Where to go now? Education in Ontario

wordl of 251 responses to our survey on education issues in Ontario

Over the past three weeks, I have conducted an entirely unscientific survey on education issues in the Province of Ontario. I have closed the survey down now, but you can still see it here along with the responses – all 251 of them! 

This was an interesting exercise, largely hijacked by the opponents of Regulation 274 (Read – ‘Rescind Regulation 274 (2), Eliminate Regulation 274, Put an end to Regulation 274 finish what Lisa MacLeod started!’)

If you sift through the noise, there are some interesting comments in the last section of the survey. Here are a few:

Make the funding for support teachers in school libraries, special education and guidance equitable in staffing and budget by school per student. Monitor this spending.

There are way too many classrooms across Ontario that don’t have enough textbooks, novels, access to technology or breakfast/snack programs for students that need them. There needs to be WAY MORE equity in education. It has become the schools that have versus the schools that don’t.

Class size needs to be capped at 20 for Kindergarten to grade 8 for the mental health of the students and the teachers.

Why do we only fund one religious board? Don’t the other faiths/religions matter?? Shame on Ontario for not fixing this sooner! Discrimination is deadly in today’s culture.

Not a remarkable collection of ideas, but at least people took the time to write these and many other comments. Maybe some of these should be addressed. If there are 251 comments on a Google Form, even if there are lots of repeated grievances, doesn’t this mean we need to hold a public dialogue on education?

There are more voices out there. Stephen Hurley wrote this yesterday:

Along with health care, education is the largest financial commitment that any provincial government makes to citizens and, vice versa. Yet, when was the last time that we were able to step outside the fury of political cycles in order to have open and honest questions about the complex array of issues that have emerged over the last 50 years?

We can do better than a prolonged discussion on Regulation 274. We can do much better than an ideological argument about turning back the clock on health curriculum.

There are smatterings of intelligent debate all over social media, well beyond the current debate that really belittles the conversation. This morning, prompted again by Stephen Hurley, a group of us had a wide-ranging conversation about the possibilities and options for one publicly-funded system of education here in Ontario. I tried to collect the spirit of the conversation here.

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Obviously, nothing was resolved, but at least it is an airing of the issues and the people in the conversation are credible and have a very effective voice. What would happen if this conversation caught fire? What would it be like if people really got involved in discussing public education in this province?

I hope the conversation continues and I really hope someone is watching all of this. As Stephen Hurley writes, public education is one of the biggest ticket items in Ontario so we need to have some good, serious conversations that go beyond a 30-second sound bite.

Thanks to those out there who are encouraging the conversation. We deserve this, we need this.

Teachers Stepping Up in Ontario

I did a quick informal survey of edutwitter this morning. I found the usual interesting tweets about education initiatives, conferences and new ideas. I was encouraged to see that teachers, especially in Ontario continue to push back on a number of local and national issues.

This is really important. Educators need to understand that especially if they are active on social media they have a role to play in making statements against policies and practices that are unjust and that need to be opposed.

Yes, all the other Twitter traffic in education is fine, but at a time when there is so much going on in the province and the world, can an educator actually have a public profile and not make statements about what is going on? If an educator doesn’t take a stand are they avoiding an important responsibility?

The issues are so important. VoicEd Radio, Derek Rhodenizer and Debbie Donsky are actively promoting Seven Fallen Feathers through podcasts, tweets and Facebook posts. Because of them, I am reading the book and am horrified by the long history of abuse and injustice against First Nations people that has yet to be resolved in this country. I knew about this sad story, but when you bring it down to single students, it really hits home – a huge shame against individuals and a people.

At the same time, educators are also reacting to the ludicrous actions of the new Conservative Government in Ontario who are unilaterally censoring public Health Curriculum for students, a document that received a full consultation including parents from every school in the province.

Now some people are publically declaring that they will continue to teach about social media, same-sex marriage, consent and other issues vital to the education of our students. As one parent stated – these are issues too important to be left up to parents – we all need to be aware of how these issues are being addressed in the public forum of our schools.

