Why I Strike.

    Zoe Branigan-Pipe – 2013
    Zoe Branigan and Sheri Selway (1980)
    I am an ETFO teacher in Ontario. I strike because I am committed to equity and social justice, not just in schools, but in life. I am proud to be part of the Ontario Teacher’s Federation (ETFO)  whose mandate is to ensure that all people have access to fair, safe and quality learning and working environments. As an educator (I can’t help it) I see this as a teachable moment for the thousands of citizens – children and adults alike – that we must never stay silent to injustices. As educators, it is our job to teach our citizens to work toward a world where all people have opportunities to learn, strive, be healthy and have joy in our professions, communities and family life. The Education sector must continue to move forward in silencing inequities, racism, gender bias,  and to voice our support for inclusivity of LGBTQ members and students and promote greater participation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
    “Canada’s labour movement has a long history of improving workers’ everyday lives. We fought for and won many of the rights enjoyed by all workers today – minimum wages, overtime pay, workplace safety standards, maternity and parental leave, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination and harassment” (https://canadianlabour.ca/uncategorized/why-unions-history-labour-canada/
    My first real memory of participating in a protest was when I was 12 years old. But of course, there were many before (and many after). It was 1984, a few weeks before Christmas. About 1,500 workers at the six Eatons stores across Ontario walked out, including Hamilton. Like many nights before, I remember staying up late, making signs, pamphlets, stickers, posters and of course hanging out with all the other kids my age while the parents organized, collaborated and discussed the events for the next day (or next initiative).   I remember how cold it was on that November day and yet it didn’t seem to deter the thousands of folks who showed up stormed inside Eaton’s to show support for the workers. We chanted “Boycott Eatons” and walked right into the department store in full solidarity with the workers (mostly women at the time).  According to union organizer Sue Grange, about 80 percent of the striking workers were women and faced a huge discrepancy in pay, poor work conditions and job insecurity. (source:https://www.tvo.org/article/when-strikers-stormed-eatons-flagship-department-store)
    My family was evicted twice during Urban Renewal initiatives. “City building” created roads and apartment buildings, but didn’t much care about low-income renters! This eventually carved the path for being advocates for safe and affordable communities.  I also remember the 1005 Local Stelco Strike. This is hard to forget as it was a 125-day walk-out with 12,500 striking workers at Stelco’s Hilton Works in Hamilton. And of course, I also spent a lot of time walking the picket line with my family.  My parents were (and still are)  strong activists which are how I remember my childhood – attending protests, marches, rallies and many many committee meetings (often held at our house).  I have never missed marching in the Labour Day Parade. From an early age I was exposed to “the Federation of Women Teachers Associations of Ontario” (FWTAO) which represented women teachers for over 75 years. It seemed like our house was filled with people working (volunteering) tirelessly to ameliorate one cause or another. Full ashtrays, good music playing in the background and close friends finding ways to make a difference. Throughout my years in Hamilton, I was exposed to central American Solidarity Human Rights groups, Tools for Peace (human hights, social justice) The Hamiton and Area Affirmative Action Coalition, HAAAC and worked with the O.F.L. (This group advocated for equal pay and non-traditional jobs).  My family was evicted twice during Urban Renewal initiatives. “City building” created roads and apartment buildings, but didn’t much care about low-income renters! This eventually carved the path for being advocates for safe and affordable communities.  When I was growing up in Hamilton, a student at HWDSB, men and women teachers were in separate unions, although I think they worked together. Eventually, they officially joined together to form ETFO.  Since my mother was part of the Union executive at that time, I know there were many meetings. My mom recalls, “ I remember that some women were uncertain of joining together and that men would “take over”, and not advocate for women’s issues or rights. Over the years teachers worked within the larger labour community for “No to Violence against Women”, better maternity benefits, affirmative action etc. Teachers advocated and fought for smaller class sizes, help for struggling students and fought continually against cutbacks to education.  Better working conditions are better learning conditions.   WHY PROTEST?:
    • My experience as a teacher of 42 Students http://pipedreams.edublogs.org/2015/09/23/why-we-protest-class-of-42-students-my-story/comment-page-1/
    • Looking beyond the Present http://pipedreams.edublogs.org/2013/01/08/why-do-i-protest-i-am-looking-beyond-the-present/
    Did you know?
    • 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union demanded a nine-hour workday from the city’s publishers. Employers refused, and the printers walked off the job on March 25, 1872 (source:https://canadianlabour.ca/uncategorized/why-unions-history-labour-canada/
    • The first teachers’ labour union to be formed was the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) in 1918  (source: Barbara Richter, It’s Elementary: A brief history of Ontario’s public elementary teachers and their federations, 2006, 4.)
    • May 15, 1919, workers in various trades wanted fair wages: much like workers today, they just wanted to earn enough to be able to support their families in the changing economy. They walked off the job and marched into the streets of Winnipeg, leading to one of the biggest labour actions Canada has ever seen. (source:https://canadianlabour.ca/uncategorized/why-unions-history-labour-canada/
    • 1944 was perhaps one of the most significant years for teachers’ unions in Ontario. It was the year that Ontario Premier George Drew created the Teaching Profession Act. (source: Barbara Richter, It’s Elementary: A brief history of Ontario’s public elementary teachers and their federations, 2006, 4.)
    • In 1951, when the Equal Pay Act was passed by the government, that men and women were paid the same salary for equal qualifications and responsibilities – This was five years after teachers had endorsed the concept, the Ontario government passed the Fair Remuneration for Female Employees Act, legislating equal pay. http://www.etfo.ca/AboutETFO/History/Documents/It’s%20Elementary%20-%202018%20Edition.pdf, pg 63)
    • 1971: Unions fought for the rights of women to have paid Maternity Benefits
    • Similar to the events of 1973, when Education Minister Tom Wells introduced Bills 274 and 275Bill 115 gives the Education Minister the exclusive authority to prevent or end any strike and legislate new teacher contracts, effectively putting an end to teachers’ unions’ rights to collective bargaining
    • Prior to 1975, teachers in Ontario did not have the right to legally strike
    • Bill 100, the School Boards’ and Teachers’ Collective Negotiations Act, became law in July 1975
    • Teachers Collective Negotiation Act, Bill 100, in 1975 was a turning point for the teaching profession in Ontario. 
    •  The first labour organization in Canada to do so was the Ontario Federation of Labour, which in 1983 designated seats specifically for women on its executive. http://www.etfo.ca/AboutETFO/History/Documents/It’s%20Elementary%20-%202018%20Edition.pdf 
    • In 1997, Bill 100 was repealed by the Harris government in favour of Bill 160. This bill would restrict teacher bargaining.
    • The government passed Bill 115 (The Putting Students First Act) on September 11, 2012, Premier McGuinty asked teachers to “hit the pause button” on salary increases. This bill also limits the legality of teachers’ unions and support staff going on strike. In April 2016, the law was found to be unconstitutional. (source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putting_Students_First_Act). 
    • 2015, OPSBA tabled a set of contract strips aimed at setting back the clock on years of hard-fought bargaining gains. The strips included: management control over teacher preparation time; increased teacher supervision time; teachers losing the ability to determine which student assessments to use; removal of the new, fair teacher hiring policy; erosion of occasional teacher working conditions; erosion of local bargaining rights; removal of class size protections in local agreements; and changing the role of DECEs in Kindergarten programs. Source:http://www.etfo.ca/AboutETFO/History/Documents/It’s%20Elementary%20-%202018%20Edition.pdf
    • 2015, ETFO reached a tentative agreement in early November that included a 2.5 percent salary increase enhancements to working conditions. Other gains included improvements to the teacher hiring regulation that benefited occasional teachers, and a half-day Professional Activity Day devoted to health and safety.
    •  April 2017, the Ontario NDP released its pre-election policy document that included a number of ETFO policies, including reduced Kindergarten class size; more resources for students with special needs; a move to random-sample EQAO testing; a commitment to creating healthy and safe schools; and a plan to increase access to high-quality child care. (Source: http://www.etfo.ca/AboutETFO/History/Documents/It’s%20Elementary%20-%202018%20Edition.pdf)
                       

