Category Archives: social justice

… 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.


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.


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!

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.