What Worked this Year in @Home Learning?

Teams meeting image with Author highlighted

The 2020-21 school year has been a year of growth for me, and for the teachers I lead. In the fall I had the privilege to work with 150 Math/Science/Tech teachers, as part of a huge Online Secondary School. And then in February I joined a smaller K-12 Virtual School, with students engaging both synchronously and asynchronously.

Last week our K-8 teachers gathered, and compared notes for the year. And here’s what they told us worked for them:


Our teachers made use of a range of technologies to connect to families, and maintain student/teacher/parent communication. Our teachers provided weekly communication schedules, built community through circles, and encouraged their families to share images and videos of their children’s learning.


With a minimum of five hours a day in front of a computer, our teachers became experts in chair yoga, and implemented multiple monitors and drawing tablets into their toolkit.


Particularly in our primary grades, our teachers became event planners: Dinosaur Tea Party, Snow Castle Challenge, Jump Rope for Heart and Tinker Tuesdays were all planned and scheduled this year.


Rather than isolating during COVID, our families and teachers forged deeper connections and achieved greater academic gains than they had in in-person classes. The use of large-group, small-group, and 1:1 interaction resulted more focused learning within a supportive and friendly learning environment. Our teachers found they had more time to work 1:1 with students, and appreciated the ability to develop language skills without the interference of masks. Their lesson planning became more creative, and was presented in a structured format that allowed for improved support from EAs, other teachers, and family members. Students with special education needs were more easily integrated into the activities of the class, and were able to safely learn.

Educator “Moves”

As a result of the change in environment, our teachers had to increase their creativity and flexibility, and they found that it paid off in huge improvements for their students. They used humour with their students, and teamwork with their parents. Because they were limited in the classroom materials available to their students in their homes, they differentiated tasks and were “wowed” by the results.

Teaching Strategies that Worked

  • One-on-one meetings and instruction
  • Running Records
  • Predictable routines
  • Socializing and Sharing at the start of each day
  • Weekly checklists
  • Real-time assessment and feedback
  • Playtime structured to allow students to play together
  • Reader’s Theatre
  • Asynchronous sessions, with “expect a teacher call”
  • Interactive Games
  • Whiteboards

Technology Tools

  • Boom cards
  • Chrome Music Lab
  • Raz Kids
  • Book Creator
  • Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song
  • Flyleaf
  • Virtual Field Trips – Toronto Zoo, Art Gallery of Ontario, etc.
  • Use of “spotlight” in Teams to focus on students when they speak
  • Office 365 tools
  • Screen shots
  • Mote – to record audio on slides
  • Cool Chrome extensions
  • Guest Speakers
  • PE with JOe the Body Coach
  • Apps: Teach your Monster to Read, Lalio, Kodables
  • Robotics Canada
  • Pearson Bookshelf
  • Use of Breakout Groups
  • Dictate and Immersive Reader
  • Edsby poll to take attendance
  • Math Antics – YouTube
  • OneNote
  • Use of Learning Management System – especially useful for split grades
  • Awards in the Learning Management System
  • Sharing of Learning Management System “shells”
  • Pre-recorded “How To” videos


The impact of teacher learning this year will only be able to be measured once they return to their physical classrooms in the fall. There is little from the lists above that cannot become part of our teachers’ toolkits as they move forward, so I am anticipating even more positive results for the 2021-22 school year.

My prediction that parents might now wish to opt for continued remote learning for their children was absolutely wrong. Our experiences this year have shown parents that they need teachers in classrooms even more than they need teachers online. Our successes this year were as a result of extraordinary efforts on the part of our teachers combined with intensive support from families at home. As parents and caregivers return to their in-person work, they do so with a greater appreciation for the work of our educators, and a strong value for the in-person interaction that our classrooms provide.

Remote learning will now be added to our collection of supports for students, but I believe it will not become the preferred mode of learning for most of our kids. A safe, supportive classroom, with access to technology tools to allow for access to resources, thinking tools, and media to share learning, is the best option for our students as we move forward.

What will we bring back to in-person learning?

This week our Ontario elementary teachers are concluding weeks of reflection as they gather assessment data and craft report card comments. And as they do so, I’m certain that they are reflecting on all that they have learned as they tackled remote learning. What will they be keeping, to use in their “in-person” classroom in the fall?

Today I’m going to “guess”, since I’m their Principal, and have only an outside view of their classrooms. Next week our teachers are meeting to share, and I’ll write again, to report what they shared and to evaluate and revise this list.

Here’s what I think that our teachers will be looking to implement for September 2021:

Learning Management System

Our teachers make use of two Learning Management Systems: Edsby and D2L.  They have a choice, since neither provides all the content organization, parent communication, assessment tracking, and mark reporting functions in one single tool. But what they both do very well is keep content organized and students on track. I believe that our teachers will continue the use of these tools, and will be better able to support students beyond the classroom.