    Update your NETWORK (it’s your best resource):

    I just celebrated my 10th anniversary on Twitter. While my participation and involvement in Twitter has changed some in the last few years, I still find it one of the most useful and supportive resources for activism, learning and sharing.

    In fact, my Twitter feed is my first “go-to” each morning (News, Trending, Specific Lists).  Yes, I am conscious and deliberate about what I am reading (and who is publishing) and I try to ensure my feed is diverse (even when I do not agree with every opinion). I am CERTAIN that my life has been enriched through these tools. I have also lost “friends/followers” due to my own opinions which I make clear “are my own and not representative of my employer (or family, or friends).

    The real truth here is that I can reach out to almost any expert at any time and get advice. I cannot always do that in my own place of work. I have developed long-time friends and colleagues from across the world (whom I have visited and have visited me).

    As the instructor of a Junior Level Qualification course (in Ontario), I always have my participants find at least three NEW people to add to their network and I encourage them to reach out. I am so proud and excited that so many of the folks who I have followed and collaborated with are included in this list. – Zoe

    The Beauty of Collaboration and Co-Creation:

    In my Junior Additional Qualification course, I have my students/participants gather, discuss and unpack a variety of online resources which they (we all) see as effective for instruction in a Junior or Middle school classroom. I try to encourage folks to find current tools and to share why/how these tools can help students engage with content and learning.  More importantly, I always recommend that my students post the collaborative collection on their blogs and website. What a beautiful way to learn, share and find something new for our classrooms and schools.

    These are some great resources – Enjoy!
    – Zoe

    Gifted and Learning Disabled – The dichotomy in learning

    DSC_0086 (2)I have students attend my After School Program (STEM focused Makerspace)  every Wednesday who struggle in their regular school. Many of these students struggle academically and socially. Yet, these same students, at the Makerspace,  perform skills and engage in social and academic activities that demonstrate knowledge of math, science, engineering and ARTs  with a proficiency beyond their age and grade level and with a strong level of motivation and confidence. It is often confusing for them for their parents. It got me thinking about the amount of Learning Disabled and Gifted students we see on a regular basis. Students that struggle to find and demonstrate ways that show what they know.

    I had a conversation with two students this week,  both from different areas of the city, different grades and from different school districts and yet both had the same story to tell.  I highlight these conversations here to demonstrate the dichotomy with how students are performing in regular classes and how they are performing in self-driven Makerspaces  outside class time.

    Note: A Makerspace is defined as a learning environment that is designed around the concept of making, creating, designing and innovation. These spaces bring in the ART with Math, Engineering, Science and Technology and allow for a good degree of autonomous, self-paced and passion passed learning.

    I write this post in hopes that parents and teachers read it and begin  take a second look at the child/learner in front of them. What if the student is LD (Learning Disabled) but is also highly intelligent, highly gifted, highly creative? What if WHAT the student needs is to be surrounded by other students and learners how are engaged in hands-on learning activities? What if the student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) could be based on STRENGTHS instead of WEAKNESSES?  Regardless of the test result (CCAT, Report Card, EQAO) could the child be Gifted?


     

    ART“My teachers thought I was dumb”.  “I thought I was dumb” – Grade 10 Student.

    Interestingly,  in their middle school years, the students I spoke with, were tested as “highly Gifted” and both were deemed as “Dual Exceptional”.  This means, that they were both Gifted as well as Learning Disabled.  You can compare the LD (Learning Disabled) to wearing glasses. Without the glasses, many people would be debilitated, wouldn’t perform, would be unable to complete tasks.

     

    The idea of dual exceptional students is confusing for teachers or parents since LD (Learning Disability) is often affiliated with intelligence (even though this is incorrect).  If a student is not completing their work, cannot make decisions, struggles with problem solving or self-regulation, is impulsive or behaviour,  is slow in grasping a concept and has high anxiety, how could they possibly be Gifted? Shouldn’t they know better?

    To complicate matters, the GIFTED student with LD may need specific accommodations but the content, the grouping, how the content is delivered, the level of content might need additional modifications. Are we accommodation for the Learning Disability as well as the Giftedness?  Many times, these LD gifted students require opportunity to work with other Gifted Students.  But many times, because of there LD, the teacher may be focusing on assisting the student with these deficits rather than enriching the curriculum, instruction and learning. Thus, the student is working with their LD counterparts rather then there Gifted counterparts. 

