Best Practices for Equity in the Classroom: Northern and Virtual Schools

The Educator’s Coaching Network held our very first Discussion Panel, “Equity at Work”, on Sunday April 10th, 2022 at 1pm. Thank you to everyone who joined us! Our next panel, Discussion Panel #2, will take place during the third week of August 2022. The topic is “The Culture of Martyrdom: caring without burning out”. It will be quite a discussion. Join our mailing list for updates. Exact time, date, and panelists to be announced shortly.

Recap of Discussion Panel #1

Equity at Work: Northern and Virtual Schools

It goes without saying that “equity” has become a buzzword that we all know must be applied to our practice as educators. Our students come from all walks of life, and they thrive best in a space where the adults responsible for their care are attuned to their needs.

It also goes without saying though that we are so overwhelmed and overworked in our professions that being able to provide equitable learning experiences for our students has become breathlessly challenging.

So what then?

The Educator’s Coaching Network sought to address this during our very first Discussion Panel on April 10th, 2022. You may have seen our poster floating around Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. We wanted to give educators the space to talk about all the obstacles within the education system that makes it so difficult for us to do our jobs. At the same time, we strived to have a helpful AND hopeful discussion about how we cope so that we can still do the good work for our students.

Our small and mighty crew of like-minded educators came to our virtual space to listen as our humble yet stellar panelists, Nelson Lew (he/him) and Karah Kushnir (they/them), spoke with me about all things equity. Nelson came from the perspective of having taught in one of Ontario’s Elementary Virtual Schools with me during the 2020-2021 school year, and then teaching hybrid music classes the following school year. Karah came from the perspective of having taught in Canada’s First Nations and Inuit schools for the last few years. We learned a lot from them in the time we spent together; and while one hour is never enough, there were some great nuggets from our conversation that are worth highlighting.

Those Wisdom Nuggets!

The virtual world of teaching is drastically different from teaching in First Nations and Inuit communities for obvious reasons. While things look different on the surface though, the common philosophy of equity for staff and students alike are ultimately the same.

  1. Show up for the kids.
  2. Show up for yourself.
  3. Be humble.
  4. Be adaptable.
  5. Build community.
  6. Find humour somehow everyday.

Easier said than done, of course. In fact, it feels utterly impossible some days.

Well, the good news is, students don’t really need us to be perfect (more on this in our next Discussion Panel, “The Culture of Martyrdom: how to care without burning out”). Karah and Nelson, like any good educator, both emphasize that we all have things to work on, and that’s okay. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re supporting each other.

First Nations and Inuit Schools with Karah

One of the biggest takeaways from our chat with Karah was that we must meet students where they are. This was especially true for Karah, who grew up in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area. Coming from a place where the norms are that school comes first, and then ending up where kids miss school because they are off on a hunting trip – it’s enough to set you back on your heels. It’s a real culture shock to witness an entirely different way of being; and yet, this is the norm in many parts of our country. It’s something we must come to realize, understand, and embrace.

I laughed with Karah that it was probably good that they didn’t teach “in the south” first like a sweet summer child before going up to Canada’s Great White North. They agreed; it was just easier for them to go to these rural communities up north with a ton of humility and a willingness to learn without an urban educator ego in the way. It worked in their favour.

Even so, Karah has told me how they witnessed colleagues who did the internal work and put aside their preconceived notions of what education “should” look like. It’s hard work, but necessary, in order to meet students where they are. Many kids in northern communities won’t read beyond a 4th grade reading level in English, simply because the focus in their communities are just not the same. For Karah, if all they accomplish in one year is to guide these kids up just one more reading level in English, then they’ve done their job. Sometimes that’s just all we can do. And that, my friends, is how we provide equitable learning experiences in impossible situations: validating student individual needs, shedding our own preconceived notions of “should”, and meeting them where they are. It’s hard work, but uncomplicated, if we are willing to put our egos aside.

Elementary Virtual Schools (EVS) with Nelson

For Nelson, building community with his virtual class of 10-year olds was his focus. As he prepared for pandemic teaching, he knew that having students learn while isolated in their own individual homes was a recipe for loneliness; so, he made sure to prioritize connection above all else.

When he applied this framework to his virtual class, Nelson found the students connected in a way that allowed them to support each other in their learning, even though they were physically apart from one another. They felt comfortable voicing their needs, they felt cared for by their teacher, and they flourished more than anyone could have hoped for. This is another form of equity too, and meeting students where they are: understanding the circumstances, shifting focus, and responding accordingly to ensure student engagement. I worked with Nelson prior to our virtual school experience, and building community was something he was always good at when we taught together in a brick and mortar school. It didn’t surprise me that he made this a priority for EVS too, with much success.