Student-to-Student Digital Collaboration Tools

Since our kids haven’t been able to work together in person, our teachers have developed a range of collaboration tools in order to facilitate connection between students. The chats that begin in class often continue after the Teams meeting ends. The collaborative slide stack is added to and referred to by students at any time after the class session. And shared documents remain as working documents, with no need for additional notes to be taken.

Increased Differentiation

Our students have come to this year’s learning from many different circumstances, which has resulted in very uneven progress. Our teachers have had to scaffold and support more than ever, and they’ve become experts at quickly meeting students where they are and helping them move forward.  When September begins our teachers will meet students whose learning might have been interrupted by technological challenges, whose families were unable to support their work online while working full-time themselves, along with those who have thrived online with strong family support.

Transparency and Structure

Classes online require clearly communicated agendas, with chunking of time to allow for students to manage 225 minutes in front of a computer. The benefits of this clear structure have been seen in the excellent work submitted by some students, and in their positive outlook, even on a sunny day in June! Scheduling has been necessary in order to ensure that teachers and students arrive in the same space online at the same time. And class materials have had to provided in a format the allow even our JK kiddos to access them. Bringing this organization back to the classroom will be supportive of all our learners.

Greater Professional Networking

With our teachers having to connect via email, phone and Teams this year, they have developed strong networks of support that will live beyond COVID. They have reaped the rewards to working collaboratively, and will continue to work together in support of improved teaching practice.

We meet as a team next week, where our educators will share what has been working for them. I will listen, and compare their list to mine.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog!

Priya Parker, Brené Brown, and Protecting your Source Work

This morning’s walk allowed me to listen to Part II of the conversation between Priya Parker and Brené Brown entitled A Meeting Makeover. And something that Priya Parker shared resonated when I heard it, and then returned to me throughout my day: Protect your Source Work .

“I am continuing to develop my mastery in my craft, and then I can write about it and read about it and talk to others about it, but if I’m not close to my source work, I’m going to shrivel up and I’m going to become pretty boring”.

What does this mean for leadership in Education? For me that means I continue the work that supports my purpose: teaching, hiring, mentoring and learning. If I get caught up in management I lose my focus on doing what is best for kids. So I need to hone my craft by teaching each time I meet with my teachers, revisiting my values and vision when hiring new teachers to my team, mentoring my teachers through Annual Learning Plan and Teacher Performance Appraisal processes, and always, always, always learning.


As a Principal there aren’t a lot of opportunities to teach in the traditional meaning of the word. However, at least once a month, we get the opportunity to lead a staff meeting, and so mine are designed more like lesson plans than meeting agendas. I try out new tools and strategies, embed new technologies, and try to model processes that I hope to see followed with our students. I also look for teaching opportunities outside my school, both formal and informal, in order to continue to grow and develop my skills.


When we bring a new teacher into our system, we have begun a relationship that will last 30 or more years. So we have great responsibility, both to our students and to our new teachers. My hiring process includes providing candidates with the questions ahead of time, so that they can prepare (as they would each day for their classes) and I can be confident that I will be able to make a decision based upon all the possible data. And I begin building a relationship with each candidate I meet, ensuring that they hear my hiring decision from me, not from their friends, and offering to provide feedback to help them learn and improve. I have often met great teachers who weren’t a great fit for my vacancy, but were perfect for one at my colleague’s school, and I am proud to have supported them to that destination.


Once teachers are in our school, we then can bring our experience and skills to the process of mentoring them. Each year is an opportunity to meet and discuss their Annual Learning Plan. Sometimes the plan isn’t directly related to their teaching career: one of my teachers expressed a goal to get married and start a family and, though I told I couldn’t help her much with that, did achieve her goal! Every five years our teachers get a chance to share their practice through the Teacher Performance Appraisal process, and to have us observe and confirm their strengths and achievements. When we get to know our teachers we can network and connect, supporting them to broaden their perspectives and deepen their knowledge.


If student learning is our goal, then we have to keep ourselves in learning mode as well. Curiosity and wonder must remain constant, even as we work through the paperwork and administrivia that seems to fill our day. I’m currently taking an Additional Qualification course, as readers of this blog will have recognized by previous posts. But the greatest source of new learning is found within my work: my teachers and their students. Each classroom observation, each email or phone conversation with a teacher, and each problem that presents itself is a gift of learning. 

I’m protecting my source work by continuing to teach, hire, mentor and learn. And I love it!

Priya Parker, Brené Brown, and how a Return to Work relates to K-12 Return to School

My morning walk is my time to listen to podcasts, and one morning last week I was captivated by a conversation (part 1 of 2) between Brené Brown and Priya Parker entitled “How We Return and Why it Matters“.

Priya Parker is the author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters“. In this conversation, she and Brené Brown discuss how the world is going back to work, and what that might look like.  As a K-12 Principal, it’s also been a topic at the forefront of my thinking, and I was struck by how similar our concerns are.

