Day 1 – Trauma, Mental Health, & our Students

This week a friend of mine challenged me to do 25 pushups for 25 days as a way of raising awareness for mental wellness issues that can lead to suicide and it goes by the tag #matesofmatesformates.

Yesterday was Day 1 and I questionned – what can we do beyond the challenge? How does doing 25 pushups for 25 days actually help anything?

What I will do is find out more about mental health. It is one of those things that we (at least I) think I know about. That kind of thinking means I need to learn more.

And I’ll share what I find out.

Yesterday evening I saw a TEDx talk by Phillip J. Roundtree where he talks specifically about Black mental health. I need to listen to what he says more.

In the video, he talked of trauma and how it affects black people, how it affected him.

Some questions to ask ourselves:

As teachers, how often have we described a black student as rude or that they don’t care about their education based on specific behaviours before stopping to think about the effects of trauma on that child? I have always believed that there is a reason for every behaviour. Sometimes those reasons lay deep.

How often have we done this with an Indegenous student?

When we take a look at our resource and behavioural programs – have we stopped to think how these knee-jerk responses are built right into our school system?

How are we going to change this?

Checking ourselves. When good teachers are racist.

Close to 15 years ago, I became friends with a teacher in South Burlington, Vermont. She was a master at differentiation and I met her first through a webinar and then in person. She graciously allowed me to bring a group of teachers from Montreal to spend the day in her classroom. It was a great day that I still use as a spring board when talking about classroom visits as professional development. We have kept in touch ever since and I considered her as a sister-teacher.

But earlier this week, she broke ties with me on Facebook, which is how we have been keeping in touch for the past almost decade. She posted a meme equating rap music with hate and violence. I questioned it and was first made fun of for questioning it and then told she wouldn’t be answering any more questions about it. And then, rather than talking about it, she unfriended me.

I hope I hit a nerve.

But this situation hasn’t been sitting well with me. This is a teacher I admired because of her openness and care for the children she teaches and her colleagues.

How many of us seem to be wonderful teachers yet hold racist beliefs?

How many children are silently (and not so silently) determined to be a certain way because of wonderful teachers who hold these beliefs?

(Imagine the numbers, over an average 25 – 30 year career teaching groups of 25-30 kids a year. Or 2 groups, or 4)

We need to check ourselves every day. As teachers, we model belief and values through our behaviour whether we want to or not. And I think we need to check ourselves more than others because we have littles (and bigs) in front of us who just soak that up as truth.

How do we check ourselves?

Environment: We can start by checking what we have in our class libraries and on our walls. Who is represented in our rooms?

Culture: We can start by making sure racist tropes don’t end up in our yearbooks.

Self: We can start by asking ourselves these questions every single day after (or during) our work with our kids: Who am I paying more attention to in my groups? Am I seeing everyone in my classroom (or online) with potential and what am I doing to make sure I do?

And that is just where we start.

When we talk, when we listen. We get better together. (epilogue)

A story in 3 parts – epilogue

I already posted an article¬†earlier today called English Sector Exclusion: A story in 3 parts and I don’t usually post twice in one day but today, I need to.

The survey that excluded anglophone school boards (and therefore the voices of teachers who work within these boards)? It now includes the English School Boards! The survey is still uniquely in French but at least now, our voices can be included in the conversation about teacher experience during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Below is a link to the survey- please share it with all of the teachers you know and if you or anyone you know would like some help with translation, please contact me and I will be happy to help out!

—>¬†Survey on teacher experience during the Covid-19 pandemic¬†(en fran√ßais)

Catherine Beaudry and I spent much of our morning writing back and forth to each other. I spoke of the same sentiments I expressed in my previous post and she spoke of roadblocks related to translation and validation (this is a huge roadblock in all aspects of Quebec Education and is the number one reason given for a scarcity of English versions of documents.¬†Three or four years ago, I worked on a project with some teachers for the ministry. We are still awaiting approval to publish based on linguistic revision…there is a backlog.) and she also spoke of the lengthy process for Ethics Committee approvals (In a University setting, whenever you do research with people, your research methods must be approved by an Ethics Committee and that could take months. Here is the UQAR ethics approval process.)

