COVID-19 and the measures put in place to limit its spread have affected the quantity and quality of teaching and services offered by schools. These measures include the complete closure of Canadian schools as of mid-March 2020, emergency distance learning and support, the creation of classroom bubbles, and the temporary closure of classes to control outbreaks. According to the Conseil supérieur de l’éducation du Québec (2021), school disruptions could lead to an impoverishment of the knowledge and skills acquired by children, particularly among the most vulnerable. From an economic perspective, learning delays among elementary and secondary school children in Canada could result in losses amounting to nearly $2,500 billion in GDP over 80 years (Hanushek & Woessmann, 2020).
A growing body of data regarding the effects of academic disruptions on learning became available during the years 2021-2023. A pre-recorded systematic review on the topic indicates that outcomes vary according to the social and school context in which the disruptions occurred, and how they were managed. According to this meta-analysis of 42 studies in 15 countries, a substantial overall learning deficit (Cohen’s d = -0.14, 95% confidence interval -0.17 to -0.10) emerged early in the pandemic and persisted over time. Learning deficits are particularly significant among children from underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds. These deficits are also higher in mathematics than in reading, and in middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
Although the effects of COVID-19 on learning are of concern to the Canadian government, there appears to be little national data available. In Quebec, the Observatory for Children’s Health and Education (OPES), in collaboration with the Ministère de l’Éducation, collected data to measure the reading skills of Quebec children completing Grade 4 of elementary school in 2021. Between March 2020 and May 2022, these children experienced 15 months of school disruptions caused by the health measures that were implemented to counter the spread of COVID-19.
The goal was to compare the learning level of children in 2021 to that of Grade 4 children in 2019 (who had not been exposed to the pandemic). We tested the possibility that learning gaps between cohorts can vary by child gender, reading-risk status and socioeconomic background, and by the number of days classes were closed.
In April 2021, all French-language and public school service centres (n=60) in the province were invited to participate in a study to understand the impact of school closures on reading performance in Grade 4. School participation was voluntary.
The analyses included 10,317 students in 2021 and 13,669 students in 2019 from the same schools, for a total of 23,986 students.
Learning was measured using the compulsory French test (language of instruction). This was the same test that was administered prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e., the June 2019 test.
The Grade 4 reading assessment featured two tasks: the literary text task and the ordinary text task. Only one of the two tests was administered in this study: the ordinary text test. This is a 2.5-hour test in which students read an ordinary 1,000-word text and respond to 12 questions with short answers. The tests were corrected centrally, with each copy being corrected twice by employees of the Direction de la sanction des études (DSE) of the Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec.
The child’s gender and the school’s Socio-Economic Environment Index11 (IMSE) were used as independent variables.The number of class closure days during the 2020-2021 school year (fewer than 15 days closed or more than 15 days) was used in the analyses.
Calculation of learning gaps
To estimate learning gaps between 2019 and 2021, we used a linear model that included school fixed effects. The model is as follows:
Yiet=ɑ +β Cohortt2021 + γBoyi + θe + εiet
where Yiet is the score of student i in school e in year t. The term Cohortt2021 is an indicator variable equal to one in 2021 and zero in 2019. School fixed effects are collected by θe. The student’s gender is controlled via Boyi and εiet is the error term. Standard deviations were calculated to account for the strongest correlation in outcomes among children in the same school (cluster analysis). Thus, the coefficient β captures the effects of school disruptions under certain assumptions. The possibility of interactions between IMSE, performance and gender was investigated.
There was an average 8.4 percentage point decline in reading between June 2019 and June 2021. The size of this gap varied according to the children’s test performance: it was high for the bottom decile of performance (20 pp); medium for the middle deciles (10 pp at the 4th decile); and zero for the top 2 deciles of performance. Boys had slightly more pronounced losses than girls.
School staff and promotion of equal opportunities
We compared reading skills as measured through a ministry test (n=10,880, 9-10-year-old students) with children in the same schools (n=13,669) that had administered the same test in 2019. Results indicated an 8.4% difference in student reading scores between 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2021 (after 15 months of exposure to the pandemic). Thus, while the average score was 77.7% in 2019, it was 69.3% in 2021. The size of this standard deviation varied depending on how well the children performed on the test. It was high for the bottom decile of performance (20 pp2); medium for the middle deciles (10 pp at the 4th decile); and zero for the top two performance deciles. These results suggest that children who were already strong in reading, i.e., those with scores in the top 20%, had not experienced learning losses 15 months after the onset of the pandemic. On the other hand, children who were weak in reading, i.e., those with scores in the bottom 20%, did experience significant learning losses (15-20 pp). The performance gaps were larger (by 1.3 pp) for boys.
The results suggest that students with academic difficulties are particularly in need of the specialized and structured environment offered by the school to support them in their learning. They highlight the crucial role of teachers and school professionals as advocates for equal opportunity. Moreover, studies of classroom management practices in a context of uncertainty (such as during a pandemic) suggest that less attention is paid to vulnerable groups during times when everyone is experiencing a low sense of safety. As the years 2020-2021 have placed unusual demands on school staff, it is possible to anticipate that the return to greater normality in 2022 will provide the support needed for everyone’s success.
The results of Betthauser et al. (2023) indicate greater losses for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Although our results show that children from disadvantaged schools had lower scores than others in both 2019 and 2021, we did not detect that learning losses were greater for children from disadvantaged schools, but rather for children who had lower reading levels. Note that since the disadvantage index is correlated with performance, it is plausible that the differential results by performance obscured the difference in the disadvantage index.
It is also possible that we did not find an impact from deprivation due to the fact that the index to which we had access was measured at the school level and not at the child/family level. The composition of schools is in fact very heterogeneous in terms of family disadvantage. Thus, even in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the variable may not capture individual differences in the level of deprivation, whereas the performance variable does. This explanation also applies to the income threshold, which is a school-level variable.
Special considerations and recommended follow-ups
This study has important methodological strengths, including the standardized nature of the test, the large sample size (n=23,986), the diversity and representativeness of the socioeconomic status of participating schools, and the comparison of children in the same schools in 2019 and 2021. The within-school comparison type controls for a large number of confounding variables, including school management, school staff and the children who attend the schools.
The results captured the full direct and indirect effects of pandemic disruption on the acquisition of reading skills, not just the effects of academic disruption. It should be noted that the context in which the tests were taken may have influenced the results: the test in 2021 was not compulsory and was not entered on report cards. Although teachers were instructed to prepare their students for the test by following standard practices, children’s motivation and stress levels may have been different in 2021 than in 2019. The lower level of stress may have had a positive effect on the performance of some children. For others, the fact that grades were not reported on the report card may have decreased motivation.
The results underscore the importance of conducting a long-term review of the learning trajectories of Canadian students following the 2019-2021 academic disruptions. Researchers have shown that a 0.2 standard deviation increase in academic achievement is associated with higher earnings (2.6% over a life course) and better labour market participation (Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff, 2014a, 2014b). It should be noted that this study shows greater effects for the most vulnerable students, suggesting increased social inequalities in academic performance. Monitoring of standardized test scores over the next several years is necessary to quantify changes in gaps, if any, and to identify strategies to narrow them.
We would like to thank our collaborators: Karine Trudeau, PhD, and William Sauvé.
Blainey, K. (2020). The impact of lockdown on children’s education: a nationwide analysis. chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.risingstars-uk.com/media/Rising-Stars/Assessment/Whitepapers/RS_Assessment_white_paper_1.pdf
Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., & Rockoff, J. E. (2014a). Measuring the impacts of teachers I: Evaluating bias in teacher value-added estimates. American Economic Review, 104(9), 2593-2632.
Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., & Rockoff, J. E. (2014b). Measuring the impacts of teachers II: Teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood. American Economic Review, 104(9), 2633-2679.
Engzell, P., Frey, A., & Verhagen, M. D. (2021). Learning loss due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(17), e2022376118.
Goldhaber, D., Imberman, S. A., et al. (2022). To what extent does in-person schooling contribute to the spread of Covid-19? Evidence from Michigan and Washington. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 41(1), 318-349.
Haelermans, C., Jacobs, M., et al. (2021). A full year COVID-19 crisis with interrupted learning and two school closures: The effects on learning growth and inequality in primary education. doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/78fje
Hanushek, E. A., & Woessmann, L. (2020). The economic impacts of learning losses. OECD Work document on education, 225, OECD Edition, Paris.
Maldonado, J. E., & De Witte, K. (2022). The effect of school closures on standardized student test outcomes. British Educational Research Journal, 48(1), 49-94.
Milanovic, K. (2022). The residual impact of educational disruption on primary school attainment by spring 2022. 22 RS Assessment, School Dash. https://risingstars-uk.com/media/Rising-Stars/Assessment/Whitepapers/Spring22_RS_Assessment_white_paper.pdf
Quebec, É. (2021). GDUNO. https://prod.education.gouv.qc.ca/gdunojrecherche/rechercheOrganisme.do;jsessionid=3sZe_Q8EMu68DHnFStbDpDDcFQszamaRzuTZLx4hSeKmIfn7AGRh!1100596104!-1697553619?methode=recherche
Quebec, M. d. l. e. d. (2021). Indice de milieu socio-économique (IMSE). www.education.gouv.qc.ca/enseignants/aide-et-soutien/milieux-defavorises/agir-autrement/indice-de-milieu-socio-economique-imse
First published in Education Canada, April 2023
1 The school’s Socio-Economic Environment Index (IMSE): This is an index made up of two variables, the mother’s undereducation and the parents’ inactivity, which emerge as the strongest explanatory family variables of a child’s non-achievement in school. A student’s IMSE is the IMSE of the population unit from which he or she comes, while the school’s IMSE is the average of all students’ IMSEs.
2 Percentage point
In 2018, during their 50th anniversary, the Whyte Museum in Banff, Alberta, hosted an extraordinary sculpture exhibit of 100 human busts. Christine Wignall, the sculptor, reflected on her work:
“When I began the project, I thought I would simply start and see where the muse would lead. It wasn’t until I had completed about ten heads that I began to realize who they represented and from where they were coming. My memories and imagination were giving life to the clay and each one of the heads took on the character of someone I had known while growing up… Many of these folks are dead now, a lot of them, but they do haunt my memories. They walked the streets of Banff while the museum was being planned. It is good to remember them all.”
One of the reports on the exhibition stated, “Wignall captured the faces of prominent Banff people… the faces were so full of life” (Szuszkiel, n.d., para. 8). Indeed, the collection was impressive. But when I saw the exhibit with a colleague, what struck me was that 96 of the sculpted busts in the exhibit were those of individuals who had settled in the Banff area. The exhibition included four people from the Stoney Nakoda Nations.
The Stoney Nakoda, comprising the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations, are the first peoples in this region. And unlike all the other sculptures in the exhibit, only one of these four sculptures was of a named individual, Walking Buffalo. We wondered, if more people from the Stoney Nakoda Nations were to be included, who might those individuals be. Who were some of the important members of the Nations?
I was fortunate to lead a professional learning and research organization, Galileo Educational Network (Galileo) in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. Those of us at Galileo had a history of developing research-practice partnerships to engage in professional learning with teachers, principals, and district leaders. Galileo had an ongoing research-practice partnership with the school district in the Banff corridor, focused on nurturing excellence in instruction and leadership, also known in the district as NEIL. In one of the monthly co-design meetings with educators from the school district, we shared our observation about the exhibit at the Whyte Museum. We proposed that perhaps one of the teachers in the district might want to work with one of our professional learning mentors to engage in a project that would involve members of the Stoney Nakoda Nations to learn who from their Nations they considered to be important and to learn their stories. One of the public schools in the school district, whose population is comprised primarily of students from the Stoney Nakoda First Nations, was put forward by district leaders as the one most likely to have an interested teacher. A Grade 4 teacher, whose students were all from the Stoney Nakoda Nations, stepped forward.
The school’s success coach joined the first meeting between the Galileo mentor and the teacher. The success coach, who had worked with the Stoney Nakoda Education Authority for 18 years, brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the first design meeting. While offering to assist with the overall initiative, she also stated she could assist with making connections with Elders within the community. It was imperative to us at Galileo that Elders be involved in this project, right from the beginning of the design process. While we had engaged in a number of research-practice partnerships with First Nations communities and Elders prior to this one, this would be somewhat unique as we wanted to invite Elders to collaboratively design (co-design) the classroom activities and tasks with us. Having Elders as co-designers added a new and valuable dimension to this classroom initiative.
As this was not only a professional learning initiative, but also a research initiative, I felt it was important to take a participatory research approach. Within participatory design, the individuals involved in creating the design make a resolute commitment to ensure those who will be impacted by the design be significantly involved in the initial and subsequent iterative work of design (Bødker et al. 2004). In participatory design initiatives, the partners are not merely informants; rather, they are legitimate and acknowledged participants in the design process. In this initiative, the teacher, success worker, and the Elders contributed in all phases of the design work, and throughout all the iterations. As legitimate partners it is important that the participants “be involved in the making of decisions which affect their flourishing in any way” (Heron, 1996, p. 11). For it is through their participation they experience a sense of well being.
At the next meeting, four of the respected Elders from the Nations accepted our invitation to join us in conversation. They agreed to join the initiative; however, when it was suggested they provide the names of members – heroes from the Nations – they were not forthcoming with names. The Elders, although intrigued, spoke of intellectual property, of acknowledging who “owns” the stories and who has the right to hear or to re-tell the stories. They spoke of the disconnect many students have to their own heritage, their families, and their identities. At this point they saw an opportunity that those engaged in the previous design work had not seen. The Elders saw an opportunity for the students to learn about who they are by having them identify their own ancestors and trace who they are related to. The Elders wanted to work directly with the students to help them connect with their culture, their community, and their own families. They were confident they would be able to help each student trace back their lineage to a Stoney Nakoda “hero.” Through genealogy, students would then have the intellectual property rights to the stories of their own ancestors. As the Elders instructed, the students’ ancestors’ stories are their stories.
Over the following month, the teacher worked with the students and their families to identify the names of family members. Most students came back with family trees that extended to their grandparents. Some had more. Some had less. Regardless of what students were able to come up with, it would serve as a starting point for the next step.
At the next meeting with the co-design team, the four Elders brought an additional four Elders to the meeting. The teacher and her Galileo mentor brought the family trees to that meeting to show the Elders in hopes that the Elders would review the family trees. However, the Elders were clear: the children needed to be present when they reviewed the family trees. This new information necessitated a change to the design. The eight Elders would be invited into the classroom, where the children would share their family trees. What became evident to the entire co-design team, is that the initial four Elders recognized their own need to bring in more Elders to help fill in the gaps in students’ family trees. In addition, the Elders were not interested in merely viewing the family trees that students had created without the students; rather, they wanted the students to hear the stories of their ancestors from the Elders themselves.
The eight Elders began their teachings with the children with an opening prayer and a sharing circle in which the students were encouraged to speak their names clearly and proudly. The Elders and the children immersed themselves in the important work of tracing ancestral lineages. Speaking with one child, an Elder stated, “You are a descendent of great warriors. Your name comes from your ancestors.” In another corner of the room, an Elder looked at a child and said, “Your great, great, great grandfather was a powerful Shaman. People came to see him from far away because he had supernatural powers. He could heal people.” Where one Elder’s recollection ended, another one carefully filled in the gaps. The conversations and collaboration between Elders and students were a powerful sight to witness. The Elders circled the room going from one student to another, from one family tree to another, helping each other remember when there was a gap that needed to be filled or confirming each other’s recollections. Throughout the day’s activity, the family trees that initially seemed so small were now expanding beyond the constraints of the chart paper. Notes were added to one family tree to show how this student’s lineage continued onto another student’s chart. Elders continually reinforced to the students, “You are family. Get to know each other. Now you need to look out for each other, because that’s what families do.”
We did not end there. The now 11-person co-design team invited Christine Wignall, the artist whose exhibition inspired this project, to join the initiative. While sculpting busts with nine- and ten-year-olds was a bit daunting to her at first, she willingly agreed to accept the challenge. The local Canmore community arts centre, artsPlace, agreed to open its doors to Christine and the children. The children had all selected one of their ancestors as their hero, had learned the stories of their ancestral hero from the Elders, and now they were ready to sculpt a bust of their hero to fill in the missing people from the original 100-head exhibit. The local news media (Lucero, 2019) featured the work of the students, and the public was invited to attend the exhibition of their hero sculptures as part of the National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations.
I had more than 20 years of experience in research-practice partnerships with teachers and school leaders. However, with this project, I and my colleagues at Galileo had the opportunity to learn how to weave what we knew with the wisdom of the Elders who participated with us to co-design classroom learning for children. It was our opportunity to engage in a process of unlearning – unlearning professional learning and research, and unlearning classroom and curriculum approaches and processes tethered to “colonial logics of relationship denial” (Donald, 2022, para. 8).
What began fairly naively as a school project to connect children with their community grew and surpassed any of our expectations. The Elders brought us into relationship with each other, the children’s ancestors, and historical events that not only shaped this region, but also so many regions across Canada. One of the Elders commented, “Not only was this experience incredibly beneficial for the children, but for the Elders as well.” A number of the Elders noted that as they helped each other remember, they were reminded of stories, family members, and cultural histories that have not been spoken of in some time. As one Elder stated, “This is good for our community.” I would add, this was so good for me as well. I witnessed the ways in which even the best intended curriculum approaches often remain tethered to colonial logics. Opening myself to the teachings of the Elders and being in the presence of their work with the children showed me how to begin the work of unlearning in a good way – a way that honours and respects. Perhaps my unlearning is best captured by the words of an Elder who was such an integral part of this entire project, Elder Skyes Powderface. Elder Powderface has now passed on to the spirit world, but I am left with his words: “This is what reconciliation is all about.”
The Galileo Educational Network created a short video documenting this project:
Stoney Nakoda Heroes Project https://vimeo.com/333252310/5f9b208c95
Photos: Amy Park and and Sharon Friesen, Galileo Educational Network
First published in Education Canada, January 2023
Bødker, K., Pors, J. K., & Simonsen, J. (2004). Implementation of web-based information systems in distributed organizations: A change management approach. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, 16(1). https://aisel.aisnet.org/sjis/vol16/iss1/4
Donald, D. (2022). A curriculum for educating differently: Unlearning colonialism and renewing kinship relations. Education Canada, 62(2). www.edcan.ca/articles/a-curriculum-for-educating-differently
Heron, J. (1996). Quality as primacy of the practical. Qualitative Inquiry, 2(1), 41–56. doi.org/10.1177/107780049600200107
Lucero, K. (2019, June 20). Stoney Nakoda heroes: Uncovering lost family history with guidance of elders. RMOTODAY.com. www.rmotoday.com/mountain-guide/stoney-nakoda-heroes-uncovering-lost-family-history-with-guidance-of-elders-1574369
Szuskiel, D. (n.d.) Whyte Museum 50th anniversary. https://whererockies.com/2019/05/10/whyte-museum-50th-anniversary
This webinar is primarily for school district leaders, principals, and vice-principals, and school or district wellbeing leads as well as anyone interested in K-12 staff wellbeing.
We know that wellbeing – especially cases of burnout – are issues in Canadian schools. We know a lot of this is systemic – involving organizational culture, structures, priorities, and policies at various levels of the education system. However, research is still evolving about how approaches taken at the school level or the individual level could help educators cope with their daily stress. In a 12-month research project, The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) set out to develop two simple approaches that could be scaled district-wide.
This webinar broadcasted on June 16, 2021 discussed findings from this research project outlining what worked, what didn’t work, and lessons learned that can be used to support education leaders in ensuring their staff’s wellbeing.
Wednesday, May 19 at 1pm ET on Zoom | One-hour webinar
Presented by Karen Mundy and Kelly Gallagher-Mackay
Like so many families and children around the world, Canadians are looking with relief to a more open, carefree summer and normal return to school later this year. But after 18 months of profound disruption – will ‘normal’ be good enough? Are we on track to set all children up for success in a world that often seems more uncertain – and unequal – than ever before?
This webinar, sponsored by online learning toolmaker IPEVO, will examine how Canadian schools have fared during COVID19 compared to those in other jurisdictions. We then turn to evidence-based ways that educators can ensure a better, stronger, and more equitable start in September 2021.
If you sign up to receive special offers by email from both the EdCan Network and IPEVO, your name will be added into a draw at the end of this webinar to get one of two IPEVO Document Cameras!
Karen Mundy is a Professor of Education Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto (OISE/UT). An expert on educational reform in lower-income countries, she is also an advocate and parent committed to improving educational equity in Canadian schools. She recently launched an academic support program that partners OISE volunteers with underserved students in the Toronto District School Board.
Kelly Gallagher-Mackay is an Assistant Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. Past roles include Research Director at the Future Skills Centre and at People for Education, and Northern Director of Akitsiraq Law school in Nunavut. She has two kids in public school.
IPEVO is a design-driven company dedicated to creating teaching, learning, presentation, and communication tools for the connected world, with a focus on Document Cameras. IPEVO has been leading the communication and visual transmission industry for more than 10 years and it is the number one choice for educators across the globe.
Published by the EdCan Network in partnership with
On a global scale, we’re faced with complex societal and environmental challenges such as climate change, poverty, inequality and environmental degradation that we must address in order to achieve a more sustainable future for all. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lay out 17 action areas aimed at sustaining life (both human and non-human), ending poverty, and achieving social justice. These are the building blocks of global well-being.
For educators, the SDGs have enormous educational importance and potential. They offer cross-curricular relevancy and invaluable learning opportunities for students to discover their crucial role in solving local, regional, and global problems, starting in their own community. Simultaneously, education ministries, school districts and school communities will discover that engaging with the SDGs can support students in the important goal of acquiring the six pan-Canadian Global Competencies identified by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), to equip them to thrive in and shape their world.
In this issue, we explore how educators can engage students to become active global citizens and authentically address global issues in empowering and hopeful ways.
Cover photo: courtesy MCIC
Whew. We made it through the winter. For many of you it has been, professionally and/or personally, the hardest winter ever. But with vaccination underway and warm weather ahead, we think we see light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.
After a year that forced educators to teach, or lead, reactively in response to a mountain of new challenges, we thought it might be a welcome change to look forward to a more aspirational approach to teaching and learning. Yes, there are ongoing and critical COVID issues. But we can also start thinking about how to re-engage students, build school community and make education the best training ground possible for our future leaders and citizens.
Taking on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whether as a school or as a class, is an exciting way to address all three of these goals. I like to think of this issue as a seed catalogue. The catalogue arrives when it’s still too cold to plant, but it conjures up big dreams for gardening season. We hope this issue will sow lots of ideas, and also lead you to the resources to develop them into a real plan. How great would it be to cover the curriculum in a way that engages students in real-world problems, encourages them to claim a stake in making the world a better place, and develops essential competencies in the process?
The authors in this issue are in the vanguard of integrating the SDGs into Canadian schooling, and part of an international network of educators who are helping to achieve these ambitious Agenda 2030 goals while providing their students with a positive, empowering opportunity to learn about and take action on global issues that are also urgent problems here at home, such as clean drinking water for Indigenous communities, homelessness, climate change, food insecurity, and racial inequities. See how other schools have taken on one or more of the goals in our article on UNESCO Schools, from our partners at CCUNESCO (p. 11). Or dive right into the features to learn about what the UN SDGs are, why they present such a great opportunity for educators, and how to integrate the SDGs into your classroom and school.
I hope this issue inspires educators, schools, and school boards to start planning how they might get involved in this world-changing initiative – and sow the seeds for a sustainable future.
Photo: courtesy MCIC
We want to know what you think. Send your comments and article proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org – or join the conversation by using #EdCan on Twitter and Facebook.
Join us for a special virtual event focusing on the increasing importance of supporting social-emotional learning (SEL) amidst a global pandemic. This event will feature Avon Maitland District School Board in Ontario, who will be sharing their experience implementing and measuring SEL using Peekapak resources. The flexibility of Peekapak’s SEL in either remote or in-class formats makes it easy for educators to implement. This event is intended to help school administrators support their educators, and it will be recorded and available to all those who register.
Extraordinary times call for creative, resourceful solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged educators, students and parents alike. It has also shone a spotlight on the inequities that made school closures and distance learning especially hard on some students and families, and raised new equity issues that must be addressed as we move forward. Researchers and innovative educators share their evolving knowledge, learnings and insights to create an ongoing conversation about how we can deliver equitable, high-quality education for all students through this pandemic and into the future.
Photo : Adobe Stock
When the beginning of the pandemic closed schools and left district leaders like me in a constant state of disruption, I joined a small working group of EdCan Network staff and colleagues from our Advisory Council for an important virtual planning process. We engaged in a series of sessions to get to the heart of the impact that our Network can achieve to support K-12 educators across Canada. After many iterations, our creative team wholeheartedly endorsed the following three priorities to respond to the rapidly evolving opportunities and challenges that our education systems are currently facing:
These priorities were the focus of our virtual December 2020 EdCan Advisory Council Meeting. (The first ever gathering of the CEA was in 1891 in Montreal.) We will continue to explore how we can align our focus with supporting Ministries of Education, faculty, and school district leaders, principals, teachers, and staff throughout 2021 as we strive to increase the capacity, self-efficacy, and well-being of our 110,000 members, and through them, to heighten every student’s well-being and opportunities for meaningful learning to help them discover their purpose and path in life.
For more information about EdCan’s Theory of Change, Intended Impacts and Strategic Priorities, please visit: www.edcan.ca/aboutus
For a list of the education and philanthropic leaders who serve on EdCan’s Advisory Council, please visit: www.edcan.ca/council
First published in Education Canada, January 2021
The Power of Us enters the pandemic publishing parade with a compelling message that is both challenging and hopeful. Change consultant and author David Price makes a strong case for unseating traditional hierarchical ways of organizing our businesses, schools, and community organizations. That’s the challenge. But the hope lies in Price’s illustrative efforts to show us where in the world it is already happening.
The result of nearly three years of deep inquiry, The Power of Us draws us into a story of mass ingenuity, or what he refers to as people-powered innovation. Much more than just the sharing of ideas or organizing ourselves into cooperative clusters, it is the innovation that happens when groundswells of public activity, including inspiring examples of youth activism, meet up with organizations that understand and acknowledge that the traditional divisions between producer and consumer, artist and audience are quickly melting away. It’s what happens when companies start to see their users as co-creators, when the health-care sector starts to value highly invested patients as highly invested innovators, when schools begin to see their educators, parents, and students as co-learners, imbued with a sense of agency to make a difference outside the walls of the schoolhouse.
Price examines many of the familiar themes of change literature – ethos, structure, mindset, and leadership – through the lens of people power, supported by some very robust and compelling case studies written from the author’s own commitment (pre-pandemic) to travelling the world to find the organizations, companies, and schools that were actually showing up to their work differently. The generous summary of key points and take-aways at the end of each section invites the reader to look at their own practice and their own organizations through the lens of people powered innovation.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced David Price into rewrite mode, not because he was wrong, but because his ideas were so very right. COVID-19 is cast here, not as part of the scenery but as a main character, allowing The Power of Us to make a strong contribution to our rethinking of how we want to be in a post-pandemic world.
Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, January 2021
Thread, 2020. ISBN: 9781800191181
“Ring out the old, ring in the new,” goes Tennyson’s poem, “Ring Out Wild Bells.”
Many of us were only too happy to ring out 2020, or maybe give it a firm boot out the door. With COVID-19 vaccines rolling out, we hope for a better year ahead.
But what are we ringing in – the new and better, or the same old? After a year of disruption, the longing to return to the status quo is completely understandable. But if that’s all we do in our schools, it’s an opportunity lost. This year brought us many lessons, including wider awareness of the pervasiveness of systemic racism. We saw both the drawbacks and the potential of online learning, and we also saw how less privileged and higher-needs students suffered disproportionately from the loss of in-person classes. Some students became frustrated and disengaged – but others thrived as they became free to follow their own interests without the social stresses of a classroom. All these experiences and more should lead us to question just what school could and should be as we move beyond the COVID-19 Era.
Through fall/winter 2020, and culminating in this magazine, we tracked the learning that was emerging from the struggle to adapt an education system to pandemic conditions and still provide quality, equitable education (read the whole series on our website). One standout for me was Vidya Shah’s article (p. 15) showing how we can (and why we must) work towards greater equity in education during and beyond the pandemic.
It’s important to acknowledge the huge effort and serious stress that educators at every level of the system have shouldered during this crisis. But now we have a chance to look forward, to ring in the new. In our spring issue, EdCan will explore how the UN Sustainable Development Goals can be used to engage students with global and local issues and help them acquire essential competencies. And in June, we invite contributors to share their vision for the (near) future of education. How can we create a schooling experience that truly prepares today’s students to build tomorrow’s world?
Photo: Adobe Stock
First published in Education Canada, January 2021
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The McConnell Foundation has been supporting workplace wellbeing in K-12 education through its WellAhead initiative since 2017. In early 2020, it brought together relevant thought-leaders to consider how to make measurable improvements in the wellbeing of K-12 education staff across Canada. A Design Team was formed to develop a preliminary concept based on that initial thinking.¹ The Design Team then engaged with education stakeholders to get their feedback on the concept, and learn from their experience.
