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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!

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Oh, Snub! Microaggressions in the Classroom Committed by Everyday Educators

posted by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated ]

By: Sharla Serasanke Falodi and Farah Rahemtula

“Ek, I think I might have said something insensitive.”

“Should I say something about what was just said/done?”

“Am I overreacting?”

“Did they seriously think that was okay to say?”

“Why do I feel like this? My teacher is so kind.”

If any of these internal dialogues resonated with you, you might have experienced a microaggression, and, most likely your students have too! Yikes. That’s right- as well intentioned as we are as educators, we’ve ALL unknowingly (or ignorantly) committed microaggressions toward students. Often our own implicit biases are the culprit for this behaviour. 

So, what are microaggressions? Microaggressions are brief and regular verbal, non-verbal and/or environmental communications that underhandedly discriminate against marginalized people in society. These discriminatory communications are ongoing and cumulative over the span of an individual’s lifetime. The greater number of marginalized social identities one identifies with, the exponentially more microaggressions they will likely encounter in everyday life. (Pierce 1970, 1980; Oluo, 2018; Pérez Huber and Solorzano, 2015; Kohli and Solorzano, 2012; Sue, 2010).

But, wait. You might be thinking, “I don’t say or do microaggressive things ‘regularly’!” Or, “It just happens! My intentions are always good, and that’s what matters.”  It’s important to remember that the focus needs to be on the negatively impacted. It’s not about whether you committed the microaggression regularly or if your intentions were good. It’s important to consider the fact that specific marginalized identities are on the receiving end of these microaggressions on a constant basis.  Compounded over a lifetime, this can have a detrimental impact on the well-being and achievement of students from marginalized groups.


For example, think about the student who is regularly asked to pronounce words in an Anglicized way.  What internalized messages does this send to a child about their worth, intelligence, ethnicity, and sense of citizenship?  Accent policing promotes an assimilationist and xenophobic agenda. Or, beginning class each Monday morning with, “What did you do with your mom and dad this weekend?” For the child who comes from a family without one mom AND one dad, what internalized messages are they receiving about valued family structures? Furthermore, how might a child’s hesitancy or inability to answer this question (based on a lack of access into this learning activity), be perceived by educators? These are just two simple examples of ways we might commit microaggressions in the classroom. To view a more comprehensive list of examples, see the table below by Sharla Serasanke Falodi. 

So, what does this mean for us as educators?  How can we become more mindful of how we interact with students and adequately support those students who are being underserved.  First, the more we know about our students, who they are and their intersecting identities the more we’re able to be sensitive and responsive to their needs.  As educators, it’s vital to recognize that despite the differences in our social identities and lived experiences, we share something that is universal and it is our positional power over students. Our positional power as educators is the cornerstone for why all of us have committed microaggressions against students. Each microaggression committed against students in schools supports in maintaining the various institutional oppressions that exist in our school system. Having this positional power is why we must engage in continued interrogation of our practice and biases to ensure we are confronting barriers and not creating them- particularly for our most marginalized students and families.

Additional Resource

Microaggressions in K-12 Education:

Educator Self-Reflection Tool: Reduce Harm in Classrooms, Interrupt Microaggressions 

By Sharla Serasanke Falodi

If you’d like to continue your journey as a self-reflective practitioner by committing to anti-oppressive practices then consider referring to this Educator Self-Reflection Tool. This tool is not exhaustive and will evolve as we continue to learn and hear feedback from you. The microaggressions are categorized by mode of communication, but these are not rigid. Many microaggressions can be communicated in more than one way. 

What is important to note is that children are constantly listening, observing, challenging and learning in our classrooms. As educators we make hundreds of decisions a day and many of these need to be made quickly in snap judgements. Research shows that our implicit biases play out when we are multi-tasking and making decisions under a time crunch. Since microaggressions are our (act)ualized implicit biases, the classroom can be a really violent space if we aren’t aware.

This self-reflection tool might support in refining your intentionality when co-constructing your classroom climate with students. You’ll notice how many of these microaggressions against students are only possible because of our positional power as educators. This same positional power can be used to interrupt microaggressions you see committed by your colleagues or by other students. We are in such a privileged position as educators (pun intended)!

“I tell my students... When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” - Toni Morrison

 Modes of Communication         Microaggression Examples

Non-Verbal Microaggressions

Discrimination against a marginalized identity group of students or student communicated through body language, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, silence, avoidance- anything non-verbal.


Eye Contact

        a) Too much can be considered over-surveillance of particular students--participating in the criminalization of marginalized children 

        b)   Too little can be considered as invisibilizing particular students

Proximity Cues


standing/sitting close to specific students can put a target on their backs and have profound impacts on their self-esteem, sense of belonging, and treatment by other students. 

Wait Time

When working on tasks, varying wait times based on preconceived notions about a student’s capability. More wait time for productive struggle and cognitive dissonance is afforded to students who are viewed as more capable. Less wait time is given to those viewed as less capable, thereby widening the gap in their academic achievement and self-confidence as scholars.

Verbal Microaggressions

Discrimination communicated through direct or indirect comments said at, around, or about a marginalized identity group of students or student. Tone of voice is also considered under this category.


Following up a point/idea shared with your own voice by paraphrasing or repeating what was said with additional information, communicating that the student’s voice and contribution does not hold merit independently. Validate their thoughts by repeating exactly what was shared and confirm with them that it was heard/interpreted correctly.