Access and Equity

Priya Parker and Brené Brown discuss the possibility that a return to in-person work might inadvertently be punishing those who choose to continue to work from home. Priya Parker suggests that “if not everybody is in the room, is it important to have two facilitators or two hosts, an in-person host and a hybrid host?”  She recommends that in order to not exclude those working from home, perhaps everyone has to take the meeting through their computers in separate rooms, so as to not limit power and access.

In our K-12 educational context, this is exactly the concern of our educators, who worry that a hybrid model with a single teacher will shift the focus to the teacher from the students. And they share a concern that students at home and students in the classroom will not have equitable access to resources, to the attention of the teacher, and to opportunities to collaborate and learn together.


Priya Parker shared a story about a parent who tried to protect guests to her child’s party by providing t-shirts that indicated their vaccination status. In an effort to allow her guests to make informed choices, she was inadvertently creating a caste system.

As our children ages 12 to 18 begin to be vaccinated, we will be entering our middle and secondary schools in September with both students and teachers who may be fully or partially vaccinated. I know that there will be students who will use this as an argument to push back against cohorting, masking, social distancing, and use of sanitizing processes. And I fear that those who still do not feel safe heading into our schools due to personal or family circumstances will run the risk of being excluded, both socially and physically.

Physical Distancing

In business we shake hands, and in schools there is often a culture of hugging and other forms of physical connection. Elbow bumps, bowing, and air “high fives” may need to be developed as a form of connection when we meet in person. There is a risk of “micro-moments of perceived rejection” as we develop our sense of connection, and consider physical proximity as a measure of how much or how little we are “liked”.

When working online we are glued to our seats, not moving. We cannot be moving around the room and still able to maintain connection through our cameras. Will a year of inactivity result in students who are no longer comfortable moving around the classroom, interacting with each other? Will teachers be driven to return to the 1960’s model of the teacher at the podium, lecturing to the class?

Principles and Policies

The principle behind the the t-shirts was caring, but the policy of providing shirts served to exclude. In order to get to meaningful policy we need to aim for policy that reflects people’s “deepest experiences”, through a participatory process so that people “feel that the policy is the best way to coordinate their work”.

As I write this blog post, some Ontario school boards have communicated an intent to deliver program through hybrid classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year. This policy decision has been made, often without any experience of the hybrid model. And for boards where hybrid models are in place, little attention may have been paid to the genuine experiences of the teachers, students and their families.

Policies provide the “handrails and guardrails” that Brené Brown says need to be designed from “power with and power to, not power over”. However a policy of hybrid instruction provides neither handrails, which would be created through successful models and exemplars, nor guardrails, which could only be formed from the experiences of our teachers.

Rather than impose a policy, we need to consider ourselves to be “in beta”, and continue to be creative and innovate as we remain in this period of great transition. Imposition of policy as an act of power can only be destructive to our education system, and to our students.

Next Steps

I look forward to listening to Part 2 of this podcast, and to continue my thinking about how we gather, be it online or eventually in person.

I am also interested in how the plan for hybrid learning will be framed by some of our school boards as anything other than a power and money move. In the long run, I cannot see how we can defend a system that creates worse outcomes for all participants. Will we hear from parents who want in-person-only classes, so that the teacher can provide individual attention to their children? Will parents begin demanding “paper packages” so that they don’t have to deal with technology at home?  Will teachers leave the profession, burnt out by the demands of teaching two different groups at the same time?

As a Principal of a fully virtual school I have seen how effectively each of the three remote models: fully synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction via an effective Learning Management System, and remote learning with well-design print materials, can be for different student needs. But I cannot imagine how a teacher can do their best in all three models while simultaneously providing a rich, in-person classroom experience. We have the potential to develop the “handrails and guardrails” that we need, but not with an imposed policy based upon money and power.

First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies AQ – Response #3 – Misconceptions and your Backpack

This week in our course we discussed three types of information: that which you know through experience (your backpack), that which you hear through the media (often misconceptions), and that which is the truth.


We began our class with a Backpack activity, shared with us by an educator who has used the activity to reveal what our students carry with them. By writing with a white crayon, and then painting over with a wash, hidden information is revealed. She talked about how some students chose to participate in the full activity, while others chose not to reveal what they are carrying with them. However, the process of writing served to validate, and focus their reflection. I could see this being a valuable minds-on activity, to set the tone for subsequent activities that might be triggering.

