Category Archives: #education

“S0, Why Are You Here?”

As I prepare for an exciting new semester, I also prepare for an exciting new leadership role with UR S.T.A.R.S. A group dedicated to anti-racist/oppressive education; a group of inspiring, influential, and incredible colleagues and faculty members from the University of Regina. As I began introducing myself to the Executive Director role I will share with Cassandra Hepworth, I was asked about my journey here: How did you end up here? Why did you end up here?

I believe Indigenous peoples of Canada should not have to mentally prepare how to act around Caucasians; I believe we should be able to share smiles, handshakes, and equal education and career opportunities. I believe all individuals should be able to apply to any educational opportunity-there should be no exceptions made to the individuals with autism. I believe the stigma surrounding mental health needs to be removed; no one deserves to be labeled “crazy” or “pathetic” because they are fighting an invisible illness. I believe new Canadians should be welcomed with open arms, and not expected to meet the arbitrary “Canadian” list of values defined by the same government who maintain “The Indian Act.

It is the work UR S.T.A.R.S. does for these oppressed groups in society that drew me to join and work, and now lead, alongside great colleagues to provide resources, professional development opportunities ,and open panel discussions to make these topics less awkward and to influence others to provide anti-racist/oppressive education.

My obvious passion for education, an inclusive learning environment and society provided a strong foundation to my path. As my awareness of our history and relationships with First Nations peoples increased, so did my interest in learning and working to share this important information- sharing these truths to work towards reconciliation. The wise words “once you see it, you can’t un-see it” stuck with me, and I believe this is information and learning that must be seen.

Furthermore, as a friend it is an important component of my relationships. I do this work as the work of a friend. I work towards reconciliation and and inclusive society with the constant thought of my friends who, with their ancestors, have fought for this for hundreds of years; my friend whose transgendered child was terrified to share who he really is; my friends and family who refuse to be labeled “crazy” so they silently deal with anxiety and depression.

There is a strong personal element behind every step I take; these personal relationships continue to push me through the roughest terrain on the journey. While I know my steps are small, and I will be wrong and make mistakes, “if it is worth doing badly, it’s worth doing.” If our message positively affects one person out of 1000, that is one more person taking our message to 1000 others.

There will no doubt be difficult days with resistance and frustrations; it is in these moments we must remember to continue to learn. I look forward to building and forming many new relationships, as well as sharing many opportunities to learn and grow with Cassandra, the UR S.T.A.R.S. team, and each and every one of you!

 

 


Fighting Slut-Shaming and Cyber-Bullying: 7 Things Teachers Can Do

These last few weeks, the topics of slut-shaming and sexual extortion have been weighing on my mind. These are huge problems facing girls in schools and I’ve been thinking a lot about how they tie into digital citizenship and the formation of a digital identity. Through watching videos, reading articles, and reflecting, I’ve come up what I think some of my responsibilities are – as a teacher and as a young woman – to support my students in the face of these issues.

Your Body = Your Worth

About two weeks ago, I went to a film screen put on by The UnSlut Project, a project working to undo the dangerous slut shaming and sexual bullying in our schools, communities, media and culture. Here is the trailer for the documentary film:

Emily Lindin started the UnSlut Project in response to hearing stories about suicides of girls like Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, and Audrie Pott. She was reminded of how she felt when she was labelled as the school “slut” in her middle school and decided to share her story by posting her diary entries from ages 11-14 online. The Project has become a collaborative space for sharing stories and creating awareness of sexual bullying and slut-shaming.

While watching the film, it stuck out to me that girls are told over and over again that their worth is based on how their bodies look to other people. The media constantly imposes impossible standards of beauty on girls and diet/beauty industries fuel body dissatisfaction to make profit.

It starts scary young. Media Smarts reports that three-year-olds already prefer game pieces that depict thin people over those representing heavier ones, while by age seven girls are able to identify something they would like to change about their appearance.

Photoshop Pic

Image from Media Smarts

“The barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty tells “ordinary” girls that they are always in need of adjustment—and that the female body is an object to be perfected” (Media Smarts). And not only are girls told that their bodies are objects to be perfected – they are also told that until they can perfect their bodies and become thin, beautiful, and sexy, their worth is compromised. If they want to be worth something, they need to eat less, workout more, show more skin… The list goes on.

Sexy = Valuable But Sex = Shameful

So this idea that girls must have a perfect body and be sexually attractive in order to be worth something sounds awful when you say it outright; however, these are the messages that the media is sending to young girls, who often receive and internalize them.

And perhaps the most sickening part is that when girls learn the rules of our culture – that their sexual desirability is what makes them valuable – and try to portray themselves as sexy, they are labeled, shamed, and bullied for it. It’s a vicious, grueling cycle and one that many girls, including Amanda Todd, have fallen victim to.

This paradox doesn’t disappear as girls grow up, either. It manifests in double standards that put women down for doing the same things as men (ie. she’s a slut, he’s a stud). Jarune Uwujaren from Everyday Feminism puts it this way: “Ironically, our society simultaneously values women for their sexual desirability and shames them for having sexual desires.”

What’s the point? There should not be worth tied to a woman’s or a girl’s sexiness or how much sex they choose to have. Slut-shaming is extremely harmful to a person’s self-concept and internalizing those negative messages results in tragic outcomes for girls and women.

Constant Pressure, Little Control

Girls are constantly pressured into portraying their bodies in ways that will please others, whether it’s posting pictures to social media, sexting, or revealing themselves to a camera online. But once they share, they have little control over how the images will be perceived or what the viewer might do with the image. The pictures are easily circulated and become part of a digital footprint that remains with them forever.

The Sextortion of Amanda Todd, a documentary by the Fifth Estate, shows the extensive blackmail that the seventh grade girl received after flashing the camera in an online chat with a man she had been messaging with. He was a ‘capper’ – a cyber-predator who stalks websites looking to flatter girls into performing sexual acts and then capture and distribute their images. When Amanda was put under pressure, she made one mistake and the damage was done.

