Photo caption: Chief Mi’sel Joe facilitates the final Elders’ sharing circle for 2-Eared Listening.
During a 2018 National Restorative Justice Week event in Newfoundland and Labrador, panellist Chief Mi’sel Joe of Miawpukek First Nation concluded his remarks with, “If you want to know about restorative justice, just ask.”
dorothy vaandering, Co-Chair of the Restorative Justice Education Consortium-NL, which hosted the event (and co-author of this article), took up the invitation. This developed into a collaboration with the Chief, a group of Memorial University colleagues, and an Indigenous community advisory committee to plan a gathering that contributed to decolonizing the way many participants thought about justice. The collaboration resulted in Two-Eared Listening for Deeper Understanding: Restorative Justice in NL, a community-wide event that hosted 170 people with diverse roles in government, education, community, and justice contexts. This event came to be called The Gathering (influenced by Hager & Miwopiyane, 2021). It reflected Mi’kmaw scholar Marie Battiste’s (2002) description of decolonizing education, in that it was an opportunity to raise the collective voices of Indigenous peoples, expose the injustices of colonial history, and contribute to deconstructing the social, political, economic, and emotional reasons for the silencing of Indigenous voices (p. 20).
Chief Joe stated that the primary responsibility of The Gathering would be to create space for truth-telling about settler colonialism’s past and ongoing violence against Indigenous peoples. He said, “Never have Indigenous peoples in this province had an opportunity to tell their stories.” Such truth-telling is an act of decolonization (Waziyatawin, 2005).
From the start of the planning, Chief Joe guided the group to focus on how the work we were engaged in was and would be truth-telling. “Before you can restore justice, you need to listen to the stories of injustice. At the heart of justice is listening,” he said. As such, the Gathering grew into an opportunity for non-Indigenous people to listen and learn about Indigenous history in the province from the lived experience of Indigenous Peoples. The role of listening was accentuated by fact that non-Indigenous leaders, whose voices are typically privileged, were not given roles as speakers but, instead, were explicitly tasked as listeners.
The shared stories reflected the impact of colonization both pre and post Newfoundland and Labrador joining the Confederation of Canada in 1949, amplifying the explicit choices made by various governments to “write Indigenous people out of existence.” Elders Emma Reelis and Ellen Ford spoke about their experiences in residential schools and their lives as Inuit women. Chief Mi’sel Joe and Chief Brendan Mitchell (Qalipu First Nation) spoke about their respective communities’ complex histories and the impact of uninformed decisions made by provincial governments, and Elder Calvin White described the impact of imposed hunting and fishing regulations on the social fabric of his community. Elder Elizabeth Penashue shared the catastrophic impact on the Innu Nation of NATO’s decision to practise low-level flying over their living and hunting territory, disrupting every aspect of their lives. The current Indigenous communities’ realities were also shared and illustrated how colonial attitudes persist, as their successes and needs continue to be supplanted by the dominant population’s more “pressing” demands. These stories are not commonly known, as demonstrated by their absence from courses and learning resources at all levels of formal education in the province.
Indigenous culture was woven into The Gathering through daily smudging, a Mide-wiigwas, music, and on-site meals that reflected the cultural importance of sharing food. People gathered in a unique environment purposefully set up for truth-telling and for deep listening to Indigenous stories of injustice that would challenge many participants in ways not ordinarily experienced.
Listening with two ears
A Two-Eared Listening protocol was shared with participants. It read:
Elders tell us that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen more than we talk.
At the Two-Eared Listening Gathering, we invite participants to listen deeply with the intention of learning and understanding. Deep listening requires the listener to receive new information through an open mind and to suspend judgment with an open heart.
Two-eared listening is an act of conciliation by promoting respectful relationships through building trust and nurturing understanding.
As you participate in this Gathering, please:
Such listening is an important component of decolonization work as all sectors of Canadian society strive to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action (2015a). To practically support participants in engaging fully with these five elements, the Gathering space was designated as “technology-free” from the start.
Elements of two-eared listening
Listen with two ears: Listening to stories of injustice involves more than hearing the sounds of words being spoken; it involves more than listening with our ears. Two-eared listening involves listening with our emotions as well. Stó:lō educator and researcher Jo-Ann Archibald (2008) describes listening with “three ears: two on the sides of our head and the one that is in our heart” (p. 8). Chief Joe explains that listening in this way communicates a sense of caring to the speaker:
“Injustice is about hurt and pain so that brings in parts of our body, including the heart and soul. [This talking] includes body language [and] knowing someone is listening and caring. If you are listening from your core, you will understand the telling of these stories of justice and injustice.” (Joe, vaandering, et al., 2022)
According to Métis scholar Jo-Ann Episkenew (2009), Indigenous stories generate empathy, enabling settlers “… to understand Indigenous people as fellow human beings. Empathy, in turn, has the potential to create a groundswell of support for social-justice initiatives to improve the lot of Indigenous people” (pp. 190–191).
Be open to receiving new learning: Deep listening involves listening to and understanding stories that have come from different life experiences and through different lenses that challenge the dominant narrative. For example, assumptions that land is “empty” and thus open for resource extraction or military exercises shifts to realizations that land is teeming with life. Taking in new learning may require adjusting the frame of reference through which the world is understood. Mezirow (1997) explains that “frames of reference are the structures of assumptions through which we understand our experiences” (p.5) and “We transform our frames of reference through critical reflection on the assumptions upon which our interpretations, beliefs, and habits of mind or points of view are based” (p. 7). In this way, decolonizing requires a transformation of our frames of reference.
Suspend judgment: Two-eared listening requires that we listen without judgment. In responding to questions about residential school records, Father Ken Thorson (Findlay, 2022), a Canadian Oblate priest, speaks to the importance of how we listen:
“… too often the institutions… have led the conversation, have set the narrative. And we’re in a time now when, rightly, Indigenous Peoples are setting the narrative and are full partners in the conversation… our primary role at this time is to humbly listen to our Indigenous brothers and sisters, their experience, their pain and not to judge, but to listen.”
Suspending judgment allows the listener to take in what is being said and hold it with an open mind. Reactions are replaced with opportunities for change and understanding.
Listen with intention: Cree scholar Dwayne Donald describes colonization as the “extended process of learning to deny relationships” (2022). At the core of this, there is an “intentional imposition of a particular way of understanding life and living, understanding human beings, understanding knowledge and knowing… a gridwork of understanding knowledge and knowing” (2022). Listening deeply and learning from the stories of others, particularly stories that are counter narratives, challenges this gridwork way of understanding the world. Two-eared listening is listening with a willingness to hear what is said with the possibility that what I hear will change me. Two-eared listening becomes part of the extended process to nurture relationships.
Purposefully engage in (re)conciliation: The act of two-eared listening has the potential for leading people into authentic engagement with (re)conciliation. “By listening to your story, my story can change. By listening to your story, I can change” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015b, p. 15). This reciprocal act of listening to the truth leads to contemplation, meditation, and internal deliberation (Augustine in Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015b, p. 13). However, given that harm was inflicted by societies of people promoting colonizing ways of being, the act of reconciliation will be embodied when non-Indigenous people of privilege move beyond tokenizing and consulting with Indigenous peoples and embrace being led by Indigenous people.
BEFORE THE FINAL MEAL together, Chief Joe concluded the Gathering symbolically by inviting everyone to stand in a large circle holding hands for a final prayer. His closing words, “Go in peace, be friends, enjoy,” encapsulated the common feeling in the room. The deeper understanding gained through two-eared listening to injustices experienced by Indigenous Peoples was palpable. Two-eared listening had shown itself to be a universal skill across the diversity of those present for respectfully engaging in an active process that is traditionally understood as passive. As truths of injustice were shared, participants listened with intention, opened their minds to new learning, and suspended judgment. They slowed down in order to truly witness the truths, focused on being present, and did not rush toward desired predefined outcomes. The challenge of listening (and not talking) permeated every aspect of The Gathering. Those who planned the event, and those who responded to the invitations to share or to listen, caught a glimpse over three days together of what is possible in establishing a context for the stories and truths of members of multiple Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and Labrador to be heard.
Drawing on Palmer (1980), we must listen our way into a new kind of thinking. And this, in turn, can become the basis of reconciled relationships.
IDEAS for Educators: Two-eared listening with colleagues
Present the term, along with the statement that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen more than we talk, to the group you are working with in a staff or committee meeting.
Explain the five components of two-eared listening, then invite them to think about what this will mean for:
Use a talking circle with one round for each topic for colleagues to share their ideas. Finish with a 4th round for each to summarize their key learning from hearing each other’s ideas.
IDEAS for Educators: Two-eared listening with K–6 students
Present the term two-eared listening along with the statement that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen more than we talk.
IDEAS for Educators: Two-eared listening with 7–12 students
Present the term two-eared listening along with the statement that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen more than we talk.
 Traditional Mi’kmaw giveaway.
Acknowledgement: Event funded by SSHRC and Memorial University.
