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Statement on Violence in Classrooms

June 26, 2019

I have received many comments, reactions and perspectives to the CBC interview regarding violence in classrooms. As a current education leader, I believe it is my responsibility to participate in discussions such as this to share my views on the problems and also be an active part of the solution. Every opportunity for dialogue allows a variety of voices to help inform decisions and work towards deeper understanding of issues like this.

In light of the different views that people have shared with me, I felt it was important to be clear about what I was trying to say on that particular interview.

To start, I want to acknowledge that our role as leaders in education is informed by the many perspectives, experiences, identities, questions and concerns of those we serve. And, while we each possess our own perspective, worldview, identity and experience, to be effective, our leadership must be influenced and informed by others.

Because of the diverse experiences and perspectives of those we serve, it is sometimes challenging to find consensus or resolve complex issues because common ground is hard to find. In this instances, our jobs as leaders is to strive for resolution but also to recognize that it may not always be possible. This does not mean avoiding decisions but understanding that not everyone will be satisfied with the outcome.

Communicating about complex matters is always challenging and when people feel strongly about a certain perspective they may hear only that aspect of an interview or speech that confirms and contradicts this perspective. Dialogue is a way we can work towards deeper understanding and is my preference over an interview or speech.

Violence in schools is a serious and complex matter. The time limit and focus of the CBC interview didn’t allow me to explain myself as clearly as I wanted, so to be clear, my perspective on violence in the classroom is:

  • No one should experience violence in school or anywhere for that matter.
  • All members of the school community – especially students – are significant and must be safe.
  • Educators must be provided the appropriate supports and conditions to serve students well.
  • I do not believe that educators are the cause of violence in the classroom.
  • I do believe that all students deserve to be educated in a learning environment that is safe and acknowledge that sometimes this is not the case.

When thinking about the student who may have behaviour issues that lead to violence, my expectation is that we are providing the appropriate program. We consider whether we are using effective intervention strategies and providing necessary human resources to support them. However, if violence does occur and we learn that the program and/or intervention strategies may need to change, then it is imperative that educators are supported to make these changes happen.
 
It is impossible to predict how some students will react. Some students do not give us cues that they may be preparing to lash out at the teacher or an educational assistant. Through this interview and subsequent dialogue, I heard from some staff who have been hurt by students who have this profile and they felt that there was nothing they could do to de-escalate the situation. I understand this perspective and I am grateful that I was challenged to consider this perspective as well. Though the number of students in the TDSB who have this profile is very small, it can be very problematic and hurtful for those who are serving these students.
 
If there is a violent incident in the classroom, every effort must be made to respond to this incident in a way that lessens the harm other students in the classroom may be experiencing. This can be challenging as we try to respond to the needs of the child whose behaviour may be violent while supporting the entire class. I do understand this perspective and I am not minimizing the severity of this situation for children and their families who may be frightened by or concerned about a student who can become violent in the classroom.
When thinking about the parent of the child who may be causing violence and the perspectives of all other parents of students in the classroom, we need to develop rich partnerships with them so that we can work through challenging issues. 
 
Of course, we can always use more human resources to serve students whose behaviour can be violent. In light of the fiscal times we are in though, additional funding is unlikely. We must consider how we use the human resources we do have to support students and mitigate violence in the classroom. An important piece of this is system support for educators who experience violence. To that end, we will provide professional learning opportunities for educators that are specific to the particular student they are serving. Additionally, we need to do a better job when violence is reported. While we are legally required to investigate every situation where violence causes an employee to be off work, we are committed to improving the process. 

A number of other commitments include:

  • Reviewing how Individual Education Plans are created and implemented.
  • Examining how we are delivering special education services to our students so that more students may be served in their community school while still providing some programs and schools for students with special needs outside of the community school.
  • Training more of our staff in the use of effective intervention strategies.
  • Analyzing how we are using the human resources we have and we are listening closely to student voice, both the student who has the behaviour challenges as well as others who may observe and or experience these challenges.
  • Implementing out revised Refusal to Admit Procedure as part of our Caring and Safe Policy.
  • Continuing to engage all parents and work closely with union groups.

In closing, I want to reiterate that violence in the classroom is a serious issue. It is however, important to put it in context that the percentage of students who are violent when the appropriate program, intervention strategies and human resources are in place is a small percentage of our 245,000 students. Violence in the classroom does not happen in all schools, or all classrooms. But I acknowledge that when violence is happening in a classroom, it does not matter that this is a small percentage of students across the Board.
 
Our work focuses on creating the most inclusive environment possible for all of our students including those who have behaviour challenges. I have heard from a wide variety of people, including parents whose child may be frightened in the classroom; educators who have been harmed or fear harm; and students and their parents whose behaviour is challenging, among others. My commitment is to continue to listen and make decisions with all perspectives in mind, providing safe learning and working environments for staff and students. 
For those who felt I am ignoring the problem or blaming educators, I apologize because that was not my intent.
 
For those who are grateful because they have lost hope that our school system could ever include their child, we will continue to improve.
 
For those who are demanding more human resources, TDSB has continuously exceeded the funding that we receive for students with special needs but unfortunately, our financial situation is challenging.
 
I trust that these reflections clarify what I believe about this important issue, something that may not have been clear in the context of the CBC interview.
 
Sincerely,
 
Dr. John Malloy, Ed.D.
Director of Education
Toronto District School Board
 

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