Passing Notes

Notes from a Parent/Teacher to Parents and Teachers


The Underground Railroad: A simulation with students

Slavery.  Probably one of the most horrific things our world has lived. Tackling issues of racism and power is no easy task for any teacher.  It’s hard to make the lived experiences of slaves real but it’s our duty to do it and do it right.  This history can be taught in a sensitive and critical manner, especially when we concentrate on people who fought injustice, and those who sought freedom.


I’d like to share with you a simulation that I involved my students in while studying Ontario’s early settlers, a little project I embarked upon first with a great teacher, Cynthia R. when we team-taught, a few years back.

Rather than allow my students to get a one-dimensional view of what early settler communities might have been like (as prescribed by the Grade 3 Ontario curriculum), I found multiple entry points to talk about communities that are usually under- or un-represented in resources about settlers (“pioneers”).  It’s beyond the scope of this post to discuss everything that I did to prepare my students for learning about freedom-seeking slaves, but you should know that I did a huge amount of work with them on both The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and also the various First Nations living in what we now know as Ontario, – (The Haudenasaunee and Anishnaabe Nations), – at the time of early settlements.  After MUCH work, many read alouds, discussions and above all, dramatizations of history, my students embarked upon a simulation of the Underground Railroad.  Here’s the letter I wrote to school staff to get them involved.  It should explain the gist of what I did:

Dear colleagues,

As some of you know, my grade 3′s are learning about early settler communities in Ontario.  One of the communities we’ll be learning about is early Black settlements.


We are exploring the Underground Railroad as a part of this and need your help. Here are the details:


My students have one life card that they must get to a conductor, but it must happen at 10 a.m. on any given day on the dot. I have given three teachers, the roles of “conductors”.  As such, everyone else can choose to be an abolitionist or a helping freed slave and help to get the students to freedom.  I have told students that some people in the school might pose a threat to any freedom-seekers because I want them to use their wit, not because there is a threat.   You can be an abolitionist and secretly offer to help to get their cards/lives to safety but it has to be at 10 a.m. otherwise the conductors have been instructed to keep the cards as “caught” (if they are even a few minutes late).  If you want to be an abolitionist and get the word out the the freedom-seekers, feel free to sing songs or make visible, symbols of freedom (quilts, lanterns, etc) at you convenience to guide them to safety posts or the safe houses of the conductors.  Any one, including other students can help as long as I don’t find out.


Next week, I’ll deconstruct the whole simulation with my students as I reveal who made it to freedom and discuss what could have happened to those whose cards were not saved.

Thanks for helping us to bring learning to life!

Quilts had symbols that represented various things to a fugitive slave. They acted as maps to guide them through a difficult journey.

What ensued that week was very interesting.  Students were hesitant to get their life cards to people.  They were trying hard to figure out if the symbols that were placed around the school meant safety.  We had read many books about former slaves finding freedom through wit, strength, courage and the help of others but they didn’t want to budge.  I secretly enlisted other students from a class to help (sometimes without much success) and our music teacher got heavily involved teaching the kids “spirituals” and songs that had clues to help get the kids to freedom.  Quilts were hung on doorways, there was talk in the playground and in the halls.

In the end, many of the kids used their savvy, their knowledge of clues and courage to get their freedom cards to others. A few went on instinct and all of them attempted to use the clues I read about in story after story.  Most relied on solidarity.


When we deconstructed the whole situation as a class and with the help of one of the “conductors”, it was emotionally-charged.  We talked about the weathered, torn life cards…what might that symbolize?  We talked about the limitations I imposed at 10 a.m. and what it meant in real terms about the limitations set upon real slaves trying to seek freedom:  working the fields all day and little time to plan and amass information/ resources; the possibility of getting caught and the consequences of that; weather changes that were unpredictable making it difficult to leave – prolonged rain was good because you were not expected to show up in the fields and a scent was difficult to track; lack of resources, emotional constraints such as fear; etc.)

