September 2

Extend-A-Family Summer Program 2016: A Review

Extend-A-Family LogoIt’s that time of year again where we wrap up our summer program! 2016 was a year filled with excitement, friendship, and fun!

Before we get into all of the exciting details about the program itself, we’d like to first introduce you to the team that brought all of the magic to life! This year our team was led by two time On-Site Director Spencer, who never failed to bring out the excellence in the rest of the team members. Josh held the position of Assistant On-Site Director, who rejuvenated the Peer Leader system by bringing mentorship and goal setting to the forefront. Returning for his third year, and introducing the Summer Program Leaders, Gryphon brought his strong relationship building back to the program, and gave the rest of a team an example to follow. Our resident cheerleader Sabrina brought enormous amounts of energy and spirit to everyone she interacted with. Patience and an aura of peace and tranquility came from our leader Marissa, who made strong and lasting one to one connections with many of the participants. Evan, our jack of all trades, brought a great sense of humour and well roundedness to the team and the participants. Where’s our last leader you ask? Not to fear, Emily is here! Emily met every challenge with a positive energy and with a unique intuition, which helped the team strive for greater success.

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Sticking with tradition, we began our summer program by traveling the globe in “All Around the World” week. We focused on bringing different cultures to life, by creating maracas and dancing to music from different countries, we had the chance to meet some ‘very cute’ exotic animals from Little Rays Reptiles, and ended our week touring the animals of the world by visiting the African Lion Safari!

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We learned a lot about each other in our “Hidden Talents” week. Marissa brought her dad in to give an educational and interactive lesson in Karate, our minds were blown thanks to the magical talents of Five the Magician, and we found out what our personal super powers are by creating super hero models! Finally, we wrapped the week up by showcasing our hidden talents in a talent show, which had everything from lifting weights and arm wrestling, to beautiful singing and dancing.

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In our third week of program, we managed to get out into the community and give something back by being “Vibrant Volunteers”. We began the week by focusing on our futures and learning how to write a successful resume. We created goals for ourselves and put them in jars as a reminder of what we want to achieve, and took steps towards many of those goals by volunteering in small groups at the Victoria Hills and Forest Heights community centers. We took everyone to the Family Center and spent the full day learning about the positive experiences that can arise from being a volunteer. We ended our week taking a bit of a break at the Mountsberg Conservation Centre, where we learned all about different birds and how important they are to maintaining a healthy environment.

After a week of volunteering, it was time to bring out a bit of competition by “Getting our Game on!” We channeled our inner Tom Cruise by planning mission impossible, broke into teams and played our hearts out in a sports circuit, and gave er’ a go with some Australian sports taught to us by X-Movement. We finished off the week with an awards ceremony, followed by hitting those strikes bowling and splashing around at the Waterloo Rec Center.

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After a busy, hot summer, we wrapped up our day program getting wet and refreshed at our “Wacky Water Week”! We tapped into our inner artist and created some amazing paintings using water guns, got soaked running relays and capturing the flag, had a fiery time in the gym when Drumfit came to burn some calories, and relaxed afterwards by creating some tie dye shirts. After spraying the participants with water all week, it was time for them to get some revenge in reverse paintball, where everyone got the chance to paint the program leaders from head to toe, and wash all of the paint off using water guns, sponges, pails, and eventually the buckets that held all of the water.  We capped off our week with a trip to Wild Water Works, where we slayed the slides, laid back in the lazy river, and went wild in the wave pool.

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We said goodbye to the day program and hello to the overnight program by travelling to Camp Impeesa, located in Ayr. For the next two weeks, we spent our days playing cards, board games, going on hikes, making bracelets and paintings, swimming, and even a little bit of rock climbing. We celebrated the nights by singing around the campfire and making s’mores, watching movies and eating popcorn. We partied with a dance, topping off the night with ice cream sundaes.