Although the RCMP was notified about blackmail attempts on at least five occasions in the two years leading up to Amanda’s death, they simply told the family: “If Amanda does not stay off the internet and/or take steps to protect herself online … there is only so much we as the police can do.”

This (lack of) response horrifies me. It’s victim blaming and it places all the responsibility for Amanda’s protection on her and her parents’ shoulders. I think it would have been pretty obvious that it was the RCMP’s job to protect Amanda had her harasser been physically stalking and harassing her. Why should it be any less their business when it’s online?

Digital Dualism

I don’t think it’s realistic for us to tell young people to just stay offline when their lives are so intertwined with online spaces. They have grown up in a world of digital dualism, where they interact in two different worlds that are fully, inextricably weaved together. We can no longer separate our digital lives from our offline lives, nor can we expect young people to do this. And avoiding the problem wouldn’t have solved anything, anyway. She couldn’t have stayed offline forever.

Amanda needed someone to teach her how to protect herself and be safe online. She needed someone to show her that she could start to build a trail of positive artefacts (which I think she was trying to do in the famous video where she shares her story) that would someday outweigh the picture that destroyed her reputation. She needed support in rebuilding her self-concept and strategies to deal with her online and offline bullies.

As educators, what are our responsibilities? What can we do about all of this?

  1. Speak out about slut shaming and sexual bullying.

We must start with a ground up approach by speaking out within our personal spheres. One strategy suggested by the Unslut Project is to ask the person to define “slut” or to explain what they mean by their problematic comment. The conversation might go something like this:  “What do you mean by ‘slut’? “Well.. a promiscuous woman.” “What’s promiscuous?” “Well.. she has too many sex partners.” “So how many is too many? Who gets to decide?” It quickly becomes apparent that no one has any business judging anyone else based on their sex life.

It’s also important to note that women can simultaneously be victims and perpetrators of slut-shaming. This means we need to be critical of our own thoughts and careless comments and catch ourselves when we slut-shame. Through speaking out and listening to one another’s stories, we can humanize each other and begin to work together against this shaming.

2. Help students deconstruct media messages and develop critical thinking skills.

I tried to do this in my internship through a health unit on body image. I had my students examine a variety of advertisements and critique them in groups using a questionnaire. We discussed influences on body image, such as the media, family, friends, culture, place through videos like this and talked extensively about stereotypes related to body image. In fact, this unit turned my students into the Stereotype Police. They became really passionate about reporting stereotypes they heard at home, around the school, and from one another. We also examined photoshop mistakes and saw how photoshop is used to create a problematic “ideal” body type. These are just a few ways we can get students thinking critically about the messages the media sends.

3. Educate students about their worth.

It’s our job to make our students feel loved, respected, valued, and affirmed for who they are and what they do. When we constantly remind students how irrationally crazy about them we are, we help them understand and believe that they are worth so much more than what their bodies look like.

“And when you start to drown in these petty expectations you better re-examine the miracle of your existence because you’re worth so much more than your waistline.”

“…Standards don’t define you. You don’t live to meet the credentials established by a madman. You’re a goddamn treasure whether you wanna believe it or not.”

I also recently came across this beautiful poem by Rupi Kaur and I think it would be great to share with students:

i want to apologize to all the women i have called beautiful

before i’ve called them intelligent or brave

i am sorry i made it sound as though

something as simple as what you’re born with

is all you have to be proud of

when you have broken mountains with your wit

from now on i will say things like

you are resilient, or you are extraordinary

not because i don’t think you’re beautiful

but because i need you to know

you are more than that”

Rupi Kaur

These are the kinds of traits we need to recognize in our students and help them recognize in each other. We can model these types of compliments: You are resilient. You are passionate. You are extraordinary. You have such great vision. You are working so hard. I love how you support your group members. Through our words and through the resources we bring in, we can show our students how deeply valuable they are and remind them of their endless potential.

(My focus in this post is on girls, but I recognize that boys also need to be educated about their worth, as they are also affected by the problematic way that masculinity is defined and portrayed by the media. I also recognize that transgender students, probably the most of anyone, need to see positive representations of their identity in the classroom. So although I’m focusing on girls in this post, I truly believe in instilling a positive self-concept in ALL students.

4.  Educate students about digital identity and digital citizenship.

Teaching students the how and why behind constructing a positive digital identity is an extremely important responsibility, as professional digital profiles have huge effects on future employability and might even start to replace resumes.  The digital footprint students leave will impact them short-term and long-term.

This tweet, from Katia Hildebrandt, is a response to this article, which makes it clear that as a society, we are willing to consider the context and timing of mistakes like DUIs, but unwilling to consider the context and timing of mistakes in the form of hateful social media comments.

Because their digital actions will continue to affect them throughout their lives and because of the harm we have seen in Amanda’s story, it is imperative that we teach our students to ask themselves questions before they put anything on the Internet. When posting about themselves, we might teach them to ask: Would I want my grandma or future employer to read this? Does this represent me in a positive way? And when posting about others, we might teach them to ask: How would I feel if this was shared about me? Do I have this person’s permission to share about them?

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Photo Credit: MO3-2005 via Compfight cc

We can also teach them about online predators and the risks of exposing themselves online. We can show them examples of how our digital footprints can easily slip out of our control. Rather than asking students to simply avoid the internet or installing ineffective filters, we need to give them the tools to make responsible decisions for themselves.

5. Educate parents about digital footprints and their child’s digital identity.

Along with educating students about digital identity, we need to educate their parents. Research from the University of Washington finds that while children ages 10 to 17 “were really concerned” about the ways parents shared their children’s lives online, their parents were far less worried.  Another study finds that ‘sharenting’ – parents who share details of their family life online – can be detrimental in cases where parents put their online popularity ahead of spending time with their child. We need to model the process of asking students for permission before sharing about them online. We can offer support in helping parents find a middle ground, where they can share about their children online in a way that doesn’t compromise the child’s privacy or dignity.

