Monday, January 29, 2018

The Consent Curriculum

In my blog post published January 22, 2018, I mentioned that I obtained permission/consent from the fabulous LTOs at my school to publish their photos and write about them. I made a point of adding that sentence because I knew that I wanted to talk at some point on my blog about consent.

Consent is a pretty important concept and I don't think it's too early to start talking about various types of consent with students.

1) Consent around Photos

In September, we have our families sign a media consent form. It's a generic one and I understand why. Teachers, or at least the ones at my school, take a lot of photos for a variety of purposes - as pedagogical documentation, for evaluation by the teacher, for displays in the classroom, for sharing with parents via password-protected sites, and even for sharing (without faces) on social media. Right now I'm working on the school yearbook, and I really should examine which families have indicated "no" on the media consent forms. In the past, when I checked in with some parents, they readily agreed to the yearbook and explain that they signed the way they did because they were concerned about their students' images appearing online. That's harder and harder to regulate. We don't film our Winter or Spring Concerts for general distribution because some performers do not have media consent forms signs. Yet, other parents or families will film their own children (and naturally, catch other students in the process of recording) and share the photos or video on Facebook or other social media platforms. I know some schools just ban audiences completely from taking any photos at all during school-wide events, but that seems rather heavy-handed and does not foster great school-home relations. (I speak from experience on this topic - and thankfully, with some advocacy, parents were allowed to take photos during the Grade 8 graduation at another school without having to try and snap photos surreptitiously without being noticed by the principal.) The ones that are often left out of this discussion are the students. When students make awesome things in the library makerspace during recess, I ask if I can take a photo. It's a polite thing to do. (I bet some celebrities wish that paparazzi would be so courteous!) Often, they students are the ones asking me if I'd take a photo for them. No one wants their images to be misused. We should be aware that visuals of any sort can be manipulated by others using technology and that we should try to be as cautious as we can when sharing photos beyond the physical/virtual walls of our school. Still, it's best to ask permission - often, it might be a yes when the sharing is for positive, celebratory reasons that given agency to the individual and are shared respectfully.

2) Consent around Touch

The Girl Guides of America wrote a holiday-related post in December 2017 advising families not to force their children, especially their daughters, to hug relatives. (This article, from the New York Times, links to the actual article as well as describes some of the reactions the post received.) I know my parents would have struggled with this recommendation, but it makes a lot of sense. My cultural background (Caribbean/West Indian) has a tradition of hugging and kissing every adult goodbye after a gathering. Knowing, however, that 80% of assailants are friends or family of the victim (I found that statistic from makes possibly offending a grown-up a healthier option that suppressing a child's ability to show appreciation or greetings in other ways.

I'm pretty comfortable with students hugging me but I know that for some of my students, they struggle with appropriate boundaries, especially with strangers. I try to remind students to ask for hugs rather than just grabbing me. Modelling behaviour is so important. I also model how to say no. For instance, when some of the kindergarten students went to hug me, they tried to climb up me like a tree. Not only is this unsafe, it's uncomfortable! When a student did that, the next time he asked for a hug, I said no. I explained that I didn't want to be climbed like a tree. I didn't owe him an explanation but I wanted him to understand that I denied the request because of past conduct, not because I didn't like him. 

I also need to remind older students that the kindergarten students are not dolls, and should be treated with respect. Older students, even kindergarten helpers, will pat the 4-year-olds on the head, or hug them, or beg for hugs from them. Some even pick them up, and observant readers of the blog know that carrying a student who doesn't need help is a practice that I don't approve of, unless the student has fallen asleep on your shoulder and you (the adult in charge) need to take them back to class. Asking permission before touching or picking up is a trend that has even filtered down to infants (I understand the sentiment, but I'm not sure how far I'm willing to go with allowing babies this liberty, especially if I have to take my child away for safety reasons or if they refuse because they don't want to leave somewhere and we must go.)

On the other end of the age line, there are more serious issues around consent.

3) Consent around Intimacy / Sex

I love this video (and I've embedded the curse-free version below).

The importance of this lesson (and the flip side - empowering people who are "offered tea" the freedom to decline if they don't want it) was reinforced for me a couple of years ago, through Minecraft. My friend Denise Colby and I wrote about the experience on the GamingEdus blog. Read the description there. Students must be able to say no to things that are uncomfortable (not about things like taking tests, but to situations that are unsafe and optional and not in their best interest).