Media Misconceptions and the Truth

There are many misconceptions that are spread via the media, and then continued socially.  We listened to Wab Kinew’s “Soap Box” video from 2016, where he shared five stereotypes (the first five in the following table), and then examined many other sources of the following misconceptions.:

Alcohol as a Social IllThis issue is not unique to indigenous communities. It is when it is combined with poverty that it becomes visible to all.
Need to “Get Over It”You can be “over” something, and still need to remember it. In the case of Residential Schools, there is multi-generational trauma which must be addressed.
Long HairLong hair is worn by Indigenous people as a symbol of cultural pride. However not all indigenous hair matches the stereotypical long, straight ideal, so short hair does NOT indicate a lack of pride.
“7 Billion Dollars”The “7 Billion Dollars” that flows from Indian Affairs is less per capita than that provided to the citizens of New Brunswick.
TaxesStatus Indians pay taxes, except on property on their reserve. Those who qualify are only about 314,000 people, of which the employment rate is only 55%, so this represents a tiny portion of our tax revenues. Less than 1% are exempt from any tax at all.
First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples have similar systems of government.First Nations peoples are sovereign nations, who have never surrendered their right or title, and possess distinc tlaws and governance systems, language, culture, economic systems and social structures. The Indian Act establishes a limit form of local administration, and constrains movement towards self-governance.

The Métis Nation of Ontario has a democratic, province-wide governance structure.

Inuit peoples have united under the Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on the Sovereignty in the Arctic.
Post-secondary education is Free for all First Nations studentsOnly “status Indians” qualify, and they must apply for funding from their home community. The demand often exceeds the money that bands receive, with more than half of applicants turned away.
Education is funded equally to allThe Band-Operated Funding Formula came into effect in 1988, and is capped at an annual 2% increase, with few increases even approaching this cap. As a result current schools are now significantly underfunded.
Indigenous peoples are free to hunt and fishWhile these rights are inherent Treaty rights protected in the Canadian Constitution, confirmed in court cases, and articulated in the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, they continue to be challenged by commercial enterprises. And a BC court ruled that governments have the power to declare moratoriums on hunting and fishing based upon conservation needs.
Band homes are not cared for by those in the communityBand housing is administered from Ottawa, with no local control. Bands cannot also use their own revenues to apply to housing. Those living off reserve, in search of better housing, face poverty and racism, and so are disproportionately affected.
Health care on reserve is equivalentFirst Nation citizens face high rates of chronic and communicable diseases, and are exposed to greater health risks because of poor housing, higher unemployment, contaminated water, and limited access to healthy foods. (Fact Sheet) Because of the complexity with federal, provincial, municipal and Aboriginal governments all playing a role, the system is difficult to navigate, with many roadblocks. Health Canada does not pay for palliative care or rehab therapies, and there is a shortage of mental health services.
There is plenty of reserve land0.2% of land in Canada is reserve land. 20% of the Indigenous population live on this 0.2% of the land. Of this land, coastal and tidal lands are not included, so access to waterways and fishing grounds are not included.
“Vanishing Indian”While goal of assimilation was to have Indigenous peoples “vanish”, they are now the fastest growing segment of the population.
Indigenous peoples have a lot of moneyThere is a significant gap in median income, even among highly educated Indigenous people.


We require significant revision to our Ontario curriculum, to begin to address the misconceptions held within our population.  Some are addressed within the compulsory curriculum, but only in a narrow sense. The Grade 6 Social Studies curriculum suggests consideration of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, as part of the strand on Canada and International Cooperation. In Grade 7 and 8 the perspectives of Aboriginal peoples are considered with respect to land development and the preservation of natural resources. And issues such as Residential Schools are now core to the Grade 10 History program.

The revised (2018) Canadian and World Studies document explicitly addresses the need to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action numbers 62 and 63, and emphasizes the need for cultural safety in terms of their cultural heritage. This need for sensitivity has, in my experience, led many teachers in the past to avoid issues, for fear of being unable to adequately support their students. This choice “not to go there” has resulted in inadequate attention within the limited curriculum expectations.

We must continue to educate our teachers, so that they can educate our students. I believe that students become better able to consider such issues in their senior years in school, where there are unfortunately fewer explicit expectations of Indigenous content within the remaining compulsory courses.  This is why the move to replace ENG3U/3C/3E with NBE3U/3C/3E (English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices) is such a positive move. I would also like to see more offerings of NDW4M (Issues of Indigenous Peoples in a Global Context) in our schools, to challenge students with contemporary issues at a point in their lives where they are considering their roles as adult citizens of Canada.

It is only an educated population who can counter these misconceptions with the truth, and lighten the backpack for our Indigenous friends.


Successful Secondary School Online Learning

We have completed six Octomesters in our board, and we just embarked on Octomester seven. For some of our teachers this is their seventh class online, and for some it’s their first. But since we are now ALL online throughout Ontario I thought I’d take a few minutes to share what has been working for us.

Consistent Structure

A consistent structure in both instruction and in the provision of content via the Learning Management System has helped our students. KISS seems to work, with a simple presentation of content combined with a consistent agenda for each day allowing students to get into a “groove” and succeed. One of our teachers has music on for five minutes before class, has a “question of the day”, provides breakout rooms for discussion, and has one task to be submitted each day.

