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Showing posts from 2015

Progress for Stolen Sisters

Today was an historic day in Canada. After decades of neglect, the Canadian Government is finally launching an inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The announcement was not only historic in itself but also in the fact that the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs made reference to the issues of colonialism, racism and sexism that are interconnected within this issue. Establishing an inquiry is not the end of the issue but really only the start of the next stage of what we must do to bring justice to the missing and murdered.

Over the last 30 plus years over 1200 Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered with many not having any closure to their case. That means that the families who lose loved ones have had years and even decades without knowing what happened to their family member. For years, Indigenous activists have been bringing this issue to the forefront of Canadian consciousness and thanks to their hard work we now have an inquiry th…

Teaching in Troubled Times

Like many of you, I've spent the better portion of this weekend following the news on the attacks in Paris. I've read article after article that provides any semblance of analysis as to the how and why attacks like these happen. I've also ensured to broaden my view to understand that the attacks that happened in Paris on Friday evening have taken place in other parts of the world with little to no media coverage. As I sift through this information and reflect on the state of our world I can't help to think about my students and what, as their social studies teacher, will I say to them tomorrow.

I can barely make sense of the state of our world myself, yet I know that it is my job to help the students I teach make sense of not only what happened in Paris, but to let them know that the innocent people of Paris are not the only civilians who face this type of violence on an all to frequent basis. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I've had to have this conversa…

How Could We Let This Happen

As a social studies teacher here in Alberta, I have the opportunity to revisit Canada's past every semester that I teach. I studied Canadian and American history when I was in university and loved that each time I looked in the past I could find new narratives and perspectives that I hadn't considered before.

Unfortunately, what compelled me to find these new narratives was uncovering parts of Canada's past that I was never taught in my high school history classes. As I learned about residential schools, the Indian Act, the Chinese "Head Tax" and treatment of Japanese Canadians, among other events, I came to the realization that the picture of Canada as a tolerant and multicultural nation didn't fit with the facts of history. Rather, it is through the study of these events that it became clear to me that Canada is a country founded upon the attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples, exploiting immigrant labour and the creation of governments and institutions t…

Embracing Negative Moments

It has been an overwhelming start to the school year. On top of the whirlwind that is the month of September for teachers, our schools Instagram account that I created over the summer has received a lot of local media attention. It's been an interesting experience getting our students stories out into the public and we've really appreciated all the love and support from the community.

The increased media attention has led me to have some really interesting conversations with teachers and other members of our community that I feel I need to clear up. Although the point of our Instagram account is to highlight the positive moments that students create within the school, it doesn't mean that some of the negative issues that our students deal with are dissipating. Many of our students deal with the impacts of poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression. These issues can sometimes permeate our school when students are struggling with addictions and violence and bring those i…

One Positive Moment

At the heart of our jobs as teachers is our relationship with students. I would argue that fostering a positive relationship and building connections with students is the most important part of our job. If we don't have those relationships and connections then the whole teaching and learning part of our job becomes much harder.

As a teacher who works with youth who have had many negative experiences in their lives and in traditional schools, I work really hard to establish solid relationships with my students. As most teachers know, building these relationships can take time and patience but are so worth it once they're established. And when you build a relationship with a student you soon learn about their lives, their hopes and dreams, and anything else that impacts them.

Many of my students have either faced or are facing a number of barriers in their lives. Everything from poverty, racism, addictions and homelessness can impact their ability to come to school as well as th…

Teaching the Election

In the world of education, it is often thought that when teachers take on political and other controversial issues that we  portray a front of objectivity and neutrality to our students. We often celebrate the teachers whose politics are hidden from the classroom so they are able to just give their students the "facts" about their subject and refrain from pushing students to any one political side. At best, this is naive thinking of what is really happening in our classrooms.

Teachers are political and it is often impossible to keep our values and politics out of the classroom, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that we're being "objective and neutral". Human beings are not robots without feelings, emotions, bias, faults and political why do we expect teachers to exhibit this behaviour? In fact, I would argue we do more harm as teachers when we don't share with our students the things that we are most passionate about in our wo…

We're Afraid of Youth

The world we live in isn't that kind to youth. If we really think about it, we have a society that is afraid of youth and so we feel the need to control and police their lives and spaces in many ways.

For example, we don't let youth gather in large groups without calling it loitering. We have limited spaces that youth can congregate without being hassled by an adult or authorities. In Edmonton, youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds as well as Indigenous youth often have to deal with increased contact with law enforcement and other authorities. Our cities become less and less welcoming to our youth when we police their spaces to keep them from gathering with each other.

We have to ask ourselves why is it this way. Why has a culture of fear developed when we interact with youth. What is it about them that we don't trust? Do we just feel that youth cannot be trusted and are more likely to engage in behaviours and activities that we find inappropriate or socially unaccep…

The Inner City Has Changed Me

I am not the same person I was four years ago before working with youth in Edmonton's inner city. I'm happy to say that I've been changed for the better. When I walked through the doors of my classroom four years ago I was both excited and nervous. Most of the youth at my school are Indigenous and I was hoping they'd be cool with a hyper and nerdy teacher who liked to sit in circles and talk about social issues. I felt I had a lot of proving to do when I first started and I must of done something right as within a few weeks I had a number of students tell me they talked to the principal to let him know that I was "cool" and that he should keep me around.