I called this blog post "the consent curriculum", one, because I love the alliteration, and two, because I think we need to build things like requesting and obtaining permission to say and do things into daily experiences for young people. If we aren't given the opportunity to make decisions for ourselves, even if it means saying no, then when and how will we learn?

Monday, January 22, 2018

What LTO seems to stand for at my school

On the day before our report card writing day, I had two rewarding interactions with two of my colleagues. I had a great conversation about one of the Forest of Reading Silver Birch nominees with Ms. Clarke as she worked in the library during her prep time. I also had my first co-teaching class with the ESL self-contained class intermediate students and their teacher, Ms. Tse. You will not have encountered their names before on my blog. I've written about my fellow teachers before (such as Ms. Wadia, Ms. Daley, Ms. Hong, Mrs. Commisso, and Ms. Singh, not to mention our fabulous ECEs) but the reason you've never heard of the others prior to today is because they are new to our school - they are LTOs (long-term occasional teachers). They are so much more than LTOs. Let me highlight a few reasons why. (Thanks for the two of them for giving their consent to sharing photos of them on the blog - more about consent in an upcoming blog post!)

Ashley Clarke

Ms. Clarke showing learning buddies how to fold

Ms. Clarke is our Grade 4-5 teacher. Ashley is enthusiastic and effervescent - a bubbly personality. I loved how Ashley introduced herself to her class, demonstrating how open and respectful communication in her class could be fostered and grown. She knows her students well, despite only having been with them a relatively short time. I've never heard Ashley complain about a student; she loves even the most challenging ones. I want her positive attitude to be as contagious as the flu! She's a team player who embraced working with other teachers right away. She volunteered to help Mme Awara supervise and run the school STEAM Club after her first or second week at school and attended Tinkering Thursdays at RJ Lang P.S. to learn more.
Ashley usually works during her prep time in the library. I'm quite apologetic because often I will have a kindergarten class in the space, but she says she enjoys hearing the littlest ones doing all sorts of neat things and somehow she's still able to get things accomplished with the cacophony. She incorporates some important themes and topics in her lessons, from growth mindset to commercialism to coding. She also uses the school library well (take a look at her tweet featuring some of our print resources).

Rose Tse

Ms. Tse editing Pixton comics with kids in the lab

Ms. Tse is our ESL self-contained and prep delivery teacher. Rose is conscientious and thoughtful. Her level of organization absolutely astounds me. It is not easy to juggle the schedules of ELL students from five different grades and five different classes. Despite a less-than-ideal schedule and responsibilities for many other classes (kindie STEAM, primary dance and drama and ICT), she's got it all together. Rose is always thinking about what's best for her students and is willing to advocate for them to ensure that their needs take priority. When the students freaked out after seeing a mouse in their portable, she moved them out and found space for them to work until their fears subsided.  Rose is resourceful, always seeking out books or websites or techniques that will help her students learn a little bit better. She's willing to devote the time, which is why I caught her on film creating this huge grid for one of the prep classes she sees.
Rose is a reflective educator. She's always asking herself how she can stop negative behaviour patterns, how she can help her technology students finish work when their time is limited, which app is grade-appropriate for what class, and so on. She's super-observant; after our first history lesson together with the Grade 7-8s, she noticed so many things about the student comfort and participation level, the type of comments they made, and the differences in how the group operates in different environments. 

Both 2018 LTOs

Rose and Ashley have dedicated what little extra time they have to volunteering to be ball hockey coaches. This is a significant time commitment, with extra practices and games, but they are willing. I should mention that both Rose and Ashley rely on public transit to get to school. This may not be a big deal to some, but to me (who relies on my car tremendously despite living not far from school), I'm so impressed with their dedication. Rose and Ashley have worked together at other schools and both of them have wonderful things to say about the other. My only disappointment is that they do not have permanent contracts with our school board yet. We love the teachers that they replaced, but we also are so lucky and grateful to have them take their places.

So, what does LTO seem to stand for right now at my school? There are several choices when it comes to Ashley and Rose:
Loves Teaching Others
Lots To Offer

Monday, January 15, 2018

Monkey Business

I've realized that the first photo that appears in Blogger is the image that appears in links or snapshots of the post. This is why, even though the picture you'll see is only part of what I want to ruminate on, it's the first one I'm placing in the text - so that the other image, the one that inspired many tweets and blog posts because of its inappropriateness, does not become the first thing you see when you read this.

Part One: Ball Hockey

Every January, the staff and students at my school get involved in a school ball hockey tournament. Teachers coach their teams and we even have a trophy with the names of the winning junior and intermediate team engraved on it. Each year, a theme is selected for the team naming. This year, it's countries, to coincide with the Winter Olympics. Last year, the theme was animals. Teachers will often use alliteration when selecting their names. I co-coached a ball hockey team; my name begins with an M and my colleague's name begins with a K. Our initial thought was to call our team The Monkeys. We thought it'd work with our letters and had a Davey Jones / Mickey Dolenz, fun vibe.

Thank goodness something in my brain was triggered shortly after making that decision and I asked our wonderful ball hockey coordinator to change our team name to the Mighty Kestrels. However, some of the earliest ball hockey schedules originally had the old name.

"Why did you change it?", eagle-eyed students on my team asked me.
"The name can be kind of offensive, calling someone a monkey", I tried to explain.

I didn't go into details. The students in Grades 4-6 that comprised my team just looked confused when I said that the name might be inappropriate.

Part Two: The Puppet

This is a photo from March 2017. I even wrote a blog post about this lesson. The interesting thing about this lesson was a comment that a student made a couple of weeks after we had this activity. A grade 7 student approached me and told me that I shouldn't use the monkey puppet because it was insulting to black people. (The student in question was a person of colour.) The student recommended I replace the puppet with a panda "because a panda is black, white and Asian". I apologized for my error and thanked her for being so frank and honest with me. I've not used the monkey puppet since then. (I didn't throw it out - instead, I added it to the collection of puppets I keep in my library play space.) I remember telling some of my colleagues, who were surprised with the student's reaction and some even dismissive, because I never suggested that the monkey was supposed to represent anyone. I just reiterated that I was glad the student felt comfortable and confident enough to raise the issue with me.

Part Three: The Sweatshirt

It is important to publicize and elevate other people's voices, especially those who know more than you do. TDSB educator Matthew Morris knows a lot. He is already well-known for his eloquent TED talk as well as his feature article in ETFO Voice magazine. When I saw his blog post on this issue, it nearly made me say, "Why should I write anything more about this issue? He's phrased it much more powerfully than I could!"

However, it should be that all educators that need to talk about this, bring this up in their classes, and object to this. We have to. It's not just for media educators or for teachers who "specialize" in equity (another problematic statement). I'm not the only one to suggest that issues like this must be addressed in class.

I wasn't able to initiate the discussion about the sweatshirt this week because we were talking about another news item via social media that had racial undertones and related directly to our recent unit on fame. This was particularly relevant because many of our students (who are of Asian background or heritage) told us that they watch Logan Paul videos and in one class, over half of the students saw the video that included the body of a person that took his own life. Others saw the related videos of this online celebrity treating Japanese people disrespectfully.

I'm glad that my media AQ course introduced the idea of "classroom connections" (conversations about current events and media topics) to me. After talking at length with the Grade 6-7 and 7-8 classes about the YouTube vlogger's insensitive and insulting recent series of videos (so much so that we skipped book exchange and a math lesson - we were startled by the end-of-the-day bell in one case!), one student spoke to me afterwards and said, "You know what we should talk about next? That shirt that said 'coolest monkey in the jungle'." Both of us started to talk animatedly at each other about how this was totally what we need to address.

I searched later about explanations to help people understand why this comparison is objectionable - for some reason, people can understand why not to call someone a pig easier. I found this article ( but it is a bit long. This article, from the same website ( is a bit shorter but not necessarily engaging. To make things a bit more complex, I found a comment from the boy's mother who does not agree with the complaints (see or I'm not sure what "not my way of thinking" means - I can understand why she might not object, and/but it *would* be a different scenario if she had posted a photo of her son wearing this vs a company advertising this photo right next to the blonde boy wearing the sweatshirt they chose for him to model. What I've recently discovered is the MTV Decoded clips. The one I've embedded below doesn't explain the particular example I wanted, but I like how accessible the message is to a wide audience.

