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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!

Witnessing Meaningful Learning

posted by Ontario East   [ updated ]

Written by Jessica Sokolowski, PhD Candidate in Education, University of Ottawa

The weather on Wednesday, January 23rd was dreadful with raging snow and frigid temperatures. But when I received news that the Media Arts Coffee House at Hillcrest High School was still on, I was determined to take the wintery trek, unsure of what sort of turnout to expect from this group of secondary students, presenting their newly learned skills in spoken word poetry creation and performance. They had worked so thoughtfully over a semester, building their skills and preparing for this moment, this time to be really heard. Through partnership with Youth Ottawa, the students in the Media Arts class at Hillcrest were introduced to spoken word poetry by Ottawa-based spoken word artists Jamaal Jackson Rogers (a.k.a. Just Jamaal the Poet) and Maya Basudde (MayaSpoken)

Due to the weather, I arrived apologetically late, frustrated by my tardiness, though no fault of my own. I planned on arriving early, introducing myself and seeking permission to be in this safe space, privileged to be a witness to this art. But it didn’t go that way. Instead I crept through the doors and slid into an empty seat, desperate to go unnoticed, to not break the ambiance that filled the room. From where I was seated I could feel the power in that room. I could taste these students’ hunger for life, for truth and for change. Their stories echoed through me like a brisk wind, robbing me of breath, unveiling the raw beauty of their souls. The confidence in their calculated speech, the aesthetics of their purposeful language and the strength through their voices, led me through their lived experiences and opened them to the vulnerability of truth—their truth. 

This space is where meaningful learning begins. As I navigate through my own research space working with narratives and storytelling and the relation to student experience, I am humbled to witness theory in practice. I watched the social emergence amongst the students and the teacher, supporting and encouraging each other to speak their truths, and to be free through their art. One by one as they took the stage, it was not silent, but was rather filled with acknowledgement of their bravery, and a connected support system that was clearly built over time. They not only listened to the carefully crafted poems of their colleagues and fellow students, but they offered support, understanding and encouragement to one another. This was truly a safe space. 

If meaningful learning is our goal, how can we achieve this without first seeking understanding of the foundation on which we intend to build? In our life continuum, we enter new learning spaces with a breadth of knowledge and a flurry of experiences that we carry with us on our journey. I want to be a part of the journey of my students; however, I cannot do this without them first understanding what that journey is, and who they really are. But to know who they are, they must first be given the time and space to sort that out. To support students in where they want to go, we must first see where they have been. What I was privileged to witness at this coffee house on that cold, blustery day, were the inspirational results that can occur when students are given the tools, are guided, and are encouraged to tell their stories and break down the barriers of discrimination and oppression that they battle every day. What I witnessed was what meaningful learning can look like.

Spoken Word Performer Photo Source:

2018 CEC Special Education Conference: Equity Success Stories

posted Feb 14, 2019, 12:37 PM by Ontario South   [ updated Feb 14, 2019, 12:40 PM ]

- Written by Olivia Faulconbridge
RSEKN Southern Regional Team

The Ontario Council for Exceptional Children held its 62nd annual Special Education Conference titled "Well-being, Equity and Success for All" 
in Toronto on November 30th and December 1, 2018. As part of the Southern Ontario Regional Team, Dr. Jacqueline Specht, Dr. Sheila Bennett and Olivia Faulconbridge had the opportunity to attend the conference and present RSEKN to attendees. Throughout the conference, we had the opportunity to hear from researchers, educators and students on how they are creating inclusive and equitable environments for exceptional children.  

During the RSEKN presentation, we sat with three women working across Ontario in schools in a variety of positions. Each of these women shared their own experiences with striving to succeed in supporting exceptional children in inclusive settings. As is often the case, we heard the barriers they encountered in their jobs. For them, these barriers included other teachers, principals and parents. Nonetheless, each of these women found unique and creative ways to support the students in their schools. One woman worked as an educational assistant and had supported a child diagnosed with autism to slowly build the ability to attend school assemblies. Where the majority of the teachers and principals at her school jumped to the conclusion that this child would not be able to attend assemblies and should either be taken to another class or sent home, this women did not give up on her student. Over many years, she supported his ability to be in the assembly for a few minutes to being able to sit through an entire assembly. This was one example from the group, which only reinforced and strengthened the group's confidence that students with exceptionalities can be included and do not have to be sent home and left out of learning. 

