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Welcome to the RSEKN blog! 
Here, you will see postings from our regional teams and partners throughout Ontario!  What you see below is a sample of RSEKN blogs that have been published since our network launch. But wait, there's more! Make sure to visit RSEKN's French site to read more blogs from our French partners!

Interested in submitting to the RSEKN Blog? 
Contact your Regional Team Lead to see how you can post about you and/or your organization's work in equity!

Books as Windows, Books as Mirrors: Curating Inclusive Classroom Libraries

posted Jun 11, 2019, 10:17 AM by Ontario East

Written by Sunjum Jhaj

Children’s literature has become relevant in a wide variety of subject areas outside of Language Arts; it is especially useful in social justice and multicultural education. Having worked as a classroom teacher and teacher-librarian over the past few years, I have seen how influential multicultural literature can be in Related imagecreating culturally inclusive and welcoming spaces. Multicultural literature includes any literature “regardless of genre, that have as the main character a person who is a member of a racial, religious or language micro-culture other than the Euro-American one” (Lynch-Brown & Tomlinson, 1999, p.188). Authentic multicultural children’s literature has the power to teach mainstream children about the diversity that exists all around them, and the power to validate the cultures of minority children. Rudine Sims Bishop (1982) first used the metaphor of ‘books as windows and mirrors’ to articulate the role of multicultural literature in the classroom; this metaphor has contributed to reshaping the role of children’s literature today.

Books as Windows:

The metaphor, ‘books as windows,’ refers to the ability of books to open up new worlds for the reader. Students can learn what life is like in other parts of the world; they can also learn about other perspectives on life in their own communities. In any case, multicultural books are able to facilitate cross-cultural understanding for students (Thirumurthy, 2011). In today’s globalized world, it is essential that students learn to value diversity. In my own teaching practice, I have organized a Read Around the World project that lasted throughout the entire school year. Students used pins to point out locations on a world map that they read about throughout the school year. This lead to interesting discussions, even with children as young as kindergarten, questioning why we are not able to find books from some regions of the world, and how other regions are represented in literature. 

Books as Mirrors:

‘Books as mirrors’ is perhaps the more important of the two metaphors describing the role of multicultural literature (Aldana, 2008). This is because it is essential that minority children see themselves reflected in the materials presented to them in the classroom. Children who do not see themselves and their cultures reflected in classroom materials may feel excluded from the learning environment, which can have a significant impact on identity development and feelings of self-efficacy (Gollnick & Chin, 2015).
When minority children are given the opportunity to see characters like themselves in multicultural literature, they are able to meaningfully connect the text to their own lived experiences or stories of their families’ lived experiences. This text-to-self connection is a key part of how children engage with reading materials; therefore, books that act as mirrors can lead to greater engagement from the students who see themselves reflected. Additionally, multicultural literature can foster a sense of pride for minority children, and allow them to more confidently express their cultural heritage. Giving students access to a diverse collection of literature is an essential part of creating an inclusive and equitable learning environment where all students feel welcomed and accepted. 

Identifying Respectful Multicultural Children’s Literature:

Exposure to multicultural literature is only beneficial to children if it authentically and accurately represents a culture. Inauthentic representations or books that perpetuate stereotypes can be harmful to the development of students’ cultural identities and views of other cultures. Below are some key points to think about when assessing the authenticity of a book for classroom libraries.

Is the author a member of the culture being depicted? Authors writing about their own cultures tend to depict their cultures in more authentic and holistic ways. Multicultural books written by authors who belong to that culture are also less likely to include stereotypes or generalizations. It is possible for authors to write authentic stories about cultures they are not personally affiliated with; however, these books should be inspected closely to learn where information was gathered.

Do the illustrations truthfully and respectfully represent the culture? Illustrations, like written language, can also be a medium through which stereotypes and negative meanings are transmitted. 

Assess the plot and characters.  It is important that multicultural literature depicts minority characters and cultures as empowered and independent. Avoid books that depict minority characters as helpless, or focus on White characters as the only solution to the problem presented.

Include a variety of contemporary and historical plots. Does your library collection only include people of colour as victims of historical injustices or are does it highlight diverse people’s involvement in and contributions to modern day society?

Does the book specify the culture depicted? Many multicultural books fail to acknowledge the diversity that exists within regions around the world. Books that do not distinguish the specific culture or region presented may be making generalizations about an entire region or country. Students should be aware of the diversity that exists within countries, and the numerous identities that exist within a culture. Select books that avoid making generalizations.


Social Justice Books: A Teaching for Change Project – Booklists by region and topic

Canadian Children’s Book Centre Theme Guides

Canadian K-12 Multicultural Anti-Racist Annotated Bibliography by the Multicultural Anti-Racist Book-Loving EducatorS (MARBLES)


Aldana, P. (2008). Books that are windows, books that are mirrors: How we can make sure that children see themselves in their books [Speech transcript]. Retrieved from 

Bishop, R. S. (1982). Shadow and substance: Afro-American experience in contemporary children’s fiction. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English

Gollnick, D., & Chinn, P. C. (2015). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society (Ninth ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Lynch-Brown, C., & Tomlinson, C.M. (1999). Essentials of children’s literature (3rd. ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 

Thirumurthy, V. (2011). Building cultural bridges through international children‘s literature. Childhood Education, 87(6), 446–447. Retrieved from

Equitable Hiring Practices: It Is About WHO We Hire as Much as HOW We Hire

posted Jun 9, 2019, 6:03 PM by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated Jun 10, 2019, 5:04 AM ]

It has been four years since I have had the privilege to hire staff to a school. We are often told, as school principals, that hiring is the most important job we do! There are many important parts of our job but who we hire and how we hire says a lot about what we believe. Sign we left on the door of the office as candidates arrived for their interview.