So, what's the take away from all of this? 

It is important to become aware of terms that can be offensive. Even though educators may not mean names or phrases in a derogatory manner, we must remember three media concepts: that "audiences negotiate meaning in the media", "media contain ideological and value messages" and that "media have social and political implications". If someone objects, apologize, make changes, and learn more so that these mistakes, which may stem from our own unconscious biases, do not occur again. This isn't political correctness. It's human decency. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Say Cheese!

I learned quite a bit over the holidays. Some of the lessons were expected ones - such as, keeping a happy secret can be stressful but when it's successful can be delightful to those surprised. (To my sister Mary Carol, if she's reading this: your visit was probably the highlight of the season for Mom and Dad, but keeping it under wraps wasn't easy!) I also learned some things I didn't anticipate - like what it's like to play Minecraft in virtual reality (which you can read about on the GamingEdus website), or the ins and outs of cheese.

My sister is lucky I posted one of the few "normal" shots (here, with Dad)

Regular readers will recall that in early November 2017, my husband took a solo trip to Wisconsin. While he was there, he enjoyed what he told us was "the best cheese [he's] ever eaten". Ever since then, he's been on a quest to replicate that culinary experience. We went to a higher-end grocery store and found some five-year old cheddar, which was pleasant but not the same as the ten-year old delicacy he consumed while away. We started to investigate the location of cheese speciality shops in and around our neighbourhood. We found a store near my parents' house and made time to go while school was out. I didn't expect to pick up an education while picking up something edible.

We spent nearly an hour in Art of Cheese ( with Bill. There are so many things that I discovered thanks to Bill's expertise. It was quite fascinating. We learned about the difference between Reggiano Parmesano and "parmesan" cheese (including the icky fillers used in the generic powdery stuff found in most grocery store shelves), the notion of the third taste (the combination of the taste of one food combined with another to create a third, unique flavour), different milk providers for cheese (cow, goat, sheep, and water buffalo, as well as the different kinds of cows), cheese options for those who are lactose-intolerant, the "magic palate cleansing cheese",  and so much more. We restrained ourselves from going too crazy; that is, we only bought three kinds of cheese, even though we spent a pretty penny on it. The eight-year old farmers' cheese we purchased was gone by January 5 and I had to return to Art of Cheese to buy more. Unfortunately, the store is closed from January 1-19, so my plan to take photos for this blog post was thwarted (as well as my goal for more aged cheese).

So, why was learning about cheese so special? Here are three reasons I can determine (and they lend themselves well to teaching and learning in school too):

1) Bill is passionate about his subject matter and cares about the people he's interacting with.

If you look at the Yelp reviews for the business or the article from BlogTO,  you'll notice that the words "entertaining", "knowledgeable", and "passionate" come up often. If Bill only cared about cheese, he'd be a wise bore. If Bill only cared about people, he'd be an ineffective socializer. He knows his stuff and he makes the listener want to know more. That's the hallmark of a good teacher.

2) Visiting Art of Cheese is a hands-on (or is it mouth-on?) experience.

Bill gave us many samples of cheese to try out. Some cheeses were meant to illustrate a point. Some were meant to expand our horizons. Some were meant to appeal to what we said we liked. It wouldn't have been the same experience if Bill just talked about the cheeses without letting us taste them. I realize that the topic of "cheese" is less theoretical or esoteric than other subjects teachers must cover, but if these subjects can be presented with as much authentic, "try this" experiences, it'd be very engaging and educational.

3) It seemed like we had all the time in the world to explore cheese.

As I mentioned, we spent nearly an hour in the cheese store. Bill took his time to answer all of our questions, provide interesting background information, and allowed us to make our purchasing decisions without pressure. This is probably one of the hardest examples to implement in school, because there is a sense that we have to "cover" all that's required by a certain time. I know that when we return to school, my staff and I will have two weeks until Term One report cards are due. That sometimes means that we accidentally promote a sense of urgency in the classroom - we have to "get things done in time" instead of learning because it's fun or we're curious or other reasons.

