Happy New Year: Back to School Part Three

In my last two blog posts, I talked about the importance of including student voice in the physical arrangement of the classroom and how to start building relationships with students so they feel safe, comfortable, and welcomed in their learning environment..  Remember, I encourage teachers and educators alike to think about the classroom as three distinct yet interconnected components: (a) physical, (b) social/emotional, and (c) cognitive. Here are links to the first two posts: Back to School Part One and Back to School Part Two. In this post, I will discuss the cognitive component of the classroom. Just like we need to integrate students’ thoughts and opinions about how to set up the classroom space, it is equally important that we include their voices in what they are learning and how they are learning it. 

One great instructional strategy is inquiry based learning. I wrote a few blog posts several years ago about learning through inquiry and the advantages afforded to students learning in this manner: Inquiry Part One, Inquiry Part Two, and Inquiry Part Three. I encourage you to read them if you would like a better understanding of what is involved when it comes to inquiry based learning.

I always started off the year showing my students the curriculum expectations for the year. Newsflash: It’s not a secret! Our curriculum expectations are available to access online by anyone around the world! My students were initially surprised and shocked when I showed them these expectations. There were choruses of, “You’re actually showing this to us?!” to “I didn’t know we were allowed to read them!” I reiterated what I said above and also added – “It’s free to access online – show your parents!”

After this initial confusion and excitement, I gave them ample opportunity to explore and examine the expectations for each subject area. I told them to highlight verbs, jot down questions in the margins or on post-it notes, and think about how they wanted to learn these topics and concepts. In essence, I led with these three questions:

  1. How do you want to learn this?
  2. What questions do you have?
  3. Where do you see yourself represented? If not, what can we do about it?

Next, I had students partner up and discuss their answers to the three questions. Then I placed them in groups of four and repeated the same exercise. From there, they completed a Placemat Activity and we shared our thoughts, opinions, and concerns as a class sitting in a circle. This was and is a great way for students to begin expressing their perspectives and concerns related to various curricular areas. We came to a consensus as a class about how to move forward; this will most likely be different each year because of the students you have in your class. Then, we began the process of implementing inquiry based learning where students were provided with opportunities to explore topics of interest to them while keeping the curriculum expectations in mind (almost anything can be connected to literacy and the Language curriculum). There are “soft” ways in which to get students familiar and comfortable with this model of learning before introducing curriculum as part of the learning process. These “soft” methods are also a great way to get to know students and build those essential relationships! I will talk about how to do this next week!

The most important part of inquiry based learning is that it gives a voice to students, it empowers them, and develops important skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, analyzing, evaluating, and reasoning, just to name a few.

For now, I will leave you with reading about inquiry based learning through my previous blog posts. Any questions, please feel free to reach out!

Happy New Year: Back to School Part Two

In my last blog post, I encouraged teachers to think about the classroom as three distinct yet interconnected components: (a) physical, (b) social/emotional, and (c) cognitive. That first post focused on the physical component of the classroom and its connection to social emotional wellbeing for students (Back to School Part One).  Today’s post will be about building relationships in order to strengthen those social-emotional bonds between you and your students as well as between students themselves. While it’s important to get to know your students, it is equally essential that students get to know each other; this supports the development of vital social skills, enhances engagement and learning, and creates safer, more welcoming environments. 

Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Postcards: A week or two before school starts, send each child a postcard, introducing yourself, welcoming them to their class, and some engaging activities they will be participating in during the year.
  2. Identity Maps: Have students complete Identity Maps; these are visuals, which students complete outlining their background, experiences, interests, hobbies, and affinities. It helps students to get a better understanding of themselves and each other by breaking down stereotypes. You should complete one as well so that students get to know you! This is a fantastic way in which to build community and climate in the classroom! There are many ways these maps can be completed and in an upcoming blog post, I will provide more details about how you can carry out this activity with your students. 
  3. Soft Entries: I love a soft entry into the classroom! This is a great strategy for students to settle in and get comfortable before the school day starts. After they hang up their coats, backpacks, etc, they enter the classroom and have the opportunity to choose from a variety of different activities. Some of these activities can include: (a) legos, (b) drawing, (c) stretching/yoga, (d) colouring, (e) puzzles, (f) reading, and (g) building a structure with materials set out. This strategy helps to decrease anxiety because students do not feel rushed in an attempt to start their day and creates an overall positive tone for the day!
  4. Traveling Journal: I implemented this strategy several years ago. After purchasing a journal, I selected a simple prompt (e.g., “What is your favourite movie? Why?”) and responded to it. I then passed on the journal to my first student, who had the chance to read my entry and then add their response. It then went to the next student and so on, hence, the term “traveling journal”. As we got further into the year and we got to know each other, the topics I chose for the prompts became deeper; I selected prompts related to global issues and current events. Students loved it when it was their turn and they could read about their peers’ opinions and respond and add their own thoughts. This was a great way to support students to develop skills in how to effectively engage in discourse through writing.
  5. Four Corners: I am sure many of you are familiar with this strategy. At the start of the year, you can provide easy questions for students (e.g., If you had a choice, where would you choose to live; a farm, the beach, the mountains, the city?) and each corner of the room is designated as one of those choices. Students go to the corner, which represents their answer and they talk in their small groups about why they chose that option. After a few minutes, they share out with the entire class. This is another great way to get to know students and help them build skills in defending and explaining their choice. Other examples include, “What would you choose for dessert?”, “What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?”, and “What is your favourite season”? So many choices depending on the grade level you teach. As the year progresses, you can choose questions and prompts related to concepts you are teaching.
  6. Inside/Outside Circle: Same concept as the Four Corners except in this arrangement, you divide the class in half and form two circles so the students are facing each other. You provide them with the prompt and set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes (I wouldn’t recommend more than that) and they discuss their thoughts and opinions based on your question. After time is up, ask either the inside or outside circle (not both) to move a certain number of spaces to the left or right (e.g., outside circle, move 3 spaces to the right or inside circle move 5 spaces to the left). As always, you can integrate prompts related to what you are learning in class.
  7. Commonalities: Pair students together and have them find three things in common. They then share out with the entire class. Encourage them to find 3 things in common that are not surface level but a little bit deeper. Repeat with different partner sets as you see fit. 
  8. Speed Rotations: Similar to #8, except this is a more flexible and open conversation between two classmates. Students face each other with a desk between them and they talk, ask each other questions, and get to know each other. You can have a few sample questions on the table to get them started if you wish (and this will depend on grade level). Set a timer and let them talk! After time is up, have one side of the students move one down and set the time again and off they go! Keep going until every student has had the opportunity to talk to one another. If this reminds you of those dreaded Speed Dating events, yes, it’s similar, but not the same – are these events still a thing? Lol 🙂
  9. Would You Rather: Another one of my favourites! Give students various Would You Rather scenarios (e.g., “Would you rather be a famous musician or a famous athlete?”, “Would you rather go snorkeling or camp by a lake?”). You can select different students to answer but I prefer giving each student a white board with a blackmarker and having them write their response and then hold it up (if they wish). This can get quite creative and fun! Lots of ideas using a quick   Google Search!
  10. This or That: Similar to Would You Rather, in this activity you provide students with two choices (e.g., smoothie or freshly squeezed juice, new phone or new laptop, sweet potato fries or regular fries, Pringles or Doritos). Again, you can select different students to answer but I prefer giving each student a white board with a blackmarker and having them write their response and then hold it up (if they wish). As always, students are engaged and having fun! Lots of ideas using a quick   Google Search!
  11. Team Challenges: Another great way for students to get to know each other and build classroom community! Some examples are: (a) Scavenger Hunts (check out Goosechase), (b) Solving A Problem; fill a bin or bucket with a bunch of materials like straws, tape, paper cups, and give them a challenge to build a structure based on parameters you provide, and (c) Minute to Win It Challenges Minute To Win It, and (d) Lego Challenges (e.g., set the timer for one minute and challenge them to build different structures such as a car, plane, truck, bridge, etc). 
  12. One Word: This is a common activity for adults, where they pick one word that will guide their year (e.g., perseverance, humility, courge, etc) and help them to set goals. The same can be done with your students depending on their age level. Have them choose a word with your assistance by providing them with a sample list. After they have selected their word, they need to provide 2-3 reasons why they chose that word. Finally, like with any goal setting process, they need to outline 3 action items they will do in order to commit to their one word. In other words, what will they do to ensure they are living up to their one word?

