The schools where I work as an occasional teacher play O Canada in the morning. I’ve been listening to this anthem for decades and am happy there is a movement to have diverse and inclusive versions of the anthem played at various schools. Recently, I was at a school for two days in a row and on both days they played an older version of O Canada with the lyric “all thy sons command” in it. As you know that line was changed in 2018 to “ in all of us command.”

As the anthem played I wondered if any students had picked up on the different lyrics so I asked my grade 4 students what they had noticed about the variations in the versions of O Canada that their school played. Their comments focussed on the style of singing and the style of music. When I asked them about the lyrics there was one student who was able to identify the word “sons”  in the version we had heard that day.

Grabbing this teachable moment I realized we had an opportunity for a topic for their journal entry.  I decided the students would benefit from hearing the 2023 story of the anthem being performed at the Toronto Raptors game by Jully Black. Black changed the words to “our home on native land” instead of “our home and native land”. We watched her performance and then viewed an interview with her.  I asked the class to reflect about whether or not the lyrics of O Canada make a difference.

We then posted the current lyrics from the federal government website and I gave the students a chance to reflect in their journals about the lyrics. Should the lyrics go back to what they were originally? Should the lyrics stay the same as they are currently posted? Are there any lyrics that could be changed to make the Canadian national anthem more inclusive? It was an open opportunity for students to do some critical thinking and explain their reasoning in their writing.

After some discussion, the students settled into their work fairly quickly. I was only supply teaching for a couple of periods so I was impressed that we were able to have an honest discussion and get some thoughts on paper. I was pleased to see that there were students who noticed other words in O Canada that could be changed to make the national anthem more inclusive. 

One of the students had explained clearly that the school should stop playing the version of O Canada with “all they sons command”.  She backed up her statement with solid reasoning.  With her permission I showed her journal entry to the principal and she promised to have that version taken out of the rotation. The student was all smiles knowing that her work had made a difference.

Unexpected teachable moments are one of the great benefits of teaching. I think our day plans should always have an asterisk with a reminder to go with the flow of energy that the students bring. Keeping them engaged with relevant material and empowering them to make positive change keeps everyone motivated to be present. I hope you have many teachable moments this year.


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