Associated with Seven Fallen Feathers is another issue, the ending of curriculum writing directed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Ontario Government is actively trying to head back to the old days, not only when it comes to Health Curriculum but also how we look at issues surrounding indigenous people in Canada. The blatant ignorance that prevailed up to the recent past is something the current regime wants to return to. All teachers worth their salt need to publically condemn this action.

Teachers teach. It is their vocation. To remain silent at this difficult time is not responsible. It should not be up to a valiant few to protest the actions of the new populist government or to publically examine our shameful history regarding indigenous people. It is the responsibility of all educators.

So, educators, continue to tweet about what you are reading and learning about this summer, but make sure you make yourself heard on social media about the bigger picture. Silence is acquiescence and we don’t do that.

 

Some Suggestions and more responses on what to do with Education in Ontario – a rolling blog

results 1

This image has been updated from July 7th. This wordl includes some of the key words in the 148 responses to our survey.

This past week a very interesting article was published in the Hamilton Spectator by a retired teacher, Ken Durkacz –  An open letter to Premier Ford on education

So, I have to say I find all of his suggestions appealing and it would be interesting to see what others think. Here are the author’s main ideas, I will paraphrase, but you can click on the link above to get the details:

1. Eliminate standardized testing. It would save tens of millions per year, which could be reinvested.

2. Move to one publicly funded school system. It would save millions in the duplication of services.

3. If you must cut from boards, cut from the top. There is a widespread feeling among front-line workers in schools that boards are bloated with people in positions that have little to nothing to do with the day to day education of students.

4. Reintroduce principals and vice-principals back into teacher unions.

We tried to survey people interested in issues during the election and it did work a little. You can read how people responded to an open-ended survey I wrote here. Thanks to Google, the 44 responses to the survey are summarized here. If you ignore the obvious overrepresentation on Regulation 274, there is no clear consensus on what the major issue in Ontario education is. So, I think Dan is heading in the right direction by making some very practical suggestions on how to improve education in this province. People who took the survey certainly echoed what he wrote.

Rather than giving my opinion on what might be the most popular ideas, let’s open this up to others who have an interest in public policy and education in particular.

Here are some ideas:

  • a survey (who doesn’t like a good survey) on what are the best ideas to pass on to Mr. Ford
  • a series of podcasts on some of the key ideas in the article. We will take care of that using our series – First Hand Stories on VoicEd Radio.
  • (a postscript – here is the first of our podcasts  and here is our second podcast
  • our third is here
  • a summer panel discussion – what are the key ideas that the new government should be considered in education? I think this would be a great discussion for VoicEd Radio. Maybe one episode per idea?

Summer is a great time for wondering about new ideas and initiatives. Maybe the new Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson could be a special guest on one of these shows? I will certainly share the survey with her.

We will start with number 1 – a survey for all of you. How would you rank the four suggestions? Do you have your own suggestion? Let’s see if we can generate some interest in education issues here in Ontario for the summer.

Postscript:

After 59 responses in less than a day, the results can be seen here

It is a little hard to interpret the results except to say all four issues seems to be important to respondents. What is most interesting so far are the comments at the end of the survey.

It is unfortunate that most are dominated by the Regulation 274 robots. This is to be expected, but what is a bit disappointing is that other educators in the Twittersphere are not all that willing to enter the debate, retweet or even like this discussion. I do hope this changes, the debate on the future of education deserves to be joined by more education opinion-makers.

We have completed our first podcast on our response to the article – you can listen here

A follow-up podcast is now out here

Our third in the series is here

Facilitating Student Voice in the Classroom

 

finishing a podcasting session with Heather Swail’s Grade 7-8 class

I started out today watching a conversation between Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the Washington press corps. I shouldn’t really call it a conversation. The reporters asked on three separate occasions about the current US policy on separating children from their parents when they cross the border. There was no response, just a lot of avoidance and some pretty insulting retorts.

Nothing was resolved, no questions were answered, no problem was even acknowledged. Both sides scored points, but an injustice is still being done.

In contrast, I have spent the last week listening to grade 7-8 students talk about social justice. What a difference!