Photo: Bob Brink
First published in Education Canada, January 2023
Archibald, J. (2008). Indigenous storywork. UBC Press.
Battiste, M. (2002). Indigenous knowledge and pedagogy in First Nations education: A literature review with recommendations. Apamuwek Institute. www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/pr/pub/krw/ikp_e.pdf
Donald, D. (2022). Personal communication with the author.
Donald, D. (2020). Homo economicus and forgetful curriculum: Remembering other ways to be a human being. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VM1J3evcEyQ
Episkenew, J. (2009). Taking back our spirits: Indigenous literature, public policy, and healing. University of Manitoba Press.
Findlay, G. (2022, March 23). Rome Indigenous archive to open [Radio broadcast transcript]. CBC Radio. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/march-23-2022-episode-transcript-1.6396755
Hager, S. N. & Mawopiyane. (2021). The gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler relations. University of Toronto Press.
Joe, M., vaandering, d., Ricciardelli , R. et al. (2022, July 8). Two-eared listening is essential for understanding restorative justice in Canada. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/two-eared-listening-is-essential-for-understanding-restorative-justice-in-canada-185466
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative Learning: Theory to practice. New directions for adult and continuing education, (74), 5–12.
Palmer, P. J. (1980). The Promise of Paradox. Ave Maria Press.
Findlay, G. (2022, March 23). As It Happens [Radio broadcast transcript]. CBC Radio. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/march-23-2022-episode-transcript-1.6396755
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015a). Calls to Action. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015b). Canada’s residential schools: Reconciliation. Final Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Waziyatawin. (2005). Relieving our suffering. In W. A. Wilson & M. Y. Bird (Eds.), For Indigenous eyes only (pp. 189–205). School of American Research Press.
IN 2019, THREE of us (Leyton, Joelle, and Carol) attended a conference in San Diego that focused on professional learning networks (PLNs), with a specific emphasis on how they enable educators to “tear down boundaries” to connect and learn with colleagues beyond our own schools. It was a productive meeting of scholars from North America and multiple European countries. The group focused on professional learning, collaborative inquiry, and educational change, sharing varied perspectives. But as we reflected on our learning, we began talking about what wasn’t part of this conversation: the ways in which PLNs can reproduce colonial ways of knowing and being, by:
In fact, little attention has been paid to the colonizing practices and assumptions embedded in the vast majority of professional learning (PL) initiatives (Washington & O’Connor, 2020). Donald (2012) describes the colonial project as one of division, excluding ways of being and knowing as well as value systems that are different from a Eurocentric point of view. Present-day education systems are implicated in this colonial project, where curriculum (a focus on constructing subject areas that privilege a particular type of knowledge), pedagogy (approaches to teaching and instruction), and classroom routines (e.g. grading, grouping) contribute to institutional structures that privilege some students to the expense of others who are often racialized and minoritized within this system (Yee, 2020).
Alas, from these observations, the idea for the Decolonizing Professional Learning event, held in St. John’s, N.L., in August 2022, was born. The 30 participants were educators and researchers from across the country who were already working to develop decolonizing education practices. They were focused on cultivating culturally sustaining, relational pedagogies in ethical relationship with equity deserving communities (Donald et al., 2011; Ermine, 2007). The central goals of the gathering were two-fold:
Ultimately, our goal is to rethink and reconstitute professional learning as a collaboratively constructed, transformative, and decolonial practice.
At the centre of the gathering was the concept of decolonization. Decolonizing professional learning is about decentring settler colonial practices and their curricular and pedagogical Eurocentricities. All levels of education in Canada are working to implement initiatives that respond to the 94 Calls to Action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015). In turn, terms such as decolonization, reconciliation, and Indigenization are now being taken up in higher education and the K–12 schooling systems.
The scholars and practitioners who attended the gathering came together to discuss their understanding of decolonizing and how they promote this concept in research and professional learning. Some drew on the concept of decolonizing education as intentionally identifying, challenging, and dismantling colonial practices and policies (Lopez, 2021), while others focused on interrogating and unlearning colonial ideologies (Donald, 2022).
The intent of the gathering was not to agree on a single definition of decolonization, but rather to share ideas and create a network for learning in which we move forward together. We came together guided by our “learning spirits” (Battiste, 2013, p. 18), sharing the stories of our collective work to disrupt colonial school systems in our local settings.
There is an assumption of neutrality in professional development approaches; therefore, we sought to disrupt the “typical” conference format when designing this event. We wanted a less hierarchical approach – so instead of having a few presenters deliver an address to a largely passive audience, we offered a series of collaborative experiences. Across the three days, we worked to create space for all participants to share their work within small groups of interested teachers, administrators, and researchers.
The gathering was guided by a series of questions, for example:
Coming together: The event began at a small gathering place at a local park. Mi’kmaw knowledge keepers Sheila O’Neill and Marie Eastman welcomed participants to the traditional territory of the Beothuk and Mi’kmaq. Following introductions, they shared some of the history of the land, discussed the ongoing struggle for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples in the province, and talked about their work with Mi’kmaw communities to strengthen the language and culture.
Small fires: Each day, participants could choose from among three to five “small fires,” each hosted by one of the attendees. In these small groups, the hosts shared their research and practice related to decolonizing professional learning. Each SSHRC-funded participant served as a small fire host on one day of the program.
Sharing circles: Once each day we came together in Sharing Circles. Participants chose one of three different circles – such as mindfulness practice, nature walks, and talking circles – to participate in. Attendees reflected on what they were noticing or wondering, and connections they were making to their own practice. These sharing circles invited deeper conversations about what we heard in the small fires and our experiences in different contexts (K–12 schools, post-secondary institutions, communities).
Writing activities: To support the building of connections within this emerging community, we embedded daily opportunities for collaborative writing. We began by inviting everyone to write about their own decolonizing work. Next we invited people to explore the connections and intersections between their work and the work of others. We hoped that discovering these relationships would encourage continued collaboration and sharing once everyone returned to their communities.
VoicEd panels: Two live-streamed panel discussions were hosted by Stephen Hurley from VoicEd Radio. Colleagues discussed colonization and placelessness, disrupting deficit thinking, inclusion and exclusion, educational change networks, and more. Online participants were encouraged to submit questions to the panel. Recordings of the Decolonizing Professional Learning panels are available on VoicEd Radio.
Final sharing circle: To end the gathering, we all joined in a final circle to share our thoughts about our time together and how we might move forward together. Each person had a turn to share what they thought were key themes, next steps, and opportunities missed. Attendees spoke of forming a network, meeting together virtually and/or in person, writing an edited collection of chapters, presenting together at conferences, and this Education Canada issue.
What was evident to us all was that we had not collectively defined decolonization, and that future collaborations between us need to both honour the diversity of our approaches and include opportunities to define key terms and expectations. In this debrief, participants also surfaced the different aspects of power and privilege we carry and/or do not have in our various roles and contexts. Our identities, roles, and educational change efforts can and must be returned to as part of decolonizing work, and trying to move too quickly to consensus and definitions is counterproductive. This work takes patience and time.
The Decolonizing Professional Learning gathering that took place in Newfoundland was a starting point for what we hope will become a larger conversation and impetus for collaborative action across Canada. There is already some pan-Canadian work that genuinely connects researchers and practitioners with a commitment to educational change and improvement. We know from previous research that a considerable number of professional learning activities are happening across Canada, but there are inequities in access to quality professional learning for people who work in education (Campbell et al., 2017). There is also a need to consider the purpose and content of such professional learning. If educators are to care for all students and support them in developing to their fullest potential, it is essential that professional learning activities for educators are critically examined to ensure that structural inequities are not un/intentionally reproduced.
We are at a moment in time when valuing Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, fulfilling the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and addressing and undoing systemic racism from generations of colonialism and genocide are urgent and essential. This is the call to move forward with conversations to understand and share approaches to decolonizing professional learning and to act together – researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers – for educational equity and improvement in Canada.
An important starting point is for further discussion about the concept of “decolonizing professional learning” itself and the linked work of “unlearning” historically embedded assumptions. As educators, it is our job to continuously learn, but that can be challenging when confronting ingrained colonial ways of seeing and living in the world. We also need to consider what this work looks like in practice. Bringing together practitioners with applied researchers was a beginning, but it is important to share our stories, our evidence, our ideas, and our examples widely. Deprivatizing individual or isolated practices and mobilizing knowledge by sharing in conversations and communications are powerful strategies.
This collection of articles for Education Canada is a way to reach out and call on people across Canada (and beyond) to join in connecting, collaborating, and sharing to advance decolonizing professional learning in and through education.
Photo: Nicholas Ng-A-Fook
First published in Education Canada, January 2023
It is important to share the understandings that guide and frame decolonization work. Below we offer working definitions of some key terms, recognizing that these terms can have different meanings in different contexts.
Decolonization: Decolonization is about decentring Eurocentric, colonial knowledge and practices, and recentring knowledge and world views of those who have been placed on the margins by colonization.