Posting using Multiple Modalities

Our teachers are packaging content in two different Learning Management Systems: D2L/Brightspace and Edsby. They are also providing both print and video content, and embedding videos using OBS Studios.  Some students are connecting with their teachers via email, and others are participating in 1:1 work in MS Teams.


Teachers are making the “chunks” small, and easily managed on phones, tablets and computers. They are replicating the length of social media posts, and providing multiples that thread rather than posting a single, large document. Most Learning Management Systems allow for content to be hidden until needed, so our teachers are able to keep students from feeling overwhelmed.

Being Available Online

Our teachers are live in an MS Teams setting for more than just the mandatory 225 minutes (PPM 164). They are replicating their usual practices of “walking around the room” or “being available at the desk in the classroom” by being online in a Teams meeting, and welcoming students to 1:1 or small-group sessions throughout the day. They are doing less “direct instruction”, and more individual facilitation, and it is paying off.

Differentiated Instruction

Our teachers are providing both synchronous lessons, and asynchronous tutorials. They are providing voice and choice to their students. By personalizing methods of assessment they are meeting their students where they are.

Sharing a Master Agenda

While some are using a list, and others a calendar, our teachers are all creating a “one-stop shopping” page where all assignments, links to handouts, and dropbox are located. The LMS is also a huge help, housing all course content and videos of the daily meetings. Live links to content assist both students and their parents to navigate each day’s work.

Clear Expectations

Use of learning goals and success criteria has allowed students to self-assess, and to reach out when they require assistance. Because the octomester structure results in very long days, but fewer of them, our teachers have pared down their goals to as few as possible, and are focusing their work on essential learning.

Taking an Inquiry Approach

Several teachers have structured their courses around fun engaging inquiry questions, and supporting student-to-student interaction to complete their “quests”. They are taking advantage of the technology, and access to Internet resources, and exploring content beyond the textbook.

Communicating Regularly with Students and Parents

Weekly newsletters and emails to parents are helping them to support their children to be successful. Our teachers are providing tips and tricks to families, so that their teens are supported at home.

Monitoring Participation

Our teachers are able to track who is attending meetings in person, and who view the videos later in the day. They can then follow up with students and their parents, and get them back on track quickly. One teacher has an attendance quiz each day, with one question: “Are you here today”? This populates a spreadsheet, and allows him to enter absences at the end of the day. Taking a look at statistics within the LMS is also helpful, and is allowing our teachers to reach out before students get too far behind.

Breakouts to Connect

Structures such as breakout rooms and shared documents have supported our students to connect. They have needed these in order to get to know each other, as many live up to 200 km from each other. Since the culture in our board is to have cameras off the breakouts provide a safe space for cameras and mic to be on and for students to interact. It is important to build rapport with our students, so our teachers make that priority.

Allowing for Fully Asynchronous

Several of our students are now working full-time jobs. They are managing to access class resources, and complete the day’s work when they are at home. By structuring courses to allow for fully-asynchronous participation, our students are able to continue their learning despite the need to work.

Team Teaching

Where we have more than one class for a particular course our teachers are team teaching. Sometimes they create one LMS, and share instructing duties. In other cases they plan and create two or more LMS shells, and instruct only their class. In both, however, they benefit from their PLN, and are able support each other to be more creative.


Our teachers have been experimenting with standing desks, multiple monitors, and other tools to ensure that they aren’t in pain at the end of the day. Some are scheduling regular walk breaks into their day, getting outside for some sunshine and to stretch their legs.

Learn and Share

Our teachers are learning a great deal through this process, and are happy to share with their colleagues. If you are teaching online, please reach out to a peer and talk about what is working (and not working) for you.

Advice to Novice Online Teachers:

  • Don’t stress out.
  • This is pandemic teaching, not a normal teaching year.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Reach out if you are feeling burnout.
  • Extend grace to your students and their families.
  • You are doing great!

First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies AQ – Response #2

I am in week two of learning in our Ontario Additional Qualification course: First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies.  This week we have four questions to consider, summarize and reflect upon.

How are First Nation, Métis and Inuit People distinct from one another?

First Nation people include both Status (registered as an Indian under the Indian Act) and non-Status indigenous people, who may or may not belong to a band, or live “on-reserve”. There are more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada, representing more than 50 Nations and languages. They are diverse in their language and traditions.

Métis people self-identify, are members of a present-day Métis community, and have ties to a historic Métis community. They have a unique culture and nationhood. “In Powley, the Supreme Court of Canada stated the term Métis …does not encompass all individuals with mixed Indian and European heritage. Rather it refers to a distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own customs and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit and European forbearers. The Métis communities claiming Aboriginal rights must have emerged in an area prior to the Crown effecting control over a non-colonized region.” https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100014413/1535468629182

Inuit people live in the Arctic, from the Yukon to Labrador. They speak Inktut throughout, with distinct dialects in each region. They have a unique culture, core knowledge and beliefs, and live in a distinct homeland.