As principals, we have reputations among educators and after some time, we begin to attract people to our schools because of that reputation. They want to work with us and so when our beliefs are clear, and if we have been well placed by our board’s senior team, we begin to attract the best people for the school where we serve.

Why are you hiring in this climate?

The hiring process this year was collapsed due to funding model changes from the Ontario PC party and we had little time to make very important decisions for our schools. People ask me, How can you be hiring when there are so many job losses? So the initial hiring that takes place at schools is not hiring new staff to the board. We hire if our schools are allocated additional funding and this is purely based on enrolment numbers as well as the class size ratio established at the provincial level. So some schools lose staff because they indicate lower enrolment whereas others gain staff because their enrolment is higher. This is readjusted again at the end

of September when we have actual numbers and not just planning projected numbers in our schools. That is why many elementary schools reorganize at the end of September — sometimes losing staff, sometimes gaining staff and sometimes just a change in classes to better accommodate the numbers — either changing from a combined grade to a straight grade.

Establishing the What Is the Need

When we create questions for the interviews, it is important that they are determined based on school improvement needs. The improvement is always tied to a deep analysis of data from multiple sources — yes, we consider EQAO and other sources of academic performance such as report card data and reading assessments but we also must consider other factors such our school climate data, critically analyzing many factors from day-to-day schooling such as:

  • Who gets sent to the office? Why are these children sent to the office?

  • How is behaviour managed in the school? How is it portrayed and understood?

  • How do staff engage with families? How are families talked about in the school?

  • What social identities are represented on staff? Are they reflective of the school community and broader community?

  • How are the needs of students with special needs met? Are Individual Education Plans (IEPs) co-created and followed by classroom teachers, specialist teachers such as French or Physical Education? Are teaching assistants, who work most directly with these students involved in the co-creation of IEPs? What are the relationships like with support staff and teaching staff?

  • What is the level of service provided to English Language Learners? Is there a thorough understanding of language development?

  • What languages do students, staff and families speak? Do we need to hire staff who share a language with our students and families?

  • What evidence is there of culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy? Is instruction reflective of the students in the school and the broader global community?

  • What evidence is there that staff are engaging students in practices associated with modern learning embedding technology, real world applications and social justice issues to making meaning relevant?

There are more aspects to the explicit, hidden and null curriculum that must be considered when you have the opportunity to hire someone to respond to a need in your school. Depending on the trajectory of your school’s improvement you may want to hire to reinforce the team already in place or perhaps disrupt some of the practices. At the same time, we cannot hire with the idea that this one person will be the champion for all things equitable and inclusive but, over time, one can hire so that there is a tipping point in practice and once you have hired enough staff that this is the culture that becomes pervasive throughout the school.

Establishing the Questions

Once the needs for the school are determined, you have to review the applicants based on those needs. What in their application package resonates based on the criteria you have set? We are hiring for positions such as homeroom teachers, French teachers, music teachers, yes, but we are also hiring to balance our team, bring new insights, and re-energize the team. The questions should reflect this.

Often there is an equity question. I would suggest, that all questions are equity-focused questions. If you are asking about literacy, you must also be asking about culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy. If you are hiring for physical education, you have to also ask about accessibility, universal design, and their understanding of curriculum accommodations for the health curriculum. If you are asking about special education, you must also ask about how they work with families to establish goals and how they design Individual Education Plans that are co-created with all staff involved, the families and the students when/if they are able to self-advocate. If you are asking about numeracy, you may also ask about their understanding of inclusive practices in mathematics and a keen understanding that math was never neutral.

Co-creating these questions and intended responses is of the utmost importance. As a single administrator, I have to find another administrator to join me as there must always be two present for any interview. By co-creating the questions together, the interview partner has a sense of what is needed at the school and expected of the candidate. It is also an important check for quality control. What else can we add here? What have I missed? Is this question fair? Have I asked the question in a way that is clearly understood? Are my look-fors reasonable?

The first question I always ask is drawn from their package. This means that I have carefully reviewed each candidate’s full package and determined which aspect of their package will provide me with insight into who they are as an educator. It will also provide the candidate with a question that highlights both their work as well as a beginning place of comfort.

Communication and Interviewing

When you reach out to prospective candidates, the way you reach out is so important. Have you asked in your invitation if there is a need for an accessibility, faith or family reason? For example, the latest round of interviews have occurred during the Holy Month of Ramadan. An interview earlier in the day would likely be better than later in the day prior to breaking fast and after the candidate has been fasting all day.

Having the questions for review prior to the interview makes a world of difference. Often we will see the first question ahead of time but not all of them. So, in the invitation, candidates are encouraged to arrive 20–30 minutes prior to their interview time so that they have an opportunity to makes notes about their responses. This has only happened once for me in an interview and it allowed me to give my best possible answers because I had time to think, frame my responses and then be more focused in my response in the interview. When candidates arrive, clipboards are set up with their questions, as well as a pen and any paperwork they have to complete prior to the interview so that when they come into the actual interview, they have had time to think and reflect on their responses.

When you welcome the candidate into the interview, it is so important to be compassionate. Interviews are often high stress situations so coming in with a welcoming tone makes all the difference. Just as an assessment is a measure of the educator as much as it is of the student, so too are interviews a measure of the interviewer as much as the interviewee. I had a friend who once attended a vice-principal interview. There was a water bottle out for her and when she leaned to shake the hands of the interview team, she knocked over the bottle and spilled water all over the table. She told me that the interview team just sat there as she cleaned it up. She went into a full panic and wasn’t successful. So much so that she refused to apply to the process again. She was an amazing educator who would have been fantastic as a school administrator. When we are on the hiring side of the table, we have huge positional power. As always, we must use it to empower, empathize, and nurture the person on the other side of the table to be as successful as possible. That means establishing rapport and safety. If we want candidates to share their best selves, we have to create a space where that can happen.