I'm afraid that "a little learning can be a dangerous thing" - while at an Italian-ish restaurant the other day, I turned down the offer of sprinkled Parmesan because I was concerned that it wasn't "the real thing". Am I becoming a cheese snob? I guess that's evidence that learning has happened - it makes an impact on your day-to-day life. Thanks Bill for "ruining" us!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Farewell #OneWord2017, Welcome #OneWord2018

I participated in the One Word reflection in 2016 (continue) and in 2017 (forgive). Before I declare my 2018 word, I wanted to look at how well I met my 2017 goals. Last year, I divided it up into "forgiveness categories".

1) Forgive Connected to Faith

I actually went to confession monthly from January until August. I slipped a bit in the fall, but I made sure to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation in December, just before Christmas. I was unable to attend the Christmas Novena masses like I had hoped (and did in 2013) because I realized that I became an unbearable grump when I woke up that early and that this negative attitude was not conducive to a prayerful observation or preparation. It's not obligatory to attend the novena, so I focused on the tasks that were mandatory and did them with joy instead of resentment, which made a huge difference.

2) Forgive Connected to Health

That online nutrition and fitness support group didn't work well for me. Thanks to my friend Moyah Walker, I joined a Cross Fit Light class. It kicked my butt and I didn't see drastic results, but friends and colleagues commented on the positive changes they saw. I'm taking a bit of a break from it but I'll try and return to some sort of scheduled fitness, and I'm forgiving myself for the lapse in water consumption. Back to the reusable water bottle for me!

3) Forgive Connected to Relationships

This isn't easy and never is. I won't comment in a public forum about my private struggles with some folks but it's getting better. Awareness helps.

4) Forgive Connected to School Projects and Goals

The big tasks I attempted in 2017 went wonderfully well, so much so that some of my later projects looked dull in comparison. Not everything has to be epic. Yes, the research paper got written and submitted to an academic journal. The fashion show generated multiple presentations and a magazine mention or two. The risks were worth it and it's okay not to be "dazzling" but just "solid"

5) Forgive Connected to FNMI issues

Thank goodness for Treasure Mountain Canada, which did a great job of bringing FNMI issues to the forefront. I still need to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

So what's my focus word for 2018?

I think it will be


And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
(Luke 11:9, English Standard Version of the Bible)

But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
(U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For")

This year's word, like last year's, is meant to incorporate many different activities. The main idea is that it will be ACTIVE. I will do something to help make things happen.

Seek answers and understanding

I want to dig deeper into challenges or questions. Why isn't this student succeeding?  What's bothering this person? Why didn't that lesson go well? It's easy to dismiss issues with trite phrases like "that's just the way he/she/it is". Examining "why this?" or "why now?" may help me comprehend unseen rationales and help answer those questions. I'm hoping to accomplish that with a summer session from the MEHRIT Centre on self-regulation and continued reflection via this blog.

Seek the good in people and in situations

Although I consider myself a pretty positive person, it's hard to see the silver lining when there are hardships that directly impact you or if/when people inadvertently hurt you. Communicating frankly with my circle of family and friends that help me reframe things will help make this possible.

Seek serenity and peace

Another Bible verse I could have placed in to introduce my word could have been Isaiah 55:6 - "seek the Lord while He may be found". I'll continue to work on reminding myself about the important things, not sweating the small stuff, and keeping perspective. I'll try my best to resume a more regular schedule for the sacrament of reconciliation and make an effort to build in "quiet time" in my busy day. My planned trip to Calgary for March Break with my son is meant to be less whirlwind, more meditative and connected. We'll see how that goes.

Seek opportunities and help when needed

In 2018, I will end my twelve-year stint as the editor-in-chief of The Teaching Librarian. This is going to be a big change for me and I will need new tasks to accomplish. I have a couple of things lined up, although I can't announce some of them yet. I will continue my work with Maker Festival Toronto in July, which I will definitely need help with, as the volunteer coordinator. I'll need to seek out a fitness regime I can maintain without injuring myself.

So, there's my word and my plan to make it happen. I look forward to hearing other people's focus words. (As of December 27, based on my Twitter timeline, Carol Campbell said "courage". Karen Steffensen said "perspective". Lisa Noble said "expectation". Elizabeth Morrison said "calm". Noa Daniel said "breathe". Jilian Stambolich is "legato". Stefanie Borsch is "witness". Kristen Davison said "surrender". Melinda Phu'ong chose "recharge". Jennifer Casa-Todd chose "gratitude" and "kindness". See Julie Balen's compiled list for a comprehensive collection of words.)