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Social Media, a new territory for teachers.

7 Jul

This morning while scanning over the headlines on MSN, this caught my attention; “Ont. girl charged for online threats”.   Earlier this week I went for an interview for an LTO position and during the interview we got on the topic of using social media in the classroom.  As an example of the connections I make with students outside of class time, I mentioned that I have used class websites (recently Tumblr) as well as facebook and twitter as a means to stay connected to students.  This semester past I was teaching an LTO and used twitter to send reminders to students.  Some students would use the twitter to let me know if they were going to be late for class and when I explained this the interviewer was curious to know how I managed using social media while in class, assuming that I was communicating with the students before and during class.  This is a pretty valid question to ask and one that I think is the kind of root cause of the problems we’re facing in the schools with cellphones and social media…

Here is the thing, and boy am I going to sound old fashion saying this.  10 years ago (which I realize is eons on the technology timeline) students didn’t have cellphones and if they did it was unimaginable that they would use it in class.  Please do not get me wrong, I love technology and embrace it as a teacher.  I recognize that my students function in a very different world that I did as a teenager and as a teacher I need to find the best ways to convey information to my students that will allow them to a better understanding and way of communicating what it is they have learned.


There is a time and a place.  I really enjoy looking at the world from a deconstructionist view point.  The reality is that we create our reality, nothing has meaning until we decide to recognize it and name it.  My favourite way of explaining this to my students is through gender.  Why do girls get dressed in pink and boys in blue? Why are girls encouraged to play house and boys encouraged to play with cars?  Little girls are not born with pink bows attached, and boys don’t come with blue bow ties… so why?  Girls have the same capabilities to be physically aggressive or mechanically inclined as boys the same way boys have the same capabilities to be nurturing and domestic as girls… gross “domestic”.  Where do these ideas come from? When were they “constructed”?  Usually I don’t get an answer, just more questions and anecdotal stories.  Why are we not asking the same questions of our students about technology and communication?  As a teacher, it is a constant battle to have students put their cellphones away.  Usually we are told as teachers we have the right to take the cellphones if students do not comply with the “no cellphones in class” rule.  This is new territory for us.  Who is liable should the cellphone go missing while in our watch?  I don’t think taking the cellphones is the solution, I feel we need to teach respect and appropriate behaviour and it’s going to have to be a school wide initiative.  I have heard from employers and workplace trainers of youth they have encountered who are texting or playing games on their phone during interviews or during safety training.  Clearly the problem is one of boredom in the classroom, but a lack of respect and appropriateness with the technology.

As teachers we have a lot to contend with when it comes to cellphones.  I constantly have parents texting and calling their student while they are in class.  One day I had a student come to me to let me know that her mom was at the school to pick her up for a doctors appointment.  Really? Go into the school and sign your child out; which is what I told my student.  She was not to leave class until I was given instructions by the office.  To make things worse, as an adult, I have seen administrators and other adults in positions of authority using their cellphones to text and check emails at times that they themselves would not want a student doing the same.  Hello! What are we teaching them? That its ok, thats what!

During the interview I explained that I do not have my cellphone in class (unless I am using it as an ipod) and would never let a student use twitter as a way to justify lateness because, well, I told Ms Marr.  Unless students are looking up information to support their learning, I don’t want to see their cellphones.  Mostly, because I know what they are texting and tweeting, and it is certainly not questions to their friends about last nights homework.  The things I have seen on twitter are shocking… shocking!  Which brings into light a whole new issue… what are the students rights in terms of privacy? And as a teacher, when is it my responsibility to step in and address what is being tweeted?  These things need to be addressed.  Is it our responsibility to not to read what students post or is it their responsibility not to post anything they don’t want seen.  The answer seems obvious, if you don’t want people to read your private thoughts, don’t post them online.  But it’s not that simple, if it were we wouldn’t have 14 year old girls being charged for making death threats.  The technology keeps expanding and changing but we never teach students how to use the technology so they figure it out for themselves and then the schools have to deal with the repercussions of bullying on sites like , and

Last year I did a Forum Theatre project with a group of senior drama students about bullying in their school.  One group simulated what happens when people post hurtful things online.  One student stood center stage, while the others covered her with post-it notes, each with some insult or rumour.  The other students disappeared but the one girl remained crying on stage and covered from head to toe in sticky notes.  You can delete the posts the same way a post-it can be removed, but that post-it still exists somewhere and so do the words posted online.

There have always been bullies and victims, but the internet has added a new component to the harassment that has ballooned bullying into a new monster capable of ruining someones life and I don’t just mean the victim.  Where is the girl from Windsor going to end up after being charged with uttering death threats? I can tell you that youth who spend time in juvenile centers do not come out reformed, instead they are released with new survival tools and I don’t mean for camping in the wild.  It’s common knowledge that youth live and learn through their sense of immortality, but at what point is enough, enough? Bullying has become part of mainstream media, but its not really getting better because we as adults are not doing much that is tangible to teach respect and understanding.  In a world of global connection through the internet and new technology, there has been little to address how to communicate appropriately or use the millions of new pieces of information shared over the internet on a daily basis.  In a world with little to no boundaries, how do we teach children and youth to find their own personal and moral boundaries?  How can we teach our children and youth to respect themselves and in turn to respect others?

… I’m working on it.  Any suggestions?

Windsor girl charged with Facebook threats

05/07/2012 5:33:00 PM

The Canadian Press
WINDSOR, Ont. – A 14-year-old Windsor girl is facing charges after threats were posted on another girl’s Facebook page.

Police allege the girl threatened to kill a 14-year-old girl she knew in posts on the victim’s Facebook page.

Investigators arrested the girl Wednesday night and have charged her with conveying threats to cause death.

A police spokesman said he could not reveal the exact nature of the threats because the incident is still under investigation.

Police are reminding parents and teenagers that threats posted on social media are subject to charges.

(CKLW, The Canadian Press)


Eaton Center Shooting

8 Jun

As I’ve mentioned before, I work in Regent Park.  The shooting at the Eaton Center on June 4th, 2012 was tragic and my thoughts are with the victims and their families.  The Husbands family are also victims, and my thoughts are with them as well.  The media has (day-by-day since the shooting) been actively demoralizing the victim who suffered the fatal shoot.  There has been little effort to report on the loss his family has suffered and how it has been affecting them to lose a son/sibling/cousin/nephew.  Instead, each day it’s a new detail about his criminal activity and as a result it spawned a stream of ignorant and heartless responses to his death on online article responses.

The media has been reporting on the crackdown the Toronto Police Services intend to embark on as a result of the tragic shooting.

But why crackdown now?

Excuse my aggressive wording, but as a result of the shooting affecting citizens who are not “gangsters”, the youth I work with and their families will be dealing with an invasion by the TPS in the form of TAVIS and Project Post in an effort to help the rest of Toronto feel safer about shopping at the Eaton Center.  There will be increased police presence in the neighbourhood and the police will be stopping everyone and anyone they feel the need to.  There will likely be raids within the community and the students I work with are going to be the victims of this.  I’d like to see what would happen if homes in affluent areas of Toronto were raided in a crackdown on insider trading…  How would you feel if your child was stopped by the police and interrogated while walking home from school?

Reactive initiatives meant make non-priority neighbourhood citizens feel safer is a waste of our tax dollars. My students deserve more than the negative stereotypes that have once again been thrust upon them. Regent is a wonderful community! Please don’t fall victim to ignorance; look past the familiar rants of the media and open your eyes to systemic issues this country hides so well.

Simon Black, a researcher with the City Institute at York University, has written an excellent article which can be found by following the link below.–youth-violence-in-toronto-and-our-hierarchy-of-victimhood

Youth violence in Toronto and our hierarchy of victimhood

By Simon Black

Last year in the city of Chicago, nearly 700 young people were hit by gunfire; 66 of them died. The vast majority of victims were African-American and Latino youth living in the city’s racialized low-income neighbourhoods. A recent analysis found that 8.5 per cent of Chicago (in terms of geography) contained almost all of the city’s shootings and homicides.

The mayor of Chicago insists that his city is safe. After all, around 90 per cent of neighbourhoods are not affected by youth gang and gun violence. This year, programs designed to reduce violence are being cut along with Chicago’s education budget.

While not as extreme in its geographic concentration, youth violence in Toronto is more likely to occur in our low-income postwar suburbs and pockets of racialized poverty in the downtown core than in white, middle-class neighbourhoods or shared spaces such as Yonge St.

As the 2008 report “The Roots of Youth Violence” found, while crime rates are stable “severe violence is apparently becoming more and more concentrated among socially disadvantaged minority youth.” The report concluded that the roots of youth violence are often found in poor, socially deprived neighbourhoods: the immediate risk factors of impulsivity, low self-esteem, alienation, hopelessness and lack of voice are compounded by longer-term issues of racism, poverty, community design, barriers to education and a lack of economic opportunity. The social exclusion of racialized youth and the alienation and denial of full citizenship they experience must be addressed.

When violence migrates from Toronto’s racialized low-income neighbourhoods into the spaces of commerce and tourism central to our city’s sense of collective safety, identity and international reputation, our public discourse shifts, government officials react and respond, and we reveal a hierarchy of victimhood and trauma that contravenes principles of equality.

On Dec. 26, 2005, 15-year-old Jane Creba was tragically killed while shopping on Yonge St. Between December 2005 and last Saturday’s Eaton Centre shooting, our city has lost 20-year-old Allen Benn, 24-year-old Amin Aafi, 19-year-old Yonathan Musse, 23-year-old Ricardo Francis, 25-year-old Michael George, 19-year-old Richard Gyamfi, 23-year-old David Latchana, 25-year-old Fitawrari Lunan, 21-year-old Kimel Foster, 19-year-old Kevon Hall, 18-year-old Keegan Allen, 19-year-old Ryan Hyde, 18-year-old Delane Daley, and 16-year-old Keyon Campbell.

This is a partial list of young people, racialized men in particular, lost to violence in only one of those intervening years, 2007.

These names, along with those such as Andrew Naidoo, Sealand White, Jermaine Derby, Lorenzo Martinez and Okene Thompson, are not as well-known as that of Jane Creba. Their deaths did not invoke statements from the mayor, they were not the topic of talk radio, and they did not occupy the front page of the newspapers.

When shots were fired in the Eaton Centre last Saturday, leaving 24-year old Ahmed Hassan dead and six people injured, it was not the names of these young men that tripped off the tongue of police officers, news broadcasters and elected officials.

Nor was it the name of Chantal Dunn, a 19-year-old black student at York University, who was murdered in 2006 in the Keele and Sheppard area, another victim of gun violence. Nor mother of three Rachel Alleyne, also a young black woman, shot to death in 2007 while socializing with friends in a backyard at Jane and Driftwood .

After the 2005 Boxing Day shooting, politicians of all stripes talked tough on crime, adopting a law-and-order rhetoric thought to match the mood of an outraged public. Premier Dalton McGuinty met with Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and told him to come up with a strategy to deal with “gang and gun” violence. Talk to front-line agencies that work in the city’s “priority neighbourhoods” and they will tell you that in the wake of the Boxing Day shooting, funds became more readily available for “at-risk youth” intervention and crime reduction programs.

Following the Eaton Centre shooting a well-known Toronto journalist wrote: “Frankly, I don’t much care if hoods want to bump each other off . . . Saves the rest of us a lot of trouble . . . Hell, I’d even jail the targeted ‘victims’ of gang hits, should they survive the attempted rub-out. Usually, they asked for it.”

Racism can be understood in part as the collective denial of the humanity of “the other.” Unlike those deemed “innocent,” poor, racialized young men impacted by youth violence are our “urban other.” Victims and perpetrators alike are spoken of as “hoods,” “gang-affiliated” or “known to police,” never as “citizens,” full members of our community. They are criminalized in life and in death. This “othering” is a form of violence in and of itself.

In our city it is the trauma and victimhood of those seldom exposed to gun violence that is prioritized. In response to last Saturday’s events, a headline on a Toronto Star column said, “It could have been any of us; it wounds all of us.” Yet the reality remains that the primary victims of gun violence in our city are poor, racialized youth. And the primary sites of this violence are those neighbourhoods these youth call home.

All our young people’s lives are precious. We have at our disposal the resources and policy know-how to address youth violence. We have countless studies that show what works in reducing violence and victimization. We know how to build safer and healthier communities.

What we are missing is the political will. The main barrier to generating that will is the hierarchy of victimhood and trauma that governs our approach to youth violence. Only when poor, racialized youth are no longer seen as urban “others” will we realize our collective responsibility to address youth violence.

Simon Black is a researcher in urban social policy at the City Institute at York University.–youth-violence-in-toronto-and-our-hierarchy-of-victimhood

The Circle Series: What I know and how I use restorative practices… Part 2 of 3

13 Jan

Restorative Questions

As evident from my previous post, I do not use the practices and structures of restorative justice in a traditional sense.  I use the circle as a structure to my class or in a professional setting as a means of management, accountability and community building.

The restorative questions provide similar opportunities for teachers to manage student accountability and to build respect in the classroom.  Youth are uninterested in taking responsibility for their actions because they do not want to be punished.  As a teacher, I am uninterested in being an authoritarian over my students.  I don’t enjoy the parent/child relationship and prefer to empower my students to make positive and responsible choices as an equal to myself and everyone else in the class.  When students understand there is no punishment they are far more open to taking responsibility for their actions and make things right again!

So what are the restorative questions?  In a traditional restorative circle, there are two parts to the process.

1)    The person who caused harm must provide their prospective of what happened and how their part would have effected other people.
2)    The person who was harmed is asked to explain how the events have affected them and what they feel should happen to restore the harm done.

After the incident has been recognized, the person who caused harm would answer the following questions…

1)    What happened?

2)    What were you thinking about at the time?

3)    What have you thought about since?

4)    Who has been affected by what you have done? And in what way?

5)    What do you think you need to do to make things right?

The person who was affected by the harm would answer these questions…

1)    What did you think when you realized what happened?

2)    What impact has this incident had on you and others?

3)    What has been the hardest thing for you?

4)    What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

For the skeptics out there, please keep in mind that there are some very important factors involved in facilitating these questions in any number of situations and environments.

1)    Is the person who caused harm willing to participate? How willing are they to answer the questions?

2)    Those involved must focus on the facts and be true to their own reality and experience of the incident.  It is the responsibility of the facilitator to guide and reassure those participating that honest is not going to result in a punishment, but that we are all working together to restore things back to the way they were.

As a teacher, I find these questions not only help me resolve issues in the classroom but to also understand things about my students that help me to be proactive in the future concerning behaviour issues.  When people first begin practicing restorative questioning, it can be difficult to imagine what the conversation is going to sound like.   A few years ago, I came across an article posted by Julia Steiny that provides and excellent example how restorative questioning can be used in school and what the specific conversation would sound like…

Talking to kids about how their behaviour affects others

A darling, cocky boy gets kicked out of class and into the suspension room. He has that goofy look of a kid who knows he’s been a jerk, but figures he’ll stonewall the adults by pleading innocence. We’ll call him Manny. He looks to be a young 14.

But instead of just parking him with other “bad” kids for a while, this school is starting to experiment with “restorative practices,” an alternative to traditional punishments like suspension. Research says suspension doesn’t work anyway, because it doesn’t teach social skills. I’m working with the school on “restoring” kids back to the community fold, by asking standard questions that help them think through their behavior. The questions are gold in my opinion. This story is a real-life image of how they can work.

The busy staff member bringing Manny in mentions only that he was yelling out the window. In itself, the offense sounds like something a teacher could handle on the spot, but we don’t know what else might have happened or how chronic this behavior has been.

The first Restorative Question is always: What happened?

Restorative practitioners focus on “what” and not “why.” “Why” invites a lot of useless reasoning and getting into other people’s heads and motives. Observable facts are important and push the kid toward an objective perspective.

Manny insists, “Nothing happened! I saw a friend of mine out the window, so I got up and said hey. Really, Miss! That’s all!” He starts to explain that the teacher was wrong, which kids do. So I cut him off, reminding him that we’re not here to talk about the teacher’s behavior, but his. He shrugs and nods. We move on.

I ask him to take me back a step and describe the scene leading up to yelling out the window.

Nothing was happening. He was in the back of the class chilling with his friends, like always, doing nothing.

Hmmm. I ask about schoolwork. What was he supposed to be doing?

“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” he quickly remembers, “I was doing my schoolwork.”

I love kids. If they’re not yet hardened with antisocial defenses, they’ll just open their mouths and tell you what you need to know.

Okay, I say, you were in class with one eye on your work and another on your friends.

He smiles sheepishly, “Uh, yeah, something like that.”

And then you got up out of your seat and went to the window. “Yeah.” And what did you yell at your friend?

He rolls his eyes like it’s a stupid question and answers something to the effect, “Yo! Alex, up here! Whuzzup?”

I repeat back to him what is now a fairly clear scenario — with no editorial on my part, just the facts. He nods as I talk; I’m getting it. He thinks he’s off the hook. But when I get to him yelling out the window, I actually do yell, which makes him laugh. Still, he confirms my version of the story.

Next Restorative Question: Who else was affected?

“Absolutely no one!” Big surprise. They all say that, too.

Okay, Manny, pretend you’re not yourself, but another kid in the room, one of the ones in the front, doing their work. You’re yelling to Alex, and what happens to that kid?

Manny quickly uploads the image in his mind, and his face drops. He’s stepped out of his narcissism, and while looking back at his behavior he sees for himself what he’s done.

“We-ell. Just for one tiny second, I might glance up to see what was happening. But it would be only …” I cut short his efforts to minimize and ask how many kids were in the class. Probably, like, 20.

Okay, Manny, now pretend you’re the teacher.

Without hesitation he barks, “Okay, okay, I get it! I disrupted class!”

I thank him. Good! That’s honest.

The last Restorative Question I ask is: What would make this right?

This usually has a complex set of answers. The kid doesn’t want to be sent down here again, so we start with how he can avoid this particular hot water in the future. He thinks and umms, but concludes that he could sit in the front of the class, away from the window and away from his friends.

I ask if he really thinks he can commit to that. “Yeah, definitely.” I praise him for a very doable plan.

But, I point out, academic success is far easier when you have good relationships with teachers. Would an apology help? Whoa, no, that he can’t do. We talk a bit, but his heels are in the ground. I let go and count the incident as a big partial win. He’s gratifyingly pensive as I let him switch to doing homework.

Now, anyone, any mom, teacher, neighbor, or older kid could ask those Restorative Questions. Granted, it’s a bit of a skill not to react to the answers except with polite, clarifying questions, to keep the information flowing. But the point is to let the kid see himself in his own answers. Help him think.

Otherwise we’re just letting kids repeat their mistakes, over and over again.

By Julia Steiny

In my experiences, students do not learn to take responsibility for their actions from punitive consequences.  They become defensive and put themselves in a victim role and often only learn not to get caught the next time.  The restorative questions respect both the situation and experience of the person who causes harm and the person has experienced harm.  It allows both parties to reflect on the events of the incident and express their part in it.  The questions allow the person who caused harm to empathize with those who were harmed and to understand the impact of their actions.  Collaboratively, all parties involved work together to make things right and allow everyone to move forward.

Can you imagine using these questions to help solve problems in your work environment as a teacher or a manager or even as a parent?