I  got involved at the end of a month-long process that saw students choose a social justice issue, research the issue, debate the issue with peers then finally develop a persuasive piece that they then blogged about.

Their blog posts are all attached to their teacher Heather Swail’s blog and can be found here.

I really encourage you to read a few of these great pieces. The topics range from residential schools in Canada to water issues in South Africa, child labour, gun violence and racial profiling.

Little did I know that Residential schools were a lot deeper of an issue than just boarding schools that were wrongful to a misjudged people. They literally destroyed Indigenous culture for generations to come, and what really surprised me was that even after everything we did them, Indigenous people are still being treated unfairly today.

excerpt from student blog Residential Schools Revisited

All the posts are well-considered and intelligent. What makes the real difference is that this was a facilitated process. Students did not simply strike off on an issue, they had to go through a deliberate process with identifiable steps.

This is a well-known process that starts with the head moves to the heart and finishes with the hands. What is the issue, how does it make you feel, what are you going to do about it? A version of Heather’s methodology can be found here.

We took one final step by doing a series of five podcasts where the students talked about their issues. You can hear one of these podcasts here more will be coming out on VoicEd Radio soon.

It is at times like these that I really wish I was back in the classroom! My visits to Room 201 and to the student blog posts were a refreshing break from the media wars that are going on everywhere right now. Well considered opinion, well expressed, backed by evidence and part of an intelligent thought process.

When I see the faces of these children and when I read their words, I do think there is hope for the future. When students learn how to think, research and write well thought out pieces I know there is still room for intelligent debate and discussion.

My hope for all of these students is that they carry these valuable lessons into the future.

 

 

Responses to Education Election Issues: Are we creating the optimum learning environment for our students?

Over the past two weeks, I have been collecting ideas and suggestions on what needs to change in Ontario’s education system. Clearly, there are lots of issues that are on the minds of voters and it would be great to see some of these important ideas debated during the current campaign.

Obviously, some issues are overrepresented by people who really have a bone to pick – Regulation 274 being one – but we can still get a sense of what some of the major concerns are, none have to do with returning to a ‘kill and drill’ math curriculum.

So what are some of the big issues?

School safety and mental health are related issues. There are several comments on the need for better mental health supports in schools and for the need to protect students and staff from violent outbursts. The safety of students and current class sizes comes into this. One respondent wrote that they did not feel that having potentially 36 students in a kindergarten class was safe for their child.

I think you could wrap all this into one overall issue – the quality of care in the classroom. Do we have enough support for children in our schools and are we creating the optimum learning environment for our students? Are schools really equipped to adequately deal with mental health challenges and the complex needs of children?

I don’t have a good answer to this question, but it is certainly asked a lot in the survey.

My daughter was supposed to be entering JK in the Fall and we’ve chosen not to enrol her, because 36 kids stuffed into a play-based program with limited resources and objects being thrown at the teacher’s head is not my idea of a good learning environment for ANY child. It fills me with sadness that as a public school teacher I don’t feel safe enrolling my own child in my local public school.

This is actually something that can happen. When we had half-day kindergarten, there was a hard cap of 20 students in the classroom. If you went over 20 students, there was a good chance that another class would have to be created. That cap really disappeared once we went to full-day kindergarten. Sometimes you will be able to split a class of 32 to 36 children into two classes, but there is no guarantee that this will happen and if it does take place it is usually a month into the school year.

Yes, there are other issues that need to be addressed based on this survey. EQAO, teacher hiring practices, the overlap caused by funding Catholic and Public schools, EQAO etc. But let’s start with this issue. Are we doing our very best to ensure a high-quality environment inside the classroom? Are we living with less?

If we could be doing better for our students in very concrete ways why are we not doing this? Why are more educators not saying anything? This is the time for debate, let’s hear more from parents and educators in our province.

What Brings you Joy?

Driving back from Montreal on a beautiful afternoon. What brings you Joy?

It is important to always reflect on what brings you Joy. This was a particularly challenging work week, we all have them and these are the times to reflect on the positive. This may sound a bit trite, but that is how things need to go. Staying mired in the negativity engendered by some organizations doesn’t help you at all.