It is little instances such as this that keep me motivated to become the best teacher I can be. But more so, it is instances like this that keep my heart and solidarity with the students that I teach. Over the last four years I have been inspired at the daily resistance and motivation of students to succeed d…


After six years of teaching and over ten of working with youth I've really come to realize that my favourite students to teach are the troublemakers. You know the type, they won't sit down in class, they talk back to you, they purposefully try to make you angry and just generally disrupt the entire class. I just love this student, and any student that resists schooling and teachers from the moment they walk into a classroom. Their presence in my classroom gives me a rush of excitement because I know that I have a student who will not only be a great challenge to engage in the learning process, but I have a student who has entered the classroom who already knows how to think, act and stand up for themselves. Not all students can say that. 
I've worked with all types of youth. I've worked with youth in affluent suburbs in southwestern Ontario, I've worked with working class kids in the maritimes and I'm currently working with mostly Indigenous at-promise youth in…

Creating Safe Schools

The issues of our world impact schools and classrooms all over the world. Teachers and students are constantly navigating the issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and colonialism within the classroom each day regardless of whether they recognize it or not. Classrooms can be places where students learn about oppression and privilege or we can pretend that they are "neutral" and "objective" places where those issues don't exist. When schools either ignore or are ignorant to the issues that impact the lives of students and the world we live in, we do our communities and students are great disservice. One of our main functions as teachers is to ensure that all students feel safe, cared for and respected within the schools they attend. Therefore, I've put together five suggestions for teachers to work towards creating a safe and caring environment for their students.

1. Understand that your students (including yourself) play duel roles within society in eith…

Alberta Education, Elections and Activists

It's been a little while since I've had the opportunity to sit down and write a blog. Sometimes life has a way of taking you out of your normal routine to deal with more pressing issues. However, now that I have the opportunity to once again bring more of my attention to the world of Alberta Education, I'd like to get back to writing about social justice education in Alberta.

I can't lie, I did not expect the NDP party to win their historic election earlier this month. I've spent much of the last few years directing my blogging and activism against the PC government as they had a strong inability to understand the importance of social justice education or even why sustainable funding would help Alberta's students.

But now with the new NDP government and expectations at an all time high for them to follow through on their campaign promises and the hope that they can usher in a new era of progressive politics in Alberta, I'm cautiously optimistic about where …

An Inspiring Alberta Education

Since its inception a few years back, many teachers, students and parents are curiously awaiting the roll out of Alberta Education's "Inspiring Education". On its website, the architects of "Inspiring Education" suggest that they're "changing everything" about how we teach and learn within our schools. As an educator who is anxiously awaiting and pushing for progressive change within our education system, I'm eagerly awaiting what the results of this process will be. However, as we know, the "Inspiring Education" process has not been without its controversies with corporations being included on the curriculum re-write process being at the top of the list.

If Alberta Education is to truly have an "Inspiring Education" that will transform our schools and classrooms into places of authentic learning, citizenship and critical discourse we will have to change much more than the curriculum. An "inspiring education" is i…

Alberta Education and Community Engagement

Public education in Alberta does not work for ALL students.

There are many students, both current and former, who know how to play the "game" of school. If you do what your told, respect your teachers, put your hand up to speak and excel in the mindless memorization/regurgitation of test taking that happens in many classrooms then chances are you will most likely breeze through the academic side of public schools. 
But what about those students who question the motives behind a teachers lesson plan? What happens to students who have extreme test anxiety or difficulty memorizing facts? Unfortunately, for many of these students, they often find themselves in trouble very early on in their public school careers facing a multitude of detentions, suspensions or even eventually getting expelled or drop out. And for students who don't question the motives of their teachers and schools, is the type of education that they're receiving setting them up to be the type of citizen…

Becoming a Social Justice Teacher

I've been writing this blog for just over a year and a half now and am rather humbled that it gets a decent number of hits (any thing over 10 hits is decent right?). Though recently, in a conversation with some folks in my local community who have read my blog, it has got me wondering if I'm really giving a clear perspective of who I am as a teacher and what it is that I'm trying to achieve within my profession and in my classroom.

Often times, we want to tell people about our triumphs and successes. It's really easy and fun to write a blog about a lesson plan that really engaged students or about the process of achieving a professional goal within the profession. However, we need to remember that as important as it is to share our successes with our colleagues, we also need to be vocal about those times when our lesson plans didn't work, when our "classroom management" was a complete failure, and when we felt like giving up.

In my short 6 years of teachi…

Hip Hop and Social Justice in the Classroom

It doesn't matter how important the information you want your students to learn is if it's not taught in an engaging and informative way that gives students ownership over their learning. When I was first starting out as a teacher I made a point to teach students about all the social justice issues that I never had the chance to learn about when I was in high school. However, due to my naivety, students did not take to learning about social justice with the excitement I had imagined when we read articles and watched important documentaries. As important as those topics were, my students were still being lulled to sleep by a disengaging pedagogy that I was implementing. I needed to go back to the drawing board.

One day, as I sat at my desk trying to figure out how to engage students in learning about social justice I took a walk through the cafeteria at my school. As I walked through, I noticed that the majority of my students were completely immersed in hip hop culture. Everyt…

Social Studies and Storytelling

I like to think that each discipline that is taught within classrooms around the world have their own unique methods and flavour that can draw students into their beauty. For me, I fell in love with social studies many years ago. I have always been fascinated with how human beings interact with each other and how we organize ourselves into societies. As a youngster, I loved learning about the local history where I was from. I wanted to know who came before me and how did their decisions impact the world I live in now. As I grew older I became more fascinated in human behaviour and how we interact in various systems that perpetuate the oppression of some human beings and privilege for others.

As a social studies teacher, I want to share my love of history, political science, economics, sociology, anthropology, geography and many more disciplines with my students. But most of all, I think social studies is best taught when you can teach it from a storytelling perspective. When you can l…