November 25

The Lesser Blessed

The Lesser Blessed is a film depicting the story of Larry, a 16-year-old Tlicho Indian that lives with his mother in the Northwest Territories. His past comes to surface throughout the film, displaying an abusive father and a fire that killed his dad and almost took his life too. Like most boys at his school, he has a crush on a Juliet, the most attractive girl that the school. Larry consistently gets bullied by one boy in particular, Darcy, and finds it difficult to fit in because of it. A new student, Johnny, befriends Larry, as he himself is Métis.

There were so many questions coming to mind throughout and following the film.

  1. How much of the plot was realistic and how much was Hollywood?
  2. Where was the parental involvement?
  3. What affect does all of this have on the teenagers?

The Lesser Blessed
1) How much of the plot was realistic and how much was Hollywood?

There were so many outrageous, and almost sad, moments throughout the movie, strictly based on the fact that I was unsure how much was “for the movie”. The main scene that triggered this question for me was during the student “slave auction”. Not only is this extremely offensive, but it was supported by teachers. The one teacher went so far as to bid on a student, giving the perception that the event was endorsed by adults and authority figures. I would hope that this would never happen in a school nowadays, especially with all of the inclusion, anti-bullying, and accepting schools legislature being implemented.

The Lesser Blessed3
2) Where was the parental involvement?

All I can say is that there would have been words had my actions as a 16-year-old even remotely resembled those of Larry and his peers. There were so many concerning elements of these teenagers lives: mental health (specifically Larry’s PTSD), aggression, illicit drugs, mass alcohol consumption, unsafe sex… And yet the parents only seemed to have a voice when they were kicking their child or their friends out of the house. What kind of message does this send the teenagers? Can the kids be solely responsible for their actions if the parents have had little involvement in preventing the actions?

The Lesser Blessed2
3) What affect does all of this have on the teenagers?

I think Larry was the definition of being numb; he rarely showed emotion, good, bad or otherwise. Perhaps due to him trying to keep his father’s abuse and death a secret, Larry resorted to internalizing his emotions. As expected, these emotions surfaced in negative bursts, such as when he attacked Darcy or when he ran away from home. I will say, the truest words in the entire film were the last we heard from Johnny:

“I’m just a kid, Larry.”

As with any life story, we know that there are troubles in our past and turmoil in our present, but it is important to look forward and make the absolute best of any situation we are given. We are the ones who decide how our lives will turn out, and for that reason, we must remain positive. As Larry says:

“I cry knowing that I don’t belong to anyone. But I smile too, knowing that my life is still unwrapped.”

The Lesser Blessed4

November 19

To Kill the Indian in the Child: The Apology

“At 3:00 p.m. exactly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared on the screen and the crowd fell silent” (p. 165).

From the early 1830s to 1996, thousands of First Nation, Inuit, and Metis children were forced to attend residential schools in an attempt to aggressively assimilate them into the dominant culture. During Stephen Harper’s speech, which proves to me a monumental moment in Canadian history, he says:

“I stand before you – in this chamber so central to our life as a country to apologize to Aboriginal peoples for Canada’s role in the Indian Residential Schools system” (p. 167).

Residential Schools
Despite the importance of this moment between the Canadian government and the affected Aboriginal peoples, it was not universally received as a positive apology. It is always difficult when individuals of a marginalized group continue to feel as though the apology and the means in place of rectifying the injustice are insufficient. There continue to be individuals who take the “too little too late” response, accepting that an effort was made but refusing to recognize it as sufficient.

My questions is: What apology would be sufficient? Should they receive a massive monetary compensation for the disgusting and inhuman actions that took place within the residential schools? Should there be a First Nations, Inuit, and Metis subject introduced in schools to educate students on what really happened? What can we do as a country to make everyone feel proud of being a Canadian?