Throughout the documentary, Amanda’s parents went from supporting her use of YouTube as a tool to share her singing talents to being highly concerned about her online behaviour when her photo went viral and she began to receive blackmail from the capper. Although they documented everything and continually informed the RCMP about the blackmail, they seemed ill-prepared to give Amanda any advice on how to defend herself online or how to start to repair her digital identity.

6. Educate ourselves about the online tools, apps, and websites students are using.

We need to keep up with the online tools are students are using and bring those into our classrooms and schools. For example, young people love Snapchat and there are many ways we can use Snapchat in our schools and classrooms for teaching, communicating, and sharing. We also need to educate ourselves on specific issues related to the tools, apps, or websites being used. For example, I recently became aware of the huge issue of cyber self-harm, a phenomenon in which young people create fake online identities to attack themselves and invite others to do the same. They might do this to pre-empt criticism from others, to bring their pain out into the open, or to get compliments from peers. We need to make ourselves aware of these issues so we can better understand what our students are going through and can support them in the best ways possible.

7. Educate everyone about moving toward a more forgiving digital world

Finally, because we are living in a world that no longer forgets, we need to work towards greater empathy and forgiveness towards others when they make mistakes online. We need to learn to make informed judgments rather than snap decisions and teach our students to do the same.

This means a few things, which Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt outline in their joint blog post. It means thinking about the context, timing, and intent of digital artefacts when we evaluate them. It means considering whether the artefact is a one-time thing or a pattern of behaviour. And it means holding ourselves accountable to the hypocrite test – asking ourselves whether we have ever said or posted something similar and thinking about whether we would want that held against us.

Burden or Opportunity?

My heart breaks for Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, and so many other girls who have taken their lives due to experiences like this. As educators, we have a ton of responsibilities for educating ourselves, our students, and others on these issues. These responsibilities may seem burdensome, but they also place us in a unique and critical position to support students and families as we all learn about digital identity formation and online safety together.

So what do you think? What other responsibilities would you add to this list? What steps can we take to prevent tragedies related to slut-shaming, cyber-bullying, sexual extortion? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


This is not my ceiling, this is my floor

Another week, another STARS meeting as informal as it was! I’m always left thinking seriously about what I am doing in relation to social justice and how my life experiences are affecting my work in this area after every meeting.

A group of the executive committee members went to see Selma on Monday night, so we started off the meeting debriefing the movie and the moments that really stuck out to us. If there is one thing that this movie taught me, it’s that even though we like to think that we have come a long way in our fight for equal rights for all races in society, we still have a long way to go. Two minutes into this movie and I knew that my perspective on the civil rights movement would be forever changed. While the rest of the world was celebrating Martin Luther King, he was in the southern states getting assaulted by random strangers because there was obviously still work to be done. When most people hear the name Martin Luther King, they think of four words: “I Have A Dream”. What we don’t think of is the obstacles that lay ahead on the journey to equal rights after that speech was made and Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize. This movie really made me see the tremendous struggles that they faced even when the world seemed to think that everything was solved. The government was tracking Martin Luther King’s every move, only accepting him as an activist because he was not as violent as others who were fighting for the same thing.

One scene of the movie that was, rightfully, powerful to everybody within our group was the scene of the first march from Selma to Montgomery. The scene was shot absolutely perfect to show what people were feeling at that exact moment in time. Shots zoomed in on police batons wrapped in barbed wire. The camera was tilted upwards when the people marching were being beaten by police on foot and on horses. There was a slow motion shot of a police officer chasing down a marcher on his horse with a whip, which is a direct reference to treatment of slaves, and striking the man down so that the police on foot could beat him. This entire scene was breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. The whole film was an ode to everything that black people had to overcome in order to get the right to vote, but unlike other movies it was from their perspective and they were placed in leading roles.

What really sparked our conversation in the meeting, however, was the response to the march – especially how it was covered by the reporter that was narrating the story of what happened. It was brought up how the media covers social justice events today in comparison to how this reporter covered the events of the march and the differences were something that none of us were proud of. In the movie, the reporter is obviously and rightfully shaken up, almost at the point of tears, but when we look at media coverage of social justice events today, let’s use what happened in Ferguson as an example, there is no emotion and no empathy, just cold hard facts.  unless there is a close and personal tie. What has changed? Why do these news stories no longer affect the media and the people consuming it as much as before? Sure, the events of Ferguson were heartbreaking and the world talked about it for days after Michael Brown was killed, but what happens when it is no longer front page news? People forget about it until it’s in the news once more.

This led us to our new topic of conversation: we can sit and meet each week to talk about social justice issues and speak our minds about these topics, but are our bodies matching our mouths and our minds? Are we physically getting out there and being allies, or do we just talk about it and it never comes to fruition? We’ve decided that this is the next step for our group — for us to go out in the community and show that we are allies to those that face social injustice, not just talk about the issues that they face. At this moment, what does our work cost us? Hardly anything. If people don’t know us well enough for us to talk to them about STARS, they probably have no idea that we’re passionate about social justice. This hides us from the ridicule of those who don’t believe this fight is a worthy one, but it also prevents us from making the connections that we need to move forward as a group and really achieve our goals of getting the whole community involved in social justice.