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Just like that, summer program came to a close. All of the excitement and fun of the summer came to a wrap. The friendships and relationships built this summer brought everyone closer, and the sense of unity and closeness extended out to everyone who came into contact with the summer program. The staff at St. Dominic Savio did an amazing job at accommodating the needs of a constantly changing program, the peer leaders jumped right into their role and quickly became members of the team, the coordinators who connected all of the participants to the program, our fantastic guests and trip locations who provided memories that will never be forgotten, and the one on one support workers who did an outstanding job in insuring that everyone felt welcomed and supported at the summer program, we would like send a great big thank you to all of you for becoming a part of the summer program, and making this summer one to remember.

We want to send a big shout out to Mitch Bewick, whose 6 years involved in the summer program is coming to a close. His amazing contributions and guidance in that time has lead the program to new heights and success, and he has helped set the bar higher each year for the next team to reach. We want to wish Mitch all of the best in his future endeavors, and look forward to seeing his continued success.

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Until next time, Summer Program!

Written by: Summer Program Staff 2016

August 29

Start Living Acceptance

This summer, while working at Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region, I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful gentleman by the name of Ryan McTavish. Ryan and I immediately recognized each other, and it wasn’t until a few days later that Ryan found the link – we had been babysat by the same babysitter years and years ago! Here is a little bit about Ryan:

My name is Ryan McTavish and I am a 23-year old musician and Autism activist. I was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 5. Last year in 2015, I hosted my very first show to raise awareness for Autism called Rock For Autism Waterloo, with special guest, Canadian music legend Fred Penner.

This year, to continue my advocacy career, I created a video called “Start Living Acceptance”…and my coined phrase, “Stop talking awareness…Start LIVING Acceptance” began to spread.

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… And this exactly what blew me away about Ryan. He stood in front of a room of support people, each with their own views about what it means to support someone with autism, and shook our mindset about awareness. Yes, awareness is important when it comes to individuals with varying abilities, but it is not enough. We must learn to accept others for who they are and display this mindset through our every day interactions with others.

Here is Ryan’s message:

Ryan has now created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to create promotional mechandise, which will begin to be printed, if enough funding, by the fall or winter. These T-Shirts will contain the phrase “Stop talking awareness…Start LIVING acceptance” in some way, and the distribution of these shirts will help give Ryan’s advocacy campaign a boost to spread further. The shirts will be sold to numerous supporters, including friends, families, organizations, and any place I will speak or perform. PLEASE go support Ryan’s message here.

In the words of Ryan himself:

Thank you for all your support, and START LIVING ACCEPTANCE!

June 6

SEEDS Conference: A Credo for Support

Dreams are the SEEDS of hope: Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.

On Thursday, June 2nd, I attended the 4th annual SEEDS Conference, hosted by Community Living Cambridge. This conference explored emerging evidence-based approaches to providing direct support, focusing on making us the best support providers for those individuals that we work with. With talks from medical professionals and social workers, and a keynote address from Norman Kunc and Emma Van der Klift, the day was full of information, inspiration, and motivation.

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The day began with the keynote address from Norman Kunc and his wife Emma Van der Klift. They titled their talk “Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic”. Norman, being someone with a disability, explained how throughout his life he was told to “be realistic”, like when he wanted to get his driver’s license. As a licensed driver today, Norman explained that when we say something is “not realistic”, we are actually changing “I don’t know how to do it” into “it’s impossible”. This stops us from looking for solutions to the challenges we deem “unrealistic”. If at first you don’t succeed, rather than trying the same way again, try another way! This allows us to revert “unrealistic” back into “realistic”.

Norman and Emma continued their talk with a parable about a man who was speaking to a wise man. He says to the wise man, “I feel like there are two dogs inside me. One dog is positive, loving, kind and optimistic and then I have this fearful, pessimistic, angry and negative dog and they fight all the time. I don’t know who is going to win.” The wise man thinks for a moment and responds, “I know who is going to win. The one you feed the most. So feed the positive dog.” By choosing to live a more positive life, despite the situation at hand, we will be enlightened with the possibilities to overcome any challenge.