The discussions about fairness and injustice became very real to them.  My students had had a hard time understanding how people could be put through such cruelty when we talked about the slave trade.  Many were frightened.  But when we explored the possibility of escaping slavery, most of them actually attempted this simulation.  They were inspired by the stories of hope, determination and strength of character and felt bound to “do right” by the people who had lived this.

Though, this was a an unconventional way to bring about learning, I saw huge growth in their ability to criticially analyze the past and come to terms with the genocide that impacted 21 million people, 7 million of which never even survived the journey across the Atlantic.  Doing this simulation didn’t make it easier my the kids to digest the history I was throwing at them, and quite frankly, I’m relieved to know that they are horrified and cannot fathom this part of history.  What was positive about it was helping them to see beyond themselves, to step into another’s shoes, to empathize and take action, and yes, to break rules when they are unjust.





The Arts in Education: How much does it really matter?

paint Brush_and_watercolours


As an educator, I have been challenged to “prove” the importance of The Arts in our educational system. To add insult to injury, the sentiment that The Arts (Visual, Dramatic, Musical), are irrelevant in this day and age, often comes off stronger during economic downturns, when some want to “get back to basics” (whatever that means).

As if The Arts for arts sake don’t matter!  Arts shouldn’t have to be justified as an aside to anything else.

When it comes to education and The Arts, parents and educators need to support the notion that Arts education matters, not only in relation to other subject areas, but because it is the foundation for expression and creativity, ingenuity and innovation, flexible and divergent thought.  We must create opportunities for all children to be engaged in fully and regularly in The Arts.

The Arts are also our strongest tool in education for change.

I hope you’ll permit me to borrow from a book titled, Releasing the Imagination by Maxine Greene.  It is her belief that holistic experiences in the arts release the imagination and nurture the whole self”.  I strongly feel that when children are given experiences in the Arts they are able to create, nurture, and develop artistic gifts, which help to nurture the whole self. A well-rounded education in The Arts encourages children to play, move, question, laugh, share, explore and learn. Experiences in The Arts allow children to honour and respect individuals and to show empathy for others. Through a variety of experiences in the arts, children develop the ability to get into the minds of others, and truly see things from another person’s point of view.  Though we can do this in all disciplines, it is most easily accessible in the Arts.

 drama masks

“We must make the arts central in school curricula because encounters with the arts have a unique power  to release the imagination. Stories, poems, dance performances, concerts, paintings, films, plays – all  have the potential to provide remarkable pleasure for those willing to move out toward them and engage  with them.”


If we value divergent thinking which I presume YOU do, then it follows that releasing the imagination is central to that, no? Given that most educators recognize the importance of multiple intelligences and believe that individuals think in different ways and use different strengths, then it follows that we should have just as strong a focus on the Arts (at a minimum), as we do other subject areas.  If we want for students to be able to create their identities, then “waking up what inside of themselves” becomes very accessible when we rely on the  Arts, – (and here I have to say especially Dramatic Arts, because of the learning and changes that can come out of stepping into other shoes, becoming someone else, going back to yourself and redefining who you are and what you think as a result of the dramatic process.)


“One of the reasons I have come to concentrate on imagination as a means through which we can  assemble a coherent world is that imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible.”


When children are given the opportunity to explore how people are treated differently due to class, race, or culture through experiences in The Arts, they begin to understand the importance of democracy. The Arts bring colour, joy, compassion, and understanding, helping children to reach out to one another, and honour individuals, as well as the collective whole. When children are continually exposed to The Arts, they learn to work with one another, and develop a genuine understanding and respect of differences. This understanding enables them to work towards social change. Experiences in The Arts allow children to recognize that others may not be as fortunate as they are, for example, and provides children with the tools for social change. So essentially, The Arts are a means to promote a democratic society and exist as a vehicle for social change.


There’s a popular video of a lecture by Ken Robinson that states that “creativity is as important as literacy”.  Given the requirements that 21st century learners need to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, I couldn’t agree more.  Students need to have huge amounts of opportunities to flex their minds and grow their imaginations to be able to adapt to a variety of contexts.  In light of the global cross-cultural context which each day becomes more and more intertwined, we cannot teach with disregard to economic and political spheres.  The Arts most definitely allows for us to do this and seek alternative viewpoints.  Greene states:

 “Envisaging what might be, educators cannot but work for a certain mastery of skills and involvement with a range of literacies for young people who will grow up to participate in a democratic community” 

But there is a divide:  We have an evolving curriculum, one too heavy in content (quantitatively), but which is definitely being revised to reflect the needs of the 21st learner.  Policy is starting to reflect this too (finally the pendulum has swung!).  The problem?  Many teachers still buy into old notions of education and antiquated methodologies.  Even newer grads  do…it’s firmly entrenched in our “culture of education”.  How can teachers do better?  Well, we are very much a product of our own education.  How do we get beyond this as a profession?  Surely it will take time, certainly generations, but how do we get the ball rolling? It is through questioning our own professional lives and seeing alternative viewpoints that we form a more informed, enriched view of our professional practice.  Higher-level and critical thinking must win over rote nonsense and non-innovative instruction.

The Arts matter.  Period. The Arts matter very much, I would argue, given the state of our world, more than any other subject area.  Care to differ?




I will leave you with some final thoughts borrowed from Greene here:


“We who are teachers would have to accommodate ourselves to lives as clerks or functionaries if we did not have in mind a quest for a better state of things for those we teach and for the world we share.”


“In my view, the classroom situation most provocative of thoughtfulness and critical consciousness  is the one in which teachers and learners find themselves conducting a kind of collaborative search,  each from her or his lived situation” 


What do you do when your child is bored at school?


A friend approached me a few weeks ago with concerns about her child’s interest level at school – (or lack thereof).  She felt uncomfortable approaching the teacher and asked me what she could do at home to support her daughter.

She got me thinking that there are as many scenarios that could lead to a bored child, as there are children, but we can look at a few common ones and go from there.


Scenario 1:  Your child is bored because the teacher does not have a strong child-centred, student-driven program.  The learning in a few traditional classrooms tends to happen on paper (A.K.A worksheets) and students have little opportunities to delve into topics that they enjoy.


In child-centred classrooms, students may have choice of writing topic, and students may have choice of which activities to do throughout the day (stations, centres).   Most students really are motivated by what interests them and if there’s no room for them to be able to develop their interests in class (e.g., during Writing Workshop), then your child may be somewhat bored.


Scenario 2:  Your child is generally unmotivated and lacks curiosity and interest in MOST things, regardless of whether they are in school or not.  Maybe this is the kid who hasn’t found something that sparks their interest, or hasn’t defined something that they are good at.  Maybe there’s a self-esteem piece that needs a closer look.  Honestly, I worry about my unmotivated kids more than I do about my struggling ones.


Scenario 3:  Your child is not bored, but actually struggling.

Some kids feign boredom to disguise their perceived capacity to learn something.  Their “boredom” can be more about saving face than anything else.


Scenario 4:  Your child needs or prefers to learn with the use of manipulatives and hands-on resources.  And the teacher doesn’t.  Great teachers, – (and most of them ARE), – use hands-on approaches to teach concepts at all ages (yes, even in high-school).  This is closely-related to the next scenario, so read on.


Scenario 5:  Your child needs a more “differentiated” environment

Kids come in all varieties and they learn differently too.  Teachers are usually experts at knowing students’ strengths and learning styles and try to teach through those styles to reach specific learners.  It’s important that parents and children know their learning styles too so that they can advocate for themselves.

(Also, children who are gifted but not deemed as such because they have not been tested for giftedness, are sometimes bored learners.  This is a whole other discussion, so please see your child’s teacher if you strongly feel that your child exhibits gifted quirkiness :) )


Scenario 5:  Your child feels that the curriculum doesn’t reflect who they are.

Teachers are usually bound by curricular standards/ expectations.  They don’t usually teach concepts that are outside of the prescribed curriculum.  Sometimes the topics are a bit dry, but great teachers know how to connect the learning to students lives and find entry points to their interests by making it more exciting for them.  The issue of “not being reflected in the curriculum”, (culturally, linguistically historically, …) is not uncommon.


I personally hated school during my mid-high school years because I felt completely disconnected to what was being taught.  But teachers have many ways of making the curriculum relevant to students’ lives, so even if curriculum is not perfect, and even if it’s biased, many teachers are wonderfully creative about working around this and infusing the curriculum through an equitable lens and making sure that all children are reflected in the curriculum.


Scenario X, Y, Z: …



Once you’ve determined the root cause you might start looking for solutions, right?  Well you’re going to hate my answer.

Communication is key.  I know this sounds very basic, but really that’s the best answer out there for all of these scenarios.  I’ve been there too.  And I made the mistake of not speaking up for my child.  And I DO regret it, because she wasted a lot of time doing things that had no meaning to her.  You might have to muster up the courage to speak up for your child and communicate that you are very appreciative of your teacher’s role and that you want to explore the disconnect between their great work and your child’s boredom

Knowing why your child feels bored is hugely important to that process.  If you know your child’s learning style, or better yet, if s/he is aware of their strengths or needs, then the above conversation is so much easier. (This  link has a brief explanation of learning styles but you’ll want to explore further here .)

Finally, compensating for the boredom at home can either be enriching or a negative experience. If you approach the situation with self-directed ways of learning such as an “I Wonder Book” (see my recent post on, or if you engage your child in a conversation about what they’d like to learn and what you’ll do to facilitate the learning, that’s a great start. For many kids, it can turn into a negative situation if you print up mindless worksheets with no connection to what they want to learn and with no higher-level thinking skills.


I’m curious to know what you think…



“Sex Education” in Ontario: a last-millennium approach

I’m not sure how many parents are familiar with the Ontario Curriculum, but I’d venture to say, not many, unless you’re an educator yourself.  There have been many revisions to the curriculum, in all instances for the better.  With one exception:  the curriculum related to Physical & Health Education, specifically Growth and Development (e.g., Sex Ed.).


You see, when the Health curriculum was revamped fairly recently, everything was revised but all except for the section on Growth and Development were actually published.  Teachers still have to teach the topic but they have to use the very vague and lacking content from 1998.  Yes.  1998.  OK the worst part is not how dated it is or how minimally it’s described.  The worst part is that it wasn’t revised because it was a contentious issue for some sectors in society.

This begs the question, “whose responsibility is it to teach this stuff to YOUR kids anyways?”.  I’m of the opinion that the responsibility lays on the shoulders of schools and parents (though some would differ with this, in either respect).  The breadth and scope of what children and adolescents need to know is huge, and goes way beyond the anatomical lesson or birth videos shown to us many years ago as students.  It goes way beyond just “sex”, hence the misnomer that is “Sex Education”.



Ophea, which spear heads many of the excellent curriculum and community initiatives, resources and support for Physical and Health Education in Ontario has this to say:

learning to make reasoned decisions, take ownership of your own body and develop skills for healthy relationships is a component of healthy living that our students need to live safe and healthy lives…Learning about healthy development, including sexual development, requires an understanding of sexual health in its broadest context – sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, abstinence, choice and sexual readiness, protection, body image, and gender roles and expectations.”


That is quite a bit of stuff to wrap our minds around.  It’s about developing healthy attitudes, relationships, exploring gender roles and so much more.  So educators are working with fairly antiquated curriculum in this respect, and one that is not inclusive of LBGTQ perspectives either.

Given the intensity of what kids are “offered” in the form of “Sex Ed.” through the media, it goes without saying that parental and school communities need to be on the ball with this one.  I for one cringe at the way “Zack and Cody” refer to girls as “hot”.  Don’t even get me started on other shows which showcase everything ranging from heterosexist content to the proliferation of gender stereotypes.  Just last week, I was chatting with some moms over the highly sexualized behaviour of really, really young kids in social situations last week, and the images of “rainbow parties” are making my head spin.

So what’s a parent to do?  What’s an educator to do?

I propose that the “Growth and Development” portion of the Health curriculum needs to be revised to include a more holistic approach asap!  So how do we get started on this?  It’s not a job for one, but for many.



More information about Ophea’s work and their response to this curricular lag can be found here:


Given the lack of inclusivity in the 1998 excerpt, there are some great resources for educators and parents put out by the TDSB, whose Equitable and Inclusive schools Department is cutting edge.







Strategies for the learning disabled child: The home-school connection

Last week, Ms Whitworth,- guest blogger, – graced us with her presence and wrote  about some strategies on the topic of children with learning disabilities.  Today, she’s sharing with you some ways to keep good flow and communication between your home and your child’s school


Homework is often a source of debate for parents, students, and educators. How much should my child have? How much is too much? What is the purpose of this? Why do I have to do this? How much should I help my child?  These are questions that are often asked by many a parent. Whatever the situation, here are some ways to help ease the distress of nightly homework:

  • if possible, remain with them while they do homework
  • model for them that sometimes you have to bring work home with you for your job
  • it sounds obvious, but I can’t stress the importance of this one:  read with them
  • encourage them to build up great organizational skills which will aid in consistently remembering to complete homework
  •  break down the homework session into shorter periods to increase attention span
  • provide all the supplies needed for the homework
  • maintain open communication with your child’s teacher about homework and policies


Teaching your child to continue through struggles is one of the best things a parent can do. Life is not always easy, there are sometimes rules to follow that are less than pleasant, and difficulties and stresses often occur when you really don’t need them. A child who learns that even though there are difficulties, they can still reach a goal, is one who will have an easier time of things as they get older. The decision to baby or indulge a child’s every whim doesn’t help them become mature, responsible adults, and is especially disastrous in the case of a learning disabled child. Because learning is often difficult for the child who has a learning disability, they will experience more struggles than most children. Helping coach your child to persevere in the face of difficulty, to try new strategies, to take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes, and to ask for help when needed, are all very important in aiding your child to grow up to become a successful, independent, and confident adult.


Help Wanted: Apply Within

Working to maintain good communication is an important part of any healthy relationship. If your schedule allows it, volunteering in your child’s classroom will allow you to provide some much needed help in the classroom, and show your child that his or her education is important to you so as to foster that same value in your child. Teachers these days are often very limited in the amount of one-on-one time they get to spend with each student and any additional help you can provide will better your relationship with your child’s school. In addition, learning what the routines and experiences are at school will also provide the opportunity for you to talk with your child at home and discuss things that were misunderstood, difficult, or just not heard in a relaxed environment.

Hoping to share my ideas with you in the near future,

Ms Whitworth



Last week’s post included a list of websites and resources from dependable and knowledgeable sources on  learning disabilities.  They’ve been posted again for your convenience.


At-home strategies for learning disabled children

(Please welcome Ms Whitworth back for her third guest blog appearance!)

It’s always a challenge to figure out the perfect balance between friend and foe when it comes to raising children. Children, in general, need routine and consistency in their lives to maintain good social and emotional development. It becomes even harder to decide what to do when parenting is complicated by other factors such as learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – 2 commonly diagnosed things today.

In the early stages of cognitive development, children are concrete thinkers who benefit from tangible solutions to problems, so keeping tangible incentives, rewards, and routinely enforcing expected behaviours concretely is a must for any child. Below you will find tips for sticking to routines which will benefit your child (ren).

 Concretely lay out all the expectations

When starting any new routine with a child, whether this is at school, home, or daycare, explaining all parts of an expectation is crucial. I suggest having some sort of chart, which outlines the expectation (washing dishes for example every Monday night) and also has a spot to include the incentives that could help your child stay motivated to actually do these chores. If you tell your child to wash the dishes when you don’t feel like it one night, and then it’s another 3 weeks before you ask them to do it again, this does not set up the expectation that washing dishes is part of normal routine and something that must get done. Explaining why things are important is also something which helps children understand the reason behind the belief. If you can give them a real-world reason why they need to learn this it also helps them to remain motivated in their tasks.

Consistency is key

This brings me to my next point, when outlining expectations, be sure to remain consistent. If your rule is that there is no junk food during the week then maintain that even when you go to a party in the summer. Help your child make healthier choices at the party so that they cancel that craving, but also understand that a rule is a rule. Maintaining and consistently enforcing a rule that you have established as a family will be crucial in maximizing the lessons to be learned and getting the behaviour you want.

If there are siblings, there are likely to be conflicts – every family has them! My brother and I fight all the time, but usually it is resolved through good problem solving skills, (and occasionally my mother still has to lay down the law!) Because children with learning disabilities often find academic activities more challenging and need more one-on-one help with homework, there is often an increased need for parental support.  This may be where most conflicts will arise. Balancing the time, as best you can, so that you spend it with each child engaging in meaningful conversation or activities. This extra time will reduce the conflict between siblings and also between parents. However, WHEN quarrels arise (and you can quote me on this: they will!), make sure that your learning disabled child is given the same consequences, conditions, room to grow, and security as your other children. I think this book (“The Complete Learning Disabilities Handbook”) says it exceptionally,  the “child with learning disabilities should not be coddled or overprotected. With rare exceptions, that child needs the same parameters the other siblings are given and similar consequences when guidelines are violated”. Remaining consistent will help your child to learn that there are certain rules in society that they have to follow no matter what.

Intensive Behavourial Interventions

Knowledge is power, as the old saying goes. When you have a child diagnosed with learning disabilities or any other special need, learn all you can about it. If you know strategies to help your child you will be more likely to have a good working relationship with your child. The library, both public and the one at your child’s school, is a good place to look as they will often have many resources. In some extreme cases, intensive behavioural intervention strategies are needed to help your child function properly on a daily basis. Gain information, ask questions, seek support, and advocate for your child. As a parent, you are the one and only person who will always be there when support is needed; use that role to better your child’s life. There are also many good websites and association pages online these days; check out some listed at the end of this piece.

Have “The Talk” with your child

No, I am not talking about choices surrounding sexuality and safe sex here; instead what I mean is talking about every day things: values, goals, expectations, dreams, and any concerns or stresses that the family or individuals in the family are experiencing. Talking with your child is one of the most important things you can do to help foster a great relationship with your kids. Many parenting experts believe that having quality time with your child and taking the time to learn about that unique person your child is, especially as they grow older and develop more into their own person, will help you notice any difficulties your child is having -whether those be academic, social, behavioural, or otherwise. This will allow you to develop and nurture your role as:  provider, support system, role-model and friend, and seek help and support sooner to help your child reach their maximum potential.

Finally, remember that just because your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability does NOT mean that he or she cannot learn, just that there may be different strategies required and more hands-on and involved educating involved. Learning Disability does not have to mean Learning Dysfunctional.

Join me next time for practical home-school strategies for families with children with Learning Disabilities.

Till then,

Ms Whitworth

A list of resources for learning disabilities:


Strategies to use when you don’t like the Teacher

I don’t mean the “like” that we’d find on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.  I mean you actually dislike the Teacher.   Maybe you’re finding that you’re at odds with him or her about a particular area of your child’s education or you don’t like their demeaner.  Or maybe it’s your kid who would prefer hands down to clean their room than keep company at school.  While this can certainly be an uncomfortable situation, there are a few strategies that parents can try to get past the awkwardness and move along to a happier place with the person your child spends a great deal of time with everyday.


1.  Remember first and foremost that you are both in this together.  While it may not feel like it all the time, your teacher has his best interest for his students.  Just like you do as their parent.  True, they are different roles that happen in different contexts, but the bottom line is that it takes a village to raise a child and you and that teacher, – while not equally important in the life of your kids, – are both individuals who will have much input into their values and knowledge.


2. Ask yourself what exactly it is that you don’t like about the teacher.  When you take an in-depth look, you may find that there are truly legitimate reasons, or that it’s a personality thing.  The first of these, means that you need to address the issues, especially if you feel they impact on your child.  You should probably discuss this is with your teacher first in order to problem-solve.  If it’s the latter, and it’s a conflict of personalities, then you really just need to get over it.  Sorry, but if their ways are not actually harmful to your child, just annoying to you, well…just ride the wave till June.


3.  Get to know the teacher better.  It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you have the time to volunteer for a period or two a week or go on class trips, you may find that your teacher will grow on you.  Or not. But it’s worth a try.


4. Help them to know you and your child more.  Especially if you feel that their are real issues that need to be dealt with.  Are you unhappy because the teacher doesn’t understand your need not to have homework scheduled every night?  Are you frustrated about the lack or over-abundance of communication via newsletters going home?  Was something not explained fully to you and were you left wondering?  Did the teacher say something that you believe is inaccurate or disparaging about your child?  Start off with one issue to prioritize, bring it to the teacher’s attention, set a common goal and go from there.

You can offer information in many forms:  a chat, a note…any form of explanation or question will do.  It helps to give the teacher a heads up and ask for an appointment.  This gives them time to prepare information that they may need to show you and gives them time to reflect upon you concerns.  It also gives you time to plan ideas for how you want the problems to be solved.  Most times, this will be a great remedy.  As is the case often in any relationship, putting your heads together to find a solution reaps many rewards other than just solving what you perceive as the problem.


5.  Finally, remember not to say negative comments within earshot of your children.  They ARE listening.  They WILL repeat, often with incorrect paraphrasing, which can be not so funny.  Plus you want your kid to see you modelling problem-solving behaviour too right?


Do you have any strategies that have worked?


Your VERY likable teacher, Daniela



Latin@ Heritage Month

Ever wonder who invented popcorn, chocolate and gum?  Do you know why colourful arpilleras (sewn pictures) were used to send out secret messages from detained political prisoners in Chile to the outside world?  These and many more fascinating facts are available on the two links on this post.

What is this resource exactly?  Well a gathering of tidbits for students and families to view, read and discuss, accompanied by many cool web-based activities to last for months.

View The Primary and Junior calendar here.  These grade 1-6 activities include everything from:  The Tainos, to Candombe, to the Nazca Lines to Victor Jara, even Menudo! (There’s one for every day of the week.)

The calendar for Intermediate and Senior activities includes everything from Santeria to Islamic influences, Los Macheteros to the LGBITQQ2SA movement in Latin America, to Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo.


Some of the articles will lead to many questions, as some of these are heavy-duty, specifically the intermediate/ senior pieces.  It is by no means an extensive list of accomplishments but a starting point.  We tried to give it a distinctively Canadian perspective.  Together with other teachers and under the direction of an Equity Instructional Leader at the TDSB, several of us wrote about various people, places and events in the history of Latin America.  Don’t be fooled by the name of the month though, we took an anti-colonialist approach and many of the pieces are based on pre-Hispanic achievements and the contributions of early civilizations of what became known as the Americas.

A celebrar!



Image taken from:


What your child’s teacher needs to know about your life

No, not the sordid details of an affair or your caloric intake for dinner.

What your child’s teacher needs to know about your home life pertains to any changes that you or your family have encountered that may affect, – positively or negatively, – your child.