As a closing thought there’s something that has been on my mind for quite a while, but it took until our STARS meeting tonight for me to speak up and really seek advice on this. Almost on a weekly basis, I have people around me tell me that they couldn’t possibly handle all that I do and remain sane. I’m a full time student, I’m on the executive committee for STARS and Relay for Life, I’ve been on other committees before, I am a strong volunteer around campus with many organizations, I work outside of school, and I still find time for friends and family. I’ve been told that this is remarkable, but I’ve never thought so. You see, I don’t see what I do as inspirational. I don’t see it as me making a huge difference in the world around me, but that is what I am constantly being told, especially with STARS. Once I spoke up about this, Michael Cappello, who is our main faculty supporter, put what I was feeling into words that I feel like a lot more people would connect to. He talked about our group, who meet every week and simply talk about social justice and plan PD events to include others around the community in the conversation. None of us see this as remarkable because we believe so strongly in it. It shouldn’t be remarkable that seven white teachers get together to talk about the issues in society that affect us, our students, our classrooms, and our communities, but we’re told time and time again that it is. The fact that something so small can be seen as remarkable really shows how far we have to go as a society. Our meetings shouldn’t be our ceiling. They shouldn’t be the highest that we think we can achieve. Sitting down to talk about these issues should be our floor. They should be our baseline. Because as far away as some of these issues seem, they do affect our daily lives and the lives of our students, and this translates to them affecting our classrooms. We must constantly work to break through the ceilings that are built by ourselves and others which are meant to limit what we can do. We should always strive to do more and to be better, because the minute we stop striving for more is the minute that we give up on the cause of truly understanding social justice, how it affects us and our students, and how we can create an environment within our classrooms that really values each person as an individual and not a combination of stereotypes.


This is not my ceiling, this is my floor

Another week, another STARS meeting as informal as it was! I’m always left thinking seriously about what I am doing in relation to social justice and how my life experiences are affecting my work in this area after every meeting.

A group of the executive committee members went to see Selma on Monday night, so we started off the meeting debriefing the movie and the moments that really stuck out to us. If there is one thing that this movie taught me, it’s that even though we like to think that we have come a long way in our fight for equal rights for all races in society, we still have a long way to go. Two minutes into this movie and I knew that my perspective on the civil rights movement would be forever changed. While the rest of the world was celebrating Martin Luther King, he was in the southern states getting assaulted by random strangers because there was obviously still work to be done. When most people hear the name Martin Luther King, they think of four words: “I Have A Dream”. What we don’t think of is the obstacles that lay ahead on the journey to equal rights after that speech was made and Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize. This movie really made me see the tremendous struggles that they faced even when the world seemed to think that everything was solved. The government was tracking Martin Luther King’s every move, only accepting him as an activist because he was not as violent as others who were fighting for the same thing.

One scene of the movie that was, rightfully, powerful to everybody within our group was the scene of the first march from Selma to Montgomery. The scene was shot absolutely perfect to show what people were feeling at that exact moment in time. Shots zoomed in on police batons wrapped in barbed wire. The camera was tilted upwards when the people marching were being beaten by police on foot and on horses. There was a slow motion shot of a police officer chasing down a marcher on his horse with a whip, which is a direct reference to treatment of slaves, and striking the man down so that the police on foot could beat him. This entire scene was breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. The whole film was an ode to everything that black people had to overcome in order to get the right to vote, but unlike other movies it was from their perspective and they were placed in leading roles.

What really sparked our conversation in the meeting, however, was the response to the march – especially how it was covered by the reporter that was narrating the story of what happened. It was brought up how the media covers social justice events today in comparison to how this reporter covered the events of the march and the differences were something that none of us were proud of. In the movie, the reporter is obviously and rightfully shaken up, almost at the point of tears, but when we look at media coverage of social justice events today, let’s use what happened in Ferguson as an example, there is no emotion and no empathy, just cold hard facts.  unless there is a close and personal tie. What has changed? Why do these news stories no longer affect the media and the people consuming it as much as before? Sure, the events of Ferguson were heartbreaking and the world talked about it for days after Michael Brown was killed, but what happens when it is no longer front page news? People forget about it until it’s in the news once more.

This led us to our new topic of conversation: we can sit and meet each week to talk about social justice issues and speak our minds about these topics, but are our bodies matching our mouths and our minds? Are we physically getting out there and being allies, or do we just talk about it and it never comes to fruition? We’ve decided that this is the next step for our group — for us to go out in the community and show that we are allies to those that face social injustice, not just talk about the issues that they face. At this moment, what does our work cost us? Hardly anything. If people don’t know us well enough for us to talk to them about STARS, they probably have no idea that we’re passionate about social justice. This hides us from the ridicule of those who don’t believe this fight is a worthy one, but it also prevents us from making the connections that we need to move forward as a group and really achieve our goals of getting the whole community involved in social justice.

As a closing thought there’s something that has been on my mind for quite a while, but it took until our STARS meeting tonight for me to speak up and really seek advice on this. Almost on a weekly basis, I have people around me tell me that they couldn’t possibly handle all that I do and remain sane. I’m a full time student, I’m on the executive committee for STARS and Relay for Life, I’ve been on other committees before, I am a strong volunteer around campus with many organizations, I work outside of school, and I still find time for friends and family. I’ve been told that this is remarkable, but I’ve never thought so. You see, I don’t see what I do as inspirational. I don’t see it as me making a huge difference in the world around me, but that is what I am constantly being told, especially with STARS. Once I spoke up about this, Michael Cappello, who is our main faculty supporter, put what I was feeling into words that I feel like a lot more people would connect to. He talked about our group, who meet every week and simply talk about social justice and plan PD events to include others around the community in the conversation. None of us see this as remarkable because we believe so strongly in it. It shouldn’t be remarkable that seven white teachers get together to talk about the issues in society that affect us, our students, our classrooms, and our communities, but we’re told time and time again that it is. The fact that something so small can be seen as remarkable really shows how far we have to go as a society. Our meetings shouldn’t be our ceiling. They shouldn’t be the highest that we think we can achieve. Sitting down to talk about these issues should be our floor. They should be our baseline. Because as far away as some of these issues seem, they do affect our daily lives and the lives of our students, and this translates to them affecting our classrooms. We must constantly work to break through the ceilings that are built by ourselves and others which are meant to limit what we can do. We should always strive to do more and to be better, because the minute we stop striving for more is the minute that we give up on the cause of truly understanding social justice, how it affects us and our students, and how we can create an environment within our classrooms that really values each person as an individual and not a combination of stereotypes.