What’s Next?

Reading about what Karah and Nelson have done with their students in a blog post seems like a no-brainer; however, the path to equity, crafted as masterfully as they have given their circumstances, is actually quite exhausting. The current systems in place makes it incredibly challenging for educators to create truly equitable learning in our classrooms. It’s easier to do so when we are partnered with incredible Educational Assistants (EAs) and other support staff; however, given the constant defunding of education in North America and beyond, it’s near impossible to get sufficient support to do our jobs well. As a result, educators like Karah and Nelson are expected to martyr themselves for the cause of education. I fell down this rabbit hole for years, as have many of my colleagues. It’s not sustainable. Enough is enough.

Our next Discussion Panel #2 will address this very issue. How do we care without literally making ourselves sick? Come and join us for a discussion on The Culture of Martyrdom: caring without burning out. This is relevant not just in education, but across many other people-centered industries and non-profits… and quite frankly, across all aspects of life.

Date and time, along with our panelists, to be announced soon. Join our email list for monthly updates.

Humbly yours in Love, Peace, and Justice,

– Karen and the Educator’s Coaching Network

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Biographies

Karah Kushnir (they/them) has been teaching Indigenous students in Nunavut and Northern Ontario for the last few years. Karah truly enjoys facilitating learning, and is relentless in providing empowering educational opportunities for their students – even when it seems like the country has given up on these kids. They’re a gem of a human 💖

Nelson Lew (he/him) has been working for the YRDSB for 15+ years, one of which was fully virtual during the 2020-2021 school year. He is currently the Music teacher at John McCrae Public School. Nelson is also a father, husband, uncle, brother, son, and overall good dude 😁 He’s had to provide equitable learning for music in hybrid mode! Madness, and mad props.

The Educator’s Coaching Network

I’m launching a network. Join our mailing list.

Mission: to support stakeholders of education in their journey to becoming more mindful and trauma-informed in their practice within an anti-oppression framework.

Countless numbers of us, even within our work environments and personal connections, feel as though we are putting in this labour alone. Working hard to support our students within a system that seems more hell-bent on maintaining a clean, status quo image than creating necessary change – it can be a very isolating experience. Scary too. Because those of us who do the work, especially BIPOC and gender queer and disabled folk, encounter abusive resistance. We come across anger. We come across people who will go out of their way to harm us and tear down our efforts to create a more just world for our children.

So I’m going to connect us all. Lofty goal. But there it is. There’s a power in numbers, there’s a power in knowing we’re not alone, and there’s a power in feeling the support so that we don’t feel that the weight of the world is on one solitary person.

I’m launching the Educator’s Coaching Network – in fact, I’ve already done a soft launch. With the support of some incredible educators, we had our very first Discussion Panel in April about everything equity, which went so well. I’ll write about it over the next week to reflect on what we’ve learned from our panelists. We look forward to the next one in August.

Thanks for being here on this journey with us as we build this thing. Join our mailing list, or reach out to me at mskarenau -at- gmail -dot- com for more information. It’s important work. We hope to do it well.

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Genius Hour 2019-2020 Installment

Our Passion Projects for Term 1 are complete!

It’s always so fascinating to see the ideas that come out of young people when they are given space to explore what they’re interested in and to proudly share their learning with their peers. This is my 3rd year of Passion Projects, for which the students are given 60 minutes – an hour of Genius time – every week to work in class. During their weekly “Genius Hour”, they get to practice their time management and research skills. The hope here is that their ability to engage in self-directed learning will be transferred to future endeavors, especially as they grow up and structured learning environments are a thing of the past.

Outside of our in-class Genius Hour, the project is to be completed at home for an oral communication mark when they share what they learned.

I’m always impressed by their ingenuity. Here are some examples this time around!

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The Venerable Van Gogh – the same student who gifted me a painting of Totoro recreated Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. So talented. 🖼️🖌️ You better believe it’s placed high up on my shelf behind my desk, proudly on display.

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Ecosystem in a Jar – one student took some moss from his backyard and grew an ecosystem in an enclosed space. He went into a lot of detail, and was able to explain how the moisture within the jar allows the ecosystem to sustain itself. This is the same kid who wants to be a Paleontologist one day. I think he’s well on his way 😊

One student hilariously set out to prove that babies do not actually look like their parents; we just think so because we know who the baby’s parents are. So he took a photo of his aunt and uncle, took a photo of their baby, and mixed in photos of 7 other babies.