Suggesting an idea that was already made by a student without giving them credit, or, giving credit to another student with more privilege and not the original source. One can ensure all voices are valued by documenting and displaying (on chart paper, projector etc.) contributions with the student’s name beside it.


Providing unsolicited support in the Thinking, Application, and Communication components of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Achievement Chart on the basis that the student might have special education exceptionalities or perceived as less capable. As a result, they remain boxed within Knowledge & Understanding skill development.

Accent Policing

Asking students to pronounce words in an Anglicized way, thereby demeaning their identities and promoting an assimilationist and xenophobic agenda. Understand that phonological literacy varies with languages where emphasis and pronunciation of letters and sounds will differ. 

Tone Policing

Suggesting that particular emotions a student is experiencing must be controlled before they will be taken seriously and heard. Variance in tone and expression of emotions can be a result of cultural differences.


Considering how this is done is key. Is it patronizing? Having the class clap for a student who remembered to write their name on a piece of work is not the same as highlighting the thinking of a student during a consolidation in math. This is a muddy one, and definitely depends on the relationships and community in the classroom. Feelings of favouritism in the classroom can result from praise as well, so be intentional and strategic about who receives this and how.


Speaking louder and/or slower with students who are learning to speak English or with

disabilities. Unless this is a real accommodation that they need, this is dehumanizing.

Class Discussions

Selecting the same few students to share their thoughts during class discussions because they are “articulate”. This can silence students and really hinder fruitful

learning for the entire class.


Continued mispronunciation of names, Anglicizing names, shortening student names without permission, and replacing names with pet names like “sweetie” and “darling” can be slights to a student’s identity. Modification of a student’s name should be initiated by the student.


Continuing to address and refer to a student by the wrong gender implies that they are not the gender(s) they self-identify with. If a student asks you to stop using female pronouns because they use they and them, and you refuse, this is considered gender based violence and Trans* phobia. Gender identity doesn't need to be formally endorsed by parents/guardians or changed on student records for school staff to use a name and/or pronouns that a student requests. It is their human right.


When addressing a minor disruption between students during class, consider who is given more opportunities to explain, who is asked to move, and who is believed. Notice these patterns and disrupt them by ensuring all students are given the same opportunity to be heard. If time is a factor then randomize the selection of who needs to move. Students can play on your response patterns and support in perpetuating harm.

Environmental Microaggressions

Discrimination against a marginalized identity group of students or student communicated through the materials, policies, physical organization, decor, processes and structures in place



Consider how students are addressed when they arrive late or have been absent. Who is asked to owe time and who are we more gracious with? Who do we offer missed work and catch-up instruction to? Who do we acknowledge compassionately with “You were missed” and who do we address with “You missed a lot”, or maybe, no acknowledgement. Are we pushing students out or serving them equitably through our responses to lates/absences? While it might be frustrating to address interruptions in our program, passive-aggressive communication and selective support is never okay.


All students deserve to be working on something within their zone of proximal development, but sometimes, students viewed as capable are given engaging and intellectually rigorous work, while students viewed as less capable are given mundane and rote tasks.

Clocked Instructional Time

Who gets uninterrupted learning time? Who is regularly asked to run errands to be kept “busy”? Who gets the pass to “help the kindies” and who is asked to stay in class to tutor their peers?

Seating Plans

Consider who is facing the wall, not seated in groups, seated closest to the teacher,

seated in the office, or seated in the hallway regularly. Who gets to learn collaboratively and who is forced to learn in isolation?

Learning Materials

Regularly using resources that promote dominant narratives and representation of dominant groups without critical discussions. Consider who is in your classroom and what you know about them and their lives. For example, using food as a learning material (i.e. mining chocolate chips out of a cookie) can be extremely uncomfortable for students experiencing food insecurity. 


Assuming students have the background knowledge about a topic or assuming that they do not. Schema will directly impact how connected a student feels to their learning. Offering choice when possible allows students to gravitate toward what is relevant to them. If introducing a topic, assume all students could benefit from a quick orienting text. For example, a quick 101 video, an image prompt with discussion, or story- something that is accessible and stimulating to all.

Static Ability Grouping

Assigning students to fixed groups based on results from pre-assessments and diagnostic tools- without the opportunity to move unless formally assessed again. This communicates beliefs about intelligence thereby creating status differentials in the classroom and hindering the growth of all students. Assess by triangulating observations, conversations, and student work products to provide a wholesome understanding of a student’s learning. Allow for flexible groupings and seating, where appropriate, to challenge the categorization of students. Avoid naming groups with labels that reinforce stereotypes and hierarchies as well.

Behaviour Management/Self-Regulation Programs

Inflexible expectations that breed compliance and consistently highlight and shame students who the program is built to fail, criminalize, dehumanize, and invisibilize. 

Student Voice

Consider who regularly occupies formal or informal leadership positions in your classroom. Which students are afforded decision-making power and why? Who is given a platform to express their opinions? These decisions will directly impact how students label, govern and interact with one another.


Kohli, R. & Solórzano, Daniel G. (2012) Teachers, please learn our names!: racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom, Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), 441-462.

Kohli, R., Pizarro, M., & Nevárez, A. (2017). The “New racism” of K–12 schools: Centering critical research on racism. Review of Research in Education, 41(1), 182-202.

Oluo, I. (2018). So you want to talk about race.

Pérez Huber, L., & Solorzano, D. G. (2015). Racial microaggressions as a tool for critical race research. Race Ethnicity and Education, 18(3), 297-320.