… And it All Started with Some Shoes

Last night, I had the unbelievable opportunity to help facilitated the first STARS Regina event after our club was formed in the Fall 2014 semester. We decided that not everyone is as comfortable talking about social justice issues as we are, so we held a sharing circle to raise awareness of social justice within the community and help our peers develop the confidence to talk about these issues. Two amazing professors within the education faculty, Mike Cappello and Sean Lessard. The circle was mainly centered around teaching, but we had two guests who weren’t in the education faculty and their input and ideas were more than appreciated because they helped us take these issues outside of the classroom and into the broader community. By now you may be wondering about the title of this blog post, so I’ll explain that to you now.

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Sean opened up the circle with a story about truly listening to one another in order to gain perspective on stories. While preparing for the event, he reached out to one of his mentors and heard a long-winded story about how he met the Dalai Lama and was fixated on what type of shoes this incredibly religious man wore, and the story ended with him finding out that the Dalai Lama wore converse. What was the meaning behind this story? Sean didn’t know, so he asked what this had to do with the sharing circle we held and his mentor clarified for him. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we do, or even who we know – if we really want to have a conversation with someone, no matter how different their beliefs and values may be from ours, we can always find common ground. We can always find ways to open up conversations about our differences, but we must start with a similarity, even if it is something as trivial as the shoes on our feet.

After we had all introduced ourselves and explained how we got to the sharing circle, we broke off into small groups to brainstorm and answer some questions about social justice in the broader community. The first prompt seemed simple, but inspired some very deep thinking. What does anti-oppression look like in the community environment? I was amazed at some of the conversations that came out of this question. We started off with the obvious (to us): education for all, incorporating indigenous ways of knowing, and including minorities were just a few things that came to mind. Once we dug a little deeper and started sharing stories, however, we got a lot more answers that were interesting to me because they showed each person’s unique perspective. We talked about the word listening. What does it mean to listen to someone? I don’t mean waiting for them to be done speaking so that you can speak your opinion on the matter, but to truly listen to what they have to say, without judgments and biases getting in the way, and respecting their perspective whether you agree or disagree. Once this was brought up in our small group, the conversation shifted. What a difference one word can make to the conversation when it is so important! Before last night, when I thought about social justice I thought about the issues in society today, what we have to face, and the challenges that we have ahead of us to make the world a better place, but the word listening was the major takeaway from this experience for me, because it made me realize that by having these conversations, by really hashing out what social justice and anti-oppression mean with so many different perspectives, we are taking steps forward.

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This leads me to another takeaway from the night, which was one of my own stories from my pre-internship placement that I never thought of as a strong connection to social justice until I heard these different perspectives. One of my main hesitancies in bringing social justice into my future classroom is the age group that I want to teach. I am in the Pre-K to Grade 5 program at the university, so I feel like sometimes it’s not as easy to incorporate social justice because there’s a fear of taking it too far. I really thought about this fear that I had last night before I realized that I’ve seen social justice in the Kindergarten class that I’ve been teaching in, it was just given another name: empathy. Late in November, my co-op teacher told the students about an article that she had read online about a little girl that had cancer. She explained to the students that the little girl’s family thought this may be her last Christmas, not knowing what the students would do with this information but wanting to make them aware about what is going on in the world around them. Being as caring as they are, my Kindergartens decided to do something about it. They decided that each person would make this little girl a card and this turned into a school-wide event. You see, my co-op teacher has a way of really getting on to the students’ level and explained to them that what they are doing is making a difference. The students truly believe that “changing the world starts with you” and that it’s pretty easy to change the world one person at a time. The students became so passionate about this empathy project that they gathered the courage to go to each classroom in the school, from Pre-K to Grade 8, and ask the other students to make cards as well and all together the school ended up sending 323 cards to this little girl and it all started with the word empathy and a small news article.

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Once we had discussed in our small groups, we came back to the big sharing circle to unpack the conversations that we had in our small groups. One of the main takeaways that I had from this conversation was the difference between thinking and doing. I’ve met many people in my experience at the university that will talk about the importance of social justice, because it is an ideal that is widely appreciated in society, but when it comes to taking steps to educate themselves about social justice issues there is a strong hesitance. Whether they are afraid to take that step, take a risk, or put themselves out there, something is holding them back. I am a strong believer that our actions speak louder than our words. How do we make anti-oppressive work everyone’s work? We spoke of many different ideas that we could put in place to bring more people into the spaces that we create, whether by breaking down the hesitations of other student teachers or holding events in the community to reach more people, we realized that we were being privileged with the conversations that were occurring and we needed to expand the conversation to even more people to try to understand as many perspectives as possible.

One of the most powerful aspects of last night was that it opened up room for conversations to occur.After the event was over and some people went home, I stayed with two of my friends to unpack the night and really dig deep into some of the issues that were discussed. How do we engage more people in this work? Yes, we had fifteen people show up to this event and for our first event as a campus club that’s a pretty good turnout, but how do we open up these experiences to others in the university and beyond? One of the major topics that we talked about was the apathy that we see day to day in the university. There are many people that will support what we are trying to do and will donate money, buy baking, and encourage us to keep going, but why did we feel like we needed certificates to offer participants in order to bring people to the event? Why is it that there needs to be some sort of reward, whether it is a certificate, something to put on our resumes, or coffee and cookies, for people to step outside of their comfort zones and discuss social justice with others? These are the questions that I have been asking myself as a result of our first event, and I am sure that more will come up as I continue to unpack the experience with the other executive members.

All in all, I felt so grateful for everyone that made this event possible. So many people offered different perspectives and I can’t wait to see how we all move forward together!


… And it All Started with Some Shoes

Last night, I had the unbelievable opportunity to help facilitated the first STARS Regina event after our club was formed in the Fall 2014 semester. We decided that not everyone is as comfortable talking about social justice issues as we are, so we held a sharing circle to raise awareness of social justice within the community and help our peers develop the confidence to talk about these issues. Two amazing professors within the education faculty, Mike Cappello and Sean Lessard. The circle was mainly centered around teaching, but we had two guests who weren’t in the education faculty and their input and ideas were more than appreciated because they helped us take these issues outside of the classroom and into the broader community. By now you may be wondering about the title of this blog post, so I’ll explain that to you now.