These will never be easy questions to answer. Hundreds of years from now, when there are no living victims of the residential school system, there will still be hard feelings because it still happened, affecting the ancestors of many families. So where does that leave us? Is there anything we can do? Perhaps not to the standards that will be universally accepted. However, with each action of rectifying the situation, more and more people are learning to start anew. As Knockwood shares in Out of the Depths (2015):

“My main reaction to this formal apology was to feel that although I wasn’t able to forgive the government and the church for what they did to my parents and ancestors by legislation, I was ready to accept the apology. […] This would also be a new start for me, and mentally I turned a new page and wrote the word “pride” on it.” (p. 169).

Residential Schools2

November 13

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Yesterday, I wrote a post about EQAO testing. To continue with the theme of standardization, let’s take a look at PISA.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international survey that is administered every 3 years. PISA aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. PISA discusses what makes them different on their website:

PISA is unique because it develops tests which are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.

Just like the EQAO standardized test, PISA has created large debates within countries around the world regarding where they rank in comparison to the other countries. Here is a televised discussion regarding Canada’s PISA ranking:

What are your thoughts on standardization, either within Ontario (EQAO) or in relation to countries worldwide (PISA)?

November 12

Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO)

Standardized testing is a very controversial subject within the education system. The goal of standardized tests are to outline the achievements and shortcomings of schools within a specific subjects, as compared to other schools within a similar area. EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) is an example of a standardized test within Ontario. EQAO seeks to measure Ontario students’ achievement in reading, writing and math at key stages of their education, such as grade 3 and 6. Here is a video outlining more about this process and mass amount of work that goes into creating these tests:

However, there are many opposing views to standardized testing. Tests perhaps aren’t the best representation of a student’s understanding of a particular subject. Questions are also raised surrounding the idea that Mathematics and Language are being placed at a higher importance than the other subjects simply because they are the only subjects represented in the EQAO tests. There is also a lot of money that is put into these tests that could be put elsewhere in the education system.

The EQAO test has also created some controversy by publishing the results of every school on their website. For example, here are the results for the school that I am completing my Community Service Learning and practicum at:

EQAO - Pinecrest Junior
Alternatively, here are the results from the school that I attended elementary school:

EQAO - St. Matthew Junior
The differences between these two schools are significant to say the least. Does this mean that my elementary school provided a better education than the other school? Perhaps. But also, perhaps not. Standardized tests provide a very narrow view of whether or not students are capable of achieving a high grade on a written test for a specific subject. There are many variables that go into the EQAO scores, yet these results are displayed at face value on an open forum. This could lead to the formation of a negative impression of a school, discouraging families from sending their students to that school or even living close to it.

Should standardized tests be administrated? Should their results be available to the public or used specifically for internal knowledge and making the schools better?

 

November 11

The Absolutely True Diary

Indian
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian tells the story of a fourteen-year old boy named Junior that lives on an Indian reserve in Washington. After getting in trouble at school for acting out over the age of the textbooks he was being given, he transferred to a school that is off the reserve. With the new schools comes a large culture shock; the students all seem to have money, their families ties are different than this own, and the way others behave does not always align with how he was raised. The story continues to share the story of his year at this new school and how it affects not only Junior, but his relationship with the reserve he came from.

Two strong themes were apparent in the novel: self-identity and alcoholism. Self-identity is how we define ourselves, referencing such themes as gender, academic performance, socio-economic status, and sexuality, among other factors. In Junior’s case, there were additional factors that played into his formation of an identity. Firstly, he had a number of medical deficiencies resulting from being born with hydrocephalus. Secondly, he was the only Indian student in a predominately white school. This caused him to internally battle with the juxtaposition of his two different personas: Indian at home and white at school.

Indian2
Forming a solid self-identity is difficult for any young adolescent, nonetheless a teen in Junior’s position. As teachers, we must ensure that we serve as a pivotal role model to our students during this period in their lives. We must ensure that we create an emotionally safe environment for all students. Themes of respect and inclusion will help to diminish hateful acts, which will allow the students to feel safe in their exploration of creating a self-identity.