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Many individuals in the field of social work have heard Norman and Emma’s Credo for Support. This is a must read for anyone who knows or works with an individual living with a disability.

Throughout history, people with physical and mental disabilities have been abandoned at birth, banished from society, used as court jesters, drowned and burned during The Inquisition, gassed in Nazi Germany, and still continue to be segregated, institutionalized, tortured in the name of behavior management, abused, raped, euthanized, and murdered.

Now, for the first time, people with disabilities are taking their rightful place as fully contributing citizens.

The danger is that we will respond with remediation and benevolence rather than equity and respect. And so, we offer you:

A Credo for Support

Do not see my disability as the problem.
Recognize that my disability is an attribute.

Do not see my disability as a deficit.
It is you who see me as deviant and helpless.

Do not try to fix me because I am not broken.
Support me. I can make my contribution to the community in my own way.

Do not see me as your client.
I am your fellow citizen.

See me as your neighbour.
Remember, none of us can be self-sufficient.

Do not try to modify my behavior.
Be still & listen. What you define as inappropriate may be my attempt to communicate with you in the only way I can.

Do not try to change me, you have no right.
Help me learn what I want to know.

Do not hide your uncertainty behind “professional” distance.
Be a person who listens and does not take my struggle away from me by trying to make it all better.

Do not use theories and strategies on me.
Be with me. And when we struggle with each other, let that give use to self-reflection.

Do not try to control me. I have a right to my power as a person.
What you call non-compliance or manipulation may actually be the only way I can exert some control over my life.

Do not teach me to be obedient, submissive and polite.
I need to feel entitled to say No if I am to protect myself.

Do not be charitable towards me.
The last thing the world needs is another Jerry Lewis.

Do not try to be my friend. I deserve more than that.
Get to know me, we may become friends.

Do not help me, even if it does make you feel good.
Ask me if I need your help. Let me show you how you can assist me.

Do not admire me.
A desire to live a full life does not warrant adoration. Respect me, for respect presumes equality.

Do not tell, correct, and lead.
Listen, support, and follow.

Do not work on me.
Work with me!

As we go through life, we must recognize the value and gifts that every person possesses. We are all special, we are all unique, and we are all able to achieve anything we want in life.

June 2

Servant Leadership

“The servantleader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” – Robert K. Greenleaf

Working at Extend-A-Family has brought to my attention many different theories and philosophies of leading and working with others. One of the main philosophies that we incorporate into all of our interactions with the people we support or our teammates is called servant leadership. Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. The themes present within this philosophy often remind me of the type of characteristics I hope to emulate as a teacher within the classroom.

Servant LeadershipThe following are 10 themes that are present within servant leadership:

  1. Listened
    • Actively listening and being present with the person who is speaking to you. Listening to everything – not just the words
  2. Empathized
    • Understanding and empathizing. Seeing everyone as someone who deserved respect and appreciation
  3. Encouraged
    • Healing yourself and others. Helping people solve problems and encourage growth and development
  4. Aware
    • Awareness of yourself and others. Helps to see the big picture
  5. Persuaded
    • Convincing those you work with, rather than using labels of authority, to persuade people into a course of action
  6. Saw Possibilities
    • Conceptualizing helps in thinking beyond the day to day realities
  7. Saw It Coming
    • Foresight helps to see an outcome of a situation. Learning from the past helps to identify possibilities for the future
  8. Experienced a Growth Opportunity
    • Committed to the growth (personal and professional) of others
  9. Took Care Of
    • We hold Extend-A-Family in stewardship for the families and individuals we support
  10. Built Community
    • Building a strong community, both in and outside of our walls

These themes are so important when working with anyone. We must always conduct ourselves in a way that is respectable and self-less when working with others, whether it be peers or students. By constantly conducting ourselves in this manner, we remind ourselves of exactly who our work is for: others.

