Knowledge Hub‎ > ‎


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 Network Coordinator, Noor, to see how you can post about you and/or your organization's work in equity!

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).

Summer Institute 2018: Exploring Identity-based Data Collection to Highlight Gaps in Ontario Education Achievement

posted Aug 14, 2018, 11:57 AM by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated Aug 15, 2018, 8:01 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

- Written by Dennis Bayazitov

This year, the annual YorkU Faculty of Education Summer Institute (FESI) has partnered with the Réseau de Savoir sur l’Équité/Equity Knowledge Network (RSEKN)The Institute, entitled Realities In Data: Who counts … What counts … Who's counting? will focus on identity-based data collection, integration and reporting in education. The two-day event will address one of four priorities articulated in Ontario’s Education Equity Action Plan to explore the role of identity-based data in uncovering systemic barriers—specifically, the relationships between such data, student access, engagement, achievement and well-being. Posted on the FESI 2018 website are two guiding discussion questions for the conference. 

FESI 2017Day 1: “What are the present and historical challenges, opportunities, tensions and paradoxes of collecting, integrating and reporting on identity-based data?”

Day 2: “How has identity-based data been mobilized to support students access, engagement, achievement and well-being?”

“We do not focus the conversation on the ‘marginalized students’ and how to ‘fix’ those students”, says Jack Nigro, superintendent of First Nations Métis and Inuit Education at the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. “We look at it from the perspective of the system: Does it serve these students adequately?"

“We do not come together and say, ‘oh, if they only did this, they would be so much more successful. The focus is more. If we, as a system, only did these things differently, to better recognize societal conditions and reasons for marginalization, we could serve students better, giving them a better shot at success."

One example Nigro shares is how the Toronto District School Board collects systemic data and notices trends and patterns. Certain groups of students like Hispanic and black students do not achieve at the same rate as other students, he notes. Some groups of students are suspended more often than others. Other groups of students are over-represented in special education classes.

FESI 2017

"Data collection has the potential to provide great insights to everyone who has a stake in education; however, data collection may also categorize, label and further marginalize individuals," says YorkU Faculty of Education Practicum Coordinator Diane Vetter. "Focused conversation on ethical and socially just use of data is imperative when analyzing the huge amount of data available in the digital world."

Vidya Shah, an assistant professor, at YorkU's Faculty of Education and GTA Regional Team Lead for RSEKN adds, "there are further notable gaps in graduation rates for black students and Indigenous students, as well."

“FESI and other conversations about identity-based data collection allow us to build awareness of who is most marginalized in, and by, the system. It further provides political and instructional will for educators and organizations to engage in systemic restructuring and learning so that we do not ignore the problems, nor blame students, their families or communities for them.”

Naturally, school boards are at varying levels in their readiness with this kind of work. During the previous Wynne government, however, the province had made it a priority for all school boards to collect, integrate and report identity-based data, as outlined in the Ontario Education Equity Action Plan.

“FESI is really about recognizing that, as systems, we do not have the answers. If we did, our schools would look very different,” Shah says. “We wouldn’t have students who are excluded from educational spaces and activities. We wouldn’t have students dropping out or being pushed out at rates that are unconscionable. We need multiple voices and perspectives of community partners and agencies, families, educators, academics and the Ministry of Education to think about these very complex problems and take action collectively.”

“This is the type of data that, when collected, reveals major trends,” Nigro says. “The fact that only one or two boards in the province collect this data is a problem. In the world of demographic data collection, we say: ‘No data, No problem, No action.’”

As part of its knowledge mobilization plan, FESI is looking to create 3-5 page monographs this year: research briefs that take extensive research on particular topics and translate and disseminate it into language accessible for all to understand. Monographs will be based on identity-based data and will discuss the politics and pedagogy of the five attending stakeholder groups: English school boards; French school boards; parents and community partners; educators; and students.

“We want to help communities understand the power they have in making a change,” said Shah. "The power really does lie with the parents, communities and students, and that is a very important part of this process, and of the conversation.”

This year's conference is expected to attract 250 participants and welcomes all members of Ontario’s education community to contribute to the conversation. For more information, visit the Summer Institute website.

Learning With, Not Only From.

posted Aug 3, 2018, 9:12 AM by Ontario East   [ updated Aug 14, 2018, 9:19 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

- Written by Emma Griffin & Erin Bowdridge

Equity in education exists beyond the teaching and learning done in a classroom. In order to learn the work that programs and organizations are doing to contribute to equity education, graduate students enrolled in the course “Education of Marginalized Youth” at the University of Ottawa and conducted individual field studies. Erin Bowdridge’s investigation involved the Ottawa branch of Pathways to Education (PTE) organization at the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre, while Emma Griffin’s engaged with the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health.
PTE began in 2001 in Toronto and has since spread across Canada.  They have noted groundbreaking success in low-income areas, raising the high school graduation rate by an average of 85% in program areas (PTE 2018; Rowen 2012). Bowdridge focuses her examination on PTE’s four pillars of support for the programs: counseling, academic, social and financial (Oreopoulos et al., 2017, pg. 951). The academic and financial supports are particularly attractive to both students and guardians. Program managers meet yearly with all four Ottawa-based school boards (OCDSB, OCSB, UCDSB, and CDSBEO) as well as associates from Statistics Canada in order to receive the most up to date information regarding the populations served and specific needs of the various demographics of students. Bowdridge concludes that PTE contributes to the lifelong learning infrastructure that educators aim to instill in students, particularly marginalized youth. Because youth often use these after-school programs as a means to form ties with peers and workers, this approach also furthers their academic performance, and subsequently their academic success.  