The second theme that stood out to me in this novel is that of alcoholism. Junior loses many family members to the effects of alcohol, which is a serious issue on Indian reserves:

Alcohol
There are a variety of reasons why alcoholism is heavily present on Indian reserves (poverty, history, etc.). No matter what the reason might be, it is important that this issue be addressed, even at young ages. Although alcohol and substance abuse education is one thing that can be done, there is a lot that can be done in the field of positive psychology and coping methods to reduce these statistics. By teaching students that there are ways other than alcohol to solve their problems, we can work towards creating a safer and better prepared generation on the reserves.

November 10

Lessons Learned from LOCUS

I wanted to speak a little more about my experience through the LOCUS program, with hopes that you might be able to see yourself in many of the lesson’s I’ve learned.

The first thing I’ve learned through the LOCUS program and how to step out of my comfort zone. Believe it or not, facepaint and teal rainsuits wasn’t always my regular attire. This program provided me with an opportunity to get involved on campus, making Laurier feel more like a home than a school. Through the committee events, I was exposed to so many different opportunities, including outreach initiatives, which most students our age fail to fill their time with. But the most important thing stepping out of my comfort zone taught me is that it feels natural when you have a supportive, accepting, and passionate group of people surrounding you.

Hawk Weekend2
The second lesson I learned was how to ask for help. Through the academic support this program offers and the willingness of its staff to help, I’ve become more comfortable with talking to professors and asking for academic help. I’ve also been provided with an amazing group of friends that I could not thank enough for the advice and support they’ve given me throughout the years. They’ve all kept me motivated and positive during the wild times of university. Lastly, I’ve become comfortable seeking help for personal matters as well. Whether it was acknowledging that I needed help or the fact that I actually followed through and received the help I needed, I owe it all to the confidence and support that the LOCUS program has provided me with.

Hawk Weekend4
Lastly, I’ve learned how to love. In the past, I was always the type of person to take friendships for granted, but I’ve honestly come to love each and every person I’ve encountered through the LOCUS program. As a LOCUS student, I’ve lived at home the last 4 years with my parents. I am so grateful for all of their support and guidance, and I love them more and more each day. Funny enough, I’ve meet my life partner through the LOCUS program. We share the same passion for the program and I couldn’t thank her enough for the LOCUS love and legit love that we share. Lastly, I’ve experienced the true feeling of LOCUS love. Whether it’s a smile between two LOCUS students as they walk past each other on campus, a group of students going full out doing a cheer during Hawk Weekend, or a new lifelong friendship being formed, we’ve all felt how amazing LOCUS love truly is.

LOCUS LOVE!

LOCUS

November 9

LOCUS

LOCUS Logo7
LOCUS was one of the best experiences I had while attending Wilfrid Laurier University. LOCUS (Laurier Off-Campus University Students) is a program designed to aid the transition into university for first year students living off-campus and attending Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus. The program provides first year students with academic, social, and personal support to ensure that off-campus students do not miss out on the on-campus experience if they decide not to live in residence.

I held four different roles while being involved with the LOCUS program:

  1. Vice-President of Finances and Administration on LOCUS House Council (2011-2012)
  2. Off-Campus Advisor for a community of 27 students (2012-2013)
  3. Community Advisor of LOCUS’ House Council (2013-2014)
  4. LOCUS Coordinator (2014-2015)

Being the LOCUS Coordinator for the 2014-2015 academic year was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I had the opportunity to instill and develop leadership skills into my staff team, as well as lead them in a direction that best meets the needs of the first year off-campus student population. This position taught me so much about myself; about my own leadership capabilities, my ability to lead a group, and my passion for teaching others. There is no better feeling than helping first year students with their transition into life at Laurier, and the LOCUS Coordinator position really opened my eyes to how amazing it is to be a Laurier Goldenhawk!