IMG_2980  IMG_2981

Sean opened up the circle with a story about truly listening to one another in order to gain perspective on stories. While preparing for the event, he reached out to one of his mentors and heard a long-winded story about how he met the Dalai Lama and was fixated on what type of shoes this incredibly religious man wore, and the story ended with him finding out that the Dalai Lama wore converse. What was the meaning behind this story? Sean didn’t know, so he asked what this had to do with the sharing circle we held and his mentor clarified for him. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we do, or even who we know – if we really want to have a conversation with someone, no matter how different their beliefs and values may be from ours, we can always find common ground. We can always find ways to open up conversations about our differences, but we must start with a similarity, even if it is something as trivial as the shoes on our feet.

After we had all introduced ourselves and explained how we got to the sharing circle, we broke off into small groups to brainstorm and answer some questions about social justice in the broader community. The first prompt seemed simple, but inspired some very deep thinking. What does anti-oppression look like in the community environment? I was amazed at some of the conversations that came out of this question. We started off with the obvious (to us): education for all, incorporating indigenous ways of knowing, and including minorities were just a few things that came to mind. Once we dug a little deeper and started sharing stories, however, we got a lot more answers that were interesting to me because they showed each person’s unique perspective. We talked about the word listening. What does it mean to listen to someone? I don’t mean waiting for them to be done speaking so that you can speak your opinion on the matter, but to truly listen to what they have to say, without judgments and biases getting in the way, and respecting their perspective whether you agree or disagree. Once this was brought up in our small group, the conversation shifted. What a difference one word can make to the conversation when it is so important! Before last night, when I thought about social justice I thought about the issues in society today, what we have to face, and the challenges that we have ahead of us to make the world a better place, but the word listening was the major takeaway from this experience for me, because it made me realize that by having these conversations, by really hashing out what social justice and anti-oppression mean with so many different perspectives, we are taking steps forward.

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This leads me to another takeaway from the night, which was one of my own stories from my pre-internship placement that I never thought of as a strong connection to social justice until I heard these different perspectives. One of my main hesitancies in bringing social justice into my future classroom is the age group that I want to teach. I am in the Pre-K to Grade 5 program at the university, so I feel like sometimes it’s not as easy to incorporate social justice because there’s a fear of taking it too far. I really thought about this fear that I had last night before I realized that I’ve seen social justice in the Kindergarten class that I’ve been teaching in, it was just given another name: empathy. Late in November, my co-op teacher told the students about an article that she had read online about a little girl that had cancer. She explained to the students that the little girl’s family thought this may be her last Christmas, not knowing what the students would do with this information but wanting to make them aware about what is going on in the world around them. Being as caring as they are, my Kindergartens decided to do something about it. They decided that each person would make this little girl a card and this turned into a school-wide event. You see, my co-op teacher has a way of really getting on to the students’ level and explained to them that what they are doing is making a difference. The students truly believe that “changing the world starts with you” and that it’s pretty easy to change the world one person at a time. The students became so passionate about this empathy project that they gathered the courage to go to each classroom in the school, from Pre-K to Grade 8, and ask the other students to make cards as well and all together the school ended up sending 323 cards to this little girl and it all started with the word empathy and a small news article.

IMG_2979

Once we had discussed in our small groups, we came back to the big sharing circle to unpack the conversations that we had in our small groups. One of the main takeaways that I had from this conversation was the difference between thinking and doing. I’ve met many people in my experience at the university that will talk about the importance of social justice, because it is an ideal that is widely appreciated in society, but when it comes to taking steps to educate themselves about social justice issues there is a strong hesitance. Whether they are afraid to take that step, take a risk, or put themselves out there, something is holding them back. I am a strong believer that our actions speak louder than our words. How do we make anti-oppressive work everyone’s work? We spoke of many different ideas that we could put in place to bring more people into the spaces that we create, whether by breaking down the hesitations of other student teachers or holding events in the community to reach more people, we realized that we were being privileged with the conversations that were occurring and we needed to expand the conversation to even more people to try to understand as many perspectives as possible.

One of the most powerful aspects of last night was that it opened up room for conversations to occur.After the event was over and some people went home, I stayed with two of my friends to unpack the night and really dig deep into some of the issues that were discussed. How do we engage more people in this work? Yes, we had fifteen people show up to this event and for our first event as a campus club that’s a pretty good turnout, but how do we open up these experiences to others in the university and beyond? One of the major topics that we talked about was the apathy that we see day to day in the university. There are many people that will support what we are trying to do and will donate money, buy baking, and encourage us to keep going, but why did we feel like we needed certificates to offer participants in order to bring people to the event? Why is it that there needs to be some sort of reward, whether it is a certificate, something to put on our resumes, or coffee and cookies, for people to step outside of their comfort zones and discuss social justice with others? These are the questions that I have been asking myself as a result of our first event, and I am sure that more will come up as I continue to unpack the experience with the other executive members.

All in all, I felt so grateful for everyone that made this event possible. So many people offered different perspectives and I can’t wait to see how we all move forward together!


Assessm…what?

What is assessment and how do we effectively use it in the classroom? The answer to this question, for myself anyways, remains unknown. Looking back at my experience in school, assessment was based around tests – I pushed myself to get “good grades” and based my self-worth on how “well” I was doing in school. Years later, we still see schools as competitive institutions, which I believe is a result of living in a success-driven society. Recollections of stress, anxiety and fear still resonate with me when thinking about assessment. This is something that I hope students in my classroom will never experience. Today, as a pre-service teacher, I find assessment petrifying – but how can I move away from the negativity? I still have not found the “key” to successful assessment and am unsure if I ever will. However, I have compiled a few thoughts on how I might approach assessment at this point in my journey to becoming an educator.