At the end of the conference, I had the opportunity to stay for the awards ceremony and luncheon. I must admit, I chose to stay because I was a bit hungry and very intrigued by the short introduction (see right) of the motivational address speaker, Robert Hampson (Rick Hansen School Program Ambassador). Prior to this address, I watched a number of students and teachers from across Ontario receive awards for academic, social and physical excellence. I heard a number of motivational stories as each of these awards were introduced. I heard about teachers that worked countless hours and found unique and innovative ways to promote inclusive environments for all of their students. I heard about students in one class that took on large coding projects and developed their own project under the guidance of a beloved teacher. I heard about students who pushed themselves physically and academically to prove that they could achieve what everyone else could achieve. 

Robert's address ended the ceremony with a heartwarming and extremely motivational speech. I will not summarize his life experiences as he told them in this blog, because that his story to tell. However, I will say Robert became blind at a young age because of a brain tumour. He has since not only succeeded in school, but he has achieved countless other goals including, running charities, becoming a competitive swimmer and graduating from St. Lawrence College. Robert demonstrated what it is to not only self-advocate, but also to pursue your goals no matter the obstacles. 

“Never tell me something is impossible. I think, if you want to do a thing badly enough you can find a way. When somebody tells me I can’t, it usually makes me want to do it even more.” 
 Robert Hampson

RSEKN Update: Looking Back to Fall 2018 & Looking Forward into 2019!

posted Feb 5, 2019, 2:15 PM by Noor El-Husseini

The past four months have been exciting and eventful for the RSEKN team. During the fall, RSEKN celebrated the launch of @LeeAirton's book, Gender: Your Guide, hosted by Glad Day Bookshop. This important guide is a genuine and accessible guide to understanding —and engaging in—today’s gender conversation and new gender culture. On October 24th, the Teacher Education program at the University of Ottawa and RSEKN Eastern Team led the 2018 Lead Associate Teacher Day on Culturally Responsive & Relevant Pedagogy, with keynote speaker Dr. Nicole West-Burns

During November, the University of Waterloo hosted the Transgender Health and Wellness Conference 2018, in collaboration with the RSEKN Southern team and a growing list of incredible partners and sponsors. The conference aims “to provide health and wellness practitioners/educators/students in Waterloo Region with education and resources to deliver trans-affirming health care and education”(@TransHealthWR). 

York University’s annual 2018 Faculty of Education Summer Institute (#FESI2018), titled “Realities in Data: Who counts...What counts...Who's counting?” was a great success! RSEKN joined forces with the Summer Institute planning committees and celebrated the largest turnout for the conference yet, including French-language workshops! To extend the dialogue from #FESI2018, The Equity in Education Hub was born – an ongoing, open-access and community-based space with a collection of reports that “utilize identity-based data to educate about the realities and experiences of students in the GTA”. The teams and bilingual planning committees continue their work and community consultations in preparation for this year’s 2019 Faculty of Education Summer Institute. Finally, RSEKN is pleased to announce our fourth Northern regional team, led by Pauline Sameshima at Lakehead University.

Moving forward into the New Year, RSEKN has a fantastic line-up of upcoming activities and events! In the eastern region, we are preparing for the next Black Youth Student Conference, initiated last year in with the support of RSEKN and local school boards (OCDSB and OCSB). In partnership with Youth Ottawa, the Eastern team is also developing course with local teachers to include use of spoken word as a mechanism to address the six RSEKN themes. On March 22, the RSEKN French Eastern Regional team, led by Éliane Dulude, is hosting a Conference-Debate entitled « Penser l'Apprentissage de l'Histoire de l'Afrique », in partnership with l’Association canadienne pour la promotion des héritages africains (ACPHA) at the University of Ottawa. This conference and debate will feature local school boards (CEPEO, CECCE, OCSDB), educators, parents, students and artists! Also, both English and French RSEKN Eastern teams are participating and supporting the upcoming Mamawi Youth Conference on TRC 94 Calls to Action (Bilingual Event), which brings together local youth with grassroots community organizations including local Indigenous communities, teachers, teacher candidates and teacher educators, and how educators can best respond and support students as social actors in future. 

On February 13 2019, the RSEKN southern team is hosting a community screening of the film "Intelligent Lives" at Western's Faculty of Education. Intelligence testing is a systemic barrier to people with intellectual disabilities, because of the misconceptions of what the numbers tell us about the individual. This 70-minute film paired with screening kit provides questions for the audience to discuss and to unpack the thinking around intelligence testing and ability. In addition, the southern team is developing “Living with Exclusion” – a major knowledge mobilization resource to assist teachers and other school personnel in understanding exclusion. Community members and stakeholders in education will present and share their stories of exclusion and their impact, as well as what steps can be taken in ways that promote and support inclusion.

The RSEKN Northern team is organizing and sponsoring a student-led conference in partnership with the Multicultural Association of Northwestern Ontario, and Lakehead Enactus. The conference will focus on access, inclusion, diversity and be organized and facilitated by and for youth! Addressing RSEKN’s theme of poverty and income inequality, the northern team in partnership with Lakehead ENACTUS, is developing and implementing a series of financial literacy workshops for youth and parents within their communities. 
On March 7, don’t miss RSEKN’s keynote panel: “Negotiating Equity: Mobilizing Knowledge in-between and across Different Communities” at the upcoming Jean-Paul Dionne Symposium 2019 – Building Equitable Futures. Hosted at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, RSEKN’s bilingual keynote panel will be moderated by regional leads Vidya Shah and Éliane Dulude with a diverse group of guest speakers from different linguistic and social positions within the larger education community. Finally, RSEKN is now working in partnership with Stephen Hurley, founder of VoicEd Radio to create bilingual equity podcasts! Stay tuned for more! 

Looking for upcoming events and activities? See the RSEKN calendar on our website! To stay up-to-date on our latest news, activities, and resources, follow us on Twitter @KNAER_RSEKN / @RECRAE_RSEKN

Suspensions and Expulsions: A Look at the Racial Injustice of School Punishment

posted Dec 3, 2018, 5:28 PM by Ontario South   [ updated Dec 5, 2018, 11:47 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

Written by Olivia Faulconbridge

Continuing our examination of unfair suspensions and expulsions, this blog will look at the rate of school punishment in Black youth. During
York University’s Faculty of Education Summer Institute in August, we learned a lot about the injustices experienced by Black youth in Ontario schools from a number of people, including teachers, principals, graduate students, and community organizations. As the RSEKN Southern regional team, we chose to focus our work on suspension and expulsion, so these presenters peaked my interest. In April 2017, CBC news shared a report on the disproportionate number of expulsions among Black males, between 2011 and 2016, where almost half of the Toronto District School Board's expulsions were handed out to Black students. As is the case throughout Ontario schools and school boards, the TDSB collected race-based data in the effort to lower educational disparities. The reality is these stories have been told and retold for decades across cities, provinces and countries and, yet, very little change is made to systemically address or change the processes that reinforce these outcomes and impacts on Black students’ lived experiences, as well as their educational journeys.  

In March 2013, The Toronto Star published an article stating that during the 2006-7 school year, Black students made up about 12% of the high school students in Toronto’s Public board and yet they represented over 31% of the suspensions in that same year. Comparatively white students made up 33% of the high school students and only 29% of suspensions.

A TDSB report indicates that, between 2006 and 2011, Black students were more than twice as likely to be suspended at least once compared to white students. Black students were 3 times as likely to be placed in the essentials program and 2 times as likely to be placed in applied programs compared to white peers; whereas, white peers were 1.5 times as likely to be placed in academic programs. Black students were more likely to be identified as having an exceptionality (non-gifted) and less likely than white peers to be identified as gifted. Furthermore, Black students had a higher drop out rate compared to their white peers.

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. However, many of these articles seem to point to the characteristics of black culture and families as the reason for the increased suspension and expulsion, asking questions such as: Are they bored? Are they hungry? Is it because they’re poor? Is it because they have to take care of their siblings? While we examine the issues these children and their families encounter to explain the rate of suspension and expulsion, we are missing a larger problem; our own biases and assumptions.

Previously known as one of the most troubled schools in its area, one Ontario high school’s principal has instilled a change to reduce the rates of suspensions and expulsions. Reducing the focus on punishments such as suspensions and expulsions and focusing on building responsibility, participation, social relationships and self-regulation led to an improvement in the overall school climate and the academic outcomes of students who would previously have been at risk.

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. -  John Cotton Dana

We Need to Learn How to Shut the Hell Up and Listen

posted Dec 3, 2018, 9:50 AM by Ontario East   [ updated Dec 3, 2018, 9:59 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

- Written by Erika Shaker

Given the current political moment, and how high the stakes are for public institutions and those served by them, I’d like to focus on the importance of truly reflective, honest and effective engagement between all of us -- all of us -- who are connected to public education.  But in pushing back against social regression, educators, advocates and allies cannot afford complacency or defensiveness. The stakes are too high and we really need to get this right if we are to move in a direction that, collectively, serves us all much better, much more fairly, and much more sustainably.  That focus on reflection is particularly key because, while I think educators have a huge role to play here, I don’t think they’re the ones who, when defending public education, need to or even should always be on the front lines. Which means that strong and authentic connections between educators and the communities in which they work and live have never been more important.

Educators as individuals need to build alliances with groups whose public support undercuts the government’s narrative, rather than reinforcing it. I’m speaking, of course, of parents. Not just white, middle class, composting, centre-left, urban, dog-walking moms. Given the parents’-rights narrative Ford is increasingly trumpeting, I’m also talking about parents who work shifts; parents of colour and Indigenous parents and LGBTQ2 parents and ESL parents and parents who wear turbans and hijabs. If we don’t know how to listen to each other, and work together, then people run the risk of feeling increasingly isolated. That can make people particularly susceptible to arguments that bureaucracies can’t be trusted, schools don’t listen to parents, taxes are too high, and money is wasted, and cheaper is better, and public sector workers including educators have their own agenda, and it has something to do with more money and more benefits. This is the narrative we need to push back against if we’re to reverse the damage being done every day. 

Democratic engagement is exactly what we need as an antidote to disillusionment, distrust, and the divisions that faux-populist governments will exploit for political gain. The problem is, we’re understandably busy, and we’re out of practice. If we’re to break through that anger and frustration and disengagement—and we must—progressives will need to work with the populace in ways we haven’t had to do in decades. It involves the tried and tested method of talking—face to face communication to counter the narrative of the lazy, unaccountable public servant working for massive, faceless government institutions that has taken root over the last few decades. The professions in the best position to do this are those who work with the public—who are at the centre of these points of contact, and have a very visible presence. We also have to come to terms with the “post-truth era,” though arguably it’s not so much an era as it is simply a much bigger platform for those who want to invent, locate, or circulate “alternative facts”.

Ipsos Reid recently released a poll looking at public perceptions of the education system across the country, and the results were still pretty good. This isn’t a huge surprise. People are in general fairly supportive of their local school, though the perception of education has certainly taken a beating over the past few decades by various governments, generally of the cost-cutting, back-to-basics persuasion. But while the population was perhaps shockingly pretty evenly split on rolling back the curriculum by 20 years, a clear majority—including those who agreed with the rollback—were in favour of the actual content of what the 2015 curriculum actually taught from kindergarten to grade 8. 

This counterintuitive disconnect also needs to inform the conversations we will have to have with each other, the ways we organize, and what we must be prepared to listen to or push back against. This reframing of the truth—and whether it matters—is something we need to acknowledge when we’re talking with each other because we need to prepare for it and push back against it. Facts still matter, but, clearly, we need more than facts.

Truth be told, we don’t have a lot of community-based infrastructures left from which to, as my dad would say, organize the revolution. But we do have the education sector which is rooted in community and community development. It’s something that pretty much everyone has an opinion on, which can be challenging, especially when those opinions are informed by classism or racism or simply spending too much time on anti-choice websites. But it’s also a venue for broad civic and community involvement. Organizing around schools can help build community, test our realities and our understanding of the issues, and help us engage and to be engaged. However, this will only work if we learn how to shut the hell up and listen to the deeply socioeconomically unequal ways in which kids experience school. We need to acknowledge this, we need to identify why this happens, and we need to do commit to doing better, starting with listening to those most affected. We need to build trust from the ground up. If we’re going to build a movement that not only restores but enhances social programs through social cohesiveness and social engagement, well-meaning public education supporters inside and outside the profession cannot afford the luxury of defensiveness. The stakes at all levels are too high to suggest that we just need to turn the clock back a smidge.

At its best, education provides a way into discussions or to facilitate connections that might otherwise never happen. It puts kids and communities at the heart of the conversation: who is helped, who is hurt, and what don’t I know about when it comes to what’s best for not just my kid? It’s a segue to discussions about taxation, spending, justice, racism, colonialism, health and well-being, food security, housing—topics that people might not feel equipped to jump right into, but can find their way to through discussions about the local school. These are the discussions we need to have if we’re to make progress in a comprehensive and an ongoing way.

Erika Shaker is the Senior Education Researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and editor of the quarterly education journal Our Schools / Our Selves.

