The Talk…

12 Mar

I just turned 30.  The build up was awful – I had all of these negative thoughts about not living up to my own goals and desires but had a sudden change in thinking when I realized – hey, I’m 30. I am a woman. Stop with the 20 something doubtfulness and be a woman.  Very liberating.

In all of this, I really started thinking about all aspects of my life and one of the many topics that came up was my own identity as a sexual being.  I have been speaking with other females and realized how afraid I was to even have this discussion, not only with them but with myself.  As an educator, this got me thinking about myself a teenager and how little focus I give to sexual health in my own classroom.  When I really allowed myself to consider who I am as a sexual being, I realized that I had some very negative ideas of what sex was and how it related to me as a woman.  My personal beliefs concerning my self-image, how deserving I am as a person and what my personal needs were entangled into my own sexuality.  It was then I realized that something needs to change about the way we address and educate young girls on sexuality.  While it’s all good and well that we are teaching about safe sex practices – what we should first be teaching, no enforcing, is that females deserve to feel good about themselves and they deserve to have their needs and wants respected and listened to.  This conversation, or training, or indoctrination, should then be followed up with very frank and open conversations about sexual health and practices.  What good is teaching girls the purpose of using condoms if they don’t first value themselves enough to enforce using the protection in a vulnerable moment?  The preventative information is important.  We should be teaching all young people about how to stay safe and healthy.  There is so much more though that we don’t talk about that is just as important when it comes to sex and an openness and honesty that we should be fostering concerning our own sexual needs and health.  Just as an example – Masterbation.  It seems a common conversation for teenaged boys to have, even if just in jest, but never did I ever discuss masterbation with friends as a teenager or in my twenties.  Why? For me, it felt inappropriate, it was just not something that you should not talk about ever with anyone.  It’s this kind of closed mindedness that leads to females devaluing their own needs and wants.  As educators, youth workers, social workers, parents and mentors we need to encouraging open and honest conversations (without shame) about everything – including sex.  I am guilty of not including the topic enough over the years in my classroom.  I am not a gym teacher, so naturally I didn’t have a sex health unit in my history or drama classes, but there were ways that I could have introduced the topic and let my students know that as an adult I am someone who they can talk to about anything (including sex) without judgement if they needed to.

On that note – I know that this is old news and that many people are already doing great work in this area. So, I am interested to learn about sexual health programs for girls that are addressing these issues openly and without shame.  I’d love to hear from you about what programs you’ve seen that are most effective and focus on personal self-worth as part of the learning.

In the meantime – Meet Laci Green, she inspired this posting.  If you have a young female in your life that looks up to you why not watch these videos together and let them know – guess what you’re awesome and so am I and this sex stuff is part of life so lets talk about it… like we would talk about any other part of life!

Check out her facebook…

and Tumblr…

Here are some other great resources to share that I found on (an awesome website if you’ve never been).

Message to our Daughters

Accountability for Literacy and Numeracy Skills in the Primary Years

5 Mar

On February 19th, 2014 the EQAO (The Education Quality and Accountability Office) posted a news release – MOST ONTARIO STUDENTS CAN READ, WRITE AND DO MATH WELL BY THE TIME THEY ARE IN HIGH SCHOOL. MOST WHO CAN’T DO SO HAVE A TRAIT IN COMMON—THEY COULDN’T IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL EITHER.  This release outlines statistics suggesting that students who failed the OSSLT were the same students who failed the EQAO testing in grade three.  Anyone who has attended teachers college could have predicted these statistics because the most important lesson learned during your primary/elementary teacher training is that the skills taught between kindergarten and third grade will be the basic platform in which all learning after is based. Essentially, up until grade three students are learning to read and after that they are reading to learn.  Simple.

During my primary training I had a fundamental problem with the process in which teachers in Ontario are allowed to approach literacy and numeracy – there is very little accountability.  The EQAO tests were developed as a diagnostic approach to understanding literacy and numeracy gaps – great.  We have been collecting data and making some positive changes to our education that has demonstrated some improvement.  But why do we still have high school students who cannot read, write or do basic mathematics?

While working collaboratively to develop engaging lesson plans for our future primary aged students I struggled with the lack of accountability in terms of which specific skills needed to be mastered – particularly in regards to reading and writing.  I do not believe in standardizing education by any means. I think we need to support the individuality of each of the students we are given in the moment but when it comes to basic literacy and numeracy there are very specific skills that must be mastered before students can feel confident and capable of learning independently through reading and expressing their learning through writing.

In case you are not an educator, please take a look at the curriculum documents that teachers are given to guide their lesson planning –

Grade 1-8 Language Curriculum

To me, this is not specific enough.  When I was completing lesson-planning assignments, I wanted a list of specific skills that progressed from kindergarten to grade three that I could check off as students mastered each skill.  Based on the research, my training and basic common sense we need a system that is going to ensure we are not just simply passing students through grades but is actually dedicated to ensuring all students are capable of applying these very important and basic literacy and numeracy skills that we already know will hold them back as they get older and older.  As an alternative high school teacher I have seen what our system has done to students who were not successful in the primary grades.  Most of my students will tell you that they have struggled through school since grade three and that now they are “bad” students who are too “stupid” to learn anything.  This is unacceptable.  It is unacceptable that we have young people who feel this way about themselves and it is unacceptable that we then dump them in alternative programs when they are too hard to deal with (that is another article all together).

There seem to be some very obvious answers to these problems; whether you agree or not these are my suggestions.

1)    We need to address the issue of passing students onto higher grades before they have mastered needed skills.  I have spoken to several parents in the past who have removed their child from our public schools because they did not feel their child had mastered the needed skills but the school refused to hold them back.  I get it – there can be developmental differences and emotional issues involved in holding a student back.  I can tell you from experience that those students who were passed on feel worse about themselves later in life when they are in grade ten and taking essential level classes because they are not “smart” enough to complete an applied level class.   This student was not given a fair shot.  When students do not have the skills to complete even an applied level course we are removing pathways for them (again, another article all together).  We need to either adopt a preventative frame of mind and accept that students need to be held back in grades one to three if they don’t have the basic reading, writing and math skills needed to progress or we need a new system all together.  I prefer the second option.  We already know that teachers working collaboratively is effective and schools are beginning to experiment with team teaching and rotation teaching, but there needs to be a fundamental change in how much focus we put on age.  A student’s birth date really does not tell us much about their abilities to learn. Even developmental theories don’t categorize development by specific year but rather larger developmental stages, so we should be more fluid with this idea when it comes to education as well.   I imagine a system where play-based learning is the center of the day.  The class is run by a team of teachers who can then divide the class into smaller groups based on varying levels of difficulty.  When a student is ready to move on, they do.  This kind of model would allow for teachers to focus on social-emotional learning in the bigger group, play-based settings while focusing on very specific skill based learning in smaller groups where those basic literacy skills can be practiced and mastered before moving up.

2)    I think there should be very specific checklists of skills and assessments that teachers must use to ensure each student has mastered certain specific skills between grade one and grade three.  If we know that students need certain specific skills before they are capable of learning through reading and demonstrating their learning through writing then we need to make sure they have those skills before we set new learning expectations for them.

3)    We need more money invested in human resources.  There needs to be a greater focus on team teaching.  One teacher cannot possibly manage classroom behaviour, teach and assess student learning with the same effectiveness as several teachers and educational assistants working together.  Every class is going to have children who need more social-emotional support. Students should not be removed because they are “too” difficult but they also shouldn’t disrupt and take away from time that the class could be learning.   Having more educators and assistants who are properly trained to de-escalate and support a disruptive, disengaged and distracted student is vitally important.  These are the students who need the most support to ensure they learning and mastering those specific literacy and numeracy skills.  When there is only one teacher and (often times) no Educational Assistant, these students can interfere with learning for themselves and other students.  If the goal is to make sure every child can read and write and understand basic math concepts by the end of grade three (and it should be the goal) then we need more people in the classroom to address behaviour and have the time to focus on tracking and assessing student learning.

4)    Our Ministry of Education needs to stop putting money into hiring consultants and writing documents.  They need to invest that money into grass root programs that allow teachers who have highly successful primary programs to meet with other teachers and to recreate the same success in other schools.  Teachers in this province are doing great work and are successfully ensuring that their students are leaving grade three with the skills they need to be successful learners.  Reading a long-winded document full of research findings is not nearly as helpful as observing a successful teacher, deconstructing their program and allowing teachers to collaborate with each other.  Teachers need the time to do this work, so money should be invested into more professional development that is organized and planned by teachers for teachers.  I am curious to know if the EQAO is able to track which teachers the most successful students had during kindergarten through grade three?  If there are correlations between student success and specific teachers, then we should be learning from those teachers.

What has your experience been with our primary education system in Ontario?  What have you seen that was successful? What have you seen that was troubling?

Quotes for the Classroom

26 Feb

There is nothing that I love more than a good quote.  I often use quotes as a way to introduce a lesson or spark a morning check-in.  Enjoy.

Here are a few of my favourites on the topics under the umbrella of literacy!

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
Oscar Wilde

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Stephen King

“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”
Margaret Fuller

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
Frederick Douglass

“Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”

– Edmund Burke

“My bursting heart must find vent at my pen.”
Abigail Adams

“No two persons ever read the same book.”

– Edmund Wilson

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Philip Pullman

“Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted.”
Jules Renard

“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.”
Joss Whedon

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
George Orwell, 1984

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein

“It’s only words… unless they’re true.”
David Mamet

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
Albert Einstein

“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”

Sharing Means Caring – Lesson Share

23 Feb

As a teacher, I have never in my life found a lesson plan and used it in its entirety – ever.  I recognize that there is no need to “reinvent the wheel” but the more I teach the more I realize how different each teachers intentions are when they develop a lesson plan.  This is the magic of teaching.  Yes, we have common goals regarding the specific skills and knowledge that we need our students to learn during a lesson – but the approach and the details that we use to reach that goal are very different.

So instead of packaging a neat lesson plan (which may or may not meet the criteria for a “lesson plan” where ever you are at this point in time) I am going share the overall idea, resources and purpose of my lessons.  Do with them what you will.  My favourite way to lesson plan is to set the purpose and goal of my lesson and then Frankenstein the best ideas from lots of different lesson plans into something that works best for me and the students I am working with at that very moment.  As every teacher knows, one lesson that works wonders in first first period can flop in third period because the dynamics of each group of students is so different.  It’s more important to be flexible and creative then it is to have totally organized and detailed lesson plans – because at any moment something could happen that will through the entire plan off track.  Now what? Improvise!

Please feel free to share your own ideas and how you used or twisted any other ideas (whether from here or somewhere else) to make a lesson plan that worked!

LESSON IDEA #1 – Impressionist Movement – Self Portraits and Impressions of the Past


As an alternative teacher I wanted to develop an integrated curriculum where one assignment would meet the curricular expectations of two (or more) different courses.  As a drama and history teacher I find it easiest to find curriculum links between the arts, English and Canadian history courses.   I will focus on the arts aspects of my curriculum in this Lesson Share.  In the first unit we explored the Impressionist Movement.  It was a great way to introduce and set the stage for the first unit of the Canadian history course which explores the beginnings of Canada’s industrial age and gives context to the fundamental changes in thinking about how the world functioned at the turn of the century.  We began by learning about the history of the Impressionist Movement and how it changed the purpose and style of art.  We then learned how to paint as an impressionist artist using the touche technique – dry brushing and mixing acrylic colours on the canvas.  Once students had practiced the technique they were give two assignments to complete. One, an impressionist style self-portrait painting and an impressionist style painting depicting how different groups of Canadians viewed Canada between 1900 and 1919.


Integrated Arts – (ALC 20)

B3.1 describe how creating, presenting, and analysing a variety of art works has affected their personal values and their awareness of the values of their community and culture and those of other cultures
B4.1 identify skills, character traits, and work habits that are developed through the processes of creating, analysing, presenting, and/or promoting art works, including integrated art works/productions
C1.1  use appropriate terminology related to elements, principles, and other key concepts when creating, analysing, or presenting various types of art works
C1.2 demonstrate an understanding of elements, principles, and other key concepts associated with the various arts disciplines
C2.1 demonstrate an understanding of common symbols and themes in past and present art works from a variety of cultures
Knowledge –
My students watched a video and had a short reading to complete to gain an understanding of the Impressionist  Movement.
Skills –
Students needed to learn how to paint using the techniques of the impressionist painters.  As a group we watched a video and broke down the steps.  Students were given the opportunity to practice the technique until they felt comfortable.
Application –
Students were given the task of creating a self-portrait in the impressionist style practiced in class.  They were asked to use colours that best suited their personality based on symbolic representations of colours (as provided to them).
Throughout the creative process students worked in groups and with me, discussing their choices along the way.  Which picture will I use that best captures who I am?  Who am I? What do I value? What defines who I am?  Which colours best represent that?  Does it matter that this painting doesn’t really look like me at all?  What does this painting represent about me?
Here is the finished result…
  • We learned a new skill (touche painting technique)
  • We learned about the industrial revolution and gained different perspectives on its cultural impact
  • We explored self-identity and personal expression
  • We created artwork that became the center point of our classroom for the rest of the semester.
  • The skills developed during this unit were later used in by students in different units as a new tools for creating integrated art projects.
IMG_0458 IMG_0475

Resources for Teachers – Restorative Justice in the Classroom

23 Feb

I am always looking for new resources regarding the use of restorative practices in the classroom and it seems over the past year or so there have been some really great guides and readings developed for educators.

Happy Reading –

Restorative Justice Community/Classroom Conferencing: A guide for parents and teachers

Written By Nicole Pakan & The Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities (Edmonton)
This document is a specific guide for a more traditional use of restorative justice practices (conferences used to address behaviour issues) in a school setting.

Teaching Restorative Practices with Classroom Circles

Written by Amos Clifford and Center for Restorative Process (Developed for the San Francisco Unified School District)
This document is a guide for educators who ant to facilitate circles in their classroom as a way to develop trust, build community and address classroom issues.  The guide includes a circle tool kit and lesson plans.

Restorative Justice Module Classroom Activities, Links, and Resources

Developed by the John Howard Society of Alberta
This document provides handouts that can be used to teach about restorative justice, its purpose and how to facilitate a restorative mediation.  The document also includes a list of other useful resources on the topic.

Professional Development Opportunities – Find New Perspectives

22 Feb

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

-Albert Einstein

Meet new people, gain new experiences and open your mind to new perspectives by checking out some of these professional development opportunities…

3rd Annual Solutions For Learning Conference: NEURODIVERSITY ROCKS!

When: March 21st, 2014

Where:  International Union of Operating Engineers Banquet Hall and Conference Centre
2245 Speers Road Oakville, Ontario L6L 2X9

What:  A conference for educators working with students who have learning disabilities. (So, this conference is useful for every educator).

More Information…

The Psychology Foundation of Canada’s 40th Anniversary Conference

When: April 2nd, 2014

Where: Hilton Toronto, 145 Richmond St West, Toronto, ON, M5H 2L2

What: Explore issues related to mental health and well-being for children and families.  Every teacher needs to have a strong understanding of mental health issues as it relates directly or indirectly to our students.  An important aspect of the conference will include a morning discussion concerning resiliency and the importance of social and emotional intelligence – the perfect topic for teachers working with at-risk students!

More Information…

2014 Summit on Children & Youth Mental Health

When: April 3rd and 4th 2014

Where: Allstream Centre, 105 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto

What: A conference for educators, health professionals, and children service professionals addressing a whole community approach to serving youth and child struggling with mental health.  Again, an educator cannot have enough information and resources on this topic!

More Information…

Ontario Healthy Schools Coalition
National Healthy Schools Conference

When: April 9th and 10th 2014

Where: Hilton Hotel and Conference Center, London, Ontario

What:  This conference addresses the resources and practices needed for a whole child approach to our students needs.  The speakers and workshops cover a broad range of topics such as mental health, literacy, violence, healthy eating, leadership skills, and physical fitness.

More Information…

Conference Information PDF

Revoke Regulation 274/12

3 Mar

If you agree that teachers play a vital role in the development and education of our children and youth than please sign this petition…

Teacher hiring will no longer be based on professional experience and knowledge, but rather how long they have been an occasional teacher with a certain school board.  How does this support our students as Bill 115 likes to claim?

Please read the letter I wrote addressing anyone in power who will read it! The letter outlines my own personal struggle and frustration with this ridiculous hiring rule.

I am writing with great concern about Regulation 274/12 and hope that my story is one of many that demonstrates why this new ruling must be revoked.

I am currently an occasional teacher with the Halton District School Board, and sadly on the bottom of page eight of eleven of the new seniority list.  I graduated from OISE in 2009 and in February 2010 I was hired for my first teaching position as an LTO with Wellington Heights S.S. in Mount Forest.  I applied, I was granted an interview, I gave a good interview and was hired. In the Spring of 2011 I was hired for an LTO position with Banting Memorial H.S. in Alliston. Again, I applied, I was granted an interview, I gave a good interview and was hired.  In February 2012 I was hired for an LTO position with Georgetown District High School.  Prior to being hired, I volunteered with Georgetown District High School and demonstrated my professionalism and skills as a teacher.  As a result, I earned an excellent reference and had relevant experience working with the students in the school and so was a far better candidate for the position.  Again though, I applied, I was granted and interview, I gave a good interview and I was hired.  Again in the Fall of 2012, I was granted an interview for a position I did not receive because there was one other candidate who had comparable qualifications but more experience in the exact role I applied for.  So in this case, I applied, I was granted an interview, I gave a good interview and although I was not hired I was given some excellent feedback on how to improve my chances for the next LTO position.  I took the feedback and did my best to apply what I learned.  As a result, when the next LTO came around I had the necessary experience as well as the qualifications and I applied, was granted an interview, gave a good interview and was hired for the position.

Since January 7th, I have been working with Gary Allan High School in Milton as an LTO in an alternative classroom with at-risk youth.  My professional experience as a youth worker, a program facilitator and a teacher with at-risk youth is what makes me good at my job, not because I have been on a list longer or shorter than another teacher.

As a result of regulation 274/12, my regular pattern of applying for a job and being granted an interview for some of those postings will be shortened to just simply applying for a job, because now I am at the bottom of an arbitrary list that ignores my years of experience working with youth and is only concerned with the date in which I was added to the Occasional List.

This regulation has taken away any hope I had of becoming a teacher and has rendered all of my hard work pointless.  I have been working very hard in my current position to make the best impression and demonstrate just how successful I can be in this role, with hopes that when another LTO or permanent position became available, that I would have the experience and references needed to be granted an interview and maybe even earn the position.

I have been unable to find any explanation as to why this new hiring rule has been put in place or even an outline of what ‘problem’ it is solving.   I have heard that it is to stop any issues of nepotism, and if this is true than I would like to offer an alternative solution.  Develop a regulation that states an administrator from another school must be part of the hiring committee.

How does this regulation help students?  How does this regulation actually make the hiring of teachers fair?  How will this regulation improve our schools?

Please revoke this regulation as soon as possible.   Before I knew that there was a chance I wouldn’t get an interview for a job and now I know without doubt that I will not be getting any more interviews with any school board for a long time.


A Hopeless Occasional Teacher

Kendra Marr

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