She also spoke very frankly of not being familiar with the English community and that she thought a survey had to be in English in order for us to be included. She wondered if people would be willing to answer it if it were in French.

My response was that ideally, it should be in English. But that including teachers from the English School Boards in the conversation is an important step.

I know that many people will feel put out that it is not available in English but I think that being included in this study is important enough to answer some questions in French.

Professor Beaudry also mentioned that when she relaunches the survey, she will make sure to emphasize that the English community is invited to participate.

Now, I think that ideally an English version of a survey (or of Ministerial evaluations or programs of study) would be available along with its French counterpart. We should be developing together, in true inclusion, and not after the fact, in annexation.

In order for us to move towards that ideal, we need to keep talking and listening to each other. If I had said to my circle of friends and colleagues – “Typical! The English community is once again left out!”¬†and not asked why, I would have held on to my resentments and we would still be excluded from the study. If Professor Beaudry had said, “Too bad!¬†It is already published!” instead of taking the time to validate what I told her and then explain her reasoning, then I would never have learned that we were excluded because she thought we wouldn’t want to be included based on the language of the survey. And we would still be excluded.

So once again, Yes. We should be included from the get-go, in our language. And also yes, we can still be included, even if it means (this time) we read a survey in French.

My hope is that Province-wide surveys and resources in education are one day truly Province-wide and respond to the needs of both the English and French sectors AT THE SAME TIME.

I think that conversations like the one Catherine Beaudry and I had this morning are a start.

Bonne St Jean.

English Sector Exclusion: A story in 3 parts.

Part 3

Yesterday afternoon I was forwarded this questionnaire by a colleague in another province.

picture of woman in doorway of classroom with headline: Le v√©cu des enseignantes et des enseignants pendant la pand√©mie de la COVID-19 au cŇďur d‚Äôune recherche

English translation of headline: Teachers’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic at the heart of research

I was attracted by the headline because I thought it was important to gather this kind of data. But when I went to fill out the questionnaire, I realized that, though I teach in the public system in Quebec, my experience didn’t matter.

The questionnaire was developed by Catherine Beaudry, a researcher from UQAR who is doing a province-wide poll of teachers to find out the impacts of the coronavirus and subsequent government management of it on their practice. But the province-wide poll is limited to teachers in the French sector (Quebec’s public education system is divided along linguistic lines – French and English). So I wrote to¬†her¬†and asked why. I also asked if she was worried about painting an incomplete picture by excluding the anglo system. Her response? They wanted to do this quickly and did not have time to translate the questionnaire into English. But a part 2 will likely happen and we may be included then. (So, it was easier¬†to¬†just exclude¬†the whole community rather than allow the majority of us who can fill out a French questionnaire participate. Or to ask someone in the English community to help out and provide an unofficial translation until an official one could be validated by the University…)

Part 2

In 2017, I went to a presentation by the Universit√© T√ČLUQ Canada Research Chair in Media Literacy and Human Rights, Normand Landry. He presented a meta-analysis he conducted on media education across every single program of study in the Quebec youth sector. His conclusion was that there was little to no mention of media education within the Quebec education system. My colleagues and I were a little confused¬†because the English Language Arts program is based on media¬†literacy. So we asked Normand Landry about it. He answered that he did not include the English programs in his meta-analysis because he assumed they were translations of the French language programs. (And no one on his team questioned the absence of the English system programs.) (So, essentially his results were flawed.)

Part 1

In the Spring of 2017,¬†I was working as an education consultant with the RECIT for Adult Education and learned that¬†a group in my office¬†was going to launch a redesigned website for¬†the Adult Education community at the beginning of the next school year.¬†But only the French site. The English version¬†would follow at a later date. I expressed my concerns and the initial response was a frustration¬†about¬†the English community – that even when we are included, we aren’t happy. That even when we are included, we often decide to create our own resources¬†anyways. But my boss was a good one. He has strong beliefs about education and is open to listening to other¬†beliefs. And is open to change when change is needed. We had a series of conversations that came down to this: when communities are excluded in order to push up an agenda,¬†you are saying that those communities do not matter in the grand scheme of things. When we are added on after the fact, we still realize that we weren’t important enough to include from the beginning. When we don’t see ourselves represented in major research studies¬†or on educational¬†councils or in educational resources, we get the message that we are not¬†part of the community. And that is why we forge on and create our own resources.