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May 26

The Empty Pickle Jar

I first came across this story on my Facebook timeline, and since then, it has been viewed by people all over the world. It’s a very inspirational and thought-provoking story, and one that I will definitely share with my students one day! Check out the story below:

There’s an inspiring, thought-provoking message here. After watching the video, ask yourself: Have you made enough room for the golf balls? Can you let some of that sand slip through your fingers?

Category: Ideas | LEAVE A COMMENT
May 17

“Get Through The Week” Advice

Work can be a stressful place sometimes. Due dates, timelines, tasks… Things are constantly running through our mind, forcing us to over-think everything, making us feel that the things we are working on are way bigger than they actually are. But work isn’t the only place this happens.

Often as adults, we overlook the stressful lives that children in this day and age are living. The strange part is, many of the stressors that adults experience are the same as students in the classroom are experiencing. Students have deadlines. Students have work. Students have social pressures. And yet, we as teachers do not always do an adequate job of preparing students for these stressors that they will most likely experience for the rest of their lives.

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There is a movement in the world of education to break down the stigma of mental health by explaining exactly what it is to be depressed or anxious. We also explain to them the importance of seeking help and we provide them with different resources they can contact. On a day-to-day basis, students experience a number of different stressors, but does this make them depressed? In the short-term, no. So, shouldn’t we also prepare them for the daily stress they’ll inevitably encounter?

This video from Dr. Mike Evans explains (using an awesome visual aid) the various ways that you can get through a “crap” day or week. Here is a brief summary of his “get through the week” advice:

  • Stick to the basics:
    • Sleep
    • Activity
    • Get perspective
    • Eat
    • Go on a date
    • Clean up your space

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In its very essence, his advice explains the basics of self-care. This is something that is of great importance to all people, students included. Each of these little topics can be used to start a class discussion about mental health, self-care, and realistic and achievable methods of dealing with stress. Even a 20-minute discussion once a week could provide students with an understanding of their own stress and how to cope with it, so that they can continue to reach their highest potential.

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For your viewing pleasure, here is Dr. Mike Evans’s video:

May 6

“Light Bulb” Moments

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Throughout our lives, we experience these “light bulb” moments that enlighten us in ways that we could never purposefully encounter. These moments can stem from a conversation, an interaction, or simply out of thin air. They can teach us something about others, open our eyes to new possibilities, and allow us to see beyond what simply meets the eye. The sheer number of “light bulb” moments that I have experienced while working with Extend-A-Family is a testament to the amount of possible learning, and potentially life changing, moments available through our work.

A specific “light bulb” moment that I’ve retold countless times occurred last summer during a swimming trip with Summer Program. A non-verbal individual who was typically the first to jump into the pool was very hesitant for reasons not yet known. Through continued conversations with the participant, I could see that he really wanted to swim and he continued to make it way to the side of the pool, yet something was hold him back from taking the plunge. After a few minutes of exhausting all possible reasons for the hesitations, I was beginning to feel defeated; I knew that there was something wrong, but I was unable to figure it out.

In that moment of deflation, the participant lightly pushed his head against mine and stared me in the eyes. VOILA! The participant showed me through his actions the reason for his hesitation. He had forgotten to put on his headband that protects his ears from the water, something that he wears every time we go swimming. It wasn’t until he placed his head against mine that the “light bulb” flicked on.

To this day, I still get chills thinking about how this individual was able to communicate to me his needs to me in his own unique way. This moment taught me that there is a solution to every problem just waiting to be revealed. Working with the Summer Program also opened my eyes to the sheer amount of different ability levels that everyone has, including both participants and our staff. Summer Program has truly opened my eyes to the fact that we are all able in our own special way.

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May 2

Year 1 = Complete!

And just like that, my first year of my Bachelor of Education is complete! I learned so much this year about teaching, learning, and the education system, but most importantly about myself. I am so glad that I chose this program and the University of Ottawa to study for two years.

Recently, I was contacted by the Faculty of Education’s communication and marketing team to share my experiences in the program. These responses may be used in promotional material as a student testimonial! I have posted the questions and my responses here for you all to read.

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  1. What led you to pursue a career in teaching?