After the Interview and Feedback

Working with the interview partner, you must review the responses from each candidate based on the clearly articulated criteria or “look-fors” that were established in prior to the interview. Together, we determine who was most successful and if there is debate, we have to give the time to that debate out of respect for the candidate. At times, there is also reflection about the questions and whether or not they were reasonable or worded clearly which is much more apparent after an interview. In addition, sometimes candidates share a response that gives further depth to the question itself and that can be added to the look-fors in subsequent interviews.

Feedback is so important — not just for the candidate but for the interviewer as well. Offering feedback to both successful and unsuccessful candidates allows both to grow. Asking for feedback on the experience of the interview, as the interviewer is something we rarely do. People who I have hired have given me feedback when I have asked but I hired them so what would they say? I am their supervisor at this point so it isn’t authentic. I think this is something I will add for the next round — a quick anonymous questionnaire for feedback and then, once the decisions are made, sending out another survey asking if the candidates would like feedback following the process. That way, I can grow and perhaps, through my honest feedback, they can as well.

So often we receive feedback that isn’t helpful. I recall many telling me, in their vice-principal process that they were told that they either said “I” too much or “we” too much. The former indicating that they were not a team player and the latter that they did not actually lead anything personally. In one case, the person was told they said “I” too much one year so went in and said “we” more to show they were collaborative and received the feedback that they said “we” too much and were unsuccessful again. This is not helpful feedback. When I provide feedback, I will take out the responses and review each question and where the candidate could have offered a stronger response.

One time I received feedback when I was unsuccessful and in the feedback the person said, “Why didn’t you sound like this in the interview?” I explained that I had gone into the interview with laryngitis and a 104 degree fever which was quite obvious as I had no voice by the second half of the interview. The conversation was positive but it was not based on what I was capable of in an interview. It was based on an interview when I walked in already in deficit.

Welcoming New Staff Into The School

There is a lot of speculation when someone new joins a team and with speculation often comes rumours and assumptions that aren’t always the most flattering. This year, joining a new board, I was told that it was shared with my future colleagues that I was “coming from the ministry, had a PhD, and was on the Superintendent shortlist”. Let’s just say the team of administrators had MANY assumptions of me and none were true to my character. Now that we have been together almost a full year, and I have had the opportunity to lead some professional learning in our Family of Schools meetings, several principals and vice-principals have told me that I am so different than what they thought I would be. They have said how I am so down to earth, funny and humble. I simply wasn’t what they were expecting.

So we have to ask ourselves, as leaders in our schools, what can we do so that people can enter with their whole selves — accomplishments as well as character? And what can we do to change the culture where we have influence over how those who are already part of the culture, respond to newcomers? Think about when a new child comes into our classes. Do we highlight that which keeps them separate and apart or do we do our best to make them feel included, welcome and a part of our classroom community? Adults are no different. Change can be hard and it can definitely be lonely.

Brené Brown reminds us that we are “wired for connection” and she draws attention to the difference between belonging and fitting in. Don’t we want to make spaces in our schools and organizations where we belong rather than force fitting people to be compliant and maintain status quo? Don’t we want schools and organizations where we can nurture, value and learn from each person’s authentic self? If we wait until those who join us “fit in” then how will we ever grow? How will we ever learn? How will we ever allow ourselves to be challenged?

This week I gave a talk at a conference and my pledge was this:

So that is what I have committed to…despite the fear, despite the inner critic, despite what could be career limiting moves, if I can say that I am standing in my integrity and I am doing what is best for students, then I present my most authentic and completely imperfect self to you in the hope that, at the end of it, you will see a glimmer of hope in this path.

Imagine a workplace like that… 






Written By: Dr Deb Donsky

My Journey Toward Equitable Outcomes for Racialized Students

posted May 19, 2019, 6:27 PM by Ontario GRT - GTA

My name is Allison Ebanks, I am a racialized educator of Caribbean descent with the Durham District School Board. As a passionate Equity Advocate, I have come to understand just how necessary it is for educators to confront their own biases, acquire cultural competence and have courageous conversations around privilege and culture.

As a child I longed to make connections with my teachers. I wanted them to understand who I was, what my goals were for my future and the expectations placed on me due to my cultural background. I never ended up making those connections leaving me disengaged and frequently misunderstood. Truth is, I needed a champion, someone who had high expectations for me regardless of the perceptions of others and the stereotypes of society.

Why wasn’t there a single teacher that looked like me?

Fast forward to today and the implementation of Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy (CRRP). CRRP is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspect of their learning. Educators who implement CRRP in their classrooms create a classroom culture of high expectations, develop an understanding of student intersectionalities and create spaces where their cultures, histories and languages are deeply respected. Through the use and understanding of CRRP educators are able to make profound changes to the ways we can connect with students, families and our greater communities. For example, we can ensure that the content we are teaching not only covers the curriculum, but more importantly fosters student voice by delving into their own life experiences. By having our students reflected in what they are learning, we can heighten student engagement, achievement and potential.

This is a pivotal time in education, we have reached a period where equity and critical consciousness can no longer be ignored. The statistics show that our education system has gravely failed our racialized students by turning a blind eye to the intricacies of their cultures, life experiences and the lessons they have learned along the way. In order to connect with their experiences, educators are required to self-reflect and confront their own ideas of privilege and biases. We need to ensure that we are making meaningful connections with students by showing an interest in the things they enjoy and encouraging them to take risks and step outside of their comfort zones.

We can no longer practice the idea of “colour-blindness” but rather practice the ideas of cultural competence and critical consciousness. As stated in ETFO’s Re-think, Re-connect, Re-imagine, “Acquiring Cultural competence is when educators use students’ cultures and connections to communities as a vehicle for learning. Nurturing Critical consciousness is when educators provide opportunities for students to critique the cultural norms, values and institutions that produce and maintain social inequities”. By implementing these frames of reference educators are not only being responsive to their students but they are also developing their equity lens.

As educators, we need to take a good look at our own biases and the content we are using to teach our students.

Questions to ask:

  • Are my racialized students being represented in the materials I use in class?

  • Are my lessons supported by material that provides a variety of perspectives, not ones that perpetuate the existing stereotypes?

  • Am I taking the time to truly listen to my students to understand them, or just to be able to respond to what they are saying?

  • Do I have high expectations for all of my students regardless of their intersectionalities?

  • What are my own biases and perceptions of racialized students in my class, school and greater community?

  • Am I designing relevant and authentic learning experiences that enable students to see reflections of themselves in their daily learning to develop their self-confidence, voice and strength?

  • Am I empowering my students by teaching them the tools to be be social justice advocates?

It is our responsibility to ensure all students feel safe, accepted and supported?

As educational institutions, we need to take a step back and look at the educational environment of our racialized students in particular.

Questions to ask:

  • How are our students being represented in classrooms?

  • Is there a disparity between the levels of discipline students receive due to their race?

  • Are schools hosting events that build rapport with students and their families?

  • Are the intersectionalities of our students being represented and respected?

Durham District School Board

The Cypher: Black Male Empowerment Conference

The Cypher is held at Durham College and is in its 3rd year. This conference has more than 300 participants from from grades 8 to 10 in the Durham District School Board. Students engage in workshops around empowerment, mental health and technology while confronting the barriers to success that they face.

Empower Her… Roots Conference

As a response to The Cypher conference, students in Grade 6 to 8, from the Ajax and Pickering areas participated in this conference to support the well-being and achievement of excellence of our young black females.

Students had engaging conversations and workshops around self-esteem, mental health, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and student voice in order to build their confidence and leave them feeling empowered to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Written By: Allison Ebanks

100 Strong Foundation- Summer Academy

Durham District School Board Compendium of Action for Black Student Success

Resources and Suggested Readings

Durham District School Board: Afrocentric Perspective in the Classroom: A Kindergarten to Grade 8 Resource

Durham District School Board Compendium of Action for Black Student Success

Geneva Gay. (2002, Mar./Apr.). “Preparing for culturally responsive teaching.” Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106–116.

Geneva Gay. (2000). “Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, practice, & research.” New York: Teachers College Press.

Zaretta Hammond. “Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain” Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.” Corwin, 2015.

Human Right Commission. “Racial discrimination, race and racism (fact sheet).”

Paul Kivel, Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice. New Society Publishers, 2011.

Gloria Ladson-Billings. “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” Theory Into Practice, vol. 34, no. 3, Summer 1995

Ontario Ministry of Education: Capacity Building Series- Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Re-think, Re-connect, Re-Imagine: Thinking about ourselves, our schools, our communities. Reflecting on White privilege. Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, 2015.

Dawn Samuel. “Working with Black Students and Their Families: Histories and Considerations.” Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Spring 2019.

Building Relations and Reconciliation Through Art and Music

posted Apr 30, 2019, 10:29 AM by Ontario East   [ updated Apr 30, 2019, 10:47 AM ]

Written by: Sidney Pompa-Sidhu

On April 25th 2019, I had the opportunity to attend the 7th annual speaker series Màmawi Together celebration, held at the University of Ottawa in partnership with RSEKN and the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Education, as well as others. “Màmawi” means “Together” in the Algonquin language, which is fitting, because the event was held on traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin nation. This event was an evening dedicated to contributing to the journey towards reconciliation through art by Indigenous artists. 

At the opening ceremony, we heard from Elder Monique Manatch, who offered an incredible introduction through a beautiful story about the light that resides within all of us. It is this light that connects us all and allows us to recognize the relations between us. The day was about bringing people together and building relationships through art. And indeed, there were many wonderful relations to engage. 

The evening that followed the introduction included so many talented Indigenous artists and performers who did throat singing, dancing, rapping, jigging, and playing the fiddle. We also had the opportunity to listen to Juno award winning Inuk musician Susan Aglukark, who not only offered an incredible performance of her early and new songs, but was also an amazing keynote speaker for the evening. 

An immense amount of time and effort went into making this evening a success, and it definitely showed throughout the celebration. As I sat there, I
continuously looked around and saw people clapping along with the music, with huge smiles on their faces. I can say with confidence that the audience was completely engaged and there was definitely a vibrancy in the air.

Reiterated throughout the evening was the Youth for Reconciliation Movement Challenge.  On the Màmawi Together website, it says that “The goal is to raise awareness, increase engagement, and empower positive action in our schools and communities that will bring us closer to real society equity and justice with the Indigenous peoples in Canada … We want our youth, supported by their communities, to be honest, respectful and innovative in their responses to what Reconciliation means to them. It’s up to them to determine how they can have an impact on the healing conversation underway and contribute to a lasting impact where they live.” 

Seeing students from Goulbourn Middle School, Ridgemont High School, and Hillcrest High School presented their own creative reconciliation legacy projects and the ways in which they implemented this challenge in their schools was refreshing and motivating, both as a student and a teacher candidate. As a future educator, I could not help but think about how beneficial it would be to bring your students to an event like this, or even better, to get them involved in
the creation of the event and give them opportunities to inspire other students through their reconciliation legacy projects. 

Though there were some unavoidable sad moments throughout the evening, the continuous notion of children being the future and the hope for that future was highlighted throughout, which, as a future educator, was truly inspiring. Young and old, as everyone walked out of the auditorium, it was clear that each person had been moved by the Màmawi Together celebrations.

All photos taken by Robert J. Ballantyne

Continuing the Conversation: Inequality in Academic and Applied Streaming

posted Apr 27, 2019, 10:19 AM by Ontario East

Written By: Sidney Pompa-Sidhu

Here on the RSEKN blog site, there are so many rich and interesting pieces written with hopes of contributing to conversations around an array of issues on equity in education. What we often do is write and share our blogs and let the discussions spread and unfold. Less often, however, do we take the time to re-visit what was posted in the past and show you, the reader, how our own internal conversations are developing. For this post, I decided to recall a post from the past, written by a fellow member of the RSEKN team, and present my own reflections and response.

After reading Olivia Faulconbridge’s post Suspensions and Expulsions: A Look at the Racial Injustice of School Punishment, the topic of Academic and Applied streaming and its link to socioeconomic status immediately came to mind. We’ve all been there, 13 years old and trying to make decisions that could impact the next 4-8 years of our lives, and maybe more. As Olivia mentions that “Students are expected to make decisions before they have any experience with high school life and the opportunities that are available to them. Requiring grade 8 students to make important decisions about their future without the benefit of firsthand experience appears to be an impractical element of the current system.” Without any high school experience at all, students are being asked to blindly make a decision that may or may not even align with their future career and life goals, and leaves little room for those goals to fluctuate. 

According to a 2015 report by People for Education, in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in 2010, 53.5% of the students in grade 9 Applied courses had not successfully completed all their grade 8 courses and were “transferred” to high school, whereas only 4.5% of students in academic courses were transferred. These results suggest that Applied courses have improperly become placements for lower performing students rather than courses for students who are looking to learn the practical applications of certain concepts. 

There is evidence that streaming supports economic and educational disparities among individuals and families. EQAO as well as a 2006 Census data shows that schools that have higher percentages of students from low income families have a larger number of students in Applied math courses. The People for Education article points to a TDSB study which found that “92% of students from the highest income neighborhoods took the majority of their courses as academic courses, compared to only 56% of students from the lowest income neighborhoods.” On the Applied side of things, only 6% of students in the highest income neighborhoods took an Applied-heavy course load while 33% of students in the lowest income neighborhoods had Applied courses as the majority of their class schedule. 

I found these statistics to ring true because, having grown up in a lower-income area of Toronto, this was definitely something that I witnessed first-hand. The difference between Academic and Applied classes were extreme; so extreme that it was almost as though there was a clear divide within the school between those taking Academic courses and those taking Applied. From my experiences, I can say with confidence that the majority of students who were in Applied Math and Science were students who came from lower-income families. This leads me to believe that students who take these courses feel obligated to take them because of their teachers lowered expectations of them in the classroom. This 2013 People for Education article suggests that “Teachers may have lower expectations for some students, particularly disadvantaged or lower performing ones, and assign them slower-paced and more fragmented instruction. Students, in turn, adjust their expectations and efforts, resulting in even lower performance.” When a student feels as though their teacher has lower expectations of them, that student will internalize it and act accordingly. 

In Olivia’s post Suspensions and Expulsions: A Look at the Racial Injustice of School Punishment she states that “when asked how Black students feel about their education, they express feeling negatively about their school experience, their safety in the school and feel mistrusting of school authority figures.” At the end of Olivia’s blog, she also mentions that, instead of focusing on the minimal aspects of this situation, we need to look at the larger problem: our own biases and assumptions. Instead of focusing solely on the academic aspects of this issue, schools should be working on creating a flexible structure to accommodate pathway changes, instilling confidence in students, closing this gap and finding ways to approach these courses so that all students are successful, regardless of their socioeconomic status. 

Un appel à l’action- À la suite de l’attentat en Nouvelle Zélande

posted Apr 16, 2019, 3:15 PM by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated Apr 17, 2019, 3:59 AM ]

L’attentat en Nouvelle Zélande a profondément ébranlé la communauté musulmane. Le vendredi, ou jumuah, en arabe, signifie la journée de la prière en congrégation. C’est une période de temps sacrée en Islam jusqu’au point qu’un sourate du coran porte le même titre. Cet attentat a perverti cette journée, et a laissé derrière lui plus que 50 morts innocents y compris les vieillards et les enfants. Pour couronner le tout, le terroriste filmait son attaque brutale en vive sur les réseaux sociaux, notamment Facebook. Cette publicité lui donnait l’attention qu’il cherchait et diminuait l’attention sur ses victimes.

Sans doute, cet attentat était une grande tragédie. C'était l’islamophobie à l'extrême; cependant, il faut comprendre le mécanisme derrière l’attaque, et s'adresser au grand système préalable mis en place qui donnait lieu à ces actions.

Au niveau des médias, l’islam est étroitement lié au terrorisme. Le public n’est plus sensible lorsqu’un terroriste “musulman” se présente à l'écran. En fait, ces derniers attendent qu’il soit “islamique” ou “musulman.” On remarque de ce fait lorsqu’on regarde des émissions et films d’Hollywood ayant des terroristes “islamiques/ musulmans”, par exemple Homeland, True Lies , Iron Man et bien d’autres. C’est une formule bien conçue chez Hollywood selon laquelle les musulmans devraient être présentés comme abusifs, violents, ignorants, bêtes et haineux envers l’Occident. Ce type porte une barbe et il est brun et poilu. Pour les musulmanes, les éléments stéréotypiques existent aussi. Elles sont voilées, leurs corps sont cachés sous des draps noirs. Elles sont muselées, abusées, et illettrées. L’Hollywood investi beaucoup d’argent pour maintenir cette formule. L’objectif est clair; rallier le plus grand nombre de spectateurs pour contrer un groupe cible afin d'augmenter le revenu.

Ces stéréotypes ne restent pas sur l'écran. Selon l'étude de Wilkins-Laflamme (2018), depuis 2011 les sentiments négatifs envers les musulmans sont en hausse au Canada, même parmi les groupes minoritaires tels que les noirs, le LBGTQ, etc. Ces derniers sont en lien avec les éléments stéréotypiques présents dans les films d'Hollywood et sont reflétés dans la vie quotidienne des musulmans. En outre, chaque musulman individuel est perçu comme représentatif du groupe entier, et se retrouve non seulement à justifier ses propres croyances et son style de vie mais ceux des autres. C’est mon cas personnel. On me pose souvent des questions concernant les musulmanes qui portent le hijab (le voile), même si je ne le porte pas. Je suis forcé de répondre aux questions intrusives: pourquoi le voile existe et plus précisément, pourquoi telle ou telle femme le porterait. On me considère comme l'autorité sur tous les adhérents de la religion malgré qu’il y ait des milliards de musulmans autour du monde provenant de cultures différentes.

Face à ce climat, que peut-on faire? Dans les écoles, il faut sensibiliser les élèves sur la diversité en général, y compris celle des musulmans. Je propose une activité sur les stéréotypes. Les élèves ressortent tous les stéréotypes concernant les musulmans sur des posts-its et par la suite, les organisent en catégories (les femmes, les groupes ethniques, les vêtements, etc.). Cette activité, qui se fait en anglais ou en français, permettrait aux élèves de sortir tout ce qu’ils pensent savoir sur les musulmans. La suite de l'activité est la partie la plus importante. Une fois les stéréotypes confrontées, l’enseignant doit fournir des exemples qui les brisent. Ceci peut impliquer les invités venant en salle de classe ou aller visiter des mosquées, etc. Avant d’entreprendre cette activité, il faut s’assurer de créer un climat en salle de classe dans lequel les élèves se sentent à l’aise de s’exprimer librement et ont un esprit ouvert.

De plus, les enseignants devraient porter attention aux ressources employées en salle de classe durant les leçons afin de promouvoir une ouverture d’esprit et d'éviter les éléments stéréotypiques. Les personnages

dans les histoires qu’on présente aux élèves devraient être représentatifs de la diversité qui nous entoure, y compris les protagonists musulmans. En immersion, lorsqu’on visionnent les clips-vidéos en français, il importe de montrer aux élèves les musulmans parlant en français ou provenant des pays francophones comme ceux au Maghreb ou en Afrique.

Contrer l’islamophobie dans nos écoles exige l'implication de toute la communauté d'apprentissage (les parents, les élèves, l’administration et les enseignants). De nos jours nous ne pouvons plus nous fier sur ce que nous voyons et entendons à l'écran. Nous devons être toujours en mode de questionnement par rapport aux stéréotypes, surtout dans les nouvelles, les films, etc. C’est cette vigilance et pensée critique qu’il faut transmettre aux élèves. Les membres de la communauté d’apprentissage devraient assumer la responsabilité de s’engager avec les uns et les autres et bâtir des relations avec le reste de la communauté afin d’éviter un autre attentat comme celui en Nouvelle-Zélande.

Par: Jafar A. Hussain

Jafar A. Hussain est enseignant en immersion française du conseil scolaire de Toronto. Il participe activement aux programmes reposant sur les initiatives globales et l'équité. Entre 2007 et 2013, il faisait partie de l'équipe de TakingItGlobal (TIGED), Global Partners Junior, Global Scholars et Safe and Caring Schools. M. Hussain est chercheur dans le domaine de l'éducation et publie des articles sur l’usage de la technologie en immersion française ainsi que sur la pratique réfléchie en salle de classe. Il détient son baccalauréat en Études françaises de l'Université York, son baccalauréat en Éducation et sa maîtrise en Didactiques des langues secondes de l'Université d’Ottawa.


Coran-francais URL:

Wilkins-Laflamme, Sarah. (2018). Islamophobia in Canada: Measuring the Realities of Negative Attitudes Toward Muslims and Religious Discrimination. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie. 55. 86-110. 10.1111/cars.12180.

Zafar, Abid. (2018). Portrayal of Muslims in the Bollywood Movies. 97-107. URL:

My Relationship With Equity Throughout My Bachelor of Education

posted Apr 15, 2019, 4:24 AM by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated Apr 15, 2019, 4:29 AM ]

Hello/ Bonjour, I am Mathoora Uthayakumar and I want to thank you for reading this post! I am a primary/junior teacher candidate who will be working with different stakeholders and the FESI committee to ensure the annual FESI/RSEKN conference will be successful.  I look forward to tackling the barriers and disrupting the cannon especially during this time in the world of education, as Ontario is seeing a crucial change.

As I am finishing up my last school practicum, I am eager to head into the community and join a group of educators who are trying to elicit change and have a positive impact among our youth.  However, I am feeling discouraged.  Why?  I have observed educators continuing to teach our students outdated information about Canada.  This is part of the “hidden curriculum.”  Students are not well informed, if at all, about Canada's colonial history, and are still being taught about Canada through a settler-colonial mindset.  This is often difficult to undo without exposing this mindset and without someone to show you how to engage in decolonizing our minds and our pedagogy.  Students do not understand the importance of the land acknowledgement and often counter my requests to listen carefully with a confused “Why?” 

In all fairness, I can’t be upset with them; they have never learned the meaning of the land acknowledgement.  It is March and I wonder about how many classrooms have actually unpacked the land acknowledgement.  As I entered practicum, I tried to assess how much the students knew about Indigenous histories.  I realized very shortly that their knowledge was limited.  This led to my first initiative in the class: creating and executing a unit about the first peoples of Canada.  I wonder how our education system and society would differ in the education system supported Indigenous education in the way it supports EQAO.  I am fortunate to have been able to share my knowledge with the students, as some Teacher Candidates have not been so lucky.

            Being the Communications Officer for the GTA Regional Team of RSEKN, I am realizing that there are educators and community partners who also seek to deconstruct and dismantle our European settler-colonial mindsets and curriculum, and who care about truth and reconciliation.  It gives me hope.

            During my B.Ed, my colleagues and I have been encouraged to “Indigenize” our classrooms by including Indigenous stories, history and culture into what we teach organically and with deep respect. We make our lessons relatable to all students and draw on our commonalities while valuing our different. I do wish that materials about Indigenous peoples and world views, written by Indigenous people, was more easily accessible, while many individual teachers and teacher librarians are doing their best, there needs to be more support and resources at the system level.

            By joining the FESIcommittee and taking on the role of the Communications Officer, I have been able to connect and network with community partners, superintendents, principals, and fellow educators, whom all have the same intent and passion to support and represent all who are present in their classroom.  They are also deconstructing colonial histories and present-day structures and practise and speaking truth to power. 

            The conference is developing very well, and I look forward to all of the speakers and workshops we have planned to challenge the cannon and look to the future!

Thank you/ Merci 

CRRP and me: Reflections on my experiences as a teacher candidate

posted Apr 11, 2019, 10:47 AM by Ontario East   [ updated Apr 11, 2019, 11:20 AM ]

Written by: Sidney Pompa-Sidhu

My name is Sidney Pompa-Sidhu and I’m a Year 2 teacher candidate at the University of Ottawa. I’m currently doing my last practicum placement with RSEKN before I graduate this upcoming spring. This blog is a reflection on my experiences as a teacher candidate with a focus on inclusivity and practicing culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy (CRRP) in the classroom. As someone who wanted to work in education from a very young age, I’m extremely grateful for the extensive experience I’ve had teaching and learning with children and adolescents. I have developed an understanding that every student is unique, with learning abilities that intertwine with the diversity of a classroom.  

Often discussed and promoted in Ontario schools, CRRP, as described in an earlier RSEKN blog post, “promotes the importance of recognizing, acknowledging, and in various ways including the range of cultures that exist in any classroom”. As mentioned in the post, Culture Shifts, and So Should Your Response, “the ongoing challenge to implementing CRRP is that cultures are ever-changing .... because of the cultural flux, gaining a consensus on what [CRRP] pillars are has been debated for decades, and adaptations continue”. Though cultures are ever-changing and it is not always easy to implement CRRP, I do believe that teachers should be making every effort to create culturally relevant curriculum to better suit the needs of their students. This will lead to a friendlier and kinder classroom environment and an overall better school experience for the students in your class.

As a teacher candidate, I taught English to students in grades 9-11 at the academic, applied and locally developed levels at Brookfield High School. Brookfield has an extremely diverse population, which reminded me of my own experiences as a student in elementary and high school in Toronto. Many of the students that I taught in the applied English classes were students who had recently come to Canada and whose first language was not English. My associate teacher always made a point to incorporate culturally relevant reading materials so that every student felt that they were being represented in the curriculum. Together, we read one book in particular that really stood out to me and that every student in the class thoroughly enjoyed called Bifocal by Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters. This novel is told from the perspective of two teenage boys (one Middle Eastern and one white) and tackles several issues regarding racism, stereotyping and fear. If you’re teaching English at the high school level, I highly recommend reading this book with your class.

I had a very similar experience while doing my practicum placement at Churchill Alternative Public School, working with students in grade 4. My associate teacher always made a point of acknowledging every holiday and briefly explaining what it was, why it was important and how it was celebrated around the world. She would also do a daily read-aloud that always consisted of people of different cultures and religions around the world. My associate teacher would regularly talk about being inclusive why it was important to always be kind to one another regardless of each other’s differences. I quickly noticed that this was something that really registered with these nine and ten-year-olds and was extremely impactful. This placement taught me that it is never too early to start having conversations about the importance of inclusivity, diversity and equity with students.

Creating an environment in which all students and parents feel that the classroom is an inclusive, safe, open and caring space should be a priority for all teachers and educators. Students of all ages learn better when they are in a learning environment that they feel comfortable in. Taking from my experiences as a student and a teacher candidate, students should always have a say in their own learning. Actively engaging students in their own learning and hearing what they have to say will be something that I continue to do in my future practices as an educator. 

All teachers need to evaluate the strengths, needs and interests of their classroom and find ways to develop, implement and assess culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogies and assure they are inclusive of marginalized and racialized groups. In making this a priority in my own classroom, RSEKN will certainly play a role in my future practices as an educator by continuing to support equity and diversity and supporting communities of practice across Ontario in anti-racist and refugee and newcomer education. As an educator and teacher, it is important to remember that something that may seem minimal to you, could have the biggest impact on one of your students. 

Intelligent Lives Screening – Does IQ define potential for success?

posted Mar 22, 2019, 9:35 PM by Ontario South   [ updated Mar 31, 2019, 7:21 PM ]

Written by: Petra Owusu

    On February 13th, 2019 there was a community screening of Dan Habib’s “Intelligent Lives” at  Western University’s Faculty of Education. The event was sponsored by RSEKN and the Canadian Research Centre on Inclusive Education.