Pierce, C. (1970) “Offensive Mechanisms.” In The Black Seventies, edited by

F. Barbour, 265–282. Boston, MA: Porter Sargent

Pierce, C. (1980) “Social Trace Contaminants: Subtle Indicators of Racism in TV.”

In Television and Social Behavior: Beyond Violence and Children, edited by S. Withey and R. Abeles, 249–257. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Suárez-Orozco, C., Casanova, S., Martin, M., Katsiaficas, D., Cuellar, V., Smith, N., & Dias, S. (2015). Toxic rain in class: Classroom interpersonal microaggressions. Educational Researcher, 44(3), 151-160.

Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. John Wiley & Sons. 

My Plea to Civics Teachers

posted Aug 22, 2019, 3:32 PM by Ontario East

Written by Ryan Furlong

As the annual Council of the Federation meeting wrapped up in early July, the Premiers of all 13 Provinces and Territories made quite the splash online. It
was not because of partisan quarrels or riveting policy discussions, yet it came from a simple photo (see left) tweeted by Scott Moe, Premier of Saskatchewan. The photo depicted the leaders, all of whom are cis-men and for the most part white. 

Some of you might be asking yourself, what’s the big deal?  From an equity standpoint it feels like Canada’s political landscape has been moving backwards in the past few years – it was just six years ago that women accounted for almost half of the 13 premiers. As the highest offices in our country continue to look the same, the presence of diverse perspectives at decision making tables are dying. As a white cis-male myself, I can attest to the fact that no matter how sensitive I am towards any issues, I truly cannot understand a reality I do not live. Therefore, if we want a country that is equitable for all Canadians, than we need representation of all Canadians. Obviously we have to recognize that there are numerous institutional and societal barriers that limit marginalized groups from participating in politics. These limitations are entrenched in the framework of our democracy and require significant work to change this narrative – however, I believe that civics educators can be the catalyst for such change. 

Now you’re probably wondering, what do I need to do? Well, as a passionate civics educator, let me offer you some of my thoughts: firstly, we must recognize when there is a lack of diversity and call it out in our course material. According to Bell (2016), equipping students with effective critical thinking strategies is a pre-requisite to understanding systematic oppression in society. So, it is important to have frank discusses with students about how we normalize sameness and encourage them to analyze why we continue to do so.  A great resource as a starting point is the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House, while it focuses on American politics it has great commentary on how the political systems often oppress equity seeking groups. 

Secondly, we also need to recognize our successes. Despite the scarcity of diverse perspectives, there are still leaders of colour, with disabilities, and of various sexual and gender identities making leaps and bounds. These leaders can serve as positive role models for students who are underrepresented and help to validate their identities. A study on Gay and Lesbian role models in the media found that a majority of LGBTQ+ identifying students found a sense of admiration for queer characters on some of the most popular television. In fact, many respondents reported that they take strength from these characters and would like to “emulate [these] role models” in their own lives. Furthermore, I believe that providing positive political role models, it can inspire students to also use their voices for change.

Finally, we must engage students in the democratic process. Learning about political systems in a classroom can definitely be boring, especially for teenagers. Nonetheless, allowing your students to latch on to an issue they care about and run with it can show them that civics is fun! Academic Cather Gewertz calls this “action civics” – a process that not details how governments work but also take action. Teachers across the United States are using this approach and the success is prominent, according to Gewertz (2019) some Oklahoma classes even had bills begin heard at the state capital. While standing up for something they believe in, these students are gaining essential knowledge about our political systems. By taking this approach, who knows, maybe some students will become inspired to seek careers in political office?

So if you’ve come this far, you might be thinking does this really work? The answer: I don’t actually know, after all change is a slow moving process. Yet, I do know that something needs to kick start said change. Perhaps I am just an overly optimistic civils teacher but I do believe that if we can inspire our students, a photo of our country’s leaders will look a lot different than it does today. 

Hate speech/acts and mediation: A student-led creative anti-hate group and developing policies to follow.

posted Aug 15, 2019, 9:48 AM by Ontario East   [ updated Aug 15, 2019, 10:05 AM ]

Written by Genevieve Cloutier, OCT (PhD Candidate)

How should teachers proceed when they encounter racism, transphobia, homophobia, and/or xenophobia on school grounds? How should they respond to students who casually use hateful speech in conversation? What should they do when they see hateful words and symbols drawn and scratched into desks? These questions often comes up in my work as a high school teacher. I have worked through concepts relating to Otherness and decolonization as a graduate student, but the theoretical spaces that I traverse as I complete my PhD are not providing me with clear guidelines regarding what to do with hate speech passed off as casual conversation in schools. The theory that I encounter, although it moves me to act in ethical and relational ways, does not give me an action plan. How should a teacher/facilitator react, then?

In my quest to find an ethical (and diplomatic) way to ‘handle’ these situations, I have come across administrators who have warned me to be careful not to ‘shame children’ who use words that they ‘may not understand.’ I wonder: should I not call out students who are using homophobic and racist slurs? Should we not call students out for towing the line of hate speech?  This is, at times, the message I have received. I am hoping and hopeful that advocacy and teaching/facilitating can live in harmony, however. 

Image created by grade 8 student 
Supporting a school-wide action plan to ensure student safety is pivotal. My first action step, however, was to facilitate student-led initiatives. When I asked my students what we could do to address hateful and discriminatory language, they recommended that we start a creative anti-hate group. We met at lunch to discuss hands-on actions, and they came up with the idea of making stickers that we could use to replace the hateful vandalism with anti-hate messages.

They doodled out their ideas. They did visual research to determine what imagery, iconography, and symbolism would be best to combat hatred. They came up with slogans, messages; they dreamed big. Then they had a deep desire for words that inspired “all the haters” to move towards peace and unity:
A senior, as he was passing by, saw some of their designs and asked what they were doing. In response to their anti-hate stance, he recommended that they become ‘less oppositional.’ He explained that people would deface something with a strong message, that a clear opposition to the symbols and words that were used would just instill a desire to fight back. A debate emerged. Do these instances of hatred become fueled by backlashes? How can we mediate, educate, mobilize, resolve? He recommended that we depoliticize the stickers with positive symbols, the school’s animal mascot, for example.
Students debriefed after having consulted with this senior, and decided that we would create a couple of options to use. They decided that there was a place for stickers that contain a clear anti-hate stance, and stickers that replace the vandalism with positive imagery. Student advocates and allies decided that the most important point is to act: “We can no longer remain as bystanders.” As the designs receive final touches before they enter into production, we remain eager to witness and address what emerges next year. 

How can we ensure that this creative student-led initiative is also supportive by cutting-edge school policy? 

We live in a society that is increasingly at risk of being radicalized by hateful rhetoric found online. In an interview on CBC's The Passionate Eye, Bernie Farber, CEO and Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, stated that hate groups are on the rise in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia and target women, Jews, Muslims, Indigenous Peoples, the LGBTQ2 community, along with other minorities and immigrants. According to Statistics Canada as cited in a Barrie Today article, members of these hate groups “are mostly white males, aged 16 to 30, and the group committing the most hate crime is children under 18”.  As reported by CBC News, recently in Ottawa, for example, A 17-year old pleaded guilty following a racist spray-painting spree targeting synagogues, a mosque and church between November 13 and 19, 2016. 

We need to act against hate speech and hate crimes, and schools need to be the beating heart of this action. Inspiring and facilitating spaces that engage youth to act against the hateful rhetoric found in schools is paramount in the quest to inspiring positive change, but teachers and administrators need to be willing to facilitate and support initiatives and follow through. Hate speech and symbols are all too often passed as not being serious, and do not get the attention they warrant.

The list of encounters over my career so far are already countless. I have stood up against homophobic and racist slurs on so many occasions: “Hate speech is a serious offence.” “Love is love.” “Diversity and unity are at the cornerstone of a healthy society.” “Why do you feel so strongly about your position against this group, these humans?” “I want to have a thoughtful conversation with you.”

The agency I have to address this keeps growing. My work has just begun. Educating youth about this ongoing and growing problem while paying close attention to the bodies and voices that are being oppressed and marginalized promotes humanization, presents counter narratives, fosters peace building, and demonstrates allyship and care for social justice and human rights. We have a lot of work to do, but there are many of us to do this work together. 

School administrators should look towards a few resources before they create an individualized action plan for their school. I recommend that administrators, teachers, counsellors, and parents read Fact sheet #1: The Ontario Human Rights Code before they ask themselves: Does my school’s anti-bullying policy contain policy to protect the human rights of diverse student bodies? Does my school have adequate prevention strategies to ensure that students are not targeted by discriminatory language? Am I providing students with opportunities to express their need for tolerance, acceptance, respect, peace, and creative agency?

Policies need to adequately protect student voice. Moreover, and importantly from an art teacher’s perspective, students should have access to spaces where they can make an impact in the creation of sensitive spaces in their school. When students call for a creative anti-hate group, the possibilities for creating sensitive spaces are endless. 

In solidarity,
Genevieve Cloutier

Why I Turned My Back to Trudeau

posted Aug 9, 2019, 10:25 AM by Ontario East

Written by Aurora Ominika-Enosse

During the first weekend of April, two weeks before my final exams of my first year of University I attended a program called Daughters of the Vote, a program in which 338 women from across Canada are chosen to represent their federal riding for one week in Ottawa, Ontario. It was definitely a unique learning experience. I found myself in new situations that afforded me opportunities to meet other women from across Canada. Although there were ups and downs to that week, I don’t think that I would change this experience for anything.

I, along with other Indigenous delegates decided that we would turn our backs as a silent protest when Prime Minister Trudeau came in to speak to us during our session at the House of Commons. Other delegates across Canada also decided to turn their backs in a show of support and allyship. Like anything that is controversial or outside of expected norms, it took social media and news outlets by storm. There were people who supported our decision. But, there was also backlash from a lot of other people. 

I believe that the attention that we drew was a good thing. We were heard across Canada—coast to coast. I also believe that I did the right thing for me. Obviously we all turned our backs for individual reasons. But, it started when we came together as a group to talk about how we were feeling. It is an amazing feeling to know how powerful a group of young women can be when they come together as one. 

I turned my back because Trudeau and his government continue to fail me as an Indigenous woman. Indigenous women constantly receive unfair treatment in this country, from going missing or murdered, to forced sterilization. Since my time at Daughters of the Vote, the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women has come to an end after three years. As reported by Annabelle Timsit, the inquiry found that “Indigenous women and girls in Canada are three to four times more likely to go missing or be murdered than their non-native peers.” Indigenous women make up just 4.3% of Canada’s women; I am among the 4.3%. The scarier part is that Indigenous women are 16% of female homicide victims and 11% of missing persons cases that involve women.