These are just twelve strategies and activities you can do in your classroom to help build relationships and ensure your students feel safe, welcome, and cared for in their learning environment. Most importantly, please remember that building relationships is an all year process; it’s not something that happens just in September. We need to continuously build and maintain relationships with our students so they trust us when issues and problems arise. Just like us, things change in a child’s life and it is up to us to keep an eye out for any changes in their behaviour, body language, and learning. Building these ever vital relationships helps to ensure that we notice these changes when they arise so we can address them appropriately and support our students in the best way possible. 

My next blog post will discuss the cognitive aspect of the classroom and ways in which we can enhance student learning and engagement.

Happy New Year: Back to School Part One

Summer has flown by! For some reason, this summer seems to have gone faster than other ones I remember! And now, it’s time for another school year to begin. For some of you, the new school year has already started and I hope it’s going well! For others, there is still a few weeks to go and I hope you make the best of it! 

I know there are always mixed emotions as a new school year begins, for teachers and students alike. For teachers, it’s the excitement and anxiety of getting to know your students and integrating new ideas, and for students, it’s the anticipation and nervousness related to meeting new classmates and their teachers, especially if it’s their first year at the school. No matter how you feel, the start of the school year brings new challenges, new perspectives, and perhaps new routines. It also means setting up your classroom and designing activities to get to know your students to start building those important relationships with students and their families. 

I would like to take this opportunity to share some ideas with you about setting up the classroom and building those essential relationships with students. I always encourage teachers to think about the classroom as three distinct yet interconnected components: (a) physical, (b) social/emotional, and (c) cognitive. Today’s post will be about the physical component and in subsequent weeks, I will talk about the other two components. 

In terms of the physical arrangement of the classroom, let your students decide! They need to know it’s their learning space and that their voices matter! I know many teachers spend a lot of time the week before school starts making the classroom look really nice and welcoming; this includes decorating bulletin boards, arranging desks, and organizing student materials (I used to be one of these teachers!). However, I learned that this did not allow for student ownership nor did it allow for student agency. I, therefore, changed the way I do things to allow for increased student voice:

  1. Desks/Chairs: I placed all student desks against the walls and out of the way. I then took the chairs and placed them in a circle in the centre of the room. The reasoning for this was to begin the process of building relationships and getting to know each other. On the first day of school, I invited students to select a chair and have a seat. We used a variety of sentence starters and sentence frames to begin conversations around a number of topics that helped us get to know each other. I also used this opportunity to invite students to start thinking about how they wanted their classroom space set up: (a) How should we arrange the desks? Why?, (b) How should we organize classroom materials? Why?, and (c) What is missing? What would you like to see added? Why?. 

In terms of desk arrangement, what is the optimal arrangement? Why? How is learning impacted by the way we set up the desks? Do you see this arrangement evolving as needs change? For classroom materials, this can and should include how to organize the classroom library. What is the best way to organize our picture books and novels? Why? How and where should we store our math manipulatives? Why? Finally, in terms of what might be missing, how will the new furniture or new materials enhance teaching and learning? How will this positively impact what is happening in our classroom? All of these questions are actually a great way to introduce persuasive writing; right off the bat, you can have your students write a persuasive letter to the admin team justifying the furniture and materials they need for an optimal learning environment! 

  1. Bulletin Boards: I left the bulletin board empty! As hard as this transition was for me, I knew it would positively impact my students because I wanted to ensure student ownership by having their work prominently displayed, not some store bought pre-packed bulletin boards that students never paid attention to because they had no say or voice in it! Save your money and let your students decide alongside you about the best use of these spaces. 
  2. Student Materials: As I mentioned above, let your students have a voice in how to organize the classroom library and math manipulatives. Furthermore, ask them the best way to organize other classroom materials like glue, scissors, rulers, etc. It might seem like a small thing but can be so important to students to know their ideas are welcome! Finally, let them have a say in how they want to organize and store their work. Not every student wants a duotang for every subject; some students prefer a binder with dividers for each subject area (and yes, I do recognize this might depend on the grade you teach), so please allow them the choice and freedom to do it in a way in which they are most comfortable. As adults, we all have our preferred methods of organization, therefore, allowing students the same freedom will assist them in developing some independent skills (the same goes for when they submit their work, but that is for another blog post!).   

We must keep in mind that the classroom is their learning space; they need to know their voices, thoughts, opinions, and perspectives are valued and respected and these voices will be heard and incorporated into the classroom setting. Even more importantly, students need to come into the classroom each and everyday knowing they are safe, cared for, and welcomed. I will discuss this more in the next blog post when I talk about the social-emotional component of a classroom.

Equity in Mathematics Teaching & Learning: Part One

This is the first in a series of my blog posts about Equity in Mathematics. While we need to create equitable opportunities in all subject areas, mathematics is an area that deserves some extra attention. Historically, the learning of mathematics has favoured a certain segment of students and the focus has been on memorization, timed tests, procedures, and rote learning. We need to shift to a set of practices, which values and supports access and equity to mathematical learning and understanding. To close existing learning gaps, educators at all levels must work together to achieve equity with respect to student learning outcomes. In order to commit to this work, all educators must operate on the belief that all students can learn. Educators must focus on the following with students:

  • Building relationships 
  • Accessing a rigorous mathematics curriculum
  • Receiving high quality instruction 
  • Ensuring access to technology
  • Differentiating instruction (including enrichment opportunities)
  • Administering equitable assessments
  • Providing extra-curricular opportunities (e.g., STEM/STEAM)
  • Having high expectations
  • Providing sufficient time
  • Using high quality materials, tools, and resources
  • Using various models of learning 

Even though this is an important and significant list of factors necessary to ensure mathematics is taught from an equity-based mindset, the most important element is doing what we know is right. Teachers of mathematics need to reflect on their own attitudes, beliefs, biases, identity, assumptions, and misconceptions and how that might be impacting the teaching of mathematics and inadvertently the approach taken with learners. We need to acknowledge the students in the room; we need to build relationships and get to know their backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge sets, and then design and deliver mathematical experiences based on this information. In other words, the teaching and learning of mathematics must reflect their world and their perspectives. We also need to build a community of educators who are committed to this equity based process and who want to engage in the learning to ensure high quality access and learning for all students in terms of acquiring mathematical knowledge and skills. This means that teachers of mathematics must not only work with each other across classes and grades but also with their support teachers (e.g., ESL, Special Education, gifted programs, etc). By working together, it will ensure that all students have the essential resources, supports, and tools in order to be successful when learning mathematical concepts and skills. 