What forms, and contributes to, First Nation, Métis and Inuit identity?

Identity is formed by personal experience and family history. Colonization and the loss of communal land has had repercussions to this day. There is a shared experience of loss, oppression and multi-generational trauma, that impacts the identity of all three groups. Forced assimilation resulted in the loss of languages and faiths, particularly through the practice of residential schools which removed children from their families. In some regions indigenous people remain the majority, as in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. While they now represent more than 15% of the population in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, they are less than 8% of the population in the remaining provinces of Canada.

Compare the historical rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada using the Indian Act and your learning in class to the contemporary rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. What rights do Indigenous People in Canada hold today?

Historical RightContemporary Right
Self-governmentImposed electric chief and band council system
Full status for womenIndigenous women have fewer rights than men, or of non-indigenous women
Traditional LandsReserves
Full status as “people”Status jeopardized by enfranchisement of grandparents
Access to landExpropriation permitted, without band approval
Use of traditional names – hereditary, family, clanImposed Christian first and surnames
Free tradePermit-to-sell, until repealed in 2014
FreedomImprisonment of anyone inciting to riot three or more indigenous persons
Alcohol as barter/trade itemSuppression of liquor sales until 1985 – now controlled by band council bylaws
Education of childrenMandatory residential school attendance to 1969. Now federally-funded, either on reserve, or by agreement with local school boards.
Use of home languagePolicy that forbade home language in residential schools has resulted in a loss of oral histories and severing of connections to culture.
Access to uncultivated landsLeasing of reserve lands to non-Indigenous permitted until 1985. Inadvertently led to sales of lands, permanently lost to bands.
Freedom of entertainmentGovernor General has authority to regulate pool rooms, dance halls, and other places of amusement on-reserve.
Right to vote granted at Confederation, but only if treaty rights and status given up.Right to vote granted in 1960.
Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized First Nations as owners of the lands occupied by Europeans.Shift from nation-to-nation relationship to view of Indigenous peoples as wards of the Crown, faced to assimilate.
Each nation had full rights.Treaties affect only half of Canada’s First Nations, so rights are not clearly stated, nor consistent.
Summary from Joseph, Bob. (2018). 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act. Port Coquitlam, BC: Indigenous Relations Press.


How might this impact students that you work with (both status and non-status)?

Students we work with are diverse in their cultures and experiences. The impact of multi-generational trauma will take many different forms. Our students’ understanding of their family history will also vary greatly, with some having been cut off, while others have strong connections with their traditional communities. As a cis-gendered, white woman my identity has the potential to create barriers rather than build connection, so I must work with respect and continue to learn to support my students. I will need to be mindful of micro-aggressions that might occur in my classroom, and address them directly. I also need to examine our educational policies and practices which may discriminate against First Nation, Métis and Inuit students, either overtly or covertly. For example, compulsory school attendance, particularly within the current pandemic restrictions, is one that I believe needs to be examined, and addressed in a culturally-responsive manner.

What are Indigenous Pedagogies and how can we use them to support all learners?

The “living teachings” of the Ojibwe people, also known as the seven good life teachings, or Seven Grandfather Teachings, nurture the physical, emotional-mental, intellectual and spiritual self-esteem of our students.

  1. Minwaadendamowin – Respect

    • Valuing all others, and considering their needs before yours.
  2. Zaagiidiwin – Love

    • Caring for self, in order to be able to care for others.
  3. Debwewin – Truth

    • Considering others’ perspectives and not judging.
  4. Aakode’ewin – Bravery

    • Strength and clear thought in the face of challenges.
  5. Nibwaakawin – Wisdom

    • Receive, process and express ideas with accuracy.
  6. Miigwe’aadiziwin – Generosity 

    • Acting in response to the needs of others.
  7. Dibaadendiziwin – Humility

    • Be humble in your actions with others.

As teachers in Ontario, we are held to the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession, as prescribed by the Ontario College of Teachers.


OCT members demonstrate care for their students through compassionate empathy, acceptance, interest in, and insight into their students’ potential. They approach their work with Love and Generosity, practising empathy and professional judgement.


Teachers model Respect for the values of their students, and maintain confidentiality in all their work.  They honour human dignity, emotional wellness, and cognitive development while supporting freedom, democracy and the environment.


This ethical standard embodies aspects of Truth and Wisdom, through fair, open and honest relationships with students, colleagues, parents, guardians and the public.


Teachers practice Bravery and Humility while speaking Truth in their teachings. They are reliable and moral in their actions, commitments and responsibilities.

These four standards underpin the practices of all Ontario teachers, and map directly to the seven good life teachings.

Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework (2007) is grounded in principles of:

  • Excellence and Accountability
  • Equity and Respect for Diversity
  • Inclusiveness, Cooperation, and Shared Responsibility
  • Respect for Constitutional and Treaty Rights

This thread of Respect also manifests itself in the classroom and school through necessary characteristics that support students (Bascia, 2014):

  • Differentiated learning
  • Learning linked to students’ lives and experiences
  • Focus on community building and relationships
  • Use of data, not perceptions, to drive professional learning and policy decisions
  • Vision of inclusion
  • Shared leadership
  • Deconstruction of the hidden curriculum
  • Engagement plans which honour difference
  • Global citizenship and environmental stewardship connections

Some of these characteristics are also shared with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), where learning is designed to meet the needs of all students. UDL is the basis of the Ontario document, Learning for All – A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12

When teachers’ work is grounded in the principle that “what is good for one, is good for all”, they are freed to address the needs of a single student, and in consequence better serve all their students. Incorporating Indigenous Pedagogies benefits all their students. There are strong similarities between UDL and the pedagogical strategies of Indigenous peoples. Experiential activities, group talk, connections to real life experiences, differentiated instruction and differentiated assessment, concrete and abstract examples of subject expectations and multileveled questions support a range of learners and are good for all. (Toulouse, 2016)


The four areas mentioned in the introduction as supportive of self-esteem are drawn from the medicine wheel. It begins with the physical domain on the right, which is connected with spring and birth. In the south is the emotional domain which is connected with summer and adolescence. The intellectual domain is on the left, and is connected to fall and adulthood. And the final, north, is spiritual and is connected to winter and our Elders. Within each of the four quadrants are also aspects of the other four. For example, Physical and Health Competencies have an obvious physical basis, but they also include emotional (mental illness), intellectual (making healthy choices), and spiritual (well-being) components as well. Emotional Competencies include physical (self-management), emotional (interpersonal relationships), intellectual (decision making) and spiritual (self-awareness) components. Within the Intellectual and citizenship domain are physical (civic knowledge), emotional (civic dispositions), intellectual (civic skills) and spiritual (civic engagement).  And within the spiritual and creativity domain are physical (generation of ideas), emotional (evaluation of ideas), intellectual (improvement) and spiritual (consideration of possibilities). This holistic model honours the whole child, and supports both Indigenous and settler students. By reconceptualizing student achievement to include all four aspects we support all students. (Toulouse, 2016)

By attending to the four domains, and ensuring that the seven living teachings are incorporated, Ontario teachers’ practice can truly be “Learning for All”. And Ontario classrooms will be closer to achieving the eight goals of Equity and Inclusive Education while closing the achievement gap for all our students. 


Here are three ways in which teachers can take first steps to incorporate Indigenous pedagogies in their classrooms:

  • Connect the six Ontario Learning Skills to the seven Good Life Teachings, and provide examples that bring them to life.
  • Examine the curriculum, and incorporate meaningful First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultural
    perspectives and activities when planning instruction and assessment.
  • Develop a more holistic approach, integrating physical, emotional/mental, intellectual and spiritual perspectives in planning and instruction. This should be done intentionally, much as the four achievement categories were embedded two decades ago.

Here are ways in which school leaders can take first steps to incorporate Indigenous pedagogies in their classrooms:

  • Co-construct a Land Acknowledgement with students and staff that will be meaningfully used each time the community gathers together.
  • Invite participation in School Council from families who bring an Indigenous perspective.
  • Replace current Character Education initiatives with new school action teams which focus on the seven teachings.
  • Replace current Grade 11 English courses with NBE3U, NBE3C and NBE3E, and ensure that school library resource centres are sources of contemporary literature to support these courses. Showcase your students’ work on your school website, as Jean Augustine SS has done with its NB3U podcast 63Three: A Podcast.
  • Build understanding of the strong connection between the seven teachings and Ontario teachers’ Ethical Standards of Practice, with use of resources such as Exploring the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession through Anishnaabe Art. Frame and display this artwork in your school (you can see me in the reflection, taking this picture of my “display in progress” at Cawthra Park SS).

At-Home Learning – an initial reflection

Four weeks ago I embarked on a new journey in a new school board and in a new model of online learning. In a board with a large geographical area, much of which cannot reliably access the Internet, the model is very different from that which I experienced earlier this year. While many of the students are engaging in a synchronous model of learning, others are participating in asynchronous learning, and a few must be provided with packages on paper, due to their remote locations.

While the arrival of Starlink in our area is likely to be a game-changer, access to the Internet remains a huge impediment for our families. And so decisions were made at the beginning of the school year to provide the best education to ALL of our students

Our At-Home Learning teachers are, for the most part, teaching from their local schools. They participate in the school supervision schedule, and have the benefit of social interaction with their colleagues. Their students either participate synchronously through MS Teams and access their class materials through Edsby or our D2L/Brightspace LMS, or they use only Edsby, the LMS, and email to connect with their teachers. The few who require paper resources function much as “correspondence courses” would have in the past, with packages created weekly, and which are delivered via the student’s home school.