Teaching has been my vocation throughout my entire life. I can remember the moment when my kindergarten teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and my response was “teacher”. I’ve never wavered from this choice. It is my belief that a good education is the most important thing that we can provide the younger generation. It is a very rewarding experience empowering children to grasp the foundational knowledge and skills that they will use for the rest of their lives. This is why I’ve dedicated my life to teaching.

  1. Why did you choose uOttawa?

As one of the largest Bachelor of Education programs in Ontario, I felt as though uOttawa would be able to provide me with the education, support and resources required to be an innovative and adequate teacher. Additionally, the large number of students in the program forms the basis of my personal learning network in the field of education, which has great merit in itself. Ottawa as a city features a diverse demographic of students, therefore providing myself as a teacher candidate with a holistic experience of what it means to be a teacher.

  1. What was your favorite moment at the Faculty of Education this year?

My favourite moments at the Faculty of Education this year were the various professional development opportunities provided. Aboriginal Education blanket exercises, LGBTQ+ Allyship training, Math Camp, and Let’s Talk Science workshops are among many learning opportunities that the Faculty of Education provides to their teacher candidates. These professional development workshops allowed me to take what I had been learning in my courses and practicum placement and supplement it with specific tools taught by experts in their field.

  1. What did your experience in practicum added to your studies?

The practicum experience adds the practical learning opportunity that cannot otherwise be achieved in a university classroom. For weeks at a time, you get to fully experience what it is like to be a teacher by being in a classroom, working with students, and co-teaching with an Associate Teacher. The amount of learning that occurs during practicum is invaluable. Despite how much you think your students are learning from your teaching, you will be learning so much more from them.

  1. What advice would you give to a prospective student?

In the world of education, there are a number of different philosophies and styles, many of which will be taught to you throughout the program. It is important to not get overwhelmed by your learning and practicum. Remember why you decided to become a teacher and have that be the driving force behind everything that you do. To your students, you are more than just a classroom teacher; you are someone that is able to have a positive impact on their journey through life.

  1. If you could describe your experience at uOttawa in 3 words, what would they be?

Comprehensive, holistic, innovative.

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I experienced a lot of learning and growth in my first year of the Bachelor of Education program and I look forward to continuing this growth in my second year!

April 18

Society’s Effect on Schooling

Authors: Spencer Burton, Louise Yeon, Devin Hollefriend (2015).

Introduction

Society has a major influence on the current school system. There are a variety of issues that contribute to the overarching theme of society’s effect on schooling, specifically in social, cultural, and political contexts. We will explore the social implication of bullying and its various effects on students. To support this topic, we will emphasize the need of creating a culture of acceptance for promoting mental health. We will conclude our paper by discussing the political contexts of the multifunctionality of the school system.

Social Contexts

Social ContextBullying is a prime example of a social issue that has a profoundly negative impact on the school system. Bullying can place a large stress on students that could lead them to develop various mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression, which in turn would have considerable negative social implications within the school system. There is a multitude of ideas for ways in which to approach the treatment and prevention of bullying. PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Preventing Violence Network) is a Canadian organization that unites leading researchers and professionals who focus on the topic of bullying with the goal of presenting the issue of bullying as a “relationship problem that requires relationship solutions”(prevnet.ca, 2015). This way of thinking about bullying underscores the social aspects of the issue of bullying. As a result, the negative implications of bullying as a social issue call into question the role of the school climate in its impact on bullying.

Generally, the idea of a strongly positive school climate is used to describe an ideal method of bullying prevention. One factor that could have a large impact on the positivity of school climate is the treatment of acts of bullying. The idea of a restorative approach as opposed to the traditional punitive approach as a response to acts of bullying is largely identified as a way to treat those involved in acts of bullying in a way that promotes a positive school climate. The restorative approach holds students accountable for their actions and aims to provide meaningful consequences for their actions (ref.? david smith article). Thus, the restorative approach to the treatment of acts of bullying aims to promote a positive school climate, which will hopefully reduce the negative impacts of bullying on the school system.