Look for the things in your work and life that give you joy. For me, this was a particularly wonderful interview we did for a radio broadcast we do on a regular basis. The show is called First Hand Stories and this interview was done with Chris Nihmey, a mental health advocate here in Ottawa.

Chris has an important message for all of us and he displays the courage to talk about his story to school children and the general public whenever he can. Radio is a great way to communicate ideas, sometimes stilted by email, Twitter, blogs and Facebook. It is a great creative endeavour that brings lots of joy. Our time with Chris was magical and we feel so privileged to have had some time with him to discuss such an important topic.

Here is the interview.

If you want to learn more about the work Chris is doing, you can check out his website here.

The interview is a very small part of the wonderful burst of creativity that comes out daily from Voiced Radio. I have written about Stephen Hurley and the wonderful collection of broadcasters he continues to collect under his banner. Stephen really has something going. He really gets Joy. We are totally dedicated to Voiced Radio, not just because it is an incredibly creative project, but because it is always such a positive experience.

There is no bureaucratic malaise here, no negativity, no limiting hand that slaps you down, just a positive creative pulse that sustains and provides inspiration.

What brings Joy?

Working with accepting people who appreciate your work and the time devoted to creative projects.

There are so many other organizations that really could learn a lesson from this. Do those you work with create Joy?

A photo with Chris Nihmey after our First Hand Stories interview.

 

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health in the World of Education

There is a stigma attached to posts on mental health. People are afraid to deal with mental health issues. On Twitter, there will be lots of ‘likes’ and maybe a few retweets, but seldom is there anything else.

So I don’t expend much attention will be paid to this post – too bad.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is a big problem especially for principals and superintendents who actually witness many people suffering from mental health issues – teachers, students, parents. They have no training in this area and I think, tend to be less than empathetic. As a principal, I know we seldom discussed these topics and any form of distress was easily seen as a sign of weakness.

As a principal, I had an advantage. I have first-hand experience of the impact mental illness can have on an individual. I also had nine years of experience working as a guidance counsellor before I became an administrator. I easily saw more people in distress as an administrator than I ever saw as a counsellor. At least I knew what these people were going through. Most administrators do not and that is not a good situation.

I witnessed this deficit at all levels of senior administration with one notable exception.

The work being done in the  campaign is really important and I am looking forward to participating in the #Ontedchat twitter chat next Wednesday, January 24th, at 8:30 PM. This would also be a great topic for a Voiced Radio podcast!

I hope other people, the people who are in positions of responsibility listen to this podcast – they really should. The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to disappear. The fear needs to disappear. People need to step up and do much more to support those who suffer.

The Proust Questionnaire for Educators

Last night we tried something a little different for our Voiced Radio broadcast – First Hand Stories. Heather had the idea of doing the Proust Questionnaire for educators. You may have heard of the Proust Questionnaire on CBC Radio. The real questions are below and are certainly more meaningful and weighty than ours. But, our last broadcast was a bit heavy so we wanted to do something light.

The idea behind the original questionnaire was to reveal your true nature. Could our edition reveal the true nature of the educator? I’m not sure, but I have included our 15-minute broadcast below so you can decide.

Our Proust Questionnaire for Educators 
  1. Indoor or outdoor duty
  2. Keurig or drip coffee maker
  3. Online or paper assessments
  4. Whole summer or stretched out in increments
  5. Mr. D – funny or not funny?
  6. Hockey or soccer?
  7. Blogging or podcasting?
  8. Bluegrass or jazz?
  9. Staff meetings in the morning or after school?
  10. Favourite month of the school year?
  11. If you were a school mascot what would you be?
  12. Muffins or doughnuts at a staff meeting?
  13. What superhero would make the best teacher?
  14. Snow days – good or bad?

If you want to see the originals you can see them here.

31 Days of Posting – So, How’s it Going?

So, how is it going?

I wrote a few days ago that I was going to post 31 times, probably in 31 days, but I was a bit vague about that.