     Before the commencement of the film, there was a short discussion regarding what we believed intelligence was and the purpose of IQ scores. One question asked, “Do you think IQ tests or any standardized test can predict a person’s ability to learn, or their future?” There was a mutual consensus that IQ scores do not define an individual. It was discussed that there were several other factors that are involved in a person’s ability to succeed and how the role of the environment takes a substantial part in the cultivation of skills. I shared how IQ scores do not provide a holistic picture of an individual and that it tends to put a cap on an individual’s worth. It is apparent that IQ scores accentuate what a person cannot do rather than what they can.

    The film incorporated three different stories of students who are at different life stages. The first story was about Naieer who was in high school and was included in all his classes. It is evident that Naieer was passionate about painting and his family as well as the school was really attempting to nurture this strength. Considering that Naieer is a tall, Black male living in America, there was a concern that his father had expressed which touches upon intersectionality. A huge concern of Naieer’s father was that the police may target Naieer in the community for “acting weird”. The problem of this situation is that it is well-known that Black males in America tend to be targeted by police. This realistic fear of the father highlights the additional challenges and anxieties that some families may face when it comes to inclusion within the community. This should remind us to be aware of the complexities of intersectionality and how there are many components for when it comes to inclusion inside and outside of school.

    The next story was about Micah who was in University. His story focused on the social aspect of life outcomes and he communicated positive life goals such as wanting to get married and to become a parent someday. He conveyed how he observed his parents fighting for him growing up and now he is proud to be doing that for himself. The question raised here is whether we expect life goals to be similar for people with and without intellectual disabilities. The last story shown was about a woman named Naomie. We were able to witness Naomie taking part in job training and getting hired at a beauty school for a paid internship. This outcome is in stark contrast to unpaid and underpaid employment opportunities that are typical for people with intellectual disabilities.

    Based on the viewing of this film, it is apparent that inclusion brings empowerment to individuals with a disability and enables them to thrive in the community. After the viewing of the film there was a stimulating dialogue about how in Ontario, we are still fixated on IQ scores as a reason to place children in segregated school settings. I think the takeaway message from this conversation was that we need to remember why inclusion is important in the first place. We never want to return to the days of institutional mistreatment of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Communication between networks is also vital and needs to take place to see how other people in different provinces are incorporating inclusion into their schools. Lastly, what resonated with me the most was that everyone in the film had someone advocating for them. The question is what happens to those in our communities without advocates? How can we become their advocates and not let IQ scores be a barrier for them? In Ontario, we are certainly trying, but it was a mutual understanding at that event that we need and can do better.  

“We will know that inclusive education has really become embedded in our culture when the term becomes obsolete” – Quote from Choosing Outcomes and Accommodations for Children, 3rd ed. Michael F. Giangreco et al.






Engaging youth in the reconciliation process

posted Mar 12, 2019, 9:27 AM by Ontario East   [ updated Mar 22, 2019, 9:34 PM by Ontario South ]

The second annual Màmawi Together: Youth for Reconciliation Day united students from across Ottawa to create their own Reconciliation Legacy Projects

Written by Robert J. Ballantyne

Members of the Màmawi Together planning and coordinating team

Around 250 youth leaders, in grades 7-12 from Ottawa’s various school systems, gathered for the second annual Màmawi Together: Youth for Reconciliation Day on Feb. 22 at the University of Ottawa.

Màmawi Together — “Màmawi” means “Together” in the Algonquin language, in honour of the event being hosted on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin nation — is an Indigenous awareness and education event which reflects the 94 calls to action from the 2015 Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The event, organized by the Urban Communities Cohort at the Faculty of Education, with support from RSEKN and the University of Ottawa teacher education program, the full-day event seeks to build and sustain respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians through awareness-building and education.

At the opening ceremony, students heard from Elder Jenny Tenasco, who blessed the event and also spoke about difficult truths, including Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples and her experience as a Survivor in the Residential School System.

Anita Tenasco, director of Kitigan Zibi Education Sector, spoke at Màmawi Together’s opening ceremony: “Canada is a richer place because Indigenous peoples are here.” 
(Photo: Robert J. Ballantyne)

Nicholas Ng-A-Fook, director of teacher education and co-director of Ontario Equity Knowledge Network, spoke at Màmawi Together’s opening ceremony 
(Photo: Robert J. Ballantyne)

Following the opening ceremony, students engaged in an act of reconciliation through art, reflecting on the approximately 6,000 Indigenous students who died as a result of the Residential School System. As part of Project of Heart, a collaborative art education project, students created reflective reconciliation tiles which were later turned into a commemorative mosaic assembled by University of Ottawa teacher candidates.

University of Ottawa students helped assembled a commemorative mosiac of tiles created by 
Màmawi Together students in honour of reconciliation. 
(Photo: Robert J. Ballantyne)

Afterwards, the youth leaders moved into smaller groups to attend workshops. Among the wide-ranging workshops were wampum belt making, introductory Inuit and Métis cultural presentations, and a session on how the Indian Act treats Indigenous peoples as compared to the UN Declaration.

Before and after the workshops, many students said the event had an impact on them.

“I’ve learned that once a person has lost his culture, his sense of identity, it will contribute negatively to his life,” said one student from Hillcrest High School. “How do we rebuild that connection?”

A number of University of Ottawa teacher candidates also attended the event, and many were also moved by the event.

“It’s not just about textbook facts and statistics — there are real [reconciliation] stories you can connect to,” shared teacher candidate Brock Hendry.

Students also developed their own reconciliation legacy projects, consolidating what they learned from the day’s speakers and workshops, and what they can share with others. They will all be coming back to the University of Ottawa to share these legacy projects on April 25.

J.P. Longboat closed the Màmawi Together event with an eagle dance, along with a final prayer by Monique Manatch. 
(Photo: Robert J. Ballantyne)

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