Recently, a friend of mine confided in me that he was at a loss.  How was he to understand the attempts of his son’s teacher to develop behavioural strategies for his JK-aged boy?  Imagine my confusion upon hearing about this very sweet, empathetic and gentle child being labeled as “behavioural”.  One shouldn’t go around slinging labels around without any thought.  The parent was beside himself wondering if he needed to get his son tested for some difficulty.  I inquired as to whether as a parent, he observed similar problems at home and at daycare, during play dates and with other family members.  You can predict that the answer here was a resounding, “no”.  So it seems that this new Junior Kindergarten student was showing huge “behavioural concerns” by not “following instructions, not playing like other children his age, and trying to be independent”.   My mind raced to figure out what changes in his life had occurred recently.  He had lost a soon-to-be sibling in the months prior to starting school and this was his first foray into school.  Those are HUGE life changes from an adult point of view, let alone a child’s perspective.  Imagine this scenario:  An adult who has a close family member who has inexplicably passed away and this person has also started a new job with new responsibilities, in a new environment and new co-workers.  Might this person have some difficulty adjusting? You betcha.  I’d say at the very least, many people, – children included, – react by trying to gain some kind of control over their lives, sensing that they have lost much.  Granted, not every child goes through such a life-altering experience such as loss at a young age, but there are some changes that your child’s teacher should be aware of if you want her to be on the look-out for any small or large changes in your child’s emotional, academic or social well-being.  This is especially true if the child has just started in that class and the teacher had very little contact with the child before the changes occurred.  In my friend’s case, it’s important to note that the father had already spoken to the teacher about it previously, but since the teacher didn’t know the child from Jack, she made the assumption that this child had always had some concerns.  Your child’s teachers need to be able to use various strategies to accommodate for children going through difficult times, and understanding the problem is half the battle.  Luckily, this dad is a great parent and understood the importance of creating a positive partnership with the teacher to get his son through the rough bumps.

Here are other changes to consider sharing. Whether they are difficult for YOU to discuss almost doesn’t matter; you can be general in your description, but believe me, your child’s needs you to speak about it’s potential impact.

  • The hardest, and likely one of the most common changes, is separation or divorce, and these come in as many varieties as shoes do, so this is a difficult one to tackle both as a parent and as an educator.  Family changes will affect the communication that your teacher has with both parents.  If the teacher is aware of these family changes, something as simple as sending out two copies of Report Cards or newsletters may help to create a sense of balance in a relationship possibly wrought with personal power issues.  It may help the child feel some relief to know that both parents are still considered to be important in their education.
  • Re-marriage and the merging of two families into one is another biggie, more because of changes in the family dynamic that affect all of the children and adults involved.  You remember:  every little action, has a reaction…
  • Financial changes can be embarrassing for some (unless it’s the 649 that you won), but there are children who won’t bring back field trip forms because they don’t want to cause undue burden on their financially-struggling parents.  Knowing that times are tough can help the teacher identify if the child can receive funds from the school, (which is confidential and always do-able).
  • Social changes that your child has gone through (like losing a best friend to an argument or having a friend move to another city).  As small as these changes seem, they are a great segway to generate discussion about your child’s emotional and social well being.  Teachers are keenly aware of their students’ social realm and can incorporate many activities and opportunities into regular classroom learning experiences that give chances for students who are struggling socially, to gain some social capital.
  • Discussing your personal health with a teacher may seem very scary and even inappropriate, but imagine the outcome of not letting your child’s teacher know that you are having health issues.  Sharing might help to explain the nuances of a child who seems withdrawn or even an escalation in student abseenteeism.  Yes, there are parents who cannot physically take their kids to school somedays, and some children who “parent” their own mums and dads when they’re very ill.
  • Frequent, recent or upcoming moves to new homes can be devastating for many kids and some children learn to avoid “attaching” themselves to friends thinking that they may soon be leaving them.

Finally, change is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, change is necessary for growth, however, if parents can confide in a trusted teacher in their child’s life, that educator will have more tools and strategies for your individual child.  Keep in mind that teachers have home lives and experiences as children that may actually help a child.

So there you have it, Tackling Tough Issues…all in a day’s work.  Oh yeah, and making for happier kids too.