CoordinatorSpencer

November 8

Aviva Community Fund Submission

A few weeks ago, I started my Bachelor of Education placement at Pinecrest Elementary School in Ottawa. Two years ago, grade one students wrote a letter to the principal to persuade her to look at the primary yard and consider their dreams to replace the old play structure. The following September, the same students and all their primary friends were shocked to come back and discover that the condemned play structure and the beloved monkey bars had been removed over the summer and they were left with only sand. It was a very sad day for Pinecrest primary students. Since then, the primary students have had nothing but some wooden “soccer” posts and a giant area of sand.

B&W
A large number of Pinecrest families are not able to participate in extracurricular fundraisers, as many of the families live in apartments or public housing surrounding the school. They rely on the safe space at school to play and explore.

When I first heard about this issue, I knew I had to get involved in some way. I worked with the staff at Pinecrest by taking some photos and creating a video that we have submitted for the Aviva Community Fund. This was all in an attempt to receive a grant that we could use to provide these young students with the play yard that they deserve. Here is the video that I created for the submission:

What’s even more incredible is that my video was featured in the Ottawa Metro! Check out the screenshot below:

Metro Article
Unfortunately, Pinecrest Public School was not chosen as one of the finalists for the Aviva Community Fund. However, it was incredible to see the school and the surrounding communities really come together to support this project. We also learned a lot about this grant process and hopefully we can use this knowledge in future submissions so that we can achieve our goal of building a safe and fun playground for the deserving primary students.

November 7

Safe Classroom Management

YouTube search: “Teacher gets in fight with student”

Results: “About 1,140,000 videos”

What is happening to our education system? How is this happening? Perhaps more importantly, why is this happening?

Safe Management (1)In the summer of 2015, I received my certification in Safe Management, which is a crisis intervention training program. This training help me immensely in my role of working with individuals that have varying disabilities, but little did I know just how relevant it could be to my future profession of teaching. More than anything, this training exposed me to the reality that at one point or another, we all can get agitated and act out, despite how we typically act on a regular basis. What is important about this is recognizing what is happening, why it is happening, and how to deescalate the situation.

This idea of recognizing what is happening is outlined in Safe Management’s Aggression Escalation Continuum (displayed below). There are four levels of aggression presented: subtle, escalating, imminent, and physical. At each of the four levels of aggression, appropriate responses are presented as an indicator of how best to deescalate the situation. While teachers may never experience being the target of physical aggression, it is important to understand what to do in those situations, especially since we are responsible for the safety of every other student in the classroom.

Safe Management (3)
The Safe Management training further defined each of the aggression behaviours by providing examples of the verbal, psychological, and gross motor indicators associated with each stage of the aggression. And they didn’t stop there. They also provided the appropriate staff response to each of those behaviours.

Safe Management (4) Safe Management (5)

However, there is more to creating a safe classroom environment than just preventing aggression. The training covered many important topics other than aggression; risk management, relationship management, behaviour management, and physical intervention concepts were discussed as well. The chart below addresses topics relating to relationship management, while presenting strategies and techniques to successfully achieve the outlined principles:

Safe Management (2)
There are so many different approaches that teachers can take to addressing a student acting out, and it doesn’t always have to lead to a power struggle. While some teachers choose the humiliation method of addressing student behaviour, there are a number of reasons why this method is damaging to students. There is a great article on Edutopia that discusses student humiliation. Through further research on the topic of classroom management, I came across a number of useful resources. Edutopia had an entire database designated to classroom management resources.

I must say, the best resource I came across was from the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI). CPI has a program that is very similar to Safe Management entitled Non-Violent Crisis Intervention. They constructed a manual especially for teachers called “Remain Calm & Respond Right When A Student Challenges!“. I strongly recommend that teachers and Bachelor of Education students should check it out!

Ideally, students will enter our classrooms each and every day with a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn. However, if it means that I get to keep myself safe while also keeping my students safe, then I will learn about as much classroom management as possible.