Category Archives: social justice

Reflections on a Field Trip

On Wednesday, I had the amazing opportunity to go on a field trip out to Fort Qu’Appelle with four of my classmates and Mike Cappello.  We decided to go on this field trip because Mike had to pick up some magazines from Sheena Koops, a teacher from Bert Fox Community High School, and he thought meeting her would be a valuable experience for us.  Was he ever right!!

We met with Sheena for lunch and I think we were all captivated by her passion for treaty education and also her real, down-to-earth nature.  I learned a lot just from this lunch meeting, but I’ll try to summarize!

  • There will be resistance to treaty education.  Sheena integrates treaty education and First Nations content into her English classes and she gets phone calls and emails from upset and/or angry parents every year.  She described it as “slaps on the hand,” or being disciplined for teaching this content.  Now ask yourself:  Would she be getting the same reactions if she were integrating health education content into her English classes?  Highly unlikely.  That parents and students don’t think treaty education is important or worth learning about is evidence of structural racism.
  • Action research can be understood as a way of being rather than something we do.  It is this never ending cycle of action – reflection – research – more reflection – more action.  It means developing a questioning mindset and a desire to understand what works for you and what does not.  Seeing action research this way is a way of making your own professional development, because you are choosing to be engaged and are continuously and actively constructing your own learning.
  • One of Sheena’s goals for the next 10 years of her career is to help her students learn through discomfort rather than let them off the hook or consoling them when things get uncomfortable.  She struggles with this because she is so caring and compassionate, or as she said, “When I see tears, I have tears!”  This would be really difficult to do, so I think it’s a fantastic goal.  Mike also made the point that everyone can develop their own personal style of helping students learn through discomfort, which means you can stay true to yourself but still push students through that process.

We also got to explore the amazing magazines that Sheena’s students have created over the last few years – the ones Mike will be using as textbooks in his social studies class.  The work those students put into those magazines is just incredible!  It was so inspiring to see how knowledgeable the students were about treaty education and how powerfully they could write about it.

Sheena invited us into Bert Fox Community School, gave us a tour, and introduced us to her class.  She used us as a “teachable moment” and connected our presence to what they were learning about journalling by interviewing us as if she were a reporter.  It was really cool to see that she just ditched her lesson plan and embraced the opportunity (which she was still able to connect to student learning)!  I really want to be able to do that when I’m a teacher.

Click here to see us getting interviewed by Sheena in her classroom.

So this post covers the first half of our field trip!  I will be writing another one to cover the second half, which was equally as exciting.  I am so grateful that we got the chance to meet with a dedicated, spirited teacher who was willing to listen, discuss, and support us as new teachers who are interested in anti-oppressive education.  As a group and as a whole faculty, we are starting to normalize the conversation about social justice within the education profession.  I can’t wait to see what this will bring!

Teaching Toward Social Justice

As part of the readings for my Educational Core Studies 210 course, I will be reading Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice (2nd edition) by Kevin K. Kumashiro and The New Teacher Book: Finding Purpose, Balance, and Hope During Your First Years in the Classroom (2nd edition) edited by Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. The first reading that I will be reflecting on is from Against Common Sense.

In this text Kumashiro defines common sense as “the assumption that improvement comes when schools are put in competition with one another, like businesses in a so-called free market” (page 22). This assumption typically favours middle-to-upper class families because they are being offered choices of the best schools while low income families do not have these choices available due to the expense of travelling or the tuition needed to attend certain schools.

This “common sense” has been created and promoted by business and conservative forces in North America. While this education reform based on standards and testing may have started as a Conservative proposal, Liberals now shape their ideas based on these concepts that are now referred to as “common sense”. Although teachers may recognise that this system reinforces social hierarchies, they may fear going against standards due to the threat of school closure, teacher turnover, student non-promotion, and other repercussions. One of the ways to work around these standards is to teach students to search for gaps in the standards and attempt to see these standards from different perspectives.

Within schools, teachers need to find the balance between teaching standards and teaching students to think independently about the school system, the gaps that exist, and how they can better their educational experience. Part of the role of a teacher is to teach students specific mandated standards, but there must be more learning within the classroom environment in order to motivate students to rise above this mandated learning to find their own truths.

It is important that students and teachers pay attention to “common sense” because this thinking regarding education oppresses many students within the school system by reaffirming social hierarchy. While policies such as “No Child Left Behind” sound wonderful as proposals, many students suffer due to school closures and not having enough resources to engage in the education system and advocate for change. As future teachers, it is our role to speak for these students who are being systematically oppressed within the school system by teaching with social justice in mind.