As a result of our conversation, the site was launched in both languages at the same time. And both versions had their own official launch events within each community. There was a sense of equity across the two sectors.

The English and French systems are two parts of a whole. When we speak with each other, we can create a community based in equity that responds to all of our needs.

Essentially, we are not something to be added on once everything has been decided upon and developed. That is not inclusion, that is annexation. And that is how people in the English education community feel each time resources Рfrom Ministerial course evaluations to teaching or professional development materials Рare created months to years after the French ones are made available.

And each time we are excluded from research studies about education experiences in Quebec.

(And this is just along linguistic lines…)

How you Zooming?

When we were told to keep in contact with our students, it didn’t have to all be via Zoom.

I was reading through the comments on a Facebook post just now about fighting with children to do their homework and to get on their Zoom meetings. When I saw this comment (I¬†hid the commenter’s picture and name):

 I just don’t understand how we are supposed to work full time and do this!!! The school work is a full time job! Tomorrow my daughter has 3 zoom calls in one day. YES 3 calls. And she has minimum 1 or 2 per day and 3 on Thursdays now ??

I blame this on M. Roberge’s blatant distrust of teachers when he wrote in a letter on May 20:

Continuation of distance learning The school year is not yet over, and must continue at a distance for all preschool, elementary and secondary school students in the CMM. To that end, I would like to remind school staff that full-time work is expected until the end of the school year. While the terms and conditions under which this work is performed may vary according to the needs of each school, the following guidelines must be observed: - The aim is for students to maintain their acquired learning and to continue their essential learning. - A weekly work plan provided by the teachers allows students to create a work schedule and structure their learning. - Increased availability enables the teaching staff to answer questions from both students and parents. - At the elementary level, a member of the school team will contact the student directly at least three times per week (by telephone or video conference). Contact should be more frequent with more vulnerable students. - At the secondary level, a teacher aid will be assigned to each student, while a resource person will be assigned to students with an individualized education plan. These staff members should contact the student at least once per week (by telephone or video conference), in addition to the group meetings held remotely. - Increased availability enables non-teaching education professionals to support vulnerable students and hold individual virtual meetings with students. It bears repeating that these guidelines must be followed. Now that the school staff in the CMM are able to devote all their energy to the continuation of distance learning, all students must be able to receive high-quality pedagogical support from this week forward until the end of the school year. I also want to remind you that the same conditions apply to students outside the CMM who continue their learning from home.

Nowhere in that letter did it say that we must teach via video conference all day all the time but we were reminded. And it bore repeating. That the school year wasn’t over. (Because, I guess, without that reminder we’d all be playing hooky and leaving our students and our professionalism to blow in the wind…)

So, the easiest way to prove you are doing something is to go live with it. And so we can thank our minister for the¬†growing¬†practice of the multiple daily¬†Zooms for our students (which goes against research about focus and learning). Because, also, we weren’t given time to learn about teaching & learning from a distance. To figure out that a 6 hour school day does not translate into 6 hours of zoom / homework. To figure out how to transition ourselves and our students into this new way of teaching & learning.

Here are some what ifs that I have been thinking about that may help to ease this transition.

What if…

… we used¬†video conference for connection¬†instead of prioritizing¬†delivery of content?

(because what our kids really need right now is a sense of connection with their peers and teachers)

What could connection look like?

… we video conferenced in small groups?

(because not all of our students need the same things at the same times. And our students who we think require more assistance may actually only need different assistance.)

What could small group video conferences look like?

Those are a couple of the what ifs I have been thinking about as we get going with distance learning in our classrooms in Quebec. We have an opportunity for greater connection, greater learning while being forced to think differently about it. These are things I will be bringing with me into the coming school year, though no one really knows what it will look like yet!