of their teaching practice but did not always experience it in their school setting. “The analysis suggested that if schools reinforce norms of innovation, interdependence, and cooperation, collaboration will be nurtured. Further, the data showed that if norms of conservatism, individualism, and competition are continued in school cultures, then collaboration will not be sustained. As a broad educational reform agenda, teacher collaboration is used (a) to support school cultures, (b) to change teaching practices, and (c) to implement policy-based initiatives (Weston, 2015).

On a personal note, it is through my collaboration with my colleagues that I grow most in my teaching practice. Currently, I have the opportunity to work with two colleagues who also teach my classroom program. This means that they have a similar base of knowledge in teaching the Empower program in our Contained Communications classrooms. As this teaching role can be very challenging, I often rely on my colleagues experience to deal with academic, social, and emotional challenges I face with students’ success. It is also important to note that we also share students so we can compare our similar challenges with a particular student. Some days I just need my colleagues to listen to me, while on other days I need advice and suggestions for changes in practice. I provide the same opportunity for my colleagues to talk to me about their challenges or just listen. Some days we commiserate together (tissue is sometimes required).

As my research suggests, our interdependence in supporting each other builds our collaboration. Further, with regular cooperative support, we become more effective as teachers and less stressed as we can reduce our apprehension about the challenges we face with our students. In providing supplementary suggestions and resources allow each of us to become more innovative in developing new strategies that work to increase our students capacity to read and write.

Within our group’s culture, it is because of this opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues that I have developed further in my effectiveness in teaching students with significant learning disabilities. In our collaboration, we build our students’ ability to become literate lifelong learners.

How does building online collaboration differ?

As of December 2020, it’s been almost a year since I’ve started teaching synchronously online (and face to face). I’ve been reflecting on how student and teacher collaboration differs. As I reflect on my experiences with online learning, I realized the core foundations of collaboration are not much different … it’s just  the forum that’s changed. Of course, participants must deal with technical issues and and learn about synchronous Online Etiquette (i.e. when to “raise” your virtual hand, who get to speak next etc.) In an online setting, participants are still people building relationships with each other. As each online group is a unique as its participants, their online culture will also be formed based on its member’s needs and interests. As an on line teacher and instructor, I realize that it is even more important to reach out to colleagues for support as the process of collaborating via a screen can be very isolating.

I don’t have all the answers yet and I continue to learn more each day. I welcome any tips or feedback as I will learn from this too.

As always,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


Achinstein, B. (2002) Conflict amid community: The micropolitics of teacher collaboration, Teachers College Record, 104(3), 421-455.

American Federation of Teachers. (2011). Teacher development and evaluation. Retrieved from

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (ETFO). (2015). Professional Learning Communities, Retrieved from

General Teaching Council for England. (2003). The teachers’ professional learning framework. Retrieved from

Hargreaves, A. (1991). Contrived collegiality: The micropolitics of teacher collaboration, In J. Blase (Ed.), The politics of life in schools: Power, conflict, and cooperation. (pp. 80-94). London, UK: Sage.

Hargreaves, A. (2010). Presentism, individualism and conservatism: The legacy of Dan Lortie’s schoolteacher. Curriculum Inquiry, 40(1), 143-154.

Lortie, D. C. (2002). School teacher: A sociological study (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1975).

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (2004). What teachers should know and be able to do: The five core propositions. Retrieved from

Ontario College of Teachers. (2006). Standards of practice. Toronto: ON: Author.

Ontario College of Teachers. (2015). Professional learning framework for the teaching profession, Standards of practice. Toronto: ON: Author. Retrieved from

Weston, D. (2015). Investigating the Relationships Between Teacher Identity Norms and Collaboration. Retrieved from