Indspire Peer-Mentoring Program

posted Oct 9, 2018, 10:13 AM by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated Oct 9, 2018, 10:50 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

The Faculty’s Issues with Indigenous Education class taught by Ixchel Bennett invited Rachel Hill from Indspire to share a fantastic peer mentorship program that is offered for free to Teacher Candidates and educators across Canada in all levels of educational institutions.
The Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, section 62 and 63 “Education for Reconciliation” states that educators have the role and responsibility to “share information and best practices on teaching curriculum related to residential schools and Aboriginal history...identify teacher-training needs …” 
In reflecting on teacher candidates and their journey on decolonizing and indigenizing teaching and learning practices, Ixchel Bennett states: “In teaching this course for my third year, I noticed that in addition to what TCs are learning in class from and with Indigenous peoples, scholars, Elders, etc., some are still afraid to teach Indigenous content into their classroom and have a fear of ‘being wrong.’” As well, some continue to have a challenging time knowing how to interweave Indigenous knowledge into their science, math, art, etc. curriculum.”  Most Teacher Candidates understand that Indigenous education is essential and needs to be taught in their subject areas and their journey continues after teachers college. However, what supports can they get during and after Teachers College?
Rachel Hill, who is First Nations from Six Nations community, shared that Indspire offers a Peer Support program to encourage Teachers to continue in their journey with a partner that is either Indigenous or non-Indigenous who are engaging in TRC Calls to Action. 
According to the Indspire website: “Peer Support is a mentorship and leadership program for educators of Indigenous students. Indspire pairs educators from across Canada based on their professional learning goals and provides support online to this learning community through webinars, discussion forums, and other professional development tools.” 
Kara-Ann Nagel, a recent graduate from the program, commented: “I was scared to ask questions that I felt everyone else knew the answer to. Having my mentor enabled me to unlearn, relearn, and learn about myself as a teacher and the land that I’m on. Now as a teacher, my past and current mentors are there for me. I do feel like Indspire helped me get my job in Upper Grand DSB because I was able to speak about the social justice and equity work I’ve done and planned to do in the future. I feel like I can better support Indigenous and non-Indigenous students through resources and conversations with my mentors."
Tlazocamati, Miigwetch, Thank you, Rachel Hill for sharing the great program Indspire has to offer!

"Stop Stealing Dreams"

posted Sep 21, 2018, 4:17 PM by Ontario South   [ updated Sep 21, 2018, 4:35 PM ]

- Written by Jacqueline Specht 

     I returned from the Netherlands this week after my invitation to attend and discuss inclusive education. The school boards I met with were interested in working toward more inclusive models of education. Many students are educated in the “regular” school; however, at some point, they still come to a decision that they can no longer educate the child and he/she needs to go to a special class or school. I visited a few schools on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the Welcoming Conference for their 400 teachers. The opening address was given by trend-watcher Ruud Veltenaar in Dutch. Unfortunately, I do not speak Dutch, but his website provides the key ideas and can be translated to English.  Despite the language barrier, I felt his commitment and energy, particularly in his website name: “Stop Stealing Dreams”. His thinking around changes in education is that we can no longer teach as we once did; we must move in to the practice of individualized learning. In order for students to learn willingly, we must continue to unleash their passion(s). Thinking back to my visits to the schools, I realize this is happening in some spaces, but not all. Very much like we see in Ontario.  

     I visited one school with a class for gifted students. I listened to the teacher talk about how it was important for her children to be in this class because they learned quickly and were bored of the “regular” curriculum. The students spent 20% of their time on the curriculum and the other 80% learning what they wanted to learn. “But wait!”, I thought when I was in the class – math was still happening; she just extended the questions; science was happening; history; geography. So the curricular areas were still addressed; the difference was the students were just engaged. This insightful teacher had 18 students all working on different things at different levels – eagerly, with focus. This teacher was given the opportunity to get her students working in areas that were meaningful to them. 

What would happen if all of our students could be engaged in meaningful learning? 

     Perhaps, some behavioral issues would disappear. You might be inclined to think: well, that’s because the students are gifted; but, I also visited another school that had students working in three groups that would equate to our primary (grades 1-3), junior (grades 4-6), and intermediate (grades 7-8) levels. There was a marvelous space not unlike the concept of open classrooms/pods/quads of the 1970s, but with a very big difference. Instead of one teacher, there were two or three. One was always involved with instruction with a group of students who were in a more enclosed area with a door and windows so that they could focus on the instruction. The principal told me that, in this way, they can work with the children at their levels and differentiate as they do not all have to be the same age in the instruction period; they are from the group and learning what they need. Outside of this classroom were large areas with tables, chairs, conversation areas, open spaces and an open door to the playground for any learning or work that needed to be done outside of the instruction. The other teachers would float around seeing how students were doing. The students were all engaged in the process. The principal told me that the idea is that the children focus on what they will learn and become more independent in their own skills. If they feel they need to go outside and run around, they do. That is part of the learning of the whole child and how to self-regulate. To say the least, I saw a lot of engaged learners. 