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He then showed people their photos and had 70 random people guess which baby belonged to the parents. He polled the class as well, and then used Google Sheets (online form of excel) to create a circle graph on the spot, visually demonstrating the proportion of people who guessed incorrectly. It was such a clever application of what we were doing in math class.

You can probably read between the lines and figure out that most people guessed wrong!

There was also a study of Elton John and his career, the human brain, and the Rube Goldberg Machine. We even learned that the guillotine was a popular children’s toy! Here are some snapshots of their presentations.

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Every single one of their projects were notable in their own right, and I’m so excited to see what the kids choose to learn about and discover next. They were given time today to start thinking about their Term 2 Passion Projects, which are due in June. I’ll be sure to share with you all what they come up with.

Stay tuned!

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Kobe Bryant and the Complicated Legacy of Legends

I held back posting this until I found a piece that resonated with me. This was it.

Kobe Bryant’s passing sent shockwaves through my basketball family and brought entire cities to their knees. He was the Black Mamba, a symbol of what one can accomplish when you grit your teeth and put in the hard work. And those same values were being trained into his children – his daughter Gianna especially, who also passed in the same tragic accident. What he meant to the NBA and to every kid who grew up with dreams.. it’s immeasurable.

I can’t even begin to understand the loss felt by his wife and family.

The grieving of his passing made me pause and think about what it means to worship false gods and human idols, which is why I didn’t post about this before. I didn’t quite know how to put it to words. In the midst of so much collective grief, how do we come to terms with the fact that people like Kobe Bryant are not gods, and that they are in fact complicated humans who are many things to many different people? How do we do this without intruding in people’s grief?

To millions, he was adored as a hero – one who inspired the greatest of dreams. To millions, he was an arrogant man who struggled to share the spotlight with other talented people, and yet was worthy of admiration for his talent. To others, he may have been their abuser. I wonder what it is like for those people to sit and watch as all of North America mourns his tragic passing?

It’s a difficult thing to reconcile. And when someone passes, it’s uncomfortable to drudge up the very worst parts of them and put it on display. It feels dishonouring, somehow. And completely inconvenient.

Still. Kobe was a legend, touted for his impact, and so we must face all aspects of his impact. While I salute him and his legacy, I don’t let myself forget that he is, after all, just a man. A human being. Infallible, imperfect, human. And given this truth, I do believe that telling the whole story of legends, transparently, even the ugly parts, is the most honest way to honour someone’s memory.. especially as we are trying to elevate our youth and show them what it means to be the best versions of themselves. What it means to admit, face, and humbly accept responsibility for the worst parts of ourselves, even as we celebrate our greatest accomplishments.

Kobe was a lot of things to a lot of different people. Holding on to the nuance that he is not a god among us – it’s the only way we can begin to hold even the most powerful people accountable for their less desirable behaviours.

This article by Jill Filipovic goes into further detail about all of this. I recommend the read. It’s written with as much nuance, respect, and balance as I’ve ever seen done in an opinion piece.

Rest in Peace, Kobe.

I am confident that you put more good into the world than bad. From the outside looking in, you appeared to have been a good father, a philanthropist, an inspiration to millions. I just hope that if you really did hurt people, you’ve come to terms with this fact, and that those people have found it within themselves to heal.

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Standing Up for Education


It was -12° out there today, but as my colleague in crime aptly put it: We don’t feel the cold. We feel the cuts to education. And it cuts the kids more than the cold! #FeelTheCuts #CutsHurtKids

Special thanks to my dad who came by to drop me a hot chocolate to warm my belly ♥️ Our school support and admin staff came by too, and lots of cars honked in support of us and our picket line. All in all, a gratifying day.

And because we were so bundled up in our snowpants, I took the opportunity to lie in the snow. Because how could I not, after walking almost 9km and 13000 steps along Keele St.

Next steps: WRITE TO YOUR MPPs. WRITE TO STEPHEN LECCE @slecce, our Minister of Education. They have to know that if they don’t push Ford to reverse his cuts, WE WILL VOTE THEM OUT. Loud and clear. Please help. This is about making sure our kids get the quality of education they deserve. High quality public education is the cornerstone of a democratic society. We know this. Let’s make sure it’s not degraded by people who want to turn it into a for-profit industry.

To anyone who is interested in having a conversation about this topic in a manner that demonstrates mutual respect, genuine curiosity, and an open mind, I welcome the opportunity. Feel free to contact me. Let’s chat.

#CutsHurtKids #FeelTheCuts #Solidarity #PublicEducation

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Design-Inspired Learning: Rethinking the Googleplex

If you’ve ever been to Google Headquarters (affectionately nicknamed ‘The Googleplex’), or even watched Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan’s The Internship, then you’d know just how incredible those workspaces are.

So, back in December, to make things interesting for my students’ final measurement project, I had them redesign the Googleplex. It was really something else to see what they included in their version of Google’s headquarters.

For the Garden Centre, one group measured out the volume and surface area of a rectangular prism and turned it into a Greenhouse. They did the same with an outdoor pool, as well as several bushes using triangular prisms.

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Another group, in charge of the Recreational Centre, put up VR stations and arcades, and made sure they were a 2:1 ratio in scale. They even used clay to make little people to scale! (Check out the little minion! 😊)

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Then there was the Rest Area with the napping pods that kids created out of cylinders, and the basketball arena made for the Wellness & Athletics Centre, also made out of a giant cylinder. Those were measured to scale as well, along with volume and surface area.

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The Dining Area had rows of circular tables in the form of a large “G” for “Googleplex”, surrounded by cubes for chairs.

Watching the kids turn up their level of innovation for a complex challenge like this was something else! Not only were they pushed to the limit in their problem-solving abilities for a real-life design project, but they also got to enjoy unleashing a tremendous amount of architectural creativity.

Providing the space for them to bring their ideas to life in this way was incredibly rewarding. I’m used to having kids do hands-on assignments like this for Science, but now having experienced it for math too, I look forward to doing it again. They learned so much.

For another architectural design challenge related to measurement or geometry, check out this news article from my colleague Aarti Dudani‘s Geometrocity Project. Thank you Aarti for the mentorship as I stretch my pedagogy – I wouldn’t have thought of this without your inspiration!

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You People Who Come Here

In response to “you people who come here” comments.

I have never seen such an outpouring of support, in defense of immigrant families of colour, in my entire life. And yes, I’ve been a Chinese Canadian since birth, growing up in a very white neighbourhood. So I’ve paid attention.

For the first time, it is no longer out of place to see this response uttered by someone outside of my progressive arts circle:

“If you are not indigenous to this land, or if you weren’t brought here as a slave, then you come from an immigrant family. Period. You are a settler. You are you people too.”

Slow. Clap. Thank you.

As much as I don’t particularly care for the whole Don Cherry debacle, it was encouraging to be able to take a backseat to these conversations around his loss of employment, and watch others speak up for those who are talked down to. I feel relief. We’re finally doing this together as a country.

And I just want to thank everyone who has found their voice and are standing up for those who are Othered. That’s as contemporary Canadian as you can get🍁

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Compassion in the City

On the train into the city for a meeting with Unity’s Chapters youth this morning.

There was a man sleeping at the end of the line when I got on, and I figured he pulled a Karen and fell asleep while heading home. So I gently tried to wake him to let him know he was at the end of the line.

When he stirred but didn’t wake, the TTC employee nearby said, “It’s ok. Sometimes people just stay on the train.”

It took me a beat to recognize that yes, in this cold weather, some people probably do just stay on the train. And the TTC employee knew well enough to leave him be.

I just thought that was such a simple, and yet deep, gesture of compassion.

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Empowering Youth: Student-Led Conferences

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Long day, but worth it.

When kids get a chance to take the lead as they reflect on and share their progress, they begin to take ownership of their own goals and achievements. It’s so amazing listening to them articulate to their parents what they’re good at, and what they can continue working on. I’m just there to support the conversation.

Had a bunch of monkeys tell their parents today that they need to learn better self regulation strategies, and even told their parents to take away their videogames if they misbehave 🙈 Straight from their mouths! Student-led Conferences are so effective 😂

Inevitably, you will have kids who feel awkward taking the lead, as they are unfortunately used to being silenced for one reason or another. Hopefully, this process will help break the cycle and can demonstrate what can happen when we give kids a voice.

More of this tomorrow morning✌🏼

#StudentLedConferences #Progress #StudentEmpowerment #TeacherLife

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Core Beliefs of Successful People

Source: Core Beliefs of Successful People

1) I can choose myself – I don’t have to wait on anyone else to hand me the opportunity. I will seek out the opportunity on my own.

2) Success is inevitable only in hindsight – no one truly can predict the success of their projects.

3) I am not self-serving. I am a servant – serve others the best way you can, and you will be successful because it is genuine.

4) I may not be the first … but I can always be the last.

5) I will do one thing every day no one else is willing to do.

6) I don’t build networks. I forge lasting connections.

7) Strategy is important, but execution is everything – everyone knows the strategy, and that knowledge is accessible to anyone, but not everyone has the courage to execute. Have the courage to execute.

8) Real leadership is measured in years, not moments – build years of helping people feel better about themselves and they will want to go where you go.

9) Work comes first. Payoff comes later.

10) I can make history — and I will.

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