In order to achieve this goal, educators must make a firm commitment to acquiring the knowledge, skills, and mindset that is crucial in establishing an environment conducive to equitable outcomes in the teaching and learning of mathematics. In order to close the opportunity gap for marginalized students, we must close the engagement and achievement gap. This is why when issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have been acknowledged and acted upon in the mathematics classroom, then students’ engagement, motivation, and achievement will not be related to or predicted by their ethnicity, race, gender, and/or socioeconomic status. All students have the chance to be successful!

In my subsequent posts, I will be discussing in further detail about how to create learning environments so all students have equitable access to high quality math instruction.

Culturally Responsive Teaching in Science

 I can’t believe I haven’t blogged in over a year! The last year or so has been busy and challenging in many ways. I was busy teaching undergrad and grad courses at two universities, teaching AQ courses, revising the Ontario Science curriculum, writing a research paper on online learning, and just dealing with COVID life in general. But I am back and the goal is to blog every weekend on a variety of topics related to education. However, there will be times where my blog will be about general life topics (e.g., friendship, wellness, etc). I think it’s important that we learn to integrate health and wellness into our daily lives as we are all very busy professionally. For this week’s blog, I want to talk about culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy in science. My background is in science and math and I’d like to get back into sharing my passion for these subject areas by providing ideas and strategies that you can integrate into your classroom. 

Our world is changing at a rapid pace; this includes technological advancements, increased globalization, scientific innovation, economic competitiveness, and changes in the demands of the workplace. These changes are redefining the skill sets that our students need in order to participate and contribute in today’s world.  Therefore, it is important to ensure that students develop these essential skills, (e.g., scientific and technological problem solving skills) within the context of the discipline of science using best practices across the K-8 science Ontario curriculum.  

In scientific inquiry, students need to be engaged in activities that allow them to develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas in much the way that scientists would. Like scientists, students must also develop skills in the two major components of scientific inquiry – experimentation and research. Technological problem solving occurs when students are designing solutions to a problem using the design thinking model in an iterative process (Ontario Science Curriculum, p. 12). To design and deliver meaningful learning experiences, we must integrate inquiry, culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRRP), and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Let’s take a closer look at inquiry and how it can be integrated in the classroom. Inquiry is a framework of learning in which the focus is on the student. It is a student-centered approach where their curiosity is encouraged through big ideas, open ended questions, and meaningful discourse. Instead of memorizing facts and recalling information, inquiry based learning allows students to consolidate learning through exploration, discussion, and collaboration. One example of a big idea is “Identity”. An associated driving question that students could explore would be, “How do my experiences shape my identity? Another example of a big idea is the “Environment” and a related driving question could be, “Does the earth have a greater impact on us or do we have a greater impact on Earth?”  

When we talk about Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, science is usually not the first subject that comes to mind. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Science is about a journey of discovery. Connecting students from diverse backgrounds to knowledge and experiences that can nurture and develop interactions with the environment, healthy living, and an understanding of concepts related to biology, chemistry, and physics will enhance their engagement and achievement. Students from diverse backgrounds, such as our Black and Indigenous students are underrepresented and poorly served within the scientific community. Learning experiences in the classroom must focus on culturally responsive elements in both the local and broader community in which the student lives. Furthermore, to make science more culturally responsive, students need to see themselves as scientists. Educators should seek out diverse role models in science, which can help to break down barriers and the belief that students from certain marginalized groups can not do science or succeed in the field. As educators, it is imperative that we break this cycle by integrating culturally responsive and inclusive methods in the science classroom. 

When we think about inquiry and culturally responsive teaching, we must also keep Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind. Universal Design for Learning is a teaching approach that gives all students the opportunity to be successful. In other words, it is a framework for removing barriers by anticipating the needs of all students. The framework has three guidelines: (1) multiple means of engagement, (2) multiple means of representation, and (3) multiple means of action and expression. Learners vary in the ways in which they engage with learning. This first guideline refers to offering options to students; providing them with choices in the tools and resources they use, the topic or concept they might want to explore, and where and how they work. The second guideline refers to the different ways in which learners understand information and build knowledge. Presenting information in a variety of modalities provides increased opportunities for learners to identify relationships and connections to consolidate their learning. The third and final guideline refers to allowing students to choose how they respond to and demonstrate their learning. This should include a variety of technology tools and assistive technology as well as traditional forms like speaking and writing. Let’s take a look at a specific example in science that includes inquiry, culturally responsive teaching, and Universal Design for Learning. 

Let’s take the Grade 8 Cells strand. If we look at the expectations, let’s explore expectation 1.2, which states, “assess the potential that our understanding of cells and cell processes has for both beneficial and harmful effects on human health and the environment, taking different perspectives into account”. An example of a big idea can be “Health and an example of a related driving question could be, “How might certain factors contribute to the development of certain illnesses and diseases?  You can pose questions to students to determine if they know anyone with an illness or disease related to any of the body systems. For example, let’s take high blood pressure, thalassemia, or diabetes; are these diseases disproportionately affecting people from certain racial or ethnic backgrounds? Why is this the case? Students can then select and investigate a disease of their choice by watching videos (e.g., YouTube videos, Ted Talks, etc), listening to podcasts, going to a medical centre or hospital to interview doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers, or reading articles, books, and magazines. Students, thus, start to learn about the principles of science by understanding disease and treatment statistics and how science can produce solutions to solve these problems. Learning in this way helps students  connect their new knowledge to their own personal experiences. 

As you can see, this model of learning makes connections to the mathematics curriculum, specifically the Patterning & Relationships and Data Literacy strands. Students start to see that subjects are not silos but connected in meaningful ways as they investigate patterns and data related to their illness. We can go even deeper; making connections to the Water Systems strand can be made when discussing contaminated water from E. Coli that led to severe illness (i.e., Walkerton tragedy) or lack of access to clean drinking water that lead to certain diseases within our Indigenous communities (i.e., Attawapiskat). From here, students can examine different perspectives (e.g., political, environmental, medical, marginalized communities, etc) and how decisions made by these stakeholders impacted the pattern and development of these illnesses. Students can take on different roles by using a variety of cooperative learning strategies (e.g.,  jigsaw, focus groups, community summit, etc). Finally, what role does poverty play in the pattern of these diseases? Are certain illnesses prominent in certain marginalized groups depending on where they live? As students learn in this manner, students are learning many skills and concepts such as accessing information, recording their observations and findings, organizing data, drawing conclusions, and communicating their findings in a variety of ways. Additionally, they are thinking critically, problem solving, and analyzing and evaluating. 

From the example just discussed, where is inquiry? CRRP? UDL?

Let’s look at an additional layer to this learning experience. Let’s have a look at these infographics from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). (SDG 3 and SDG 6).  What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? How can these infographics be used to jumpstart an inquiry related to Cells? Water Systems?

I urge you to reflect on your practice. I am constantly reflecting and brainstorming meaningful ways in which various disciplines can be taught so all students succeed. 

As a next step, access the science curriculum from your province/state, select a strand of your choice and look over the expectations/standards. Identify one big idea and generate a related driving question. What are the fundamental concepts and skills that students should learn? Then, please consider these questions as you move forward with teaching science:

  1. What will you stop doing (red light)?
  2. What will you continue doing (yellow light)?
  3. What will you start doing (green light)?