As a woman, I already have to take extra precautions when I am out and about. However, as an Indigenous woman I have to go beyond that; I live in a constant state of worry. I have to post onto social media to let friends and family know that if I go missing it wasn’t because I left on my own or ran away and for them to please look for me because something has happened. This, this is why I ultimately decided to turn my back against Trudeau. I am sure that if you ask another delegate they will have a different answer and that is 100% okay.                                                                                                                                                                                        

I hope that we were able to show other women and even younger girls that it is okay to speak out about the things that you believe in regardless of what situation you’re in. I genuinely hope that Indigenous (along with non-indigenous) women apply for this program when it starts up again in 2021. For myself, I hope that the way I participated in this program and on that day inspired my eight year old sister to believe that she can do anything. I hope that I have inspired her to fight, to continuously learn and to live fiercely. I think that we live in an age where young girls are beginning to take strides in every aspect of life.

Shaping My Teaching for Inclusive Education for Students with Disabilities

posted Jul 29, 2019, 9:08 AM by Ontario East   [ updated Jul 29, 2019, 9:09 AM ]

Written By: Sidney Pompa-Sidhu

What does it mean when I say inclusive education? This is a fully loaded term, one that policy makers, teachers, administrators, parents and educators still have not fully figured out yet. The organization inclusive education Canada suggests that inclusive education is all about how we choose to develop and
design our schools, classrooms, programs, activities and lessons so that we can meet the diverse needs and preferences of every type of student with varied learning styles. Inclusive education is about assuring that all students have equal access to a quality education. I would also like to recognize that I know inclusive education is not synonymous with education for students with disabilities but for the sake of this blog, inclusive education for students with disabilities is what I will be focusing on. In examining the different avenues that the concept of inclusive educations takes forward, I find it important to begin by looking back, reflecting on where RSEKN’s conversation of inclusive education was almost a year ago, and then building ideas from this base.

While reading a RSEKN South August 2018 blog post on inclusive education and whether or not students should be taken out of the classroom, I was inspired as I focused on a particular section: 

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.

My mother has been in early childhood education for the past 28 years and prior to going into teacher education, I worked at a daycare with her where all of the classrooms were inclusive to students with disabilities. I had not realized this at the time, but the ways in which my mother had so flawlessly made a class of 25 plus students aged 3-5 years old work so well when she had anywhere from 5 to 10 students with special needs is truly inspiring and something that I have taken with me in my future practice as an educator. Similar to my mother, I have always known that working with kids was my passion. She has worked with every age group and every type of student, and there are not many people who are as patient, kind and understanding of every child’s differences and learning needs as she is. 

In my own experiences as a teacher candidate and now as a supply teacher, I have worked with lots of incredible teachers who have shown me how well inclusive classrooms work when it is done properly and done thoughtfully, and my mother is just one example of this. I have friends who are also recent graduates of the teacher education program who are in the exact same position as I am and who just like me, are doing the best they can and learning lessons along the way. As teachers and educators, we should constantly be trying to improve the ways in which we do things to better meet the needs of our students. Being a teacher means that you are a lifelong learner which who will constantly be reflecting and re-evaluating how you could improve things both inside and outside of the classroom to meet the needs of every type of student.

Every student deserves to feel safe and welcomed in their classroom community and every parent wants their child to feel that they have a sense of belonging in their school community. It is wonderful that Canada has moved towards an inclusive education model however, I do feel that we still have a lot to learn to figure out the best possible ways to include children with complex needs in regular classrooms. This article by the Globe and Mail from January 2019 mentions that inclusiveness can’t work without a thoughtful rethinking of how we teach children with diverse needs and how we structure the school day. Establishing inclusive classrooms needs to go way beyond just simply integrating students, but also thinking more critically about the ways in which we are choosing to teach our students.

Free Speech Does Not Mean Speech Without Consequences

posted Jul 25, 2019, 6:49 PM by Ontario East

Written by Noorin Nazari

A few months ago, as I was driving and listening to the radio, CBC Radio reported a story of University of New Brunswick professor, Ricardo Duchesne, being accused of hate speech for his online xenophobic comments about the presence of Muslims and Africans in “the West,” making a call for White men to “rise to resurrect the West.” I am concerned with the increased perpetuation of hate speech here in Canada. And, as a doctoral candidate, I am also trying to understand how the lines between ‘hate speech’ and ‘free speech’ are being drawn or blurred. I followed the recent story on CBC Radio and its ensuing online write-up: “Case of 'white supremacist' professor raises debate about free speech vs. hate speech on campus.” The article brings forward multiple perspectives on such lines of inquiry, including a justification on behalf of the UNB professor made by Mark Mercer, a Philosophy professor at Saint Mary's University in Nova Scotia and the President of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. Mercer claims that, "We should be free, all of us, to explore ideas as we will.” How far may one go in damaging a society and justifying the act as free speech? 

What I have come to realize, is that hate speech is still part of Canadian social norms. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, an organization that monitors and works to counter hate groups, declares that "White supremacism is on the rise at an alarming degree.” Moreover, “there are over 130 active right-wing extremist groups in Canada. Most explicitly they target our Muslim and Jewish neighbours, but extreme misogyny, anti-LGBTQ+, hatred towards people of colour, Indigenous peoples, those who are differently able, and other forms of bigotry are extremely prevalent in these groups” (See Canadian Anti-Hate Network website). Should such increase in discrimination not be alarming for a society that touts itself as being open to members from different cultural and religious communities?

Recently, Canada put an end to its indifference on the matter. In 2018, the Library of Parliament published “Hate speech and freedom of expression: Legal boundaries in Canada.” In it, they call for the following action: 

It is clear that societal changes and technological developments will mean that the way our laws attempt to contain the harms caused by the spread of hatred will continue to inspire debate and the search for new solutions. (p. 14)

Following strong public debate on the role of social media in disseminating hate, in May 2019 the Canadian Government announced a new digital charter to combat hate speech. While its details are yet to be shared, there is hope that through such initiatives Canadians will realize the principles which differentiate free speech and hate speech. 

Critically addressing hate speech in public spaces, real or virtual, is one of the great political and educational challenges of our time. Schools face this challenge more than any other time. Education needs to take a proactive role in addressing hate speech. How might curricula include material that, rather than being ignored, seeks to create an open and safe environment for us to discuss what constitutes hate speech? Moreover, how might teachers must develop and implement pedagogical approaches that build those safe and ethical spaces so students not only learn that free speech does not mean speech without consequences, but also learn to respectfully present and respond to comments and opinions with which others may disagree? The point is not to downplay the negative power of hate speech and chalk it up to an opinion to be ignored. The aim is to help students learn to distinguish between statements that contribute to debate and analysis of an issue to further knowledge and understanding, and statements that simply but violently exclude people based on particular identities or characteristics. 

We all are responsible for and capable of disrupting hate speech in our own capacities. Following the news on UNB professor’s hate speech allegations, his peers sent out a statement condemning White supremacy. While the initial news was disappointing, particularly because it came from and was defended by the academia, the words of professors who wrote against hate speech sent arrays of hope for a better future.  This said, it is evident that education has the potential to harm or heal a society. It is up to the educators to take a path that sustains our social harmony and restores justice.

Changing the way we respond to problem behaviors

posted Jul 24, 2019, 12:07 PM by Ontario South

Written by: Olivia Faulconbridge

    The Southern Ontario RSEKN team has focused its efforts on school exclusion in marginalized youth in Ontario. An important area of exclusion relates to suspension and expulsion. Previous blogs have discussed inequality in rates of suspension in youth with disabilities and black youth. These are two examples of marginalized youth who are more likely to experience suspensions and expulsions in school environments.  
    As we have discussed youth with disabilities such as autism, ADHD, learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities are more likely to be removed from the classroom or school when their behaviors or needs become too much for the school to handle. Additionally, black youth receive suspensions and expulsions from school at shockingly high rates compared to their white peers. 


    There is no proof that suspensions and expulsions work to improve the problem behaviors and create any kind of positive change for students. Rather youth who are suspended or expelled from school are likely to repeat offenses and be suspended or expelled a second time. Further, as our previous blogs discussed, suspensions and expulsions lead to negative consequences for most youth. For youth with disabilities, suspensions and school breaks disrupt any potential learning success they have. Additionally, these students are more likely to drop out of school or repeat a grade. For black youth, suspensions and expulsions lead to increased dropout rates compared to their white peers. 


    Suspensions and expulsions evidently lead to negative academic outcomes for marginalized youth as they are not present in the classroom. However, another factor is important to consider. In our blog on suspension and expulsion in black youth we reported the views of black youth on their experiences with school. These youth express feeling more negatively about their school experiences, lack a feeling of safety in the school environment and feel like they cannot trust school staff or authority figures in the school. When youth do not feel safe and cannot trust the people in charge of teaching them, there is a break in an important system and the relationships that should hold that system together. If youth don’t feel like they can trust their teachers and principals, why would they try to improve on any kind of behavior? How can they focus on learning? Why should they be motivated in the school environment?


    The Southern Ontario RSEKN team has worked on finding resources to support more positive responses to students “negative behaviors”. One approach that Ontario boards have begun to turn to involves restorative approaches to education which focuses on four principles: relationality, contextualism, dialogism and future orientation. The goal of restorative approaches to education is to build strong and positive relationships in a safe and inclusive environment and focus on working towards a more positive future rather than focusing on past negative events. Schools and schoolboards across Ontario have begun to turn towards restorative approaches and the results have been very positive. Schools that have turned to this approach benefit from improved relationships and students that have the opportunity to not only understand consequences of behaviors better but also have the opportunity to voice their opinions and experiences with authority figures. The Southern Ontario RSEKN team recently released a research brief outlining restorative approaches to education and success stories as a resource for school teams across Ontario. It provides an excellent definition of restorative approaches and examples of how this approach can be used in all schools.  

    Another resource that will be developed by the Southern Ontario RSEKN team and released this Fall will be a video 

providing narratives of exclusion in Ontario schools, facts and statistics. Alongside the video will be a number of resources and questions to open the discussion for change in the way we work towards not only increasing inclusion but also reducing exclusion in our schools for all marginalized youth. 


“Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioral consequences” Dr. Dan Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child


Digital citizenship and inequality: From classroom to workforce

posted Jul 11, 2019, 11:57 AM by Ontario East

Written by: Noorin Nazari

My keen interest to keep abreast of debates concerning citizenship has exposed me to the concept of digital citizenship, and of course, to the question of equity. I was taken aback when I read School Boards - IT Systems and Technology in the Classroom, the Auditor General of Ontario report published December 5th, 2018. In the report, various forms of disparities across school boards and schools are documented; however, the causes of such disparities are examined from a utilitarian perspective. Consequently, they remain at the procedural and regulatory levels and in turn do not take up the underlying socio-economic causes of such disparities. For example, in one instance the audit observed that, “Students’ access to information technology and consequently students’ learning experiences varied across schools” (p. 548). The report suggests that issues are due to outdated technology and an absence of evaluative assessment rather than the socio-economic background of students and their respective access to digital devices. 

As a “visible minority” woman, I know first-hand, the challenges one faces to enact citizenship in Canada. Drawing on the work of Westheimer and Kahne (2004), we might take up equality and equity through three different conceptions of citizenship. First, a normative citizenship approach emphasizes the conventional characteristics of a ‘good’ citizen such as honesty. Second, for these two scholars, a progressive citizenship approach involves participatory citizens who take on volunteer projects and vote. Their third concept is informed by a critical approach or ‘social justice-oriented citizenship’ in which citizens question, challenge, and seek to change established systems of inequality and injustice. 

One may see digital citizenship within a similar context. A vision of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that revolves around issues pertaining merely to availability, accessibility and regulatory mechanisms, is contrary to the view of experts on digital citizenship who advise that we need to move forward from a normative approach that emphasizes only ‘safe, legal and ethical’ use of IT and towards additional questions of digital literacy and digital participation in civic and political affairs. These questions inevitably bring about the notion that equality as digital participation is not only about accessibility and consumption but also equal opportunities to create, interpret and evaluate digital information. Experts show that IT use—equal opportunities to create, interpret and evaluate digital information—has the potential to create a more equitable society. For instance, in a 2013 social action curriculum project developed by Ng-A-Fook, Radford, Yazdanian, and Norris with disadvantaged and marginalized school youth in Ottawa, Ontario, it was found that initiatives such as the development of a social network site to teach novel studies and the establishment of a student-led news broadcast had positive impact on civic participation of participating students.

In contrast, when digital citizenship discriminates against one demographic category at a very young age in schools, this reflects at the social level. A 2017 report—entitled The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy and published by the Information and Communications Technology Council of Canada—reviewed ten years of ICT trends in Canada and raises some alarming concerns in relation to gender disparity in the ICT sector. The report states, “the participation of women in ICT profession has remained relatively constant, averaging between 24% and 25%, for more than 10 years.” At work women are further discriminated against. In 2016, as the report makes clear, women in the ICT sector earned nine cents for each dollar men earned, marking a difference of $7, 600 in annual wages. The underrepresentation of groups who are discriminated against, either as newcomers, marginalized youth or women, are due to a wide array of systemic barriers which in turn impact who has access to equity in a classroom, a workplace, or in curriculum to labor policies. If we are to create a just society, the means and mechanisms, such as ICT, that materialize equitable digital citizenship ideals should also be built upon the principles of equity.

Supporting Your Muslim Students

posted Jul 7, 2019, 10:53 AM by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated Jul 8, 2019, 5:03 PM ]

Gilary is the the Advocacy Coordinator for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, The co-founder of the Sisters Retreat, and a Mom of two. Gilary is currently pursuing her Masters in Leadership and Community at York University 

We know the statistics: in 2017, police-reported hate crimes in Canada rose by 47 percent to 2,073 – the highest level since 2009. Ontario experienced the biggest annual increase, where crimes targeting Muslims increased by 207 percent. In Quebec, reports of hate crimes against Muslims were highest in February 2017– right after six men were killed in a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque.

We have argued about the need for prayer spaces in schools, and heard from Muslim students that their schools are not always welcoming places. 

Just two weeks ago, Quebec banned the use of religious symbols by teachers and some other public sector workers. This includes kippahs, turbans, and hijabs.

We are living in a time where Muslim communities are increasingly under attack, and young Muslims are having to sift through the noise and find space for their own true voice.

How do we as educators and youth advocates support the creation of this space?

I don't take the responsibility of answering this question lightly. I know what it feels like to be visibly Muslim, a new immigrant, and black. I know what it feels like to be called names for my hijab, and I understand the challenges and pressures of coming of age as a Muslim post-9/11. While my experience as a young black-Latina Muslim teen in the early aughts wasn’t pretty, I didn't have Snapchat, or Facebook or Donald Trump, or hijab bans to deal with. The world is different now and teens are facing many more challenges

Young Muslims today have so much they want us to understand about who they are and what they are grappling with. The best way to do that is to talk to them. So I did. I asked a few Muslim youth from public schools across the GTA the question: If you could give your teacher one thing to think about when it comes to better supporting you as a Muslim student, what would it be?

Here is what they had to say:

  1. "I can't be your spokesperson on Islam and Muslims. Every Muslim high school student wants their teachers to first view them as a student just like everyone else.  We are not just Muslim, and what you hear about Muslims on TV doesn't represent us." -  Grade 11 Student YRDSB

  1. "Final exams and big assignments while fasting in Ramadan are hard. Asking for accommodations is harder. I don't know who to go to and I don't know how to ask. I wish my teachers would make announcements at the beginning of the school year let us know how to ask and who to ask." - Grade 10 Student TDSB

  1. "I want teachers to know that those controversial topics we debate in class aren't just theoretical debates. Be aware that sometimes you are debating things that impact your Muslim students' lives directly. When you are arguing in favor of the Quebec Niqab ban you may be talking about taking away the rights of someone your student is related to." Grade 11 student, YCDSB

  1. "It's nice to feel seen and understood. We just got a prayer room at our school. It's made me feel like our school really cares about us, it's made me feel like it's ok to feel proud of my Muslim identity, like it's not something I need to hide. Now I just wish we learned more about Muslim histories and heritage in our classes"- Grade 12 student, PDSB

Your Muslim student is tired of being reduced to “a single story”, as author Chimamanda Adichie calls it. They want you to see them in all their identities. They want you to understand that no two Muslim students are alike. They want you to know that, as a young person, they are just starting to understand their faith independent from they’ve been taught by their parents.  They are trying to understand all parts of what makes them who they are — Muslim, Black, Women, Men, Queer, Trans, Disabled, Able-Bodied — and how all of those parts exist together. And while they are happy to answer some of your questions about their religion, they want you to know that they can’t be your encyclopedia. It’s too much.

Part of creating inclusive classroom settings as an educator is also about remembering the inherent power dynamics that exist in teacher-student relationships. We must remember that for many marginalized students the need to be exceptional and prove people’s assumptions wrong is very present and makes it difficult to ask for support. It goes a long way for students when teachers are explicit about how they can support them. To make it clear how and who to ask for help can bring so much relief to your struggling student.

Students want your allyship and your action. This summer think about what allyship in action can look like in your classroom.  


NCCM Townhall Report on the Impact of Islamophobia on Highschool Students

TDSB Islamic Heritage Month Educators Guide /

The Danger of a Single Story [Interview] with Chimamanda Adichie

Islamophobia: Understanding anti-Muslim racism through the lived experiences of Muslim youth (Vol. 116, Transgressions: Cultural Studies and Education). By Navid Bakali, Navid


Pride Month: a look at where we are and how to continue to move forward.

posted Jun 26, 2019, 10:28 AM by Ontario South   [ updated Jun 26, 2019, 10:32 AM ]

Written by: Olivia Faulconbridge

        June is Pride month, in which communities around the world come together to support the LGBTQ2+ communities. Generally, this month is filled with positive energy, message, and support shared with LGBTQ2+ individuals. While this month brings hope for all that we are moving in a positive direction for the inclusion of all individuals that identify with the LGBTQ2+, there continues to be a lack of inclusion in our schools, communities and homes. 

Ontario and Canada as a whole have made great strides over the last few decades to improve the well-being of LGBTQ2+ communities. Ontario has a law protecting transgender rights, which bans conversion therapy and supports parent equality. The Accepting Schools bill 13 developed in 2012 protects the rights of students in schools to be included and treated equally, as well as enforces the protection of their safety in school environments. Equal marriages were legalized across the country in 2005. However, these changes to our government cannot change the way each Canadian or Ontarian individual views the LGBTQ2+ communities. Unfortunately, LGBTQ2+ communities still deal with stigma, homo- and transphobia, harassment and abuse. Recent changes to the Ontario health and physical education curriculum further endangered the lives and well-being of youth identifying with LGBTQ2+. Curriculum changes directly impact the inclusion and health of LGBTQ2+ youth. 


    Studies have shown that LGBTQ2+ youth are at a heightened risk for issues with mental health. LGBTQ2+ youth are at higher risk of suicide and substance abuse than heterosexual youth. Specifically, the Rainbow Health Ontario group indicates that LGBTQ2+ youth are 2.5 times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide and were 1.5 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Further, of youth that identify with LGBTQ2+, 77% identify seriously considering suicide and 45% have attempted suicide in Ontario. Additionally, LGBTQ2+ youth are at greater risk for childhood maltreatment, experiences of sexual abuse, and isolation. 


    The Canadian Mental Health Association identifies three significant determinants that relate to positive well-being in schools; social inclusion, freedom from discrimination and violence and access to economic resources. Unfortunately, LGBTQ2+ youth often are not provided with equal opportunities to these as others. Bisexual and trans people are over-represented among low-income Canadians. LGBTQ2+ youth experience stigma and discrimination across environments. Further LGBTQ2+ youth are often the targets of sexual and physical assault, harassment and hate crimes. 


    Evidently, as a community, we still have work to do to ensure the safety and well-being of all youth in our schools including LGBTQ2+ youth. The RSEKN Southwestern Ontario Team released a resource for stakeholders in our school communities. Aaron Rousseau a student at the University of Waterloo working with Dr. Kristina Llewellyn wrote a research brief outlining issues LGBTQ2+ youth struggle with and how schools can better support students.

     Aaron provides an important summary and description of appropriate terminology including; LGBTQ2+, cisgender, gender identity, sexual identity, 2 spirited, transgender and gender non-conforming. Aaron further identifies a number of steps that can be taken to better support the LGBTQ2+ youth sitting in our classrooms. First, schools can create space for trans and gender non-conforming youth to explore their gender by eliminating gender binary uniforms, enforcing gender neutral dress codes, providing gender inclusive washrooms, developing Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, and ensuring classrooms are free of binary images. Second, schools and teachers can use resources such as the GLAAD media reference guide (GLAAD, 2016) or Lee Airton’s Gender: Your Guide (2018), to inform the language they use in the classroom. These resources provide important examples of how to communicate in non-exclusionary terms. Further, schools should include gender and sexual diversity in all learning by using books and information that consider gender and sexual diversity across all grades. Lastly, teachers should access resources for themselves and their students to provide recognition, inclusion and acceptance. Further, teachers and school staff should work to ensure all of our students have access to the best support available. Teachers should strive to learn and be a positive person for each of their students. 

“Pride is not an LGBT celebration, it’s a human rights celebration – it’s a celebration of equality – it’s a celebration of inclusion – it’s a celebration of acceptance.” – Abhijit Naskar

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