  • Assessment needs to be based off of entire life experience, not just learning that takes place in the classroom – what could potentially affect learning?
  • Pre-assessment is vitally important – we need to know what prior knowledge and experience students are bringing to the classroom. We cannot assume or have pre-set expectations of students, as this only sets them up for failure. Once we have completed a pre-assessment, planning learning experiences that cater to the learning styles of all students can be achieved.
  • Differentiated assessment – we need to ensure students are not penalized as a result of oppressive assessment tools. If a student’s learning does not reflect success through an assessment, it could mean that the assessment tool in place is not conducive to their learning style – CHANGE IT UP!
  • Self-reflective teaching practices – allows me to continuously adapt my teaching and assessment strategies to ensure they are effective in supporting success in all learners.
  • Allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge in multiple ways – assessed in ways that honor their unique learning styles. Learning that takes place cross-curricular opens up more opportunities to represent learning = more opportunities for a variety of assessments.
  • Have students brainstorm ideas on how they should be assessed – what things should we as educators be looking for when we look at your learning processes? For example: constructing a rubric for an assignment alongside the students, both parties are contributing to the assessment process. Students become leaders in the assessment process – taking responsibility and ownership over their learning.
  • Ensure students are aware of what they are being assessed on and what the assessment will look like – no surprises. It is also important to deliver these instructions in multiple ways (orally, written, pictorially, etc.).
  • Anecdotal records based on observations – showing a progression/growth – assessment that takes place over time.
  • Including students in the assessment process – conferencing/goal setting conversations, self-assessment, and peer-assessment. This allows educators to get more of a “full-picture” idea of student progress – over-time collecting observations.
  • Assessment must reflect what is being taught (instruction) – how can we assess students on something they have yet to learn?
  • Giving students feedback on their work > always assigning a grade – allows students to take constructive feedback and apply it to future learning experiences. This fosters self-confidence/worth, rather than lowering confidence (if a student does not get a grade they are satisfied with).
  • Encouraging students to self-reflect (ex: journal writing) – we as educators can see a reflection of their journey, as well as they can use this as a tool to help them self-assess their learning.
  • Assessment does not solely need to take place at the end of a learning experience – assessment can be ongoing.

Despite reflecting on what my future assessment experiences may look like, there are still things I am unsure of. How am I able to assign a “grade” to all learning experiences? Some learning experiences benefit the student by experiencing personal growth and reflection – how can I place a “grade” on something like that? How do we extend knowledge and learning beyond the summative assessment of an experience? Do we need to perform summative assessment in order to ensure our students have met the delivered outcomes? I believe that the first step in exploring assessment is self-reflection – if we do not reflect, we may not notice areas of improvement within ourselves. Assessment is a journey that I will forever be trying to navigate through alongside students – assessment will be a process involving “we” rather than “me”.


One Size Does NOT Fit All.

“Differentiation is a philosophy or mindset that enables educators to plan strategically in order to reach the needs of the diverse learners in classrooms today so that they can achieve targeted standards – not a set of tools, but a belief system or mindset that educators embrace to meet the unique needs of every learner.” (Chapman and Gregory, p. 2)

As our classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse, the need for differentiation to be implemented by all educators is crucial. We cannot simply expose children to learning experiences that cater to the needs of a select group – one size does NOT fit all. In order for children to fully immerse themselves into learning, their experiences need to be authentically tweaked to fit their learning styles, interests, prior knowledge and personalities. Every student that enters the classroom brings perspectives and narratives unique to each individual – differentiation allows for students to explore multiple perspectives and narratives, while learning to honor and appreciate diversity. If we as educators hope to provide every student with a positive school experience, differentiation should be at the heart of our teaching practices.

There is a multitude of ways to differentiate in the classroom. The following are some ways to differentiate, along with examples of how I will achieve this throughout my journey as an educator: (Chapman and Gregory, pp. 3-5)

  • Content: Includes what is being taught and the materials used to deliver information. Assignments given to students must cater to their learning styles, while also challenging them to develop new skills. When students are provided with a diversity of materials, deeper learning and ownership of knowledge acquisition can take place. This can include presenting content to students through a variety of mediums (for example, print and digital). Learning experiences need to be authentic and relevant – when a student can connect what they are learning to prior knowledge or experiences, critical thinking and reflection can occur.
  • Assessment Tools – Performing a pre-assessment of prior knowledge and interests is important when differentiating. If we are able to understand what students know about content we will be teaching, we can better plan learning experiences suited to fit their learning styles. Assessment of learning can occur in many different ways and how we assess each student can be decided based on personalities. For example, some students may benefit from having conference-style conversations to discuss their learning progress, while other students may find this intimidating and prefer to be assessed through observation and anecdotal records.
  • Performance Tasks – Allowing students to present their knowledge in a variety of ways is an effective way to differentiate performance tasks. Giving students choice in terms of how they show what they know fosters all learning styles and multiple intelligences. Allowing choice also encourages students to take ownership and responsibility over their learning – if they are doing something they are interested in, their engagement level will be higher!
  • Instructional Strategies – Differentiating instructional strategies involves delivering information in a variety of ways. For example, instead of only delivering instructions for a task orally, you might include written and pictorial instructions to cater to more than one learning style. When one provides students with learning experiences that take different forms (games, lecture style, individual work, group work, etc.), learning remains exciting and appealing to all students. Differentiation of classroom environment can also influence instruction – how the classroom is structured can help students remain engaged in learning. This can include a diversity of seating arrangements, as well as using brain breaks, fidgets, noise blockers, etc.

How will I differentiate? The thought of providing all students with learning experiences that meet their needs is exceedingly overwhelming. I do not expect myself to ever be able to master the task of differentiating, however, I hope to try to provide positive learning experiences that cater to individual needs. Reflective teaching practices will allow me to adapt my teaching and assessment strategies, as well as classroom environment, as necessary – asking myself what is working, what is not, what could be changed, etc. Looking back on my personal school experiences as a child, I remember instances where I felt as though some experiences did not reflect my learning style – the effects of experiences such as this can be detrimental. Therefore, ensuring students feel confident and competent while learning is important; differentiation is the vital tool every educator needs in their toolbox in order to achieve this.