     With focus on Youth Justice and Culturally Responsive Programming, Griffin’s engagement with Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health starts with her questioning of what Correctional Services of Canada (CSC) is doing to implement culturally responsive programming in order to effectively aid adolescents and adults in rejoining society after incarceration. The answer is not a whole lot. There is a lack of variety in programs for former offenders now coming out of incarceration, and options are both hegemonic and lacking in cultural appropriateness, especially for those with Indigenous backgrounds. 

     One great example of what CSC could be using in the rehabilitation of youth offenders is the Centre’s Youth Justice program. Griffin frames her investigation of Wabano’s programs using five main elements: acceptable spaces; identity formation; structure, agency, capital; policy and context; and intervention and support. She notes that institutional and organizational linkages and relationships are important. Wabano does maintain connections with government bodies, as well as ongoing communication between the youths’ caseworkers and legal and social services, but more partnerships in culturally responsive programming would increase the effectiveness of the positive efforts already being made.

See Bowdridge’s infographic poster (see attachment link below) and visit Griffin’s website, Wabano: Culturally Responsive Programming. Although these projects were performed at a graduate level, the act of students researching organizations and creating connections within their communities is something that can be adapted for any grade level. If knowledge and education are relational, students must not only be taught using practices that embody these interconnections, but must also be given opportunities to seek out and build networks on their own.  


Oreopoulos, P., Brown, R. S. & Lavecchia, A. M. (2017). Pathways to Education: An integrated approach to help at-risk high school students. Journal of Political Economy, 125(4), 947-984.

Pathways to Education (2018). Pathways to Education. Retrieved from: 

Rowen, N. (2012). Pathways to Education and it’s accomplishments. In Cumming, A. (Ed.) Adolescent Literacies in a Multicultural Context (pp. 36-55). Routledge.

Race: Can We Talk About It?

posted Jul 27, 2018, 3:54 PM by Ontario South   [ updated Aug 14, 2018, 9:19 AM by Noor El-Husseini ]

- Written by Noor E. & Olivia F.

“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason” – Abraham Joshua Heschel

     In my own experience, conversations about racial issues present themselves without warning. Racism happens in wildly forward ways, often referred to as overt or explicit racism. However, racism also occurs in subtle ways, otherwise known as covert or implicit racism. While the media sometimes covers stories of racism, the narrative is typically offered to the public as a singled-out, isolated event that generates, understandably, an overwhelmingly reactionary response. Dialogue and debate become secondary notions to opinion-driven conversations and the fuel of cyber-bullying, righteous condescension, or even hate-speech. Meanwhile, the chosen stories presented to the public become popularized, sensationalized and the buzz of any given day or week. I do not mean to suggest that they shouldn’t be. But what about the untold stories of everyday racism? What about the racism that isn't popularized enough by the media to have a seat at the table?

     Racism happens regularly – in broad daylight, through micro-aggressions, among friends and family, between colleagues and in groups, through the refusal of equitable treatment on the premise of difference and through both simple and complex acts of exclusion. How do we have conversations about racism that encourage us to open our minds and the minds of family members, colleagues, friends and neighbours who hold racist beliefs? How can we create room to challenge ourselves and each other, despite biases, privileges, assumptions, beliefs and political ideologies?

     As the Southern Regional Team Communication Officer, I have had the opportunity to look for organizations and community groups making strides to improve equity in our communities. I recently discovered London’s Community Forum on Racism held in September 2016. This event was run by the Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Oppression Advisory Community in partnership with the London Mayor’s Office and the Centre for Research on Health Equity and Social Inclusion and the Canadian Labour Congress. The goal was to host conversations about identifying racism, interrupting it and creating actions for a more inclusive city. Fortunately for myself, and anyone else that missed it, the organizers prepared a resource that highlights key points and dialogue called “Anti-Racism Kitchen Table Conversation Guide Beyond London’s Forum on Racism”.

     What does racism look like, sound like, feel like? How should racism be interrupted? What are examples of individual racism? Systematic racism? This resource guides readers on how to navigate difficult conversations by sharing do's and dont's including: using current issues in the media, positive body language, paraphrasing counterpart's points, not belittling, blaming or undermining your counterpart, and not expecting one conversation to change their mind. It also suggests strategies to address pitfalls we may encounter in such conversations like the abuse of power, diminishing or minimizing the experiences of marginalized persons, white fragility and so forth. The Forum also offered definitions, guiding questions, next steps and recommendations in their Forum Summary.

     Conversations around racism are not easy, but they are necessary. I have found myself in heated debates where emotions run high and those involved feel targeted, helpless, or hopeless. More often than not, individuals may shut down or go silent, are shamed or put down, or simply block others out. In his talk "More Action Needed", Kevin Lamoureux (educational lead for the Truth and Reconciliation Committee) referred to the "mistake of omission" as being much more detrimental than the "mistake of trying to do something good" and being unsuccessful. Echoing his sentiment, I don't mean to suggest that there is a "tidy", simple approach and do recognize the process is likely to be a messy one. What I do know is that the greatest disservice to supporting and promoting equity and inclusion is to not have the conversations at all.

1-10 of 25