The stakeholders who participated generously shared their time, expertise, and encouragement, including pitfalls to avoid, opportunities to strengthen the approaches, and perspectives that had not previously been considered. Their feedback contributes to developing approaches that fit their environments, and accurately reflect their needs and preferences — which will ultimately lead to a greater impact.
¹Charlie Naylor (Independent Consultant), Felicia Ochs (Wellness Coordinator, Parkland School Division), André Rebeiz (Research Manager, EdCan), Tammy Shubat (Director of Programs, Ophea), and Kim Weatherby (School Health Promotion Consultant).
This webinar is primarily for governments, education professional organizations, school and school district leaders, teachers and education support workers, and anyone interested in understanding current issues for changes to K-12 schooling for the education sector across Canada in the COVID-19 era.
This webinar broadcasted on October 7th, 2020 explores what has been learned so far about leading schools through COVID-19 as we prepare to enter into our second month of school reopening across the country.
Topics explored include:
how our understandings of the work of school leaders is evolving;
the ways in which educators and their professional organizations are navigating ever-changing expectations of schooling during the present time; and
how schools can maintain a focus on the social justice and equity issues that have been laid bare as a result of COVID-19 and its impact on marginalized and racialized communities.
Note: EdCan is a neutral third-party intermediary organization. Live presentations do not constitute an endorsement by the EdCan Network/CEA of information or opinions expressed.
TEACHERS ARE ASKED to play many roles. They must be creators of engaging lessons, leaders who can motivate students to learn, operation managers, administrators who report and document increasing levels of paperwork, and compassionate counsellors caring for an increasing array of students’ needs. Teaching is also a unique profession as you are “on” all the time. You cannot hide behind a computer screen when you are having a bad day. No wonder a teacher is considered stress-hardy if she remains in the teaching profession for merely five years! Teacher well-being has to be viewed as the essential ingredient to the overall well-being and learning success of students.
Over the period of 2014-2019, I consulted on self-regulation initiatives in two similar northern educational jurisdictions, and observed the resulting relational wellness between student and teacher. I promoted “self-regulation” as an alternative to the traditional cognitive or motivational view of student behaviour. Helping teachers shift the lens through which they view their most vulnerable students can foster both student and teacher wellness.
Both jurisdictional staffs were already acquainted with the concept of self-regulation as introduced by Stuart Shanker and Chris Robinson;1 my task was to translate an abstract understanding into accessible and tangible classroom tools, behaviours, language and wellness actions. The interventions I provided combined social-emotional components promoting self-awareness, social relationships, restoration practices, and self-regulation of optimal energy levels of functioning.
What is self-regulation?
Stuart Shanker2 describes self-regulation as a physiological or energy state that is constantly responding to stressors, both internal (sleep, nutritional, sensory) and external (cognitive tasks, emotional upheavals, social discomforts). It is not self-control, which is a cognitive skill to control an impulse. Rather, it is learning to maintain an optimal level of energy functioning. When stressed, we are affected by an increase in chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol, and we try to reset ourselves back to a state of equilibrium. We may choose healthy self-soothing options such as exercise and talking with others, or resort to unhealthy choices such as addictions, anger towards others or deep withdrawal. Self-regulation fosters your ability to take pause and recover when feeling stressed.
If teachers want students to act differently, then they must model, co-regulate and guide students towards alternative ways of behaving. To do this, self-regulation must occur within teachers first. This is the premise and philosophy I sought to instill in the teachers with whom I worked.
Two approaches to a wellness program
It should be noted that we began our self-regulation journey in Jurisdiction A, experimenting with what self-regulation in a school setting could look like, and took the lessons learned into Jurisdiction B. Both the infrastructure and delivery of the self-regulation projects were radically different in these two jurisdictions, with one jurisdiction choosing a more comprehensive approach in terms of both depth and breadth. Some key differences are described below:
Leadership and participants
In Jurisdiction A, a single senior executive at the Department of Education who had a personal interest in self-regulation championed the initiative. The file was assigned to me, with other departmental consultants informally involved, responsible to lead three enthusiastic pilot schools. External consultants were also hired to provide an advisory role.
In contrast, in Jurisdiction B self-regulation became a strategic initiative collaboratively discussed among the entire senior leadership team. Every regional area in Jurisdiction B selected its own pilot school, with expansion to include additional requests by individual schools, making a total of approximately 15 schools. A committee of department consultants that I mentored was formed, and the union was invited to informally partner on the initiative with the entire jurisdiction, making self-regulation and wellness a priority for all its members.
Finances and target audience
Funding in Jurisdiction A was modest and drawn from the senior leader’s budget. Funding was unknown year to year, and required schools to supplement from their own budgets. Each pilot school selected one vulnerable or dysregulated student as the focal point for programming support. The program targeted the class or student, and did not incorporate teacher wellness.
In Jurisdiction B, the self-regulation initiative was assigned a more substantial and sustained five-year budget as a pillar of their overall strategic plan. The target audience included the entire teaching staff and student population of each pilot school.
Communication and program delivery
Communication in Jurisdiction A was top-down and limited to those directly involved. To start the program, the external consultant provided webinar training to the pilot schools focused on the neuroscience and physiology of self-regulation. I provided classroom consultations to each of the pilot schools, as well as consulting on strategies to support the one dysregulated student. The pilot schools also received a classroom observation, accompanied by environmental and sensory recommendations (e.g. decluttering, lighting, seating options). I handed out sensory tools and program materials on mindful breathing, self-regulation, emotional literacy and movement. A number of schools, beyond the pilot schools, applied separately for funding for structural equipment such as stationary bikes.
Unfortunately, program delivery was a bit haphazard. Further, the uncertainty of funding left pilot schools questioning the overall direction and frankly losing enthusiasm. It was dependent on individual teacher interest if self-regulation became a supported practice in a classroom or school.