I figured the posts would be all be about Discovery Education, and I can do that, there is so much to write about. But why limit oneself, there is so much to talk and write about.

Let’s see how things are going so far on January 5th and look into the near future for some inspiration.

I started out OK with a post to this blog and to my Discovery Education blog – 31 Days of Posting – This Time all about Discovery Education – so I don’t know if there is an arbiter for things like this, but does this count for two?

Right now I need to say this post has nothing to do with boasting, the chances of me getting all 31 posts done are not great. This is sort of a public declaration that can act as a bit of a motivator or maybe even a prompt for further posts.

Glad we got that out of the way!

I have been able to get one post off about the Social Studies Techbook by Discovery Education and STEM Connect, a new initiative by Discovery. These were fun to do because I am learning something, actually learning and writing at the same time.

I was able to get one more post in all about yoga – a deeply personal post about exploring my deeper side. The illustration below gives you some sense of the tone on that one.

So, I’m stalling now, I don’t think I have made the grade. Today is January 5th and even if I count this one I think I am a tad short. The judgement is in, no you can’t count double posting as two separate posts.

So, maybe I can make it up to you. What can I do for the rest of the month?

I would love to write a post for my friends at Innovate My School. These are lovely people and I really like them. They are always so encouraging and that means the world to someone who plugs away at writing.

I can write something for Voiced Radio. These folks, very much like Innovate My School are my muse simply by being positive and encouraging.

I will certainly continue to write about Discovery Education for the same reasons. These people are creative, positive and empowering – how could I not write for them?

There are other topics I want to look at in January. My partner sent me an article called The Power of Apology published in Psychology Today. I want to read this and write about this topic. It is really important and this is something I have been thinking about for a long time. More later, I hope.

Other topics are bound to come up. Writing about photography would be interesting as I have so much to learn on how to really take good pictures – this is something I aspire to do better at.

taking photos is a wonderfully creative process, I want to learn more about how to do this well

The best thing about pushing yourself to write is that you never know what you will come up with but everything takes on a special note because there may be something to write about.

Writing is a gift and I have a whole community of people who appreciate what I do. You are all my muse and ultimately during this challenge, I write for you.

What Do We Really Value in Education?

Sometimes the hardest questions in education get danced around and never answered.

Like all institutions, the education system is imperfect and the biggest problems never really get looked at. Right now in Ontario, there is a very worthwhile consultation taking place on assessment. Voiced Radio and other commentators are doing an excellent job at promoting and participating in this on-going discussion. This is really good news.

We look at portions of the system because we can’t look at the whole thing.

Recently I have listened to former colleagues talk about the situations in their schools. These conversations are not uncommon and they make up the ‘war stories’ that all educators share.

While we despair when we hear about poor and sometimes unethical management in our schools, nothing is ever done about these situations. We never ask the question – what do we really value in education? If we really asked this uncomfortable question would we continue to protect adults who clearly have no idea how to manage schools and the people in them?

There are a whole set of rules, conventions and practices that exist to protect individuals, especially those in privileged positions of power in the education system. A huge amount of energy is put into sustaining these rules and conventions.

Not everyone deserves this type of misguided practice. When we protect these people, we certainly put students, staff and parents in the back seat.

Our lack of action displays a lack of concern for the people we are supposed to serve. Maybe we think incompetence is OK, or maybe it is just too hard to swim against the bureaucratic tide that protects those who are simply not up to the job.

The best we can say is ‘wait them out’. But what does this do to the mental strain staff members have to put up with every day? If we really want to take mental health seriously in our schools we really need to get our own house in order and call to task those individuals who are really not up to the responsibility of properly managing a school.

I write out of anger and frustration about what I hear. It is very frustrating that some school administrators are allowed to act with impunity, secure in the knowledge that their authority will not be questioned and that they will always be supported by school board staff who really do not want to rock the boat.

Our students, staff and parents deserve better. We will never have an excellent system while we continue to look the other way and support poor governance of some of our schools.

Good for Ontario to take on the EQAO while elephant, but let’s broaden our scope and take a really serious look at how our schools are managed.