Decolonization involves active resistance to colonial practices and policies, getting rid of colonial structures, and centring and restoring the world view of Indigenous peoples. It demands an Indigenous starting point; Indigenous people will determine appropriate approaches and acts of decolonization. It also involves recognizing the importance of land – in particular, how colonized peoples were cut off from their land and traditions – and the return of land to Indigenous peoples.
Indigenization: Indigenization calls on educational institutions and stakeholders to establish policies, processes, and practices that are led by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples toward ensuring their particular ways of knowing, being and doing are nourished and flourish.
This includes creating opportunities for K–12 school leaders and teachers to learn how to develop and enact curriculum that honours First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples’ histories, perspectives, and contemporary issues. It also calls on school leaders and teachers to embed relational and responsive culturally nourishing pedagogies and curricula as part of the values of their K–12 school community.
Positionality: Positionality refers to one’s identity – how we position ourselves within our society. To identify your own positionality, you need to consider your own power and privilege by thinking about issues of race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, educational background, citizenship, and so on.
As educators, our positionality impacts how we make sense of the world and how we engage in it. It takes self-assessment and reflection to identity the ways in which our assumptions and beliefs, as well as our own expressions of power, influence how we (co-)create learning environments in our classrooms and schools.
Systemic racism: Systemic racism refers to the aspects of a society’s structures that produce inequalities and inequities among its citizens and specifically, the institutional processes rooted in White supremacy that restrict opportunities and outcomes for racialized and minoritized peoples.
Systemic racism includes institutional and social structures, individual mental schemas, and everyday ways of being in the world. Schools and school systems must engage in anti-racist education practice to address the systemic issues particular to racialized students.
Unlearning: Unlearning involves removing ideas, practices, and values grounded in coloniality and colonialism from everyday practice.
It is rethinking and reframing what we thought we knew about many aspects of everyday life, including traditions grounded in Eurocentric ways of knowing, and replacing it with decolonized knowledge.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER LEARNING
Culturally Nourishing Schooling for Indigenous Education, University of New South Wales. www.unsw.edu.au/content/dam/pdfs/unsw-adobe-websites/arts-design-architecture/education/research/project-briefs/2022-07-27-ada-culturally-nourishing-schooling-cns-for-Indigenous-education.pdf
Decolonizing and Indigenizing Education in Canada, Eds. Sheila Cote-Meek and Taima Moeke-Pickering. https://canadianscholars.ca/book/decolonizing-and-indigenizing-education-in-canada
Indigenization, Decolonization and Reconciliation (chapter in Pulling Together: A guide for curriculum developers). https://opentextbc.ca/indigenizationcurriculumdevelopers/chapter/indigenization-decolonization-and-reconciliation
The UnLeading Project with Dr. Vidya Shah, York University. www.yorku.ca/edu/unleading
Truth and Reconciliation Commission. https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Executive_Summary_English_Web.pdf
Universities and teachers’ associations provide myriad resources to support the development of anti-racist practices in schools. See, for example: www.ualberta.ca/centre-for-teaching-and-learning/teaching-support/indigenization/index.html
Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Purich Publishing Limited.
Campbell, C., Osmond-Johnson, P., et al. (2017). The state of educators’ professional learning in Canada: Final research report. Learning Forward.
Donald, D. (2022, September 19). A curriculum for educating differently: Unlearning colonialism and renewing kinship relations. Education Canada, 62(2). www.edcan.ca/articles/a-curriculum-for-educating-differently/
Donald, D. (2012). Forts, colonial frontier logics, and Aboriginal-Canadian relations: Imagining decolonizing educational philosophies in Canadian contexts. In A. A. Abdi (Ed.), Decolonizing philosophies of education (pp. 91–111). SensePublishers. doi:10.1007/978-94-6091-687-8_7
Donald, D., Glanfield, F., & Sterenberg, G. (2011). Culturally relational education in and with an Indigenous community. Indigenous Education, 17(3), 72–83.
Ermine, W. (2007). The ethical space of engagement. Indigenous Law Journal, 6(1), 193–203.
Lopez, A. E. (2021). Decolonizing educational leadership: Exploring alternative approaches to leading schools. Springer International Publishing AG, ProQuest Ebook Central. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/mun/detail.action?docID=6450991
Tuck, E., & Yang, K. W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, education and society,1(1), 1–40. https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/des/issue/view/1234
Washington, S., & O’Connor, M. (2020). Collaborative professionalism across cultures and contexts: Cases of professional learning networks enhancing teaching and learning in Canada and Colombia. In Schnellert, L. (Ed.), Professional learning networks: Facilitating transformation in diverse contexts with equity-seeking communities. Emerald Publishing Limited.
Yee, N. L. (2020). Collaborating across communities to co-construct supports for Indigenous (and all) students. [Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia.] UBC Library Open Collections. https://open.library.ubc.ca/soa/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0392533
OVER TEN YEARS AGO, the Urban Communities Cohort (UCC) was established at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education to ensure teacher candidates were better prepared to work within urban priority schools (UPS’s). We (a group of professors, school administrators, and educators in the field) saw the need for teacher candidates to be ready to challenge inequities that were pervasive across priority schools. In many ways, the initiative grew out of our collective frustration at the resistance to change throughout the system that is linked to institutional and systemic racism. For example, we observed:
The UCC was originally framed as a way of supporting teacher candidates to engage with students and teachers in UPS’s and to advance their own understanding of equity and social justice. In this article, we trace the evolution of this school/university partnership that began with the UCC and a focus on teacher candidates, and led to further spaces for critical conversations that continue to provoke and support our unlearning and learning. What has emerged over the past decade is more multifaceted than we could have first imagined.
Let’s step back and consider the beginning. Linda, a university researcher and lead author of this article, spent three months immersed in one UPS where she spoke with everyone – students, custodial staff, teachers, and administrators – to gain a critical understanding of the culture of the school (Ibrahim et al., 2012). This school, like the other 32 designated as urban priority schools across Ontario, had very low scores on Grade 9 and 10 literacy and mathematics standardized tests, a history of comparatively high suspensions and expulsions, and a public perception of being a “difficult school,” perhaps even a “failing school.”
The in-depth ethnography revealed what the administrators and educators within the building already knew – that the profile failed to capture the calibre of the educators and students; it missed “who and what we were in the school,” as one staff member put it. The EQAO scores measured where the students were at a point in time, taking no account of where they had come from or their future promise and potential. The school population included newcomers to Canada, along with youth displaced by conflict, who may have spent recent years in refugee camps and who might not have had consistent schooling even in their own language, let alone in English or French. For these students the school was a safe haven, a building with walls as opposed to a tent. Yet if the school was to support all of these students in their learning journeys, there was a critical need for a teaching staff who were better equipped to do this work.
So began the partnership through which teacher candidates and university professors became part of the school community. The UCC supported teacher candidates to develop culturally sustaining, relevant, and responsive pedagogy, and immersed them in urban school communities from day one of their teacher education program. University classes were taught within the building and the school administrators were integral to the teacher candidate’s professional learning – speaking to teacher candidates on the first day of school, walking them through the corridors, welcoming them for their required school-based practicum, inviting them to experience and feel what it takes to become a teacher committed to social change.
Hard Conversations was started by Kristin Kopra, Sherwyn Solomon, and Geordie Walker, who are lead partners in the UCC. This initiative brings together school administrators and university researchers to engage in challenging conversations about what is happening in their schools. Over the past four years, this group has worked outside the school board, gathering in their own time to examine the relevant research, understand their own positionality and roles, grapple with systemic biases within their schools, and most importantly commit to actionable strategies they can take back into their daily practice. Their goal is to first understand and then dismantle systemic barriers so they, as school leaders, can better serve Indigenous, Black, and racialized students, families, and communities. Put simply, group members consider their role in perpetuating inequities and what each individual can do to change practices in their own schools. Kristin, a UPS principal who began as a program lead for Indigenous education, explains why the group was started: “We didn’t do it for any other reason than we need things to change for kids in schools.” Many of the topics taken up in this group focus on the power of administrators and teachers and the damaging choices that the Education Act legitimizes.
Now in its fifth year, the group has grown to well over 70 colleagues engaged in these critical conversations. Membership is open to all and includes school and central administrators, senior staff, managers, University of Ottawa professors, and sometimes teacher candidates. Meetings have varied in frequency and in format, ranging from small group pods to larger university-based weekend-long conferences (including guests such as leading researchers in equity and racism and Indigenous leaders).
An example of the work of the Hard Conversations group is challenging the disproportionate numbers of suspensions for Black, racialized, and Indigenous students. Kristin recalls from her own school’s statistics in her first year that “if we were not the highest, we were the second-highest in the district; ridiculous!” This reflects what Sherwyn refers to as “hard-baked” structural obstacles, where our ignorance gets perpetuated as law. In Ontario’s Education Act the suspension of a student is at the discretion of the principal. While administrators might be well-meaning, Sherwyn underlines, “A principal’s perspective on what is acceptable school conduct and what is not is often colonial in nature, as these emerge from the imperialism that has had an impact on what schools look like across the globe.” There is no learning in a suspension, which reaffirms the exclusion of the student and causes harm that may reverberate for generations. The data speaks for itself in Ottawa schools: if you are Black or Middle Eastern, you are two and a half times more likely to be suspended. Hard Conversations provides a forum where administrators can examine critical questions around the discretionary suspensions for which they have authority, such as: How does removing students from what might be one of their few safe spaces serve already vulnerable students? How might race be playing into our suspension decisions? What will you do differently rather than suspend Black youth? The conversations, critical reflection, and transformations in principal practices emerging from Hard Conversations should be celebrated. But we are mindful that they represent a small initial step within some schools, and that colonialism pervades our education systems and guides decisions and practices that retraumatize those who have already been traumatized. As educators we ask the question, how can we avoid the re-traumatization of marginalized individuals and groups?
In our ongoing university/school partnerships to support teacher education, in-service educators, and youth, we are repeatedly made aware of how each of us is unlearning and re-learning in our work with students, student teachers, and in relations with each other (Donald, D. 2022). We recognize that we are all, regardless of ethnicity and positionality, impacted in our work and relations by colonial structures.
Our conversations bring to the surface what we have been taught and raised to believe – certain narratives about society, about other people, about positionality – and the structures that support these narratives. These histories and understandings have been passed from parents and grandparents and transmitted to us in institutions such as schools and universities. They become what we know to be true. But what happens when we start examining these past truths in light of other realities we see around us, and question if our long-held narratives are true? Geordie, former principal and now part of the UCC teaching team, asks, “Why is it so hard for me as a white person who is a dad to believe it is necessary for my Black friend or Indigenous friend to teach their kids to proceed with extreme caution in police interactions and how to survive an arrest, when that was never part my children’s education or learning?” With this question, he underlines that it starts with the individual journey. He shares that his own decolonization process is about “becoming as educated as you can about the past.” Understanding the past and the present context as educators and as teacher educators requires an openness to examine history, to recognize or acknowledge what culture is, whose it is, the backgrounds of the people in our schools, and how they see their own history from different perspectives.
At Le Phare Elementary School, Sherwyn has established an Equity Advisory Committee, a parent group that names and challenges social injustices and advises on things they would like to see going on at the school. As part of the district and school learning plan, Sherwyn encourages his school community to incorporate more Algonquin teaching, learning, and understanding, as well as more knowledge of the school experience of Black and other marginalized groups. Sherwyn argues that such initiatives go part way to addressing racism like that he experienced in his own childhood as a Black newcomer to Canada – such as having to learn to speak without his Caribbean accent, and the colonial violence he and his family faced as immigrants. Across the school district, student groups, such as the LGBTQ2+, Indigenous, and Muslim student groups among others, are being led by people with that lived experience. This school-based change has not come without resistance, and equity coordinators have had to work tirelessly to demand that, after years of being pushed to the margins as “urban problems,” these groups are placed at the centre stage of education.
Since the beginning of the UCC, decisions made at faculty and program levels have presented structural and other challenges. For example, from the start of UCC, cohort leads worked with school principals to create UPS practicum placements for UCC teacher candidates. Recently this has been discontinued by the Faculty, and UCC teacher candidates find themselves with placements across the spectrum of local schools, while other teacher candidates unaccustomed to urban priority schools are posted in the UCC partner schools. Additionally, we have now seen the community service learning component, where all UCC teacher candidates would become part of the school community at the start of the school year, come to an end. Despite these ongoing challenges, we continued to invest in the UCC by gaining research funds to support critical learning possibilities for educators (pre-service and in-service). In particular, we worked with civics teachers in UPS’s to open up spaces for students to find different points of entry into that course. This was done by inviting students to share their lived experiences – either as newcomers to Canada, as long-time settlers, or as First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples – first and foremost in this course. Working within these diverse contexts, we have attempted to contribute to a decolonizing process by breaking down subject silos and enabling interdisciplinary learning through a pedagogy of relationship building within and beyond the classroom.
After 30 years in education, Geordie perhaps conveys best what education and teacher education might look like in practice: “It is about prioritizing relationships over curriculum, being humble, and learning from kids.” When we think about our own work of unlearning through UCC and Hard Conversations, we envision educators (ourselves, teacher candidates, teachers, and school administrators) coming to education not because we are specialists in a subject, but because first and foremost we want to serve students and build relationships. As educators, we need to be able to put aside our biases and prejudice and embrace whoever comes through our door and provide a sense of belonging for every student in the classroom regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, language, or any other false barriers. In the UCC, we are supporting teacher candidates and teacher educators (ourselves) to engage deeply with teacher identities and lived histories, and to examine the truths and untruths we hold on to. Decolonizing teacher education requires providing opportunities for teacher candidates to build relationships based on care and compassion that prioritize students’ potentials and possibilities and reject deficit thinking.
THE UCC PARTNERSHIP has provided a space for multiple and ongoing hard conversations and professional un/learning across university and school contexts. A decade of critical conversations, research, and collaborative action in the service of students in urban priority schools has transformed our own practices in university and school classrooms. In our shared quest to unlearn taken-for-granted assumptions and “truths,” we continue to challenge ourselves and each other with the responsibilities we have in relations to each other and with students, families, and communities.
First published in Education Canada, January 2023
Ibrahim, A., Radford, L. et al. (2012). Urban priority program: Challenges, priorities and hope. Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
Donald, D. (2022, September 19) A curriculum for educating differently: Unlearning colonialism and renewing kinship relations. Educating Canada, 62(2). https://www.edcan.ca/articles/a-curriculum-for-educating-differently/
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have increasingly shown the critical role schools play in promoting the health and wellbeing of students and staff. Now more than ever, a coordinated approach that takes action at all levels of the education system is essential to addressing mental health, safety, and belonging in schools. An approach that is gaining recognition among school districts across Canada for its value in promoting the wellbeing of students, teachers, and other members of the school community, is Comprehensive School Health (CSH).
Increasing knowledge, understanding and skills of the school community through formal and informal learning opportunities:
Creating policies, guidelines, and practices that:
Collaborating and engaging with:
When a Comprehensive School Health approach is taken, entire school communities can experience improved wellbeing, healthier educational spaces, and improved student learning outcomes. However, research points to the need for schools to invest time and resources into building a health-promoting environment that supports the wellbeing of students and staff. While this may seem like a daunting task, there are small steps everyone – school leaders, colleagues, parents, and community members – can take to drive change. An important first step is to continue educating ourselves and others about Comprehensive School Health and its benefits.
Byrne, J., Pickett, K., et al. (2016). A longitudinal study to explore the impact of preservice teacher health training on early career teachers’ roles as health promoters. Pedagogy in Health Promotion, 2(3), 170–183. doi.org/10.1177/2373379916644449
Byrne, J., Pickett, K., & Rietdijk, W. (2018). Teachers as health promoters: Factors that influence early career teachers to engage with health and wellbeing education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 69(1), 289–299. doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.10.020
Koenig, A., Rodger, S., & Specht, J. (2018). Educator burnout and compassion fatigue: A pilot study. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 33(4), 259–278. doi.org/10.1177/0829573516685017
Kolbe, L. J. (2019). School health as a strategy to improve both public health and education. Annual Review of Public Health, 40(1), 443–463. doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040218- 043727
Langford, R., Bonell, C., et al. (2015). The World Health Organization’s Health Promoting Schools framework: a Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health, 15(1), 130–130. doi.org/10.1186/s12889-015-1360-y
Russell-Mayhew, S., Ireland, A., et al. (2017). Reflecting and informing a culture of wellness: The development of a comprehensive school health course in a bachelor of education program. Journal of Educational Thought, 50(2&3), 156-181. www.jstor.org/stable/26372402?seq=5#metadata_info_tab_contents
Squires, V. (2019). The well-being of the early career teacher: A review of the literature on the pivotal role of mentoring. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 8(4), 255-267. doi.org/10.1108/IJMCE-02-2019-0025
Viner, R. M., Russell, S. J., et al. (2020). School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: a rapid systematic review. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30095-X
My teaching career began as a high school mathematics teacher, yet my focus over the last ten years has been in elementary, both researching and now teaching. I am currently teaching math to two Grade 5/6 classes, with half of them having IPPs. They are a complex group.
My interest in elementary math began by watching my own kids struggle. What was holding them back? Why did some students struggle more than others? Both of my kids, early in school, were labelled with learning disabilities in mathematics. Now both are achieving at a high level, one in high school, the other in junior high. My work with them was a journey that ebbed and flowed between barriers and progress. It often felt like going through a maze, heading in one direction, and then hitting a barrier. So, we would turn around and try another direction. Over time, patterns emerged in those barriers, and one telltale characteristic began to reveal itself: memorization. Through this recognition, the barriers became easier to avoid. Upon hitting a barrier, I would ask, “OK, what in this task am I expecting them to just remember without understanding?” Once identified, we would go back and focus on developing the conceptual understanding or image in their mind for this idea or symbol. Once they were no longer expected to memorize a process or a symbol without understanding, they would progress in leaps and bounds, often exceeding my expectations. Where there had previously been a brick wall there was now a passageway.