Synchronous Learning

It is fascinating to visit the classrooms of these teachers. Due to bandwidth, many of the students remain “cameras off”, but that hasn’t limited their participation.  You can hear the excitement in their voices, and in their contributions to the chat. The use of many tools such as Dreambox and

Asynchronous Learning

For many families, having the flexibility of anytime/anywhere learning is working for their children. The daily content is provided via Edsby or the LMS, and families can work at their own pace to access multimedia resources. Some “asynchronous” students will join into daily Teams meetings, then head off to work independently for the balance of the day. Others depend upon daily emails to connect.

“Paper Packages”

The third option has been problematic for some of our teachers, as they have to translate rich multimedia resources into single-dimensional paper versions.  However, for some families this solution is working well. The distractions that accompany use of an iPad or computer are removed, and parents are comfortable assisting their children to work with paper worksheets. We continue to look for ways to bring some of our richer resources “offline”, and provide them to families in a downloaded version on a device, so that they can make use of audio and visual content.


Rather than attending school for two semesters in a year, all of our Secondary students, both remote and in-person, are attending eight octomesters. They have one class for about 22 days, then move to their next course.  This has allowed us to be very flexible, and move students into our programs, or back to their home schools, where necessary. However, planning a program for fewer than 400 students, with a limited team of teachers, is becoming more and more challenging as the year progresses. We have offered most of the compulsory courses, except for French (due to a lack of qualified teachers). And so now we are looking to provide engaging courses that will support a diverse group of learners. As with our observations in the quadmester model in the fall of this school year, student achievement seems to present as an inverse bell curve. A group of students are doing very well in the model, and a group of students are finding it very difficult.  The group in the middle is very small, but are likely meeting similar success to that achieved in face-to-face settings.

Moving Forward

Over the next while there will be decisions to be made regarding the 2021-2022 school year. It’s likely that a version of At-Home Learning will need to continue, and there will continue to be students for whom this model is preferred. What that will look like is still to be determined.  I look forward to our conversations, and to the creation of a new system.

Beginning a New Job

Terry Whitmell - first day of work

Today is the first day of my new job. As a teacher, this is only my second school board, so it’s been a long time since I was truly walking into a brand-new organization. And it is very different from my first day back in 1983.

  1. You need a lot more “stuff” to begin work in 2021, especially in a pandemic:
    • Email account
    • Internet access
    • Logins to all the various digital tools
    • Computer
    • Headset with microphone
    • Good lighting
    • Make-up to look good in a virtual meeting
  2. You need to get to know a lot more people:
    • In 1983 I only needed to know our office staff, my department head and Principal, a few colleagues in classrooms nearby, and my students. And all of them were in the same building as I, and were easy to get to know. I would never have any way to connect beyond my school, so my world was very small.
    • In 2021 I will need to know almost everyone in the organization, eventually, but all of them are “invisible” to me. I did meet three people in my interview, and have talked to a couple more on the phone, but I have yet to get to know anyone in person. This means that building trust is a more challenging task.
  3. With social media you can easily make “faux pas”!!
    • I was originally to begin work on Friday, so I thought over the weekend I could update my profiles in places like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not a good idea! The organization hadn’t yet determined their communication plan for me, and my premature communication complicated theirs.  Not a good way to begin a new role!
    • I have had two years of freedom in my retirement, having only to be accountable to myself. Now I am returning to a “family”, and will need to be sensitive to the possible responses from all of my colleagues. When I first stepped into Twitter my audience were people who knew and trusted me, and this network has grown. Now there will be people meeting me for the first time, and they have the potential to learn a great deal about me just by “Googling”.
  4. It’s not as simple as “getting the keys”.
    • Information flows digitally through an organization in a clear sequence, with checks and balances at each point. So, having been signed on by HR, there are still many steps that might lead eventually to creation of email and network accounts. And if you don’t have them, you don’t have clearance to view any of the information you need for the role.
    • Computers are configured specifically for the role, and then they have to be transported.  Given the size of my new organization, and the snow day today, this could take some time. I might have to continue to struggle with Sharepoint until I get a new computer; it confused my university and school board accounts, and now there is a third organization.
    • And each person who will eventually be working with me has to receive explicit instructions to share with me. Since the communication of my appointment has yet to happen, they cannot proceed, much as they would love to hand off tasks as soon as possible.
  5. Your identity needs to be more explicitly communicated:
    • Am I Dr., Mrs. or Ms.?
    • Should I add “she/her” as my pronouns, to assist those who might interpret “Terry” as a male name.
    • How do I structure my email signature? What is my name in Zoom or MS Teams or Google Meet? 

So, I stand here in front of my rather empty desk.  I have both phone and virtual meetings scheduled this week, which I know will add to my comfort level and task list. But in the meantime I wait.  In 1983 I would have been thrown into the classroom, and not stopped until the last day of June.  Today’s been very different. Perhaps I should enjoy the calm?