     When I spoke to the teachers and addressed their questions, it was clear that just as children are the same around the world, so too are teachers. Their questions and concerns around barriers to inclusion were the same as in Canada. Their concern for the children and doing right by them was so obvious. I gave the same message I do to all teachers – our mindset needs to change. We must believe that all children belong, and truly believe that we can teach them. In terms of equity, we need to think differently in every country in our global community. When students with disabilities are educated in inclusive classrooms, they are more likely to continue in education, get a job, and be valued members of their community. We must stop denying them a better life. Be the change that matters in the lives of our children. 

In the words of Ruud: “If it is to be, it is up to me.” 

Annual Summer Institute Explored How Identity-based Data is Used in Schooling

posted Sep 13, 2018, 6:10 PM by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated Sep 17, 2018, 9:52 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

- Written by Anderson Coward, Faculty of Education, York University

The Faculty of Education held its annual Summer Institute this year on August 22 and 23—housed at York U’s Keele campus. FESI/RSEKN2018’s central focus of conversation explored the role that identity-based data plays in uncovering systemic barriers. Entitled Realities in Data: Who counts … What counts … Who’s counting? and facilitated in partnership with the Réseau de Savoir sur l’Équité/Equity Knowledge Network (RSEKN), the 2018 Summer Institute discussed and debated the significance of the connections that exist between identity-based data and what it means for student access, engagement, achievement and well-being.

“We received tremendous feedback from participants and presenters about the energy at the conference, which is only possible when multiple voices—both complimentary and contradictory—take up space in a legitimate way around one key theme,” says Education Professor Vidya Shah, who co-led the event. “Students, families and communities whose lived experiences illuminate the data, especially those most marginalized in and by the system, need to be included in meaningful and authentic ways at every stage of identity-based data collection, integration and reporting.”

Education Course Director Ixchel Bennett, who also co-led the event notes its rich discussion challenged how data was being used and how it is being collected, as well as what questions are being asked and how the information is relayed back to the community. “Jade Hugeguin, a Métis researcher from the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, brought up a good point,” Bennett adds. “She said, ‘we go to the community to ask questions, we collect data on them, we analyze the data and then we call it equity because we do it in a respectful way. However, the hope is that we start seeing the community as the researcher.’”

Following the opening of the conference by Indigenous Elder Laureen Blu Water and a welcome from Dean Lyndon Martin and RSEKN, FESI2018 began with a keynote panel consisting of Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora Carl James; Senior Education Researcher at the National Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Erika Shaker; and Indigenous Education Advisor to the Premier of Ontario and to the Ontario Minister of Education Kahontakwas Diane Longboat. Each panelist extended their findings and experiences in education to highlight the central themes and questions guiding their respective research foci.

“If we are to truly move towards more inclusive, flexible and responsive classrooms—including massive destreaming initiatives—we need to ensure our educators are equipped to help make this successful and make a concerted effort to identify and promote more effective mechanisms for community engagement on a larger scale, and more effective tools to consolidate this research” Shaker says. “Policymakers need to rethink their methods of ensuring and eventually determining success measurements, which also requires a full overhaul of the funding formula because of how it drives so many of the structural decisions about staffing, class size, school upkeep, transportation, programming, and so on.”

James, who first founded and launched the Faculty of Education Summer Institute in 2008, says compared to prior years, the theme of identity-based data this year had a deliberate meaning for a number of school boards. “The Institute will continue to want to bring together people: teachers, educational administrators, youth workers and policymakers to continue having conversations about issues related to students and young people generally,” he said. “I think that is something people should always know, and try to pay attention to—and why they should also come to the Summer Institute next year.”

Further, the fact that a number of school boards are now moving forward with identity-based data collection, for Jack Nigro, Superintendent of First Nations Métis and Inuit Education, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, made the conference “real.” He says: “in the past, we were aspiring to this and presenting arguments in support of it. This time, the focus was making it happen and how to use the data so that it actually makes a difference to students and families.”

“It is now up to district school boards to do the necessary things such as consult community stakeholders, collect the data, analyze it, and, most importantly, make strategic system changes to make a difference for those who have traditionally not been well served by the system,” Nigro adds.