Cultural Contexts

Cultural Context
We have made great strides in creating conversations about mental health issues within a school climate. It is more widely talked about, accepted, and understood. That being said, the stigma has not disappeared and feelings of shame and guilt by those affected by mental health issues are still widely experienced. Depression, chronic stress, sleep issues, eating disorders, and thoughts of suicide are all possible mental health implications that are experienced by many students throughout their educational career. Thus, mental health in the school system is an issue that needs to be addressed.

It’s one thing to create a culture of acceptance around mental health. It’s another to accept this as a baseline of what students will experience during their time in school. For stigma around mental illness and for attitudes and behaviours surrounding the topic to be truly erased from our culture, the school system needs to be proactive and take action. As educators, we must foster a safe and accepting community so that someone who is struggling can feel comfortable starting a conversation about mental health issues. Students should not have to experience feeling overwhelmed or as if they have to fight their battles alone; they should feel safe to open up about their conflicts to school staff and in turn receive relief efforts and resources.

Educators must assume a new approach to the topic of mental health that views it as an aspect of an individual rather than a dysfunction, in an attempt to rectify the stigma that continues to linger around mental health. Positive psychology is an approach that does just that; it introduces and encourages “simple behaviors in which a person can engage to improve [their] own well-being” (Biswas-Diener, 2013). This framework will allow students to feel better about themselves, feel more confident in discussing their issues, and promote a sense of acceptance surrounding feelings and mental health.

Political Contexts

Political Context
As discussed above, students are feeling the pressures of performance in education. Both social structures and academic requirements have created a high-stress environment for students. The trends seen in the expansion of curriculum expectations, growth in class sizes, and ever-increasing teacher responsibilities can be interpreted as a political cry for generating human capital. Whether it is formally intended or not, students feel pushed to the point of obligation to pursue post secondary education as they feel their worth calculated in terms of competition and report card marks.

Due to the custodial function that has been adopted by teachers and the inherent social control that takes place in schools, students are vulnerable to the established social relations that are taught and experienced. This creates as much potential for a wonderful and enriching environment as it does a harmful and limiting one. As educators we need to move beyond teaching critical analysis and focus more on fostering critical, independent, and innovative thought in order to allow for students to drive their own learning. As children are naturally curious and have a strong desire to learn, this holistic approach is paramount for putting the student and their interests first.

While research and literature surrounding effective and inclusive instruction strategies to promote student learning rather than political desire is rampant, putting it into practice will require a true and widespread shift in thought and action. Successful institution that already employ this model are already in existence and much can be learned from their example. A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School is a prime example of an alternative to the mainstream system. By advertising their school as a democratic learning experience, students have a strong voice in deciding the path of their individual education. Students graduate from this school having met the same requirements of the regular school system but have had an enriched and organic and most importantly engaged learning experience (Summerhill School, n.d.).

Allowing students to take initiative and drive their own education promotes a positive and effective learning environment that allows students and teachers as co-learners to work towards a common goal. Moving away from the top-down approach of imposition and resistance can foster a much healthier and more effective learning experience.

Conclusion

Through an attempt to make the unintended functions of schooling intentional, with a larger emphasis on character building, we expect that there will be a more comprehensive development of positive mental health among the students population. This development of positive mental health climate in schools will promote and create a positive and accepting environment in which students feel safe, thus reducing the occurrence of bullying. In summation, the social, cultural, and political contexts of Canada’s society prove to have immense impacts on the school system.

References

A.S Neill’s Summerhill School. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk

Biswas-Diener, R. (2013, August 17). What’s So Positive About Positive Psychology? Retrieved November 16, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/significant-results/201308/whats-so-positive-about-positive-psychology

PREVNet, (2015). Retrieved November 16, 2015, from http://www.prevnet.ca/

Smith, David. Improving School Climate to Reduce Bullying. (2012). Canada Education, 65-68.

Taylor, M. (2015, September 28). Session 3: The Functions of Schools. Lecture presented in University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario