In celebration of Ireland's YES vote, I thought I'd post a few pics of the beaver we've seen recently paddling along the shore here in Mimico. She seems to enjoy coming to munch on the tender greens on the little island near our apartment before heading back "home" near the park by the EYC.
I've been engaged in a 4-part book talk series this year, using the Educators' Equity Companion Guide, a small book that invites dialogue on a number of "isms" teachers face in schools and classrooms.
In preparation for the fourth and final part of our book talk, I asked participants to reflect on one or more questions from a list and send me their thoughts in writing. I took all the reflections and plugged them into wordle.net, to synthesize major themes, and was intrigued that the top word by far was "beliefs", closely followed by "students" and "think".
Indeed, author and recently retired educator Karen Hume builds her model of differentiated instruction on the cornerstone of teacher beliefs and knowledge. Everything we do with and for students is founded on our beliefs about what students can do, and about who they are and what defines them.
Equal to "students", though, and only slightly smaller than "beliefs", was the word "think"!!
In these politically heated times, where our beliefs drive not only our instructional decisions but also the decisions of the families of the students we teach, we need to keep a cool head, and THINK about what we are doing and why it makes sense for our kids and our society.
Our beliefs may be the cornerstone of the whole operation, but the rest of the building needs solid building blocks grounded in research and logic... and kindness.
I am looking forward to sharing our final equity session together tomorrow at lunch.
Those who followed my flight blog for the three years it tool me to earn my pilot license know that I spend my summers on PEI, and that often my Saturday mornings out there are spent at a greasy spoon near YYG, where the local pilots meet for breakfast (and sometimes flying!!!) each week.
This past Sunday after church, Tats, Alex and I went to the Gay Pilots' Association brunch here in Toronto. It was a leetel different from the PEI event we are used to, hehe...
For starters, we were not the only women there!!! Secondly, we were not the only openly GAY people there!!! Thirdly, Tats was not the only commercial pilot there!!!
And there was live jazz music! And the food was edible!
My only complaint was that -- unlike many a Saturday on PEI -- we didn't get to go flying afterwards.
Alex had an excellent time, and asked afterwards, "Mommy, they're fun! When are we going to another Gay Pilot Breakfast?" No worries, kid, Dean's already got you signed up to work the booth at Pride this year, lol!
I spent today at the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) building in downtown Toronto.
No, I was not getting written up in the blue pages!! I had been invited there to contribute to and hear ideas about an AQ course they are developing, on creating safe spaces for and teaching LGBTQ students. (It's the first Additional Qualifications course of its kind in the whole world, apparently!)
Tempted as I am to go off on a rampage about how I feel/felt about the OCT, and how that prejudice of mine was seriously challenged by today's extremely positive experience, or to write a long commentary about how incredible it felt to walk into a room filled with my professional colleagues where -- for once -- I was not in the minority, I will resist those temptations, and instead focus this blog post on perhaps the most life/career-altering part of the day for me: The introduction to "Open Space" facilitation format.
The idea behind Open Space Technology is simple: The space is open for a broad range of voices to be heard and captured. The participants become the technology.
This "unfacilitation" is profound in its effectiveness; although clearly a lot of preparation is put into the day, there is no agenda, and few guiding principles, other than the idea that we are to engage in three conversations if we want to, two before lunch, and one afterwards, and that there will be some closing circle activities at the end of the day.
Some folks were uncomfortable that we were not starting with introductions so that we'd know who was in the room, but the "facilitators" encouraged us to trust the format, as they didn't want roles and titles --which had purposely been left off of our name tags -- to drive our preconceptions of who people were and what they brought to the "table" (I put that word in brackets because in fact there weren't any. Tables, I mean. People sat at first in a large circle, and then moved to various spaces in the room and throughout the two floors of the building we were in.)
Basically, the day unfolded like this: We were given a theme about which to think and develop inquiry questions or subtopics which we wanted to explore further. Anyone with a particular theme in mind was invited to write the title of their topic on a large sheet of paper, and take a sticky note off the rooms assignment board, and stick it on their sign, and long with their name. The topic signs were then posted in a large "market place", so that other participants could see what different sessions, or conversations, were on offer, and choose to join one if they so wished.
Almost immediately, people started to collaborate: As they noticed similar themes being posted, they approached other "group leaders" to see about combining conversation groups. We also worked together to ensure that there was a rich variety of sessions spread out amongst the three time slots so that everyone would get to go to a topic of importance to them.
And then we were off!
I went to a session for a bit, and then left to "buzz in" to another session that had caught my eye earlier. Then I went off to facilitate a topic I had posted; we started with only two in the group, and then by then end of the 45 minutes, we had over 10. After lunch, I facilitated another topic. Ideas were captured by a scribe on chart paper which had been left around the rooms, and voice recorders were also available (apparently the OCT will transcribe as much as they can.)
The day ended with everyone coming back together into a large circle, and then we all introduced ourselves and our current roles, which somehow no longer seemed important, after we had had the chance to engage with so many different voices on an individual level!
When you've been teaching and facilitating workshops as long as I have, it becomes a rare day indeed when you stumble across a truly transformative format.
Don't get me wrong; While learning about various teaching strategies and topics in the workshops I attend, I often pick up new facilitation tips and tricks which I sometimes adopt and add to my own facilitation repertoire as a presenter. But it's frequently a case of a new twist on an old theme. Open Space Technology is a whole new theme!!!
I can't wait to try it out with a group of teachers this summer, and hopefully with a group of students, if I can find a willing co-host at my school. :-D
Many teachers at our school have been sharing videos, stories and rich conversations to spark critical thinking with their classes in preparation for Day of Pink on April 8, 2015. Our VP recently sent around some YouTube videos, "What Would YOU Do?", filmed by a news outlet in the US, as a resource to spark conversations with our grade 6, 7 & 8 students.
One of these videos is shared below. It is approximately 14 minutes long, and features a lesbian couple (actors) out for a meal at a restaurant with their two children (also actors), and a homophobic waiter (also an actor). It is interesting to see what unfolds....
I suggest spending some "before" time to get students attuned to the bigger themes in the video.
Two "before" questions I might ask my students are the following:
Then I would show the first 8 minutes or so of the video:
After pausing around 8 minutes, I would ask students:
Following this, I would show my class the second half of the video, and then allow them to consider/write about/discuss these questions:
As a sequel to the two-part activity above, I might show the following video, in order to demonstrate how students can take a stand against injustice.
To enrich the conversation further, I would definitely spend some time facilitating a conversation with students about "Pink Shirt Day" (which addresses bullying more broadly) and "Day of Pink" (which specifically address homo- and trans-phobic bullying.
For some teachers, getting started with class discussions about social justice and equity can be tricky. I hope this blog post offers a helpful resource for the LGBTQ context, and I welcome comments and anecdotes about how the conversation goes in your class!
Some colleagues and I have been reading and discussing a little book we picked up at a Board Climate Training session.
The Educator's Equity Companion Guide is a slim but rich thinking resource, available in hard copy or as an e-book. Our vice principal bought a copy for anyone wanting to participate in our book talk, and we currently have three small groups meeting to share insights about the topics.
My own group meets once a month for four months, at lunch time, in my classroom. In our first session, we read and discussed the introductory section, on identity and intersectionality. Our next meeting happens this coming week, as we begin to explore Section 2 of the book, on specific "isms".
If you have a copy of this book, I invite you to follow along on our learning journey!
More specifically, for our next session, we agreed to read the following:
As you read, I invite you to consider the following for each chapter:
Ch. 2 - Faith (pg 38)
Ch. 3 - MENTAL HEALTH (pg 44)
Ch. 4 - Race (pg 51)
Ch. 9 - Socio-Economic Status (pg. 88)
These are a lot of thinking questions, I know. Please consider reading and reflecting on ONE chapter a day or week.
Would love to see some specific questions, comments or concerns posted below, and will do my best to address these personally or have someone from my group respond!
Thank you for joining us on our learning journey.
Some readers may recall our run-in with Tony, the misogynistic homophobe on Parliament Hill a few weeks ago. Today I finally got around to crafting an email which I sent to the good people at the permit office in Ottawa.
We shall see what transpires...
It's the final day of Black History Month, and so I wanted to shout out to my friends of African -(or Jamaican - or Caribbean- etc.) Canadian descent...
In our struggle for equity and social justice, the LGBTQ community has a lot to learn from our black sisters and brothers; in the face of blatant discrimination and violation of human rights, they fought bravely and resiliently, standing up (and in some cases, sitting down!) for what they knew to be right.
We in the LGBTQ community can take heart in knowing that their efforts were not in vain. While the struggle is far from finished, they (and we) have come a long way.
I'm thinking of a situation a colleague came to me about recently. They invited their class to design a logo for our Board's "design a logo for Day-of-Pink T-shirt" contest. It was to be an authentic, real-life application of some of the Visual Art and Media conventions they had studied.
While some of the students were excited about the prospect of designing a logo that might be selected to be printed on thousands of shirts to be worn by students and teachers across the board, others rebelled, and a few even started a petition, coming to the teacher and announcing collectively, "We're not doing this -- you can't make us! It goes against what our religion and our parents teach us!" (Wow, really? your parents teach intolerance for diversity, and discrimination on a protected ground?!)
The teacher was at a loss: They wanted to promote diversity, plant a thinking seed about equity and social justice, and they knew that both the Board and the Ontario Human Rights Act stood behind them.
But they also wanted to "respect the home culture" of their students.
I invited the teacher to consider whether they would want to respect the home culture if they were designing Black History Month posters and some students indicated that their parents preferred they not associate with coloured folk.
In discussing the case with another colleague, it was suggested that choices and options be given to the students, a-la "you can design a logo for the Pink T-shirt Day, or you can design a logo for...."
Again I wondered, if the assignment had been given around a Black History Month theme, would there have been a choice not to participate?
I'm not naive enough to think that internal racism has been eradicated... I know there are plenty of people who give the outward appearance of being culturally inclusive while "feeling" inside -- consciously or unconsciously -- that their lighter skin tone somehow makes them superior. But I also know enough to know that the vast majority of the population, at least in the public service domain, at least knows better than to express their racism openly. It's simply not acceptable; we've agreed to that as a culture. One simply is not racist in the Canadian public domain -- at least towards people of colour.
Oh how I long for the days when we can say the same about homophobia. Think what you like in your heart (that's a whole other battle), but know that one simply doesn't make homophobic remarks or say things that could be offensive to a full 10% of the population; it just simply isn't publically acceptable.
We're not there yet.
But then, the civil rights movement wasn't a 50m sprint!
If our black brothers and sisters can achieve equal rights, at least in theory, and increasingly in practice, then so can we.
I am reading, listening and learning.
Happy Black History Month, my sisters and brothers -- thank you for sharing your experience with us so that we can grow and learn from your struggles and be richer for having been exposed to your culture!
A colleague forwarded this to me after our most recent school climate meeting, at which another colleague was talking about the importance of language. We are considering using it as part of a series of media and character ed lessons as we prepare for Day of Pink in April.
Having just read of Leelah's suicide, I feel compelled to write a short note to anyone out there who is transgender or gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer or questioning and who may have been told by so-called "Christians" that there is something wrong with you, please know, there isn't!
The tragedy of this story is that instead of remorse, the victim's parents are apparently in denial, having initially posted about their child's "accidental" death on Facebook, claiming their son was out for a walk when he was hit by a truck. (In fact, Leelah chose to walk on a highway at night, apparently 2 a.m. or thereabouts, when it was dark out, and she could easily be struck by the big truck that she walked in front of. She also posted a suicide note to her tumblr account, to be published after her death. It's reblogged here, in case her account is deleted, which it surely will be once her family gets hold of things.)
The situation this family has created for itself is worse than awful, and while many are retaliating in anger, no one can truly understand the complexity of their pain. However, the purpose of this post is not to offer them comfort, but rather, to comfort those who may be suffering in the same way Leelah suffered before she chose to end her life, as this was, after all, her dying wish.
If you are an LGBTQ Christian who is oppressed by his/her church, please know there are many brothers and sisters out there who know God's love is for you, too! Don't let narrow-minded Christians who are missing a few key pieces of the faith let you lose yours!
Please don't give up; go get help.
It does get better!!!!
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!) Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.