The barrier for many students is not the math but the ability to remember. Presenting students with symbols along with a series of steps that represent concepts before they have sufficiently grown their own personal understanding or image for that concept can be a major barrier. Students who memorize easily have an advantage, but is that advantage rooted in mathematical understanding? I have worked with many students who can find an answer but do not understand the underlying math.
How can we be more inclusive while focusing on the growth of understanding for the majority? It was this question that took me down the path of exploring how we absorb information and what types of activities contribute to the growth of our mental images for mathematical ideas. Are there ways of offering students information that are richer than others?
May I suggest three categories for offering information, ranked according to their ability to give us information as directly, originally, and optimally as possible:
The first mode of presenting a mathematical idea is through the oral discussion of mathematics and its written symbols. This is the emptiest way of presenting the meaning within a mathematical idea. We absorb information through our senses, and these symbols visually look nothing like the ideas they represent. If a student has not grown the understanding of these symbols, we are not offering them anything with meaning. Symbols are just the tip of the conceptual iceberg; the meaning, which is so much bigger than the symbol, lies underneath the surface. The symbol for four (4) can represent a distance, position, or quantity, which can be represented in an infinite number of ways. The shape of the symbol (4) itself offers no meaning; it is the students themselves who bring the meaning.
The second form, the imaginative, is the act of visualizing. Zimmerman and Cunningham (1991) state that the intuition that mathematical visualization affords is not a vague kind of intuition; rather, it is what gives depth and meaning to understanding. This internal offering of information for the idea through your personally developed images has much to offer in terms of growth in understanding. Images beget more images, leading to deeper understanding.
It has been well documented in both sports and music that growth occurs through the act of visualizing. As a teenager, my husband’s swim coach would ask the swimmers to lie on deck with their eyes closed while he orally described a swim race, guiding them through it, while they imagined themselves in the race. The description by the coach is a signitive offering, but where each swimmer takes those oral descriptions imaginatively is different for each person. In a meta-analysis done to answer the question Does mental practice enhance performance? (Driskell et al., 1994) the researchers concluded that “mental practice is effective for both cognitive and physical tasks; however, the effect of mental practice is significantly stronger the more a task involves cognitive elements” (p. 485). In this discussion, it is noteworthy to mention that physical practice was the most effective form, and that those who were experienced in physical practice (perceptual) benefited more from mental practice (imaginative) than those who were novices in the task. The reason suggested for this is that, “the novices who mentally practiced a physical task may not have sufficient schematic knowledge about successful task performance and may be spending their effort imagining task behaviors that could turn out to be somewhat counterproductive” (p. 490). This supports the idea of the importance of establishing the perceptual level of activity, which allows for continued growth when visualizing.
Our world is perceived not only in terms of object shapes and spatial relationships, but also in terms of environmental possibilities for action. A perceptual experience in mathematics, I suggest, is the acting out of a mathematical idea. It is within the spatial acting out that meaning is given or “lived” in the most direct, original, and optimal way, for we are experiencing the mathematical idea through our senses when, for example, we physically cut the shape into equal parts, connecting us to the concept of fractions. This physical act will allow for growth when we later imagine this act.
It is important to distinguish and emphasize the importance of this third category (perceptual) because it is a sensory act. It is this act that allows for the deepening and continual growth of images. So, when a student is stuck and struggling to understand, some kind of perceptual experience must be offered, some level of active interaction with the environment to promote further growth.
The imaginative and perceptual are closely intertwined. In fact, they are hard to discuss as separate entities, for together they are one idea – spatial reasoning. Spatial reasoning is more than just passively receiving sensations; it is the intentional act of perceiving and then engaging our bodies purposefully (Khan et al., 2015). Through acting out a mathematical idea there is a co-evolving that occurs in both our mental and physical skills. The actions being discussed are not only physical actions, spatial reasoning encapsulates mental actions as well. Visualizing is very productive within mathematics, as spatial reasoning ability and mathematical ability have been shown to be intimately linked (Mix & Cheng, 2012). Mental interactive playing and exercising of our images can stimulate growth in and of themselves without actually engaging our environment, but a foundation for this imagining must first be established (e.g. physically counting, organizing, regrouping, building, drawing, etc.). It is through these physical acts that our imaginative and perceptual experiences interact seamlessly with each other, building and strengthening images.
The idea that the math classroom benefits from the interaction between the signitive, imaginative, and perceptual is the arena in which my research lies. The perceptual and imaginative strengthen and evolve as we engage with our environment, but also within mathematics there is a strong signitive element that must be attached (memorization) to our mental images. How can these elements interact to the mutual benefit of all three?
The classroom teacher and I worked with her Grade 5 students in a school for students labelled with learning disabilities. We began with the foundational ideas of fractions. In our preassessment the students presented as having minimal understanding, many not knowing how to write a fraction (signitive). We had four days with them, offering perceptual experiences that were always combined with the signitive to encourage the association with their growing images. We would have them physically cut shapes (perceptual), practising the concept of splitting into equal parts. Yet before they cut the shapes, we would discuss and imagine how to ensure that they would end up with equal parts (imaginative), i.e. we would fold the shapes and then cut them. Next, the students would write the symbols representing the fraction pieces (signitive). This interaction with pieces offered them a visual, embodied, and imaginative experience connected to the mathematical concept. Later they would combine (perceptual) these different pieces and write the fractions (signitive) using an addition symbol.
Although we started with the basics, we continued stretching the complexity of the topic to see how far their images/understanding would take them. By day four, we played a game called imagine-build-steal, in which we offered them a signitive question first, such as 2/4 + 1/2 The students were then asked to imagine and give a solution. None were able to answer the question based solely on this signitive offering; they had not yet grown sufficient images. They needed more from their environment to deepen their own images. To promote this further enhancement, the students were asked to build (perceptual) using the fraction pieces that they themselves had cut out. This they could do; they had grown sufficient images for looking at the signitive offering and building the solution. So, we continued with this cycle of signitive first, then asking to imagine, and then offering a perceptual experience. Their images continued to grow until by the end of that period, students began to offer up imaginative solutions to expressions like 2/3 + 2/6 + 2/8, based solely on the signitive offering. They had reached the point of sufficient growth of their personal images to solve this complex expression without having to build it.
The growth of mathematical understanding is a complex process, as seen over and over again with my own kids, in my research, and in the classroom. It is also personal; each student must grow their own images for the mathematical ideas in order to be able to visualize and make use of them. For some, they can be slippery. This is true of both the student who finds it easy to memorize and the one who does not. I find spatial reasoning tasks to be a great equalizer in a classroom. The student who struggles to memorize and therefore follow steps may reason and visualize with ease, but those who can follow a series of steps to an answer may struggle to visualize the mathematical concept. Math, however, is about ideas and concepts, not a set of memorized rules. My experience and my research support the claim that mental images are a key element to mathematical understanding that is often underappreciated. Far too frequently, the goal is to get the student as quickly as possible to an answer rather than to deep understanding of the idea.
If these mental images are the key to deep understanding, then what factors influence the growth of these images? If we accept the idea that images are grown through a dynamic process of restructuring based on a stream of perceptual encounters and conceptual revelations (Arnheim, 1969), then playing with, utilizing, and exercising these images can support their growth. A classroom focused on growing images is one in which students are engaged in imagining, drawing, moving, and regrouping objects while incorporating the signitive to encourage association. If all we offer students are symbols on a piece of paper, only those students who have already grown sufficient images can benefit from such a task. As educators, we are then not providing new opportunities for growth to the various levels of student understanding that every classroom contains.
Arnheim, R. (1969). Visual thinking. University of California Press.
Driskell, J., Copper, C., & Moran, A. (1994). Does mental practice enhance performance? Journal of applied psychology, 79(4), 481–492.
Khan, S., Francis, K., & Davis, B. (2015). Accumulation of experience in a vast number of cases: Enactivism as a fit framework for the study of spatial reasoning in mathematics education. ZDM: The International Journal of Mathematics Education, 47(2), 269–279.
Mix, K. S., & Cheng, Y. L. (2012). The relation between space and math: Developmental and educational implications. In J. B. Benson (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 42, pp. 197–243). Academic Press.
Zimmermann, W., & Cunningham, S. (1991). Editors’ introduction: What is mathematical visualization. In W. Zimmermann, & S. Cunningham, Visualization in teaching and learning mathematics (pp. 1–7). Mathematical Association of America.
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 email@example.com – or join the conversation by using #EdCan on Twitter and Facebook.
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) K-12 students and staff experience lower levels of wellbeing. Yet, a growing focus on wellbeing approaches such as mindfulness, social-emotional learning, trauma-informed practices, and self-regulation can have harmful effects on racialized students and educators and may lead to cultural appropriation (i.e. adopting aspects of a culture that’s not your own). These approaches to wellbeing often don’t take into consideration the unique experiences and perspectives of BIPOC students and staff.
Wellbeing is systemic. When wellbeing is understood as one individual’s experience, it fails to account for the harmful effects of systemic racism, White supremacy, and colonialism that create unwelcoming, exclusionary, and unsafe environments for BIPOC students. This approach absolves systems from taking any responsibility in creating and perpetuating harm, which could look like:
1) There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Place identity – such as race, gender, sexuality, abilities, social class, and faith – at the center of approaches to student and staff wellbeing.
2) Avoid taking individual approaches to wellbeing that place both the source and solution of wellbeing with individuals and instead take a more systemic approach. This includes identifying and disrupting structures and policies that have had disproportionate effects on access, opportunity, and outcomes for BIPOC students and staff.
3) Connect with students, staff, families, and communities in meaningful ways to understand the experiences of institutional harm (e.g. residential schools).
4) Embed multiple understandings and approaches of wellbeing that value the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual needs of students and staff.
By not acknowledging the depth and breadth of systemic racism, we end up focusing on symptoms rather than the root causes of achievement and wellbeing, while expecting individual students and staff members to overcome the numerous structural barriers placed before them. When schools take a systemic approach, they instead identify and take action to change the ways in which student and staff wellbeing is impacted by anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and other forms of racism. Every student and educator deserves to feel safe, valued, and know that they belong at school.
Anti-racism: the active identification and elimination of racism and intersecting forms of oppression, by changing systems, structures, policies, practices and attitudes, for the equitable redistribution of power and resources.
Streaming means that students are placed into groups defined by their ability levels. Students may be grouped by ability either for a subject (for example for mathematics or reading) or for all or almost all their instruction. Students’ assignment to an ability group may be temporary, changing during the year, or relatively permanent.
White supremacy refers to a political, economic and cultural system in which Whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of White superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of White dominance and non-White subordination are daily re-enacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings (Ansley as cited in Gillborn, 2016, p. 48).
Colonialism: systems and practices that seek to impose the will of one people on another and to use the resources of the imposed people for the benefit of the imposer. Colonialism can operate within political, sociological, economic and cultural values and systems of a place even after occupation by colonizers has ended (Assante, 2006).
Dei, G.J.S. (2008). Schooling as community: Race, schooling, and the education of African youth. Journal of Black Studies, 38(3), 346-366.
Dion, S. (2014). The listening stone: Learning from the Ontario Ministry of Education’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit–focused collaborative inquiry 2013-2014. http://www.ontariodirectors.ca/downloads/Listening_Stone/Dion_LS_Final_Report%20Sept_10-2014-2.pdf
James, C. E. (2012). Students “at risk”: Stereotyping and the schooling of black boys. Urban Education, 47(2), 464-494.
James, C.E. & Turner, T. (2017). Towards race equity in education: The schooling of Black students in the Greater Toronto Area. https://edu.yorku.ca/files/2017/04/Towards-Race-Equity-in-Education-April-2017.pdf?x60002
Thompson, R. (2020, Sept. 29). Addressing trauma in the K-12 workplace: The impact of racial trauma on Black and non-white educators. https://www.edcan.ca/articles/addressing-racism-in-the-k-12-workplace/
There is a unique opportunity before us to inspire and mobilize our students to engage with the world’s most pressing issues, as defined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs provide educators with a wonderful canvas to embed global issues that require collective expertise and solutions into our curriculum. In this article, I share my experience with incorporating the SDGs into one of my courses to help students realize their lifelong mission and career purpose. While the example I provide was used in a post-secondary setting as a career education framework, my intention is to inspire you to consider how you might incorporate a similar approach toward helping your K–12 students connect with these critical topics and relate them to their own career aspirations.
I teach a post-university transitions course at both the University of the Fraser Valley and Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia. The main course objective is to ensure students are well prepared for their journey after post-secondary graduation. I elected to use the SDGs as a framework to help students consider three ambitious questions that can evoke personal values and their sense of purpose:
Rather than simply pose these questions in a single lecture, I elected to embed them in various capacities within assignments and activities throughout the term. In particular, I chose to structure these as “renewable assignments” that aim to provide value and impact beyond the course, as opposed to disposable assignments that students set aside once they are completed.
The results demonstrated immediate impact; students felt that the content was engaging and they immersed themselves into their assignments and activities. As one student noted:
“This course [and the SDG components] has me more focused on my dream of being more than a teacher… to ensure children are receiving more than a quality education… [and that they] do not go without food, have access to clean water, are healthy (mentally, physically, and emotionally), have equality, and gain skills to thrive in their community.”
Furthermore, a common insight that many students shared is articulated in this student’s comment about introducing the SDGs within the K–12 system:
“I found it surprising that the SDGs… (or the MDGs, which was the earlier version) were not introduced earlier in my undergrad, or even while I was in elementary and high school! Learning about them earlier on would have helped me better connect what I want to know and how I can help my community.”
I agree with this student that the SDGs can and should be introduced at a much earlier age. Three assignments that resonated particularly well with my students are described below, along with ideas for adapting them to suit the K–12 environment:
In the course, students are asked to research labour market information related to their career aspirations, using search engines such as the Government of Canada’s National Occupation Code (National) and WorkBC’s Labour Market Information Office (Provincial). What skills, education, and experiences are required to enter the occupation? What might be their career outlook and prospects, provincially and nationally? Having conducted this research, students are asked to consider which of the 17 SDGs their chosen profession or field might help advance and how.
Applicability to K–12: This assignment and its activities are likely suitable to the more senior secondary school years to help students further their research literacy and critical thinking skills. Students may also use this opportunity to explore the types of work – both in terms of paid employment and unpaid volunteer/service pursuits – that directly support or are involved within one or more of the SDGs, to help expand their understanding of how diverse occupations might be.
In the information interview project, students speak with three individuals whom they believe can provide insight into a type of work they are considering, and then they reflect on these conversations. One of the reflective questions embedded in the project asks them to consider the common themes that emerged in their conversations, and how they believe these themes and individuals shed further insights into the SDGs.
Applicability to K–12: This assignment can be adapted to suit a particular grade level, from teachers providing a list of questions to ask in the lower grades, to empowering students to generate questions on their own in the higher levels. This assignment might be comparable to a career/occupation activity where teachers invite guest speakers to visit the class and talk about their profession, resulting in a group information interview where any students can pose questions. For example, a student interested in pursuing an occupation in trades might interview an electrician and learn that she is either explicitly or unknowingly supporting SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities by sourcing and using local materials in her projects, as well as SDG 5: Gender Equality through her advocacy work as a female in her trade association. If an obvious connection isn’t immediately made, the student and professional can engage in a conversation about how someone working in the profession could potentially align their work with one of the SDGs. This then becomes an interesting two-way instructional opportunity where the student can, in turn, help educate the professional about the SDGs.
Students develop their mission statement as part of an ePortfolio. During the development process, they consider: What is the work they want to pursue? Who are they doing this work for? And how might the SDGs be furthered as a result of their work? In the last question, they are able to again infuse the SDGs and talk about the overarching goal and connect it back to their ideal work and profession.
Applicability to K–12: Teachers can adjust the scope of this project based on the grade level to have students identify what they can do in their own life to help advance one or more of the SDGs; a charter of sorts. This may also align with a research project on how one can make a specific impact in their local (school or neighbourhood) community.
Ultimately, the SDGs as a career education framework can be used with students to generate ideas on occupations they’d like to pursue. Using the UN SDGs as a framework helps them expand their current career aspirations by asking, “Which of the SDGs do you think you can contribute to as you work in your chosen field, and how so?” By doing this they can better connect their work aspiration to a bigger purpose, and that purpose can also be a motivating factor in their coursework and post-secondary options. Additionally, the SDGs can help students who are unsure about their occupational goals answer the question: “What is a cause I am passionate about and how might I contribute to that cause, either through paid work or through volunteering?”
I’d like to offer a few tips for educators who wish to incorporate the SDGs into their curriculum as a means to enhance their students’ career development:
In the case of my students, the response has been very positive. I’ve had students and graduates tell me they are incorporating the SDGs in their job and graduate school applications and even during job and admissions interviews.
This quote from one student reveals the seemingly lifelong impact that embedding the SDGs into my curriculum achieved:
“Something that I have learned about myself in relation to the UN SDG(s) that I have identified was that it is not easy to accomplish these goals right away, as it happens over time… The way I treat others and the actions I take always depend upon peace and justice as everyone should be treated equally and be able to have a second chance to grow from their mistakes.”
Photo: Adobe Stock
Canadian Commission for UNESCO. (2020). Teacher’s toolkit: UNESCO Schools Network in Canada. UNESCO.
Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation (2021). Online global citizenship education resources.
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.
The Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Service Centre (CSSMB) is located in the west end of Montreal. Covering over 100 schools and institutions, it is Quebec’s second largest school service centre (CSS). The territory served is divided into seven networks, each encompassing one or two high schools and their feeder elementary schools. This structure ensures consistency in the interventions for client groups living in relatively homogeneous areas. Administrators and educators from both levels maintain close ties, facilitating the students’ transition from elementary to high school. An example of this is Amène ton parent au théâtre, an initiative in which elementary students, accompanied by their mother or father, are invited to attend a bullying prevention activity presented by high-school students.
In addition, the CSSMB relies on the insights of a small team of statisticians who closely monitor hundreds of indicators, notably those associated with the 17 goals listed in its Plan d’engagement vers la réussite (Commitment to Success Plan). This information is valuable because it helps us quickly identify and address our students’ academic and social vulnerabilities.
The activities carried out in the CSSMB’s 102 institutions interconnect with many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations. In this article, we will focus primarily on Goal #4: Quality Education.
Quebec’s student population has changed dramatically in the past few decades, especially in Montreal. In the CSSMB’s elementary and high schools, over 80 percent of students are first- or second-generation immigrants. This diversity creates a number of challenges when it comes to organizing educational services. For example, many recently arrived immigrants are unable to speak French, their new language for school and socializing. During the 2019-2020 school year, 4,500 students attended “welcome” classes, which are designed to teach French while fostering the academic and social integration of non-French-speaking young people.
If we are to provide a quality education to all (SGD 4), notably students with diverse cultural backgrounds and life experiences, we must rethink the way in which educational services are delivered. This process requires in-depth reflection, adapted tools and, ultimately, a review of existing practices. We have successfully met this challenge because we have the highest graduation and qualification rates of any Quebec school service centre – not bad for a CSS where students speak over 150 different mother tongues!
To efficiently coordinate the activities of all the experts working with our students, we have created reference documents and frameworks to define everyone’s role. These resources are inspired by research in various areas to ensure that best practices are integrated and applied. In 2015, we published Vivre-ensemble en français (Living Together in French). This document offers guidelines for learning how to live together in French, clarifies some key concepts, and provides tools to better focus activities (CSMB, 2015, p. 9), while taking into account the school’s diversity, which is integral to providing all students with access to a quality education.
Together, our reference documents and frameworks have enabled us to implement a shared vision of an organization that supports the school experience of all its students, which is our primary objective. These tools establish a culture of accountability and co-operation among those who work to support the success of all students. In this way, the responsibility for teaching and monitoring learners does not fall to a single individual.
Some of our reference documents are also inspired by the tiered approach to intervention. This model, also known as Response to Intervention (RTI), is a system that prevents problems, identifies necessary interventions and improves the chances of success for all students (Bissonnette et al., 2020).
Although educational success includes success in school, it involves more than just obtaining a diploma or qualifications. It means encouraging children to reach their full potential intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically. It also aims to instil values, attitudes, and obligations to help students become responsible citizens who are prepared to play an active role in society (Government of Québec, 2017).
As mentioned earlier, a majority of our students come from linguistically and ethnoculturally diverse backgrounds; increasingly, our staff reflect this diversity as well. While immensely enriching, this reality generates some everyday issues. To address these issues, the CSSMB created the Centre for Pedagogical Intervention in Diverse Environments (CIPCD, cipcd.ca) in 2012. Initially serving the “living together in French” orientation of our 2014-2018 strategic plan, the CIPCD then shifted its orientation to “provide an inclusive, welcoming environment open to the world and the future” in accordance with the CSSMB’s 2018-2022 Commitment to Success Plan. This innovative initiative is unique because we are the only CSS to have our own applied research centre affiliated with various partners.
The CIPCD has six working groups to study challenges related to ethnocultural and linguistic diversity in schools, each with its own priority focus. A university researcher and CSSMB administrator or educational consultant are assigned to each group, which has three primary mandates: research, transfer of scientific knowledge, and training.
Focus 1: Teaching French in a multi-ethnic and multilingual environment
Since 2012, various projects have been carried out to address issues of diversity at the CSSMB. Working Group 1 was created because of the very linguistically diverse student population. French is not the mother tongue of over 60 percent of our elementary and high-school students. This working group focuses on the overall problem of adapting pedagogical practices when teaching French to bilingual and multilingual learners for whom French is a second, or even third, language.
In 2015, the CSSMB and Université de Montréal launched a continuing education project called Taking Action in Multi-ethnic and Multilingual Environments with Preschool and Daycare Students. One outcome of this initiative was to increase staff awareness of the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the different languages spoken by students (e.g. Festival “Pluri-Pluri”). This project has changed our perceptions of languages of origin and the need for inclusive practices.
Focus 2: Academic success and school-family-community relations
As noted earlier, over 80 percent of our students are first- or second-generation immigrants. For a variety of reasons related to their migratory experience or that of their parents, these students may face numerous social vulnerabilities and/or academic challenges. Working Group 2 concentrates its activities on the twofold challenge of academic success and school-family-community relations.
In the last few years, the group has organized a number of activities. Several CIPCD-affiliated researchers carried out a study entitled Intercultural Climate and Educational Success of Immigrant Students. This research aimed to evaluate the state of the intercultural climate in several multi-ethnic schools in Quebec (including two at the CSSMB) and examine the impact of this climate on the educational success of immigrant students. Ultimately, a diagnostic tool must be developed to help administrators assess their school’s intercultural climate, as it is a key factor in supporting the educational success of immigrant students.
Focus 3: Vulnerable immigrant populations and psychosocial intervention in educational settings
Recent immigrant students entering the Quebec school system sometimes arrive with emotional baggage that includes grief and trauma. Working Group 3 studies the psychological well-being and academic success of these students, particularly those in psychological distress.
During the 2016-2017 school year, an action research project provided insight on the academic and social integration of young Syrian refugees. Discussion groups were formed in welcome classes to help these students develop a sense of well-being and belonging. At the end of the project, a guide on organizing discussion groups in schools, Mener des groupes de parole en contexte scolaire (2017), was published for school practitioners. Professionals in many of our schools now use this guide to organize such groups so students can express themselves on various topics like death and violence. These groups are designed to foster the psychological well-being of young people in school and, consequently, their educational success.
Focus 4: Inclusive education and intercultural understanding
Working Group 4 was created to address the interpersonal relationship challenges generated by the diversity of our CSS. Its work focuses on making the concept of “living together” a reality in our schools, notably by explaining the foundations of the inclusive perspective. It also looks at activities to promote intercultural understanding and seeks to document their impact.
In 2015, this working group developed a pedagogical guide to help school staff who would like to discuss sensitive topics with students: Aborder les sujets sensibles avec les élèves. This practical tool can be used on a daily basis to discuss topics, whether related to diversity or not, that can provoke discomfort or sometimes heated class discussions.
Focus 5: Socio-professional integration of recently immigrated staff and work relationships in a multi-ethnic environment
More and more CSSMB staff members have been educated outside Quebec, a reality that creates challenges with regard to their socio-professional integration and the school climate. In the last few years, teachers have been trained as peer mentors to help welcome their foreign-trained colleagues, and school administrators have been invited to awareness training on the topic. Teachers educated outside the province have also taken part in group discussions to learn more about the profession in Quebec (challenges and advantages). Finally, this work has led to the publication of a guide for school administrators on facilitating the socio-professional integration of foreign-trained teachers: Faciliter l’intégration socioprofessionnelle du personnel enseignant formé à l’étranger (2019).
Focus 6: Vocational training for youths and adults with an immigrant background
Ethnocultural and linguistic diversity is also increasingly present in vocational training (VT), raising a number of issues particular to this educational sector. In addition to studying the pathways of VT students from ethnocultural minority groups, the members of this working group examine the problems these students face when acquiring skills and trying to enter the job market. In the last few years, the group has led projects to raise awareness of the realities experienced by young people from immigrant backgrounds and revisit the practices supporting their occupational integration, for example, in internship settings.
The makeup of our student population has been transformed over the past few decades. Children named Bertrand, Roberge and Lauzon now sit alongside those named Traoré, Chang and Hernandez, primarily because the Charter of the French Language dictates that the majority of new immigrants must attend French-speaking schools. These students come from around the world. Upon arrival, many of them spend one or two years in a welcome class, discovering the language of Félix Leclerc, before joining a regular classroom where they will be successful.
This is possible because we have taken measures to ensure their success, notably by creating more partnerships with university academics. We offer these experts a vast testing ground and, in return, they share what they learn with us. The results speak for themselves: at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the graduation and qualification rate of our students was ten points higher than the average for all French-speaking school service centres in Quebec. We can therefore safely infer that we are on the right track!
Photo : Adobe Stock
Bissonnette, S., Bouchard, C., St-Georges, N., Gauthier, C., & Bocquillon, M. (2020). Un modèle de réponse à l’intervention (RàI) comportementale : Le soutien au comportement positif (SCP). Enfance en difficulté, 7, 129–150.
Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (2015). Référentiel d’accompagnement vivre-ensemble en français. Service des ressources éducatives.
Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (2018). Plan d’engagement vers la réussite 2018-2022. https://www.csmb.qc.ca/fr-CA/csmb/pevr.aspx
Festival « Pluri-Pluri » à l’école Terre-des-jeunes.
Government of Québec. (2017). Policy on educational success: A love of learning, a chance to succeed. Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur.
Hirsch, S., Audet, G., & Turcotte, M. (2015). Aborder les sujets sensibles avec les élèves — Guide pédagogique. Centre d’intervention pédagogique en contexte de diversité, Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys.
Amène ton parent au théâtre.
Morrissette, J. (2019). Faciliter l’intégration socioprofessionnelle du personnel enseignant formé à l’étranger. Guide à l’intention des directions d’établissement. Centre d’intervention pédagogique en contexte de diversité, Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys.
Papazian-Zohrabian, G., Lemire, V., Mamprin, C., Turpin-Samson, A., & Aoun, R. (2017). Mener des groupes de parole en contexte scolaire. Guide pour les enseignants et les professionnels. Centre d’intervention pédagogique en contexte de diversité, Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys et Université de Montréal.
In the little village of Bades near the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, Fatima knows that plastic washed up on the beach sometimes ends up in the stomachs of the chickens she prepares for her family. The teacher running the “Ressacs sans plastiques” project (Rahmani et al., submitted) also told her that many marine animals get sick from eating plastic. Fatima, a member of a local crafts cooperative, spent a lot of time looking for solutions to this problem. It was very challenging because her cooperative had decided to reuse plastic waste to make marketable products. Fatima thought of stuffing toys with bits of plastic. She posted a photo of her first bird toy prototype on the “Ressacs” project Facebook group page for a quick product assessment. Fatima’s prototype was inspired by the fabric jewelry stuffed with plastic bags one of her friends made.
Other women made reusable bags to package the cooperative’s products. Plastic plates covered with fabric and embroidery were also proposed as possible solutions. Finally, the cooperative made multiple trips to the beach to remove plastic waste coming from the village, the river, and ocean currents. Efforts to resolve the plastic problem, which are ongoing in Bades, will end when the prototypes for replacing and reusing plastic have been evaluated and refined to meet the challenge raised by the women of Bades: How can we reduce the amount of plastic on our beach and at the same time develop new marketable products?
The problem-solving approach used by the young artisans in the “Ressacs sans plastiques” project is called design thinking. This term, popularized by California design and innovation firm IDEO in 2006, describes a creative, collaborative work process that generates multiple solutions, rapidly prototypes and tests, and focuses on users’ needs. Initially employed to create commercial products, design thinking is now used by organizations (e.g. IDEO.org and d.school, in the United States) and schools (Design for Change, in India) to develop solutions for improving quality of life and the environment. Whether applied in the sciences, humanities or environmental education, design thinking offers the opportunity to analyze local problems and find solutions that foster sustainable development goals (UNESCO, 1995): creating sustainable communities (Goal 11), fighting climate change (Goal 13), and protecting land-based ecosystems (Goal 15). Moreover, since the design thinking process is both relevant and meaningful, it supports the acquisition of numerous core competencies: critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity, etc.
For example, young students working with the Design for Change organization built remote-control planes out of recyclable materials to carry and disperse seeds for revegetating land adjacent to their school. Other students, also inspired by Design for Change, installed a special ramp so students with disabilities could board the school bus instead of relying on adapted transportation, enabling these children to take part in class field trips and enjoy opportunities to socialize on the bus. The Design for Change philosophy is based on the premise, “I can!”
Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process involving defined stages that can be carried out sequentially, simultaneously, out of order or even repeated. The ultimate goal is to bring about transformative change. The steps presented below (see Figure 1) were inspired primarily by Brown (2009) and Scheer, Noweski and Meinel (2012).
Figure 1: Steps of Design Thinking
Inspired by Brown (2009) and Scheer, Noweski and Meinel (2012)
An iterative approach focused on the needs of users, design thinking is also practical and flexible when it comes to experimentation. Both divergent and convergent, the process values empathy and optimism. Design thinking is non-linear because as problem solvers gain empathy for the needs of users and work on refining the best solution, their attention constantly shifts between the problem space and the solution space. Unlike a traditional scientific investigative approach, design thinking focuses on both the problem and its solutions. In the problem space, a lot of attention is paid to defining the problem in terms of the user experience and position. The team of problem solvers spends a lot of time observing the problem situation and user behaviours in situ. The effectiveness of the process relies on participants amassing and deepening their knowledge about the problem. In the solution space, problem solvers investigate multiple possibilities by developing plans and building prototypes. These prototypes, created quickly, without trying to achieve perfection, serve as “playgrounds” for discussing and exploring various solutions. In this fashion, the problem and its solutions co-evolve, constantly interacting.
Design thinking has recently been presented as an effective, motivating tool for teaching elementary and high-school students how to solve local problems. To address local ecological issues, students could use this approach to create or organize:
By using design thinking, teachers and their students can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) defined by the United Nations in 2015. The 17 goals in question focus on areas for action that promote, for example, sustaining life (both human and nonhuman), ending poverty, and achieving social justice. In the case of the aforementioned “Ressacs sans plastiques” project, the artisans’ work focused primarily on goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources. The examples suggested above for elementary and high-school students would include the following SGDs: 3 (health), 6 (water quality), 11 (resilient, healthy cities), 12 (environmentally responsible behaviour), 13 (climate change), and 15 (land-based ecosystems).
The meaning and nature of sustainable development and the actions required to achieve it are starting to become known. Emerging sustainability initiatives include the slow food movement (Petrini, 2006), conservation design (Arendt, 2010), smart growth (Duany et al., 2010), eco-cities (Register, 2016), and biodiversity restoration (El Jai & Pruneau, 2015). Slow food aficionados take the time to share locally grown “clean” food with people in their community. In conservation design, urban planners developing new neighbourhoods begin by identifying sites of natural and cultural interest, then concentrate the built environment outside the areas where these treasures are found. Proponents of smart growth and eco-cities use a variety of techniques to reuse rainwater, calm traffic, increase the density of residential areas, and promote universal access to parks. Finally, efforts to restore biodiversity include measures such as wildlife crossings, living plant walls, green roofs, hedgerows for biodiversity, and hotels for insects, amphibians and small mammals. Over time, these sustainability initiatives modify existing systems, structures and practices, with the ultimate goal of regenerating natural systems that support human life and that of other living beings.
With design thinking, students can work with their classmates to contribute their own ideas to the sustainability movement. This investigative approach is well suited for the complex nature of environmental problems. Design thinking fosters more appropriate solutions because it invites students to define complex problems from different perspectives (social, scientific and environmental), which enables them to expand the problem space before looking for solutions. According to our field tests, design thinking can encourage students to work collaboratively, pique their interest in the problem under study, and strengthen their high-level skills like creativity, empathy, critical thinking and problem solving (Pruneau et al., 2019). The iterative design thinking process encourages learners to ask questions, look for information, collaborate with their peers and the community, propose concrete ideas, and test and model solutions, all while focusing on the needs of users. Engaging in this dynamic process develops their sustainability skills.
When solutions generated by design thinking become realities, learners gain confidence in their capacity for action. Moreover, organizations that employ design thinking also mentioned other educational benefits, especially with regards to teamwork: richer discussions thanks to a diverse group of problem solvers, enhanced communications, a shared understanding of the vocabulary used, and greater cohesion (Pruneau et al., 2019).
Banner Photo: Adobe Stock
Photos provided by the authors
Arendt, R. (2010). Envisioning better communities. Seeing more options, making wiser choices. Routledge.
Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Harper Collins.
Duany, A., Speck, J. & Lydon, M. (2010). The smart growth manual. McGraw-Hill.
El Jai, B. & Pruneau, D. (2015). Favoriser la restauration de la biodiversité en milieu urbain : les facteurs de réussite dans le cadre de quatre projets de restauration. VertigO, 15(3).
Petrini, C. (2006). Slow Food, manifeste pour le goût et la biodiversité. Yves Michel.
Pruneau, D. (ed.). (2019). Design thinking for sustainable development. Applied models for schools, universities and communities. Université de Moncton, Groupe Littoral et vie. Available free of charge online in French and English: https://competi.ca/ and https://lel.crires.ulaval.ca/categorie/guidesoutils-pedagogiques.
Rahmani, Z., Pruneau, D. & Khattabi, A. (submitted). La pensée design et Facebook comme outils pédagogiques pour accompagner des femmes dans la résolution d’un problème de pollution plastique au Maroc. VertigO.
Register, R. (2016). World rescue: An economics built on what we build. Ecocity Builders.
Scheer, A., Noweski, C. &Meinel, C. (2012). Transforming constructivist learning into action: Design thinking in education. Design and Technology Education: An International Journal, 17(3).
1 Abdellatif Khattabi, Zakia Rahmani, Michel Léger, Boutaina El Jai, Liliane Dionne, Vincent Richard, Viktor Freiman, Natacha Louis, Anne-Marie Laroche, and Maroua Mahjoub
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
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.