Culturally responsive teaching requires a shift in mindset to ensure we are meeting the needs of our diverse learners. It is student-centered, focusing on belonging, safety, and inclusion so that students are highly engaged and motivated to achieve their very best. Science knowledge is too heavily based on facts and until we have a way in which we assess and evaluate science knowledge based on what students can create instead of consume, then the ability of a large portion of our marginalized students will go unnoticed and unrecognized.

COVID-19 & Education: Part 14

Screen Shot 2020-03-23 at 1.33.34 PM

On Thursday, the government of Ontario came out with its school reopening plans for September. Oh boy!!! It seems obvious from premier Ford’s and minister Lecce’s announcement that they have no idea how schools run or how kids behave.

First, let’s take a look at the main points from this announcement:

  1. Full return to school (5 days a week/5 hours a day with breaks for lunch and recess) with classrooms at full capacity
  2. Masks for students in Grades 4-12 (masks are optional for students in K-3)
  3. 1m distancing with masks and hygiene procedures
  4. Secondary students will be in cohorts of 15 if their high school is considered higher risk; all other high schools will be back to full capacity and learning in quadmesters. 
  5. Staggered entry/hallway/exit times
  6. Students will be given a choice between face to face and virtual learning
  7. Teachers and students will be self-assessing every morning
  8. Extra funding in a variety of areas (e.g., nurse, custodians, mental health, technology, etc)

Let’s take a look at each one closely:

  1. So, depending on the size of the school we are allowing anywhere from 100 students to 1800 students, give or take in one building?? That’s really interesting when Stage 3 guidelines clearly state, Limiting indoor gatherings to a maximum of 50 people, or less, to maintain physical distancing” (Government of Ontario, 2020). And how do they expect recess to work? Are they expecting schools to rotate kids outside class by class? Or are they expecting Stage 3 guidelines, which states, “Limiting outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 100 people, or less to maintain physical distancing” (Government of Ontario, 2020). If so, for how many minutes? This will be dependent on the number of classes in the building and therefore, a potential logistical nightmare from a timetabling perspective. Not sure if they thought about that or they just don’t care? Ford even called 200 people who attended a party in Brampton a “bunch of yahoos” but it’s okay to put a bunch of kids in an enclosed building?  Not even a pandemic can get the Ontario government to reduce class sizes!!!! Let that sink in. 
  2. So, masks are optional for children in K-3. Several reasons have been given for this, which include that kids at this age won’t be able to keep their masks on for 5 hours, they don’t know how to wear it properly, and that they are prone to touching their face a lot. The purpose of using masks is to protect other people (and to a certain extent, yourself). What about these teachers who need to take care of elderly parents and/or relatives with compromised immune systems? I guess the government is saying that teachers who are teaching in this division don’t deserve to be protected? That they are expendable. Let that sink in
  3. How is the government expecting kids to practice physical distancing? Have they met kids? Sure, kids can be taught and reminded to practice physical distancing but how is that supposed to happen in an overcrowded classroom? I don’t think the government realizes that classrooms are not the size of a football field!! How are you supposed to separate desks when there are 25 kids on average in a classroom? And how is lunch supposed to work when students need to take their masks off to eat?? How is physical distancing supposed to be practiced in this situation when there’s not enough room in the classroom to separate them according to the “guidelines”??? And what about portables where there are no sinks?? What about lunchroom supervisors? What are the protocols here? It seems to me that grocery stores, malls, spas, restaurants, and gyms have stricter guidelines than the elementary and high schools will have. Let that sink in. 
  4. High school students will be learning under the “quadmester” framework, which means they will take two courses at a time over two months; half the day in class and other half at home working on assignments and various learning tasks. Students will need to stay two metres apart and wear masks. The Toronto District School Board states that floors will be marked to ensure one way traffic flow and two meter distancing. They also said they will limit students going to the library as well as the number of students in the hallway (Rushowy, 2020). No sports or extracurriculars and no eating lunch at school; that should really fit in with the government’s plan to help students with their social emotional well being! They put more effort into new license plates and getting beer into corner stores; let that sink in. 
  5. How exactly is staggered entry/exits supposed to work? How exactly are parents supposed to drop off their kids at a later time when they need to get to work? The entire premise of reopening schools at full capacity is to get parents back to work and the economy going again (let’s not pretend that isn’t the government’s number one reason for reopening schools) so this really doesn’t make any sense. What about schools where the majority of kids are bussed? How do you stagger that? I didn’t even hear anything about protection for bus drivers and the number of routes they might have to run with different kids! Where is the money coming from for bus drivers to sanitize the bus after their run? How do you stagger exit times if parents are at work and can’t pick up their child(ren)? In terms of hallways, how is movement going to be restricted in hallways? What will be the procedures for bathrooms? Will teachers be moving from classroom to classroom? With the guidelines in place, it will be next to impossible to practice physical distancing for students between classes. Minister Lecce seems to be under the impression that “because of the way they’re designed, they [elementary students] are with one teacher throughout the day.” (Lecce, 2020).  This proves how little he knows about how schools actually run and he’s our Minister of Education! Students have different teachers for physical education, health, music, and French, which usually requires them to move through hallways. And middle schools? Even more movement as students have different teachers not just for phys-ed, music, health and French but also art and technology not to mention separate teachers for math/science and language/history/geography.  And we still don’t know how music is going to work. It seems the government is okay with treating schools like nursing homes at the start of the pandemic. Let that sink in. 
  6. Don’t even get me started on this one! So parents will have a choice between sending their child(ren) to school or they can opt for virtual learning at home. Lecce said that students who will be taking the “learn from home” option will be engaged in synchronous learning (Lecce, 2020). First of all the equity and safety/privacy issues for teachers and students in this scenario are significant. In a nutshell, equity in terms of access to properly working devices and high speed internet and safety/privacy issues in terms of teachers meeting with students in small groups and one on one in the privacy of their own homes (I shouldn’t have to spell this one out!). Furthermore, when is this synchronous learning supposed to happen during the school day? Granted, teachers who can’t teach in class due to health reasons will be expected to teach online and they can and will provide synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences for these students but what about those schools where there are only a few students opting for virtual learning? How is that equitable for teachers in terms of numbers of students? Or how about a situation where there isn’t a teacher available to conduct virtual learning sessions? Will the classroom teacher be expected to do both in-class and online? If so, when is that supposed to happen? Will students be expected to “skype” in during an in-class session? Because under no circumstances should a teacher be expected to teach all day in-class and then go home to teach children virtually!!! And let’s not forget about the reliability and validity of grading students who are learning from home (again, I shouldn’t have to explain this one!). Additionally, how will technology be distributed? For students opting for virtual learning, they better be receiving their own device (families should NOT be expected to share one device amongst their four children, for example). What about technology in the classroom? Is part of the $15 million going to be earmarked for placing additional technology in the classroom to ensure there are enough devices for students to limit sharing? Last but not least, it was also said that they would give parents flexibility in terms of when and if they want their kids to return to school so essentially parents can change their minds and either pull their kids or send them back if they originally opted for virtual learning. Most stores have limits to the number of people allowed inside (just the other day, I was at the paint store and only 2 customers were allowed inside at one time!) yet let’s allow the free flow of children in and out of school not knowing who they’ve been in contact with it. Let that sink in. 
  7. The expectation is that there is an “element of cooperation and being honest” (Lecce, 2020) and that the “plan is dependent on social contracts with parents and others to reduce the risk.” (Lecce, 2020). Dr. Yaffe also reiterated that “parents need to take it seriously and will be given information about what to look for and report the information to the school” (Dr. Yaffe, 2020). So, basically our lives depend on others being responsible – so how do we know who these kids are interacting with after school and on weekends? How do we know what is happening at home and attitudes related to COVID-19? How will/does this impact the risk at school? Dr. Yaffe also said it was a “waste of resources” to test teachers (this was in response to a question asked by Cynthia Mulligan, a reporter at CityTV) and that we just need to self-assess and watch for symptoms. Yet, it doesn’t seem to be a waste of resources to test pro athletes (e.g., NHL, NBA, etc) on a regular basis because we all know they’re essential. I guess we have to justify their multi-million dollar salaries. Let that sink in. 
  8. Extra funding. According to Lecce, the government is investing $10 million in mental health, $15 million for technology, over $75 million for cleaning supplies and 900 custodians, $30 million for additional staffing as boards see fit (so what is the criteria? Who decides? Where does equity fit in?), $10 million for Special Education to hire EAs and “specialized equipment” (translation – Lecce has no clue what he’s talking about), and over $50 million for the hiring of nurses, which includes surveillance testing and treating students who are showing symptoms. There is also funding for “crucial health and safety training for all educators including OTs and supply teachers” (Lecce, 2020) (FYI Lecce – OTs and supply teachers are the same thing!!!). What does this $10 million in mental health look like? What’s the plan? What does this health and safety training look like? Who is designing and delivering these sessions? When is this supposed to take place? During PD sessions at the end of August/start of September? So when does PD for the new math curriculum and anti-black racism supposed to happen? Are boards and schools going to cram it all in leading to diluted PD around these topics? Is this what the government wants? And let’s talk about these nurses and custodians for a second and do some math (speaking of math, Ford and Lecce might want to consider sitting in on some of these math classes). There are almost 5, 000 schools in Ontario and they are hiring “up to 500 nurses” (Jaffe, 2020); this means about 1 nurse for every 10 schools and in terms of custodians, it’s about 1 extra custodian for every 5 schools. How exactly is this supposed to work? What about that one nurse that has to respond to multiple schools in her “family of schools” if there is a report of a risk/infection? How does he/she/they prioritize? How will they decide where to assign these extra custodians? By risk index? So basically leaving the other custodians to be on their own to clean classrooms and the entire school every hour on the hour? Have you seen the size of some of these schools? I’m pretty sure Ford and Lecce haven’t. So, 1 nurse for every 10 schools and one additional custodian for every 5 schools to keep staff and kids safe. Let that sink in. 


Ford started off the press conference by expressing how hard it was on families to balance childcare and work during school closure. He also thanked teachers and said how he was  “a big fan of the teachers”, that they’d “done an incredible job”, “pulled through when it came to online learning”, and that he was “grateful for all the teachers out there.” (Ford, 2020). Those words ring hollow and disingenuous, in my opinion, because if he really was a “big fan” of educators, he would have consulted with us in meaningful ways when he wanted to make all those cuts to education during our last round of negotiations (let’s not forget he wanted to cut funding for special education, increase class sizes, and have mandatory e-learning for high school students). He also spent some time patting himself on the back, talking about how Ontario was the first province to shut down schools, first one to hire nurses, etc. Again, trying his best to deflect. 

The government stated that kids need to get back to school for their social emotional well being and this might be true to some extent but we all know the real reason is based on getting parents back to work and getting the economy going again. Ford said, “parents need to return to work to support economic recovery.” (Ford, 2020). It’s all about money. It always is. While I appreciate that kids need to get back to school and we need to get the economy going again, it should not be at the expense of our children and educators. Why wasn’t the government being proactive and scouting and securing unused and empty space during the pandemic to ensure a safe return to school? Why didn’t they implement smaller class sizes to practice additional safety protocols? Part of this plan would mean hiring additional teachers and we all know that wasn’t going to happen (again, are we forgetting that Ford caused hundreds of teachers to lose their jobs?). 

So if social emotional well being is the main reason to reopen schools, I hope that means teachers can focus on well being and wellness over the curriculum when school is back in session; we all know students don’t learn unless they feel safe and cared for. And what about the mental health of students who opt to stay at home? What plan do Ford and Lecce have for this? And if there will be no recess and they are encouraging distancing as much as possible, how does this help their social emotional wellness??

Lecce and Ford both said they had had many meetings and conversations with teachers, parents, and the union; who are these teachers and parents? I’d love to know and wish they’d make themselves visible (we all know that’s not happening because it didn’t happen). Harvey Bischof, President of OSSTF said there were no meetings between the two parties about reopening plans even though Ford said they had “over 100 meetings”. 100 meetings? It’s been about 120 days between when schools shut down and this press release, so how exactly were there over 100 meetings? And where are the records of these meetings? Where is the accountability? Anyone? Anyone? 


  • Back to traditional teaching: One of my biggest fears is that desks will be placed in rows and there will be more traditional worksheets due to the policies and procedures put in place. With physical distancing, collaboration and group work between students and between students and their teacher will be challenging. This is by no means a reflection on educators but on the system that might force teachers to revert to more traditional methods. So, we’re going to go against everything we know about pedagogy and how students learn? And in terms of materials like math manipulatives, I guess students will be getting their own bin to ensure safety? I also hope that there isn’t a rush to put kids on an IEP due to the impact of virtual learning and mental wellness. 
  • A child/teacher gets sick or dies: What happens if a child or teacher gets sick or worse dies due to contracting the virus? Ford and Lecce never clearly outlined what would happen in this situation but they did go on and on about how they had consulted top doctors in the field when making this decision, especially when it came to optional masking for kids in K-3. When Kristin Rushowy from the Toronto Star posed the question about erring on the side of caution in this situation, Lecce again said the “evidence is overwhelming that they are ineffective due to counterintuitive actions” (Lecce, 2020). Even Dr. Yaffe said that they “need to be vigilant and one of the basic measures is using masking when physical distancing isn’t possible” (Yaffe, 2020).  So how are 30 Kindergarten kids supposed to practice physical distance in a classroom without masks?? Lecce also defended the decision not to reduce class sizes in elementary because according to advice from public health the risk is greater in older children (in response to Caroline Alphonso from the Globe and Mail). Who will take the blame if there is a positive test or tragically, a death? Seems to me it will be the health and medical experts because it was said repeatedly how the decision to reopen schools was based on medical expertise and direction from public health.  
  • Equity & Privacy Concerns: https://bit.ly/2XpvVyn
  • Privatizing education: Ford is using the pandemic and our students to further his agenda to privatize education. By not reducing class sizes to ensure safety and meaningful learning, I fear that parents/guardians will look to the private sector to ensure their children get the education and support they need due to smaller class sizes. Ford’s goal has always been to privatize education and this could be his way to do it. 
  • Professional Development: How much funding is being invested in PD for the new math curriculum and anti-black racism? That wasn’t mentioned at all during the press conference! And when is all this PD supposed to happen now that Lecce announced “additional health and safety” training for teachers and OTs? Is all this training (i.e., health and safety, new math curriculum, and anti-black racism) supposed to happen in two days? Even if there are three days, it’s nowhere close to enough time to learn about these three areas. It seems the PD will be diluted, which is probably another one of their goals. And how are OTs supposed to get this training? When? Will they be assigned to a school or will they receive separate training? 

Both Ford and Lecce said they are putting the necessary supports and resources in place but it is clear this plan is extremely flawed and they are using students and teachers as guinea pigs all in the name of the almighty dollar. Lecce said that “actions now have consequences later.” (Lecce, 2020). It’s obvious he hasn’t thought about the consequences because his main goal was to create a low cost bargain basement plan, all at the expense of children and teachers on the premise that no one will stop and think about how this plan is catastrophic. This is a selfish plan and it will not end well. 


  1. Government of Ontario, Ministry of Education (2020, July 30). Ontario announces details of plan for reopening schools [Press Release]. Retrieved https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed5cZFOrcZQ

         In text: (Government of Ontario, Ministry of Education, 2020)

      2. Ontario Ministry of Health (2020). A Framework for Reopening our Province: Stage     3. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/page/framework-reopening-our-province-stage-3

3. Rushowy, K. (2020). ‘Quadmesters,’ no lockers, no sports. Details emerge on what Toronto public high schools will look like in TDSB reopening plan. Toronto Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/08/02/quadmesters-no-lockers-no-sports-details-emerge-on-what-toronto-public-high-schools-will-look-like-in-tdsb-reopening-plan.html

COVID-19 & Education: Part 13

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 11.55.55 AM

The shift to “emergency online learning” in the last month or so has created some discussions and debates about what ‘school’ will look like once we do return. Depending on the structure and demographics of the school (e.g., K-5, middle school, high school etc), how will students and teachers return to ensure everyone is safe? Will there be a staggered schedule? In other words will we have students rotating through school for half days or full days to maintain physical distancing rules? Will each class be split in half and desks spaced out 2m/6ft with everyone wearing a mask and then sanitizing their space when the class/day is done? For example, in middle school, will we see half of the Grade 6s come into school in the morning and the other half in the afternoons 2- 3 times a week? Will grades 7s and 8s come in the other days and the rest of the time is being supplemented by virtual learning? And what are the implications for daycare, babysitting and parents work schedules depending on their work situation? Will teachers move from class to class instead of the students to minimize contact between individuals? If students are coming in for half days, what does that look like in terms of mathematics, language, social studies, science, and subjects like art, phys-ed, music, etc? There are so many factors to consider in terms of our kids returning to school and still ensuring their safety. Will we even return at all depending on what unfolds over the next few months? Many experts are talking about the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 cases if we ease restrictions too soon as well as the regular flu season later this year that will cause many to get sick. Or another scenario could be that we stagger students back into schools in September (or whenever your school year starts) to meet each other and build community and then in October, move to virtual learning. Again, there is so much to think about moving forward and the truth is we don’t really know what will happen because it all depends on what will happen over the next three months in terms of how the coronavirus is contained or how it might cause a second wave of infections. For now, it’s a wait and see situation. 

The shift has also created discussion about more permanent changes to the future of education. I have seen teachers and various other stakeholders talk about some of the ‘permanent’ changes they would like to see as a result of this pandemic. While some of these ideas are good and can move education in a positive direction, some of the ideas need to be considered carefully due to several factors (e.g, developmental levels of students, equity, etc). Based on what I have heard and discussed with a variety of students, parents, and educators, here are five changes I would like to see:

1. Focus on Wellness & SEL: this pandemic has brought to light the importance of wellness and mental health. Many of our students are going through a range of emotions, which includes, fear, anxiety, and sadness. There are many reasons our kids are feeling this way and some of those reasons are: (a) they are missing their friends, (b) they are missing the regular routine of school, (c) their parents are front line workers, (d) they might have lost a loved one, (e) they are stuck in an abusive household, (f) they are bored, (g) they are stressed about school work and meeting deadlines set by teachers (which is another issue in itself!). According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” They identify five core competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making). Research has demonstrated that when there is a focus on SEL, there are positive changes in behaviour (e.g., attendance, classroom behaviour, etc) and academic achievement (https://casel.org/what-is-sel/). This pandemic has demonstrated that we need to invest more resources and time in this area. Students need to learn how to manage emotions when challenges and difficulties arise, which is currently happening due to the impact of the coronavirus. They need to identify their emotions and have a range of strategies to deal with these feelings, which might help them build a positive relationship with themselves and others. This pandemic has also brought to light the importance of play. As I’ve mentioned in my other posts, many parents/guardians are talking about how they are spending more time with their kids engaged in a variety of activities (e.g., cooking, baking, sewing, talking, playing board games, gardening etc), which has helped their relationships with their children. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. Should the school day be shorter, placing an equal or more important focus on SEL and play? If many parents are going to continue to work from home due to the shift in thinking in terms of what work now looks like, should we be re-thinking what school looks like? Again, these are all questions that came up during my conversations with parents, friends, and educators that I’ve had the privilege of having over the last few weeks. Our kids these days, in my opinion, are over-scheduled. Between school/homework and all the extra-curricular activities, children these days are overloaded. It seems they just don’t have time to just be kids! I think we can all agree that we don’t want them to hate learning; we want them to be excited about learning and new ideas. We want them to be thoughtful, and kind and compassionate and curious. But to be happy, we can’t and shouldn’t overload them. Do we really want to take away their present for whatever the future may hold? I believe somewhere along the way, we forgot that we need to be educating the whole child. In the recent past, there has been way too much emphasis placed on exams, grades, and standardized test scores, that we have forgotten we need to teach to the heart. We need to be placing more emphasis on teaching habits of mind, relationships, ethics, and morals.  What about bringing in the community to support student learning? I truly believe we have lost the community aspect of educating our children. As the saying goes, “It truly takes a village”.  We need to get back to working with our community members and organizations in order to educate the whole child. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 11.44.40 AM


2. Focus on personalized learning:  this pandemic should also bring to light the need for personalized and individualized learning. Learning needs to be student-centered and not teacher-centered; in other words a focus on learning over teaching. Learning should be approached from an inquiry stance (big idea and driving questions) with a social justice & equity lens. This approach is linked to student wellness & SEL – students learning in a manner in which empathy and other habits of mind are developed as well as digital citizenship skills. We need to move away from traditional worksheets and teaching methods as well as busy work to more authentic learning. Information is everywhere; it’s pretty much at the end of your arm and we need to be asking questions of our students that require critical thinking, evaluating, judging, synthesizing, and constructing, just to name a few. If you can Google an answer to a question, it’s not a good question. This kind of learning means we need to move away from exams, which usually test knowledge & facts and not on understanding, thinking, and application to more ‘projects’ and assignments that are choice-based. It also means we move away from using textbooks (yes, I still see teachers using this as the sole source of information and there are reasons behind this, which I will talk about in another blog post), and teacher ‘lectures’ where students sit and take notes; in other words students are not passive recipients but they take control of their learning and become active members of their learning. This type of learning just might fit nicely with shorter and staggered school days, especially in middle and high schools. Students would come into school to participate and host seminars, focus groups, and discussion with their teachers and classmates on their learning tasks and learning journey; then they might spend some time in the LLC (Library Learning Commons) or go home to continue their learning and complete their work. They need to be provided with opportunities to access learning in a manner that suits them. This type of learning model not only lends itself to students focusing on deeper learning and less on tests and exams but it also builds time for students to focus on their passions and interests, more time for play, and their well-being. For this to be successful, we need to re-examine the curriculum so that it is more flexible and there is a focus on skills and not content. We would also need to focus on digital literacy skills – we have all heard the term “digital natives” but our students are not digital natives. Yes, they were “born with technology” and they might know how to use tech tools like social media for personal reasons but they still require a lot of support on how to use technology for learning purposes (one example is teachers conveying to me that most students don’t know basic online etiquette when talking to their teachers and peers online). They not only need to learn how to collaborate online but they need to learn to use tech responsibly and in ways which deepen and extend their learning. Of course, this blended model will require parameters in terms of teacher availability and students’ schedules. Teachers can not be expected to be available 24/7 and students learn and complete their work at different times. And as always, privacy and security issues need to be maintained in this type of environment (more to come on this). We also need to look at equity in terms of this type of model to work. As I’ve said before, “equity is an institutional commitment, it’s not a band-aid strategy we use when needed.”  How are we getting devices into the hands of every student? How are we ensuring they have strong internet/wi-fi connections? In order to close the achievement gap, we need to start by closing both the engagement gap and the opportunity gap. 

Screen Shot 2020-02-10 at 9.20.59 PM

3.Assessment and Evaluation: related to personalized learning, we need to rethink how we assess and evaluate students. We need to move away from “unit tests” and exams, which only seem to test knowledge and not understanding of the material. These types of assessment do not for the most part, develop student skills in critical thinking and other higher order skills. We need to look at providing more descriptive feedback based on learning goals and success criteria (and know the difference between success criteria and task requirements) and moving away from assigning grades; we know research has indicated that when we provide a grade with descriptive feedback, students only focus on the grade and not the feedback the teacher provided and when teachers provide only descriptive feedback, learning is enhanced. For example, students are given descriptive feedback on a writing piece and given the opportunity to improve on their next draft and subsequent drafts based on just descriptive feedback. This type of assessment shifts the focus from achievement to learning. I know grades are a contentious issue in education because of the implications related to higher education but I honestly don’t remember the last time an employer asked me for my transcript during an interview. They want to see what skills I bring to the role and how I can contribute to the team as a whole to improve the organization’s mission and vision. If we are to give grades, then let’s sit side by side with the student and negotiate a grade based on all their work and effort throughout the learning experience (e.g. not just after two drafts of a writing piece). And in the age of technology, let’s ensure all students have an online portfolio and some sort of online presence in the form of a blog and/or website. And let’s please get rid of standardized testing; not only is it not necessary but it’s harmful and negatively impacts students well being and we all know it is not a true reflection of what a student knows and understands. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 11.48.13 AM

4.Conferences: We also need to rethink educational conferences (or all conferences for that matter). Conferences have either been postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. I know several conferences have opted for an online version of what should have been their face to face conference and I believe this is something we need to examine more closely. Costs to attend a conference has become astronomical. From registration fees to hotels and from flights to food, attending even one conference can take a significant bite out of anyone’s budget (a very small percentage of educators get their expenses covered by their district or school). And even when we get past the pandemic, flying may never be the same. So why not move towards more online conferences where educators can attend live sessions as well as pre-recorded sessions from the comfort of their home? If you must, charge a minimum fee to cover any costs based on the platform(s) you are using. And organizations can archive these sessions and have a repository available for everyone to access at any time. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 11.51.25 AM

5.Teacher Professional Learning: last but certainly not least, let’s rethink teacher professional learning (PL). I’ve always believed that teacher PL needs to be  personalized, differentiated, and self paced. Teachers should be able to choose their own PL based on their goals, experiences, and background knowledge. This makes the learning more meaningful for teachers if they are allowed to pursue their own interests and passions related to education in the form of action research, collaborative inquiry cycles, etc. I believe the quote/image below says it all in terms of my beliefs for teacher PL. Let’s use an LMS (Learning Management System) like Brightspace to enhance teacher PL where teachers are learning from and with each other across districts – technology gives us the power and opportunity to learn with teachers from around the world so why not connect with teachers from different schools around the world to enhance and positively impact our practice? Why not use these PL opportunities to create learning experiences with these teachers for your students that incorporate social justice and equity mindsets (as mentioned in my bit about personalized learning? Let’s start putting PL back into the hands of educators.  

Screen Shot 2020-02-10 at 9.21.22 PM

It will be interesting to see what education looks like when we do return and if any of these five points will be examined and explored further to not only enhance and improve education but also ensuring we keep students at the centre of it all. 

I will be writing in more detail about each of these five points in upcoming blog posts but for the next few weeks, I am going to shift to writing about some other topics in education 🙂

COVID-19 & Education: Part 12

Screen Shot 2020-05-09 at 11.59.09 AM

I started writing this post on Thursday due to news that came out a little while ago about moving ahead with video conferencing with students. And then news came out yesterday, via a memo, from our Minister of Education stating that teachers need to “embrace live video conferencing”.  Stephen Lecce and Nancy Naylor (deputy minister of education) said “while the expectation of the ministry was that educators would embrace the use of synchronous (real-time) learning during the school closure period, there has been an inconsistent uptake of this mode of learning.” The ministry is “expecting” that synchronous learning“ be used not only as whole class instruction but also for working with small groups of students in addition to one-on-one meetings. 

So, now I am finishing up this (short) blog post with my concerns about this “expectation”. There are so many issues connected to virtual meetings with students and it concerns me that the minister has either not considered these issues nor did they cross his mind in the first place. Here they are:

  • Access: Even though we are moving into Week #6 of virtual learning, many students and their families still don’t have reliable access to internet/wi-fi. How are these kids supposed to participate in these lessons when they can’t get online? What about our northern communities, where there is spotty wi-fi to begin with? Some students’ technology capacity won’t allow for logging into a virtual meeting. It’s simply not equitable. Furthermore, are the networks capable of handling such an increase in the use of these virtual meetings or will these networks crash due to the demand and increase in usage? 
  • Scheduling: How will parents and teachers set up these meetings to ensure equity? What about households that have 3 or more kids or only one device? How is that going to work? Will teachers be expected to provide multiple times and days to meet with their students? What about parents who are busy with their own at-home work schedules and have their own virtual meetings to attend, especially if there is only one device? What about parents who are not at home because they actually have to go into their workplace (this is also connected to the safety issue, which I talk about next). Additionally, there’s also the concern of screen time for kids. We need to be mindful of the amount of time our kids are spending online, in front of a screen. Time online needs to match developmental levels; for example, students in the junior division should be spending no more than 30 minutes (2-3x/week) in these types of meetings (https://bit.ly/3ch2rbm). And let’s not forget that every family has their own schedules during this challenging time. It’s not fair nor equitable to expect a student to log in at a specific time. Again, I can’t reiterate enough that we are in virtual learning due to a pandemic not for pedagogical reasons. I will go further and say this is basically emergency online learning”; it’s not homeschooling nor is it distance learning. We are in unprecedented times and I feel that many people are beginning to forget this; there will be times where kids won’t feel like logging in to a video conference because of mental health issues or because they would rather do something else (e.g., playing outside, gardening, going for a walk, playing a game with their parents/guardians, baking – which by the way is also learning). This might happen more often as the weather gets nicer and students begin to “check out”. As educators, we all know that students begin to lose focus sometime in mid- to -end of May when we are actually  “in school” so what do you think will happen now that we are online? I feel that more and more kids will choose not to engage and there are some parents who will be okay with that. Again, parents will be more concerned with their child(ren)’s well being (as they should be) and as educators, we should be too. Every parent/guardian has different expectations when it comes to virtual learning and we can’t make them all happy. That’s the reality. Of course, there are those kids that do want to connect and see their teacher and classmates face-to-face in a virtual environment because it’s good for their well being and I understand this – it just speaks to the equity piece. We have to do what’s best for our students on an individual basis. In this case, asynchronous learning (discussion boards, pre-recorded lessons, etc) provides much more flexibility and choice for students and their parents/guardians and again is equitable.


  • Privacy and Safety:  this is the issue that concerns me the most! I am not sure about how many stakeholders have thought of the safety and privacy issues connected with holding virtual meetings. The first depends on which platform you are using. Zoom still has privacy concerns, which apparently the company is continuing to work on. There are security concerns in terms of “Zoombombing” and hacking and there are other platforms with similar concerns. One of my biggest concerns though has to do with supervision. I believe teachers are opening themselves up to possible liabilities and legal issues. Teachers need to protect themselves and ensure there is a parent supervising the meetings. Online meetings have the potential to create issues in terms of what was done and said. If a parent is not present, a student can easily misconstrue what a teacher did and said and report back to parents, who might take action, even though what was said and done was innocent. We all know students can easily misinterpret what adults say and do. If a parent is not present, I will not recommend hosting a virtual class or meeting with students. And I would also highly recommend recording these meetings to keep yourself safe. I am not trying to scare anyone, but I have designed and delivered many workshops on virtual learning and privacy and a few teachers approached me about their experiences with parent complaints. I especially worry about male teachers who are meeting with female students – that just opens up an entirely new, different, and dangerous can of worms. Basically, I would highly recommend against conducting virtual meetings unless a parent is present and even then….just be careful and do your due diligence by documenting your meetings with notes and recording each and every meeting. It might seem excessive to some but nothing is too much when it comes to protecting yourself. We also need to remember that it’s not a competition – there are many teachers who are sharing great ideas and strategies during this time, which is awesome and then I have seen some teachers who are openly and blatantly “boasting” about how many virtual meetings and online classes they are hosting and how great these meetings are going – what we need to always keep in mind is what is good for our students, what is best for them, and doing right by them. It’s not about us, it’s about them. 

COVID-19 & Education: Part 11

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 1.01.27 PM

For this week’s blog post, I was going to write about the future of education due to COVID-19; there are many lessons to be learned and several changes that I would like to see moving forward. But I am going to save that for Tuesday’s post.

Today, I’d like to talk about well being. We are all going through a range of emotions and dealing with our own challenges due to this pandemic. Some of these feelings include sadness, anxiety, fear, stress, and being overwhelmed for a variety of reasons. Due to social and physical distancing measures, we can’t see our family and friends in the ways in which we are used to (e.g. girls night, dinner and drinks, movies, shopping, games night, etc), which makes many of us very unhappy and sad. Some of us are stressed out due to trying to balance our own work schedule with that of our kids. Many of us are anxious, wondering when a treatment or vaccine will be found and life can get back to “normal”. 

When we experience these feelings, our body releases stress hormones, which increases blood pressure and heart rate and causes us to feel scared.  So, it’s important to think about what will help you to relax and destress when you are experiencing these feelings. I can’t stress enough that your well-being (and that of your family and friends) is most important during this time; nothing else matters. You need to take time for yourself and do things that help you in terms of your wellness and alleviate those feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness. So, in that regard, I created a few Wellness Bingo Cards and I pick 1 or 2 things everyday to brighten my day and help me cope with being stuck inside everyday. Yesterday, I had an hour long phone conversation with one of my best friends, Lisa and I had a virtual girls night with some of my favourite girls from a school in which I previously worked –  2 hours of laughs! Made my day!

Here are three cards:

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 12.27.22 PM

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 12.27.28 PM

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 12.35.35 PM

Today, I will be doing a hair mask (equal parts castor and coconut oil), a mini-facial, and finishing Season 1 of the Simpsons! What will you choose for yourself today?

I will create some more Wellness Bingo Cards as I think of more ways that we can take care of ourselves over the next few months (if you have an idea, please let me know. I will add it to my list). Please take care and be sure to reach out to family and friends when you are feeling down!

In the meantime…something to make you laugh…

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 12.52.57 PM


COVID-19 & Education: Part 10

Screen Shot 2020-03-23 at 1.33.34 PM

In my last blog post (https://bit.ly/3cNOW31), I talked about the components of digital citizenship and the importance of integrating each one in the classroom. Digital citizenship is much more than teaching our kids how to stay safe online. It’s about engaging our students on a global scale to affect social change. It’s about integrating inquiry, social justice, and equity to drive social change. It’s about building lasting relationships. It’s about collaboration, thinking critically, and problem solving.

 Social media is a great way to connect locally, nationally, and globally to discuss issues related to equity and inclusion. How are we using it to connect with other teachers to enhance and deepen learning? How are we using big ideas and driving questions to amplify and strengthen the learning? I wrote blog posts about this several years ago (Inquiry Part One, Inquiry Part Two, and Inquiry Part Three) as well as one about inquiry and the United Nations SDGs (Inquiry and SDGs). I will continue to write about these topics in future blog posts. 

For this short blog post, I’d like to talk about how we can build relationships with our families and communities using social media. I know many schools have a Twitter account as well as an Instagram account. So, how are we using these two platforms to connect with our students and our families? First of all we need to realize that all our families are dealing with our current climate in different ways due to the different circumstances they are in (e.g., frontline workers, illness, loss of jobs, etc). How can we leverage Twitter and Instagram to reach out to our families and check on their well-being and give them some semblance of hope and during these times? Here are four ideas:

  1. Gratitude Prompts: post a daily gratitude prompt. I post a #GratitudePromptOfTheDay on my Twitter Feed every morning and it helps in terms of being thankful for what we have, taking pleasure in the ‘small stuff’ as well as providing hope for getting through this pandemic. Post one prompt on your Twitter and/or Instagram feed every morning. Here are a few examples:

1. Who made you smile in the last 24 hours?

2. What book are you grateful for reading?

3. What modern invention are you thankful for?

4. What is your favourite way to enjoy nature?

  • Learning Prompts: This is a time where we all need to realize that learning is much more than the curriculum. Parents included. Posting daily or weekly learning prompts, which integrate learning with family time is ideal. I recognize that this might not be possible for all families due to their circumstances, but here are a few examples where family time can be used in conjunction with learning that can be posted on your social media accounts:
  1. baking and cooking
  2. gardening
  3. sewing/knitting
  4. arts and crafts
  • Quotes: post daily quotes related to gratitude, hope, and optimism. We all wish for life to get “back to normal” and hope is one of those emotions we all rely on to get us through the anxiety and fear some of us might be feeling; it’s important to let them know that there is light at the end of this very long dark tunnel. Here’s one quote:

Screen Shot 2020-04-29 at 4.46.29 PM

  • Chats: hosting a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly ‘slow chat’ (post a question and participants answer at their leisure, basically an asynchronous chat). You can post questions to check in to see how families are doing. Some simple questions
  1. How are you?
  2. What went well this week/month?
  3. What didn’t go well? How can we help?

I realize that not every family has access to technology so they won’t be able to access these platforms, which just demonstrates the digital inequities present; so again, how do we solve this problem? I’ve continued to reiterate how virtual learning in the face of this pandemic has brought these inequities to light and I find many stakeholders are continuing to use the band-aid approach and thinking of equity as a short term strategy instead of an institutional commitment.   

As humans, we are social creatures and we thrive on relationships, socializing, and face to face interactions. Using social media is also a great way to connect families with each other in order to build community. In the interim, this is one thing we can do to emotionally support our families (in addition to phone calls and emails). It is my sincere hope that schools are using their social media platforms to connect with their families and reassure them that their well being is of the utmost importance.