“On day two of the institute, the community panel made participants question how much student data we actually need before we make changes,” Bennett recalls. “What data is required to make those changes? Is it just data from boards? What about community data? These questions challenge all to think about what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. All stakeholders have a role in turning data into action. We need to shift our thinking from a hierarchal pyramid to a flattened collective that centers responsibility towards each other.”

Following the success of FESI/RSEKN2018, Shah and Bennett have already begun to brainstorm on a potential focus for FESI/RSEKN2019. The advent of the new Equity in Education Hub spearheaded in accordance with this year’s Summer Institute will play a pivotal role in gathering community reports, data and additional research that will help frame the most important conversations for next year’s event.

“There are many ideas that have been shared by FESI/RSEKN committee members, presenters and participants,” adds Shah. “One idea that is emerging is Systems of Transformation, which explores existing and emerging models for holistic, equity-minded and systemic change. This includes models of self-governance for Indigenous peoples, inclusive design, and exploring relationships between the Self and the system. “The committee will come together in the Fall to brainstorm for FESI/RSEKN 2019.”

Members of Ontario’s education community are invited and encouraged to submit their respective research and add to the conversation next year through the Equity in Education Hub.

Culture Shifts, and So Should Your Response

posted Sep 12, 2018, 8:09 AM by Ontario East   [ updated Sep 17, 2018, 9:48 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

- Written by Mark Currie

A more urgent sense of what is happening to minority students in the classroom should prompt us to more closely examine the kind of teaching that will be most effective for these students regardless of the ethnicity and cultural background of the teacher. (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 102)

 Image result for CRRP Initiative Final Report    Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP) has taken different forms and different names since its introduction in the mid-1970s.  Names such as culturally responsive education (Cazden & Leggett, 1976), culturally appropriate pedagogy (Au & Jordan, 1981), culturally congruent pedagogy (Mohatt & Erickson, 1981), culturally relevant teaching (Ladson-Billings, 1992), and culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2000) all use different terminology and present different nuances, but all promote the importance of recognizing, acknowledging, and in various ways including the range of cultures that exist in any classroom.  Throughout the evolution of CRRP, few (if any at all) have suggested that educators shouldn’t be culturally responsive; the question is, what does being culturally responsive look like in an education setting?
    The development of culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy can be seen as an amalgamation of the variety of practices and pedagogies explored over the years.  Using these theories and models, the Ontario Ministry of Education (the Ministry) developed a model of what should be included in the mindset of a culturally responsive educator.  The model outlines six traits:

1. socio-cultural consciousness; 
2. high expectations; 
3. desire to make a difference; 
4. constructivist approach; 
5. deep knowledge of their students; 
6. culturally responsive teaching practices. 

     In a series of videos hosted by The Learning Exchange that outline cultural responsiveness, the Ministry emphasizes culturally responsive education as recognizing, embracing, and utilizing intercultural exchange that every person faces by the nature of interaction with other people. The Ministry states that culture is about ways of knowing and can be seen as a resource for learning. What this indicates is an acknowledgement that students do not arrive to school as blank slates and do bring with them experiences, perspectives, and voices that need to be actively incorporated in the creation of knowledges, which, if culture is about ways of knowing, therefore contributes to the creation of a classroom culture.     

     Housed in the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and headed up by a team including CRRP leaders Dr. Nicole West-Burns and Jeff Kugler, the Centre for Urban Schooling (CUS) created the Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy Initiative, which developed PowerPoint presentations and resources to help educators develop and implement CRRP in their schools and classrooms. The Ministry attempts to use results from the CUS initiative to adjust CRRP, and continues to encourage the development and implementation of CRRP to help fulfill the Education Equity Action Plan.

     After the Ministry presented its model for CRRP in 2013, 13 of 72 Ontario school boards volunteered to implement CRRP into their schools and classrooms. In early 2018, the Ministry invited Ontario school boards to participate in the 2018-2019 cohort of a CRRP capacity building session led by West-Burns and Kugler. The ongoing challenge to implementing CRRP is that cultures are ever-changing. As CRRP should underpin practices, the pillars of CRRP as outlined by the Ministry should be applicable to any classroom. However, because of the cultural flux, gaining a consensus on what these pillars are has been debated for decades, and adaptations continue. 

