My Collaborative Inquiry Journey to Date Explained Through Drake

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Today, my colleagues and I focused on the how-to’s of facilitating collaborative inquiry (CI) with an equity focus. In terms of my understanding of CI, I definitely felt that I started from the bottom of the group – I knew I should’ve read more this summer sixteen – but I still felt comfortable enough to share my views and contributed to the group learning. It was a tough day, not gonna lie. It wasn’t the best I ever had because I felt that I wasn’t totally getting some of the nitty-gritty details being presented about CI. Nonetheless, the over-arching message I got from today was that to effectively take care of a student learning need, the challenge of practice and problem statement need to be laser-focused, and that comes with effective questioning, data interpretation, and facilitation.

Even with great facilitation, I anticipate that school improvement through collaborative inquiry will be a hard sell in schools that think they’re too good for a coach and have little room for improvement. I get it – no one wants to do more work (work work work work) than they have to. However, rich data sets can unearth underlying student issues that can give teachers pause and say “hold, on, we’re going home to inquire about this further.” For instance, using student census data, I learned today that East Asian students are generally higher achievers in the TDSB, but report higher rates of stress and anxiety and lower rates of physical activity. Therefore, if an academically successful school with a large East Asian population needs a focus for improvement, perhaps a well-being focus would be appropriate (if the local data supports that as well).

Finally, I don’t anticipate that I’ll be the most popular guy when I come in to schools to support improvement, and I’m coming to terms with that. A principal shared today that no one really wants to get feedback, but we should all work on receiving it. In reality, all I want is to help improve student learning. Lord knows that I won’t make international headlines for saving, say, Mr. Marvins Room of students with the worst behaviour he’s ever seen. It’ll be my job to show him no student is so far gone that they can’t controlla themselves with a little bit of support with self-regulation. Hopefully, he’d at least thank me later.

Ok. I’m done.

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The Faces of…

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On my way home from even more heavy discussions at work around equity in schools, I came by this mural at the corner of Dundas St. West and Cordova Ave. It’s called The Faces of Islington, painted by John Kuna in 2013. It portrays changing demographics in the style of a huge class photo. Beside it is a plaque explaining that the mural “celebrates the ethnic and cultural character of Islington as it has changed over the last century.” It’s interesting that I run into an art piece celebrating ethnocultural differences after discussing how, as a school system, there are different outcomes for students based on their ethnocultural background. I saw some pretty rough data from the TDSB about high suspension rates, lower academic achievement, and higher rates of special education designations for racialized students, particularly students that identify as Black, Latin American or Indigenous. Luckily, those heavy conversations focus around what we can do about all that. I don’t pretend that the equity work that I’ll be doing will be easy – I expect it to be messy and painful – but I know the work is worthwhile and necessary. My hope is that mural on Cordova will one day reflect a true celebration and respect of different cultures – that is, when children’s cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds don’t become barriers to success. Now that would make a nice picture.

I Got Schooled on my Unconscious Biases

yassminToday I got to watch a great TED Talk by Yassmin Abdel-Magied that challenged my own unconscious biases and how they affect my perceptions of people around me. I have to fully admit that I was guilty of a lot of the biases that Yassmin uncovers in her talk, which caused me to feel both really dumb but also relieved.

As someone that identifies as being progressive and equity-focused and has intensely studied anti-oppression education not even six months ago, I thought that I was “enlightened” and conscious of all my biases – clearly I was wrong – dead wrong. I assumed a surgeon was automatically male. I was shocked that Yassmin was part Danica Patrick, part Floyd Mayweather, and part Mark Wahlberg in Deepwater Horizon rolled into one kick-ass Muslim woman. However, I felt relieved that this unconscious bias was uncovered in a safe space with many amazing colleagues rather than somewhere else with less understanding folks, and as a result, I was able to use this moment as a learning opportunity. As a coach, I’ll be tasked with uncovering the biases that exist within teachers I’ll be working with. This work is going to be crucial in order to move forward with promoting equitable learning environments for students. I only hope that I’ll be able to develop a safe space such that the unpacking of biases leads not to feelings of shame or teachers becoming defensive, but to understanding how bias negatively affects student outcomes and begin a conversation to move beyond that.

What can educators control or influence in classrooms?

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I’m beginning my new role as a learning coach in the Toronto District School Board, and my goals for the year include being a more reflective practitioner and to model transparency. I’ll be blogging to share my journey through this new role (one in which I am both extremely excited and terrified) so that others may get a glimpse into the life, struggles and (hopefully) triumphs of a TDSB learning coach and offer any thoughts on what I write about. More importantly for me, I’ll be using it as a tool to help gather my thoughts and consolidate my learning for my own sake. Basically, I need to write to think about stuff, and you’re welcome to come for the ride…

What factors impact student success, and which of those factors do educators have influence or control over? That was one of the activities that learning coaches in the TDSB engaged in during two days of professional learning. Individually, we listed as many factors that we can think of on post-its. Afterwards, we placed each of them in one of three rectangles on chart paper: no control, influence, or control. Small-group discussion followed regarding their placements.

Most of the factors that my group identified were placed in the “influence” rectangle, with a few in the “control” and “no control” areas. Initially, I thought that “teacher expertise” was a factor that I as a learning coach will be able to control, seeing as I will be working directly with teachers to improve their practice. However, one of my colleagues, Jim, shared that he feels that as a coach, he can only influence what teachers do and he would never want to control how a teacher performs. Jim shared that as a teacher, he would never want anyone to control what he did in the classroom. I agreed. As coaches, my goal should be to guide teachers and promote good practices, and never pressure anyone, implicitly nor explicitly, into doing things a certain way.

Finally, there are some factors that affect student achievement that are not controlled by educators, such as a student’s socioeconomic status (SES). However, such factors and their negative effects on achievement can be mitigated by schools. For example, students in low-SES environments may not achieve due to a lack of food or transportation to school. In response, schools can provide nutritional support (such as free lunches or snacks) or busing services to mitigate those factors. Barriers to student achievement may seem uncontrollable, but with a bit of thought and ingenuity, they can be removed. That’s just one way equity work is crucial in improving student achievement.

Altogether, this activity was a great reminder for me that educators can influence pretty much anything that factors into student achievement, and that I play a role in that as a learning coach. As such, my professional learning will continue to centre around the skills and mindsets I need to help influence teachers to improve their practices for the benefit of students.