Jurisdiction B adopted a comprehensive 4-step program communication and delivery approach:
1) Details of the initiative were widely dispersed. From senior leadership to front-line educators in pilot schools, all were exposed to both theoretical concepts and implementation practices for self-regulation, for both students and teachers. All schools, not just the pilot schools, had access to teacher mindfulness webinars and an online self-regulation book club.
2) We started with a kickoff presentation for program specialists, classroom teachers, and administrators in all pilot schools. Subsequently, a group of consultants joined me for a dedicated week in each pilot school, offering both leadership and classroom support.
3) We took teacher wellness as the starting point. This delivery sequence is espoused by social-emotional author Linda Lantieri,3 who after the 9-11 tragedy insisted that work be with teachers – not students – acknowledging that it’s the teachers who must model for the students. Each school visit began with professional development dedicated to teacher personal wellness, including personalized and doable self-calming and up-regulatory tools.
Some examples of teacher-specific training goals include:
Subsequent training focused on individual supports for dysregulated students, as well as classroom-wide observations on the physical environment and student-teacher interactions. Teachers had the opportunity to leave the class for immediate follow-up coaching with the consultant. There were classroom demonstrations where I modelled lessons such as:
Parent evenings at each school used experiential activities to explain self-regulation.
4) At the end of each school visit tour, the team consulted on lessons learned and we followed up with schools on action items. There were pre-and post-surveys.
Feedback I received during the school visits, sustainable or long-term behaviour and language changes I observed over a five-year period, and the collected surveys, all informed the following learnings.
Size matters. By sheer numbers, there were more Jurisdiction B schools exposed to the self-regulation initiative (15 schools versus three in Jurisdiction A), and thus there was overall more uptake and success in terms of student and teacher understanding and application of self-regulation. The entire school region was aware and supportive of the initiative, from senior level to front-line staff. At the same time, having more dedicated funds allowed Jurisdiction B to have some quick wins, with schools visibly seeing environmental changes such as lighting, alternative seating, and program resources.
Level of intervention matters. In Jurisdiction A, the level of intervention were brief school visits targeting one dysregulated student. In Jurisdiction B, one week of dedicated time, with substitutes provided, were allocated for us to model practical classroom interventions and debrief with staff.
School culture matters. In Jurisdiction A, the initiative was relatively short-lived. The schools in Jurisdiction B that found observable, sustainable, success with this initiative could envision the potential benefits of self-regulation because the concept aligned with their whole-school orientation toward students. In these schools, leadership held power with staff and the staff was a cohesive community. Self-regulation became another part of their culture, with teachers explicitly expressing their own energy levels and need for daily breathing and movement breaks. Schools that adopted self-regulation already recognized the critical prerequisite of positive relationships with teachers for students to achieve, and school staff and leaders accepted a longer-term perspective on behavioural and academic changes.
Teacher wellness is a necessary component of self-regulation. Schools in Jurisdiction B that integrated self-regulation into school practices also prioritized teacher wellness, beyond yoga workshops or other one-day add–ons. Teacher wellness was understood as necessary to student success and supported with concrete stress reducers such as decreased photocopying, time between classes to just breathe, and streamlined reporting systems.
Reduced stress was most notable in Jurisdiction B, where there were directed self-regulatory supports for both students and teachers. The self-regulation lens invites more compassion for dysregulated students, and teachers reported this reduced their own stress levels. Also, when teachers were self-regulated themselves, they were able to co-regulate the students. A teacher noted, “The self-regulation work was one of the most influential pieces of professional development that I have been a part of in my career. First, and most importantly, it had a profound impact on my professional and personal well-being.” When self-regulation resonated with the teachers’ own sense of well-being it was more likely to be integrated into the classroom for students as well.
Some gains with both approaches. An overall win in both jurisdictions was that there is now more acceptance of the belief that children are doing the best they can and that relationships with students are critical to success. Sensory circuits, the use of movement, and stationary bikes have become standard school tools. Unfortunately, where stationary bikes were placed in classrooms without explicit rationale, they sometimes became glorified coat hooks.
Not a quick fix. Neither of the jurisdictions found the widespread transformational change in student self-regulation and overall achievement levels that they hoped for. While improvements were seen in this student population, a self-regulation initiative alone cannot quickly shift the outcomes for dysregulated children, as school is only one part of their overall life experience. I believe self-regulation is a viable initiative to lead to such success, but it requires a long-term and multidimensional approach.
Leadership is key. The vast differences in the two jurisdictions’ approaches certainly impacted the reach and level of success. However, I believe the most profound ingredient necessary for the widespread success of any educational initiative is the priorities of all leadership and whether they themselves integrate and model the change they wish to see.4 Sustainability of an initiative comes from leadership enthusiasm.
SELF-REGULATION is not easy to adopt into practice. A significant philosophical change is required in how teachers and administrators view students’ behaviour. It requires enhancing our own self-awareness and it requires the belief that student-teacher relational health is a prerequisite to engaged learning and student academic success. Teachers need to work in a safe, supporting culture to begin self-examination of their practice. Moreover, it takes time to see changes. Given that schools work on a yearly basis with limited timed academic objectives, it is not always feasible to look beyond the academic demands nor at long-term initiatives.
The larger net cast and more comprehensive supports provided in Jurisdiction B led to more in-depth exposure to the concept, and thus greater probability of reaching the right, enthusiastic leaders and teachers who deeply integrated self-regulation into their personal lives. Seeing positive changes within themselves, they were positioned to model and translate it at the school level. As one school administrator reported, “We are able to use language that helps to diffuse rather than exacerbate difficult situations, and we have a better appreciation of our own need to self-regulate.” Teacher wellness must be an integral component of any self-regulation initiative for students.
First published in Education Canada, September 2020
2 Stuart Shanker, Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom strategies for self-regulation (Toronto, On: Pearson Canada, 2015).
4 S. Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why some teams pull together and others do not (New York: Penguin Random House, 2014).
Our free webinar series is available again to continue to provide Canadian K-12 staff with actionable strategies to improve workplace well-being during this unique back-to-school.
Playing and designing games have been of interest to K-12 educators as ways to support student learning. Parents are also increasingly accepting of video and board games as their choice of family activity, based on a 2018 survey by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada finding that 71% of Canadian parents play video games with their children. Game-Based Learning involves learning situations where children play or design games – whether digital, physical, or table-top games – in which they solve problems and gradually develop new knowledge and skills. Games have been found to improve students’ motivation and cognitive development, such as memory and reasoning.
Research demonstrates that Game-Based Learning enhances essential life skills that are foundational to a child’s development. In particular, Game-Based Learning provides students with an interactive learning experience where they have the opportunity to use and develop many different cognitive, social, and physical skills. Problem solving, critical thinking, strategy development, decision making, and teamwork are some of the many skills that games can provide.
Clark, D. B., Tanner-Smith, E. E., & Killingsworth, S. S. (2016). Digital games, design, and learning: A Systematic review and meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 86(1), 79–122. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654315582065
Entertainment Software Association of Canada. (2018). Essential facts about the Canadian video game industry 2018. http://theesa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/ESAC18_BookletEN.pdf
Gee, J. P. (2008). Learning and Games. In K. Salen (Ed.), The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning(pp. 21–40). MIT Press. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/ecology-games
Jaques, S., Kim, B., Shyleyko-Kostas, A., & Takeuchi, M. A. (2019). “I Just won against myself!”: Fostering early numeracy through board game play and redesign. Early Childhood Education, 26(1), 22–29. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/111252
Kim, B., & Bastani, R. (2017). Students as game designers: Transdisciplinary approach to STEAM Education. Special Issue of the Alberta Science Education Journal, 45(1), 45–52. https://sc.teachers.ab.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/ASEJVol45No1November2017.pdf
Kim, B. & Bastani, R. (2018). How Inversé merged with Go: (re)designing games as mathematical and cultural practices. In Proceedings of the 5thInternational STEM in Education Conference (pp.166-172). Brisbane, Australia: Queensland University of Technology. https://stem-in-ed2018.com.au/proceedings-2/
Koabel, G. (2017). Simulating the ages of man: Periodization in Civilization V and Europa Universalis IV. The Journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association, 10(17), 60-76. https://journals.sfu.ca/loading/index.php/loading/article/view/192
Sardone, N. B., & Devlin-Scherer, R. (2016). Let the (Board) Games Begin: Creative Ways to Enhance Teaching and Learning. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 89(6), 215–222. https://doi.org/10.1080/00098655.2016.1214473
Squire, K. (2006). From content to context: Videogames as designed experience. Educational Researcher, 35(8), 19–29. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X035008019
Qian, M., & Clark, K. R. (2016). Game-based learning and 21st century skills: A review of recent research. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 50–58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.05.023
Zimmerman, E. (2009). Gaming literacy: Game design as a model for literacy in the twenty-first century. The video game theory reader, 2(23-32). http://www.neliufpe.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/08.pdf
This small-group online mindfulness workshop will take place via Zoom and is primarily for school-based K-12 educators and anyone interested in educator mental health and well-being. 20 participants maximum per session.
This small-group experiential workshop will provide a variety of mindfulness/attention practices that promote stress management. We will examine how understanding the physiology of stress, through the lens of mindfulness, can support educators and helping professionals in responding to situations with greater resilience.
Mindfulness promotes self-regulation, resilience, stress management, and improved relationships, thereby supporting positive mental health and well-being in students, staff and parents, leading to transformations in school culture.
The workshop will include one of the foundational mindfulness practices called the “body scan,” which is usually done lying down on a yoga mat or other comfortable surface. This practice can also be done seated in a chair. Please have ready a yoga mat, cushion and blanket for your own self care and comfort.
During these 90-minute INTERACTIVE presentations, participants are encouraged to have their camera and microphone turned on as the intention of the workshop is to build community and provide a space for educators to feel supported and learn some simple, yet effective mindfulness techniques that can be used daily to support their well-being.
About Mindfulness Everyday
At Mindfulness Everyday, we envision a society in which we relate to others, the environment, and ourselves with clarity and compassion. We promote mindfulness practices to enhance positive mental and physical health, compassionate action and resilience by providing stress reduction training and life skills for young people, educators, professional support staff and parents in the schools, and for organizations and members of the community.
Since COVID-19 began, people’s relationship with food has been upended. Before, people may have had some meals provided at work, school, or at social functions, but in isolation many have taken it upon themselves to become self-sufficient in their daily meal prep. How many of us have seen videos on social media of a friend’s first attempt at baking bread or a triumphant picture of a successful attempt at a gourmet dinner? There has been a massive increase in the public’s interest in food, & the kitchen has once again become the hearth around which people gather to share, to learn, & to connect.
This webinar is primarily for governments, education professional organizations, school and school district leaders, teachers and education support workers, and anyone interested in understanding current issues for changes to K-12 schooling for the education sector across Canada in the COVID-19 era.
In March of 2020, Canadian education systems first began to close schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As well as the emergency response shift to remote learning from home, we must also begin to turn our attention to the inevitable task of planning for the future of schooling over the short and medium term. As school reopenings internationally are showing, this is not simply a return to schooling as normal. Moreover, since education in Canada is a provincial responsibility, responses to COVID-19 have been diverse and we would expect plans for the future to be appropriately varied. Fundamentally, what we will need to ask ourselves is: “What conditions need to be in place for students to learn and for teachers to teach, and how will leaders across the system adapt to support these conditions?”
This one-hour webinar panel discussion originally broadcasted on June 11th, 2020 explored how we will understand effective leadership across the education sector for the coming months and years by considering implications for governments, teacher organizations, and school leaders.
With recent events in the U.S., the EdCan Network expresses our solidarity with the Black community and racialized individuals and acknowledges the damaging impacts of systemic racism and violence. As a national not-for-profit education organization, our mission is to ensure that each and every student thrives in our schools based on the values of equity, inclusion, and respect. As such, we remain committed to learning, listening, and knowledge sharing in support of the well-being of staff and students in our schools and education workplaces.