Gregory, G., & Chapman, C. (2013). One Size Doesn’t Fit All. In Differentiated Instructional Strategies: One Size Doesn’t Fit All (pp. 1-10). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Listening Wholeheartedly – A Response to Nel Noddings

“To get new ideas, to move ahead, we – as educators – should listen to our children and students. When we listen to them, we learn what they are going through, and this knowledge can be used to shape what we do in teaching. It can help us to select and arrange curriculum, plan lessons, choose instructional methods, and seek better modes for evaluation. What we learn from students should induce us to reflect on all we do and all we are asked to do.” (Noddings, p. 154)

I believe in the importance of listening to and learning from children – through building relationships and coming to honor their individuality, authentic learning can take place. However, where do we begin on this complex journey? Why should we go above and beyond to try to relate to each and every child in our classroom (although can we ever fully understand narratives that are not our own?)? Do the social constructs, barriers and limitations woven throughout the field of education allow for these types of student-teacher relationships to be built? Education and learning are complex entities, which require students to pursue knowledge in predicated ways. In order to help guide our students through the complexities, we must come to know where their passion lies (what interests them, what gets them excited). Coming to know our students in meaningful ways can be a challenging, but is a task worth exploring.

Before children even enter the classroom, they already have preconceived perceptions as to what will be expected of them throughout their time in school. Feelings of anxiety, fear, insecurity, as well as inadequacy ebb and flow inside many children. In a society where success is greatly influenced by academic achievement, pressure is placed on children to achieve high grades in order to ensure a successful future and to obtain happiness. Despite that many children, as well as educators, might believe this to be true, there is fallacy among the idea that good grades lead to future happiness (Noddings, p. 157). Living and learning in these aggressive ways leave little room to develop passion in terms of knowledge acquisition. The focus should lie on encouraging children to become excited about learning, while giving them choice and advocacy in regards to their learning (needs, wants, goals, dreams). Children need to be given opportunities to explore the realm of learning. While providing choice and personal advocacy is important, children still need to be challenged as well – pushed out of their comfort zone and encouraged to try new things (that may not necessarily fall under their category of “interests”).

I truly believe in feedback-focused education, opposed to assigning a grade to everything that takes place in my classroom. Think of all the possibilities opened up by merely having a conversation with a child in regards to their learning – conferencing with students to see where they are at and where they see themselves going. Focusing on goal setting and comparing ones’ self to their own strengths, working together to create high-quality learning experiences (Noddings, p. 158). However, as educators are we able to achieve this kind of learning and assessment? Immersed so deeply in a system that constantly drives the importance of grades – is this dream possible? How easy will it be to stray from the competition-driven education experience we know all too well?

Oppression lies deep within the curriculum and the education system, this is something we cannot deny. However, we can help our students to become advocates for their own learning – teaching them the importance of and skills required to make informed decisions about their futures. With all of the pressure to meet both the clearly outlined, as well as the hidden, standards, are students actually learning to their fullest potential? Listening to our students and encouraging them to become life-long learners and to find passion in the acquisition of the diversity of knowledge around them is something educators should strive for. Listening wholeheartedly – something that seems so simplistic, but can open the door to countless opportunities for students – should be at the heart of our teaching practices.

Noddings, N. (2004). Learning from Our Students. ProQuest Education Journals, 154-159.


Standing Up Alone > Sitting Down in Company

Texan news reporter Dale Hansen made a bold decision to defend gay rights on national television, putting himself out there while fully aware of possible destructive repercussions to his actions. His discourse was in response to the negative backlash football star Michael Sam has received by admitting to being gay. Michael, a talented young man who would be a strong asset to any team in the league, will be the first openly gay man to play in the NFL. Before publicly announcing his sexual identity, he was pegged to be chosen in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft. However, he is now expected to go in the fifth round – for a player of his skill level and stature.. shocking how quickly things have changed, no?

“A gay player would not be welcome in a NFL locker room; it would be uncomfortable because that’s a man’s world.”

Seeing as this has caused such uproar, let’s look to some who are currently representing their nation by playing in the league. Men who have been involved in domestic violence, murder, drunk driving, illegal drugs, prostitution, rape, and obstruction of justice are ‘welcome’ in the league, yet Michael Sam is being scrutinized? As Dale Hansen says, these men are WANTED in the league – they are accepted and are looked up to by many. So I ask, what is wrong with this picture? I do not understand how one can honestly believe being gay is WORSE than committing horrendous crimes – I am at a loss for words.

“You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far.”

Ellen DeGeneres was inspired by Dale’s willingness to speak out and invited him to be a guest on her show to further spread his striking message to the public. Experiencing similar public backlash when sharing her sexual identity with her fans, she knows the importance of advocating for equal rights. Together they agree on one common objective – you do not need to be LGBTQ to advocate for equal rights, advocating is advocating. Either way, the message is powerful. It is also not expected for you to understand and feel comfortable with other’s identities that differ from your own – you do not live their life, however, they are a PART of your life. That being said, love and respect are reciprocal notions – you cannot expect to receive it, if you are not willing to give it!

Although our society has evolved over time – and some may argue we have made great progress – heterosexual relationships are still viewed to be the norm and ‘that’s just the way it is’. I find it extremely difficult to understand and refuse to accept the high value placed on success in our society, where this success is only attainable to those who fit the norm. Why should someone’s success be hindered based on their identity? Like Dale, I would like to believe there will be a day where differences will be celebrated, not segregated – success will not be determined by superficial perceptions of identity. However, I think our society has a long way to go to get there… We need to stop sitting down, ignoring the discrimination around us, and stand up – what are we waiting for?

“It is not our differences that divide us; it is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde