Already from the descent into Thunder Bay a few days ago, I could see that my assumptions were going to be challenged. From my birds-eye view, I saw a golden sun setting slowly, slowly over a broad landscape abundant with natural resources... waterways, vegetation -- all covered in snow, but big and bold and inviting, none the less.
I snapped photo after photo, and started to get excited about my short visit to this northern Canadian centre.
My arrival at the hotel continued to dismantle my internal stereotypes of Northern Ontario, when I was greeted by an almost-certainly LGBTQ front desk clerk. "You might be pleasantly surprised..." the clerk suggested, when I said it was my first time in T-Bay, to which I responded, "I already am"!
Once I had checked in, I elected to go for an evening walk near the hotel in Thunder Bay. Although it was already after 8 p.m., it was still quite a bit brighter out than Toronto at this time of day, and I marveled at the gorgeous pink sky and the glimpses I caught of the northern landscape wedged in between the hotels, supermarkets and other buildings in town.
The delight continued the next morning, when I was picked up by my colleague from the OT Local, and transported to the office where we'd be spending the day together with a wide variety of interesting and interested teachers. I did not have to coerce them to muck around with all the ideas I threw at them throughout the course of the 6 hours we spent together!
Even if they are OTs by choice, the paid, during-the-school-day professional development that contract teachers enjoy are a scarcity for those who make their living covering for us who are out of our classrooms for a day. My participants were eager to increase their knowledge and understanding of the latest directions in 21-C learning in general and math in particular.
I was happy to oblige, and we enjoyed an engaging day together in Thunder Bay, despite the announcement from my own, southern board that morning, and the many unsympathetic, taunting texts and emails I got from local colleagues in Peel...
The only way to climb the SAMR ladder is by stepping onto the first rung, and so, while they engaged with the math task, I asked some participants to record their group's progress and create digital records of their work to share online.
Something else I wanted to be sure I addressed was how to incorporate an equity lens in the math classroom. Content areas are increasingly integrated, and there is no reason to trade in social justice and equity for a robust math program; with a little forethought, both can be achieved.
This was especially important for me during this trip, because in many of the schools in this area, the vast majority of the students come from FNMI backgrounds, and yet, most if not all of the teachers in the workshop were *not* FNMI. Unpacking systemic bias and knowing how to critically examine the everyday is a crucial skill for both teachers and students.
So, we perused the newspapers (participants were particularly excited that I had brought a few papers from Toronto with me!) and collected fractions, converting them into ratios and percents, and using that as a launchpad for conversations about how the media portrays a variety of people groups.
It was an activity I had done with my Grade 7 and 8 students last year, and a wildly popular one at my recent "Social Justice in Math" session in Ottawa. I also figured it would be an easy one for OTs, requiring few materials, and easy to embark on in a variety of classroom contexts.
After the session, I headed back to the airport, sad that I would not be able to spend a little longer after my work was done, to take in and learn a little more about the culture "up north". I marveled at the airport decor: Like Anne and potatoes in CYYG, Indigenous art and traditional fur-trading artifacts from the past decorated the airport at CYQT.
And also, a reading corner.... ?!
But I'm also a hugely emotional Canadian patriot, and as I landed in Toronto, I marveled with tears in my eyes that I had been so quick to make assumptions about Thunder Bay that I had almost missed some of the majestic beauty that the land and culture of the gateway to the north had to offer.