Some Calls to Action from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission as Relevant to Education Workers
As we continue grappling with news from the Kamloops Residential School, it’s imperative for Canadians to read and respond to calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015) and calls to justice from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry (2019). We have highlighted some calls as they apply to education workers in particular. For more information, visit the Urban Indigenous Education Centre, which plays a primary role in supporting Indigenous education in the TDSB.
ANTI-RACISM DIRECTORATE PARTNERSHIP: Black Student Success and Excellence Initiative and the Pre-Kindergarten Summer Learning Program
The TDSB partnership with the Anti-Racism Directorate focuses on ensuring Black students obtain successful learning experiences in schools. The partnership focuses on two specific related but distinct initiatives in TDSB:
- The Black Student Success and Excellence (BSSE) Initiative: This initiative engaged educators and school leaders around issues of anti-Black racism in schools by creating opportunities through which educators and students might build their critical consciousness in relation to race and learning in schools and classrooms.
- The Pre-Kindergarten Summer Learning Program: A pre-kindergarten summer program that used The Nguzo Saba Africentric principles (Karenga in Oliver, 1989) and Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy (CRRP) (Ladson-Billings, 1995) to focus on four core areas of academic capacity in schools: 1) Belonging and Contributing, 2) Self-Regulation and Well-Being, 3) Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours, and 4) Problem Solving and Innovating.
This mid-year report provides an overview of the actions taken within the initiatives in core areas. Reported outcomes include:
- A podcast series, launched February 2021, comprising a collection of audio episodes on topics related to Equity, Anti-Racism, and Anti-Oppression in education. Episodes are open to the public and push educators to critically reflect on their pedagogy, as well as reimagine meaningful ways to deepen student engagement and community partnerships.
- Implementation of the Debt in Adolescent Literacy (DIAL) Program, which focuses on collaborative inquiries at the school level anchored in culture-centred literacy theorists, such as Dr Alfred Tatum and Dr. Gholdy Muhammad. The goals of the program are to use a culturally relevant and responsive approach to literacy teaching that nurtures and affirms students’ racial, cultural, and reader identities in multiple content areas; supporting the reader in building a positive reading identity through explicit strategy and skill development that is contextualized and encouraging students and educators to take a critical stance, to respond or to take action as they engage in the critical analysis and evaluation of text as it relates to issues of equity, power, and social justice.
- Initiatives have been underway to support numeracy development and academic success in mathematics for Black students in the TDSB. Schools have undertaken collaborative inquiries to infuse social justice issues into elementary and secondary mathematics programs. Disrupting academic streaming in secondary mathematics is also well underway in the TDSB. More Black students in schools that have historically been skewed to high Applied math enrollment are now accessing Academic programming with greater prospects for long-term success and post-secondary entrance. Finally, there has been an emphasis on professional learning focused on differentiated instruction, universal design for learning, and culturally responsive pedagogy in mathematics across all secondary school mathematics lead teachers to built system capacity in these areas so that math teaching and programming honours and leverages the lived experience of Black students and is more inclusive for all.
- As part of the ongoing professional learning within the BSSE, a three-part series focusing on building the critical consciousness of administrators to address, and interrupt and disrupt issues of anti-Black racism at their schools and site of practice is being offered within the system. The series, originally intended for BSSE administrators, was open to the entire system. There are close to 300 administrators engaging in this experience.
- Dr. Carl James, York University’s Jean Augustine Chair, has been engaging in parent engagement workshops across the BSSE schools. To-date, Dr. James’ sessions have reached families and caregivers across all four Learning Centres within the TDSB.
- The 2021 Pre-Kindergarten program has been expanded this summer to include 13 school locations and four remote learning sites.
- Twenty students participated every Saturday in Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), in collaboration with Toronto universities, to further the development of Black student focused leadership programs.
- The TDSB has hired a Research Coordinator who is leading: upcoming Black focussed conversations tied to unpacking the mandates of The Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement, co-development of the Black Students’ Summer Leadership Program – supporting student researchers, and monitoring and tracking of the initiatives tied to BSSE research and addressing anti-Black racism.
Working Towards Anti-Oppressive Schools – Lessons from WE Charity: A Critical Review
In August 2020, TDSB’s Board of Trustees proposed to suspend its current agreements with WE Charity/ME to WE and any other related organizations in light of increasing media scrutiny on the organization (TDSB, 2020b). Further research about the impact of WE on students and schools suggests alongside media scrutiny due in part to the federal funding scandal (CBC, 2020) and other concerns regarding the organization’s practices both locally and globally (Brown, 2020; Lilley, 2020), WE’s practices are also problematic because it “draws upon humanitarian discourse to posit post-racial compassion while nonetheless reinforcing white supremacy” (Jefferess, 2021, p. 2), white saviourism (Jefferess, 2012, Klaassen, 2020; Paradkar, 2020), and the notion that issues of global injustice are a result of individual dispositions rather than wider systems or structures of oppression (Jefferess, 2021). Even though the TDSB will be suspending its agreements with WE, to prevent collaboration with similar organizations in the future, it is critical to build capacity to center core pedagogical competencies that help staff and students think critically about issues of social justice as a key life skill, and teach competencies that help students and staff understand oppression to be a result of ongoing, pervasive, and institutionalized structures than just a result of individual biases or prejudices. Researchers who have analysed the negative impacts of WE and similar organizations on schools have suggested one way to do this is by turning to the pedagogical approaches offered by Critical Global Citizenship Education (CGCE) (Andreotti, 2006, 2012; Jefferess, 2012, 2021), which works to bridge the gap between global competencies and anti-oppressive schooling (Idrissi et al., 2020; Pashby, 2021).
School During the Pandemic
The Research and Development department is very interested in understanding the impact of COVID-19 on our students, families, and staff. We are monitoring a variety of policy areas within the board to support schools and the system in adapting to change and planning for the future.
As the pandemic continues, we are committed to disaggregating and analyzing results in more depth; building upon key areas of interest/concern from results through student and staff engagement; developing student voice; understanding experiences within ongoing practice and policy in close partnership with other departments within the TDSB; and collecting current and relevant data to support ongoing decision-making.
To-date we have reported on Student and Parent Winter Check-in Survey results from January 2021, preliminary findings on the impacts on learning due to the pandemic as of January 2021, winter consultation results with students, parents, and TDSB staff from December 2020, student demographics for virtual schools and in-person schools as of September 2020, and much more.