     While cultural responsiveness is still being experimented with in educational practices, there are researchers and practitioners taking the CRRP discussion in different directions, and some who critique CRRP, suggesting a need for a new conversation.  The concept of culturally relational education (Donald, Glanfield, & Sterenberg, 2011) is gaining speed, bringing new dynamics to the conversation.  The “relational” element offers better acknowledgement of the relationships between cultures where cultures are not static and influence each other in the ways they are made and re-made.  Paris (2012) proposes the use of culturally sustaining pedagogy that focuses on fostering linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism.  The argument is that current education policies, CRRP included, may aim to recognize the range of cultures in a classroom, but the direction continues toward a monocultural and monolingual education environment.  Sleeter (2012) believes that culturally responsive pedagogy is marginalized for reasons that include faulty and simplistic understandings of what the pedagogy is, as well as fear by the dominant (white) culture of losing power.  While Sleeter’s position is not so much a critique of CRRP as it is a highlighting of barriers, the development of CRRP is influenced by those barriers and, seemingly, this relationship has not been sufficiently explored in order for CRRP to successfully navigate its opposition. 

     Moving forward in education, in acknowledging the critiques of CRRP, the point is not to discard CRRP.  What must be done is adapt CRRP to meet the flux of culture and education.  This October, for example, the University of Ottawa’s Teacher Education Program will be collaborating with Ottawa school boards to host a Lead Associate Teacher Day that is focused on CRRP.  On this day, educators who engage with the education of Teacher Candidates will participate in a day of presentations, discussions, and activities that will explore the possibilities and limitations of CRRP in order to better share knowledge and practice with the teachers of tomorrow.  

How can students learn when they are being taken out of the classroom?

posted Aug 17, 2018, 2:24 PM by Ontario South   [ updated Aug 20, 2018, 8:16 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

Last week, the RSEKN team met to discuss the progress made over the last year and Year 2 plans as of September! As a team, it is exciting to celebrate the successes and reflect on challenges in the first year of the network since the November 16 and November 17 RSEKN launches

What systemic barriers to equity exist in your school communities? By explicitly naming system barriers, our team can strategize and act with intention to promote and support equity for marginalized and racialized students. We strive to take a systems-approach to equity, so here are three examples our team named:

Representation: Seeing racialized and marginalized groups represented in society

Accessibility: Equitable opportunities for access to resources and inclusive spaces

Beliefs & Behaviours: What biases, assumptions and attitudes do stakeholders in education have about equity?

In 2014, the Minister of Education published a document entitled “Equity and Inclusive Education in Ontario Schools; Guidelines for Policy Development and Implementation”. This document outlined systemic barriers to equity in education, with the goal to action plan on how to remove systemic barriers, discriminatory biases, and power dynamics that limit students’ learning potential and to promote inclusive education, and respect for diversity. 
     Students across Ontario continue to encounter discriminating barriers to learning. One barrier to learning involves suspension and expulsions. In June 2018, RSEKN’s Southern Regional team chose to focus their work on examining equity issues in the area of suspension and expulsions. As a PhD student in School and Applied Child Psychology, I observe barriers for children with disabilities; specifically, children with learning disabilities and ADHD experience frequent barriers in school. Evidently, their learning, attention and consequential behavioral issues impact their learning. However, in their latest Executive Summary, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) identified that these children also experience frequent suspensions, or suggested “school breaks”. In fact, students with these special needs are twice as likely to be suspended than other children. Parents have approached me with stories about receiving calls to pick up their child part way through the day, or told to keep them home for a week or two so that the school can “have a break”. But, how can this approach support a child’s success in learning?

Access Full Resource – Disability in Canada: A Complete Profile.

Well, to say the least, it doesn’t. The NCLD identified that frequent suspensions and “school breaks” lead to less time in class, disrupting potential learning success. Consequently, these students are more likely to dropout of school or are forced to repeat a grade

     The classroom is a place of learning. When you remove a student from the classroom, you remove them from the possibility of learning. This is even more troublesome for students who require additional time and support to achieve success in learning. Frequently removing students from the classroom also affects their emotional and social well-being, and disrupts their peer relationships. Further, suspensions may cause psychological and emotional damage to an already sensitive student with disabilities. This punitive approach is not the answer, and only further deepens the problem.

     Finally, we must consider the impact of suspensions or “school breaks” on parents, a group oftentimes forgotten when it comes to education stakeholders. Requiring parents to be available to pick up their child from school part way through the day, or to be home with their child for a week or more, interrupts occupational success and can breed financial instability and familial disruption to name a few stresses. Because of this, many parents are unable to hold a job if they are placed in this position. The punitive approaches produces more problems, than solution and, ultimately, more barriers to inclusion.

Are you a parent or educator? Have a look at the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario for educational resources.

“The disability is not the problem. The accessibility is the problem” 
– Mohamed Jemmi (TED, 2013).

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