    This article gives some great insight about Gifted and LD students: “What teachers need to know”

    http://ldatschool.ca/assessment/gifted-students-with-lds-what-teachers-need-to-know/

     

    This article shares research about the value of homogenous classes and how these congregated classes server the needs of Gifted students, differently than other types of homogeneous special needs classrooms.

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02783190209554146

     Intellectually gifted individuals with specific learning disabilities are the most misjudged, misunderstood, and neglected segment of the student population and the community. Teachers, school counselors, and others often overlook the signs of intellectual giftedness and focus attention on such deficits as poor spelling, reading, and writing. (Whitmore & Maker, 1985, p. 204)


     

    One student shared his story with me. In elementary school, his teachers were so concerned about his ability to learn as well as his lack of motivation that  they recommended he be put in a self-contained/congregated class for Learning Disabled and ‘Developmentally Disabled’ students. According to his teachers, his reading and writing were far behind the other students. He didn’t read until after his first grade  and was seen as being far behind his peers in Math. The problem wasn’t his understanding of the concepts, but instead HOW he learned them. He couldn’t retain information (working memory) and he processed information with difficulty and very slowly but he could spend hours focused on learning one specific task. So, he was described as being “Slow” and of course this was reflected on his report card and also reflected how the teacher treated him as well as programmed for him.   He tells me that even from an early age, he was drawn to creative, hands-on activities – especially those that focused on building (lego, for instance) but these tools and choices were only provided when his other work was complete (which was rare).  The psycho-educational assessment eventually identified him as being Gifted with a Learning Disability. The student laughed aloud when he shared this with me. He thought it was a joke. He was always seen as the ‘dumb one’. He looked around the room and noted that he wasn’t the only one with this story.  Today, this student is a lead programmer and builder for an award winning Robotics team. Many would argue, that while he continues to struggle in some areas of academia, the expert computer science , engineering, and programming skills are those that are needed more than ever in our society.

    Still, what I notice over in over in my job as a teacher for gifted is a dichotomy between the assessment and evaluation (and consequently programming) of the student and what the student actually knows and is capable of, his/her level of thinking. The evaluation is sometimes focused on the learning disability rather than what the student knows about the material (the how versus the what).

    I wonder how many VERY INTELLIGENT, CREATIVE and OUTSIDE THE BOX THINKING  students are misrepresented because they are seen as behavioural or slow?

    It is important to understand that Gifted isn’t just about being smart.  While there is no universally accepted definition of Gifted, the National Association of Gifted states, “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).” Read NAGC’s position paper, Redefining Giftedness for a New Century: Shifting the Paradigm. – See more at: https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/definitions-giftedness#sthash.fYgGWaDk.dpuf

    Another student (she was a visiting alumni currently in her first year of college) made the point that many of the students here (she was referring to the Robotics Team)  the very students that are designing, programming and competing in world-wide robotics competitions struggle academically. She was the media representative and wrote speeches, articles and created media presentations to access funding. Her grade in English was mid-60’s. She would often be writing a speech for her team while also having to write an essay. Her speech would receive an award grant her team funding, while her essay would get an low average mark.

    IMG_0442I asked the students I was working with that day (Grade Eight Gifted Students, Grade 9 – 12 Secondary Students)  if the same  level of engagement, trust, autonomy and safety that they felt in their Robotics Makerspace also existed or connected back into their regular classrooms.

    One of them explained – when grades and assessment are dictated by the teacher or school, rather than through their own errors (like in robotics, programming) it changes the mindset of the activity and the authenticity fades. They don’t do it because someone is grading them, but instead because it is important to them personally. Students’ self-accommodate and modify as needed by using the people, tools and devices around them to help them. The students explained that there was very little connection to what they were doing with their Robotics Team and academics, and yet, many academic professionals come visit and observe to try to learn from them. They identified this dichotomy quite well.

    For these dual exceptional students, teachers and parents need to be willing to think outside the box when it comes to programming and assessment. We need to be understanding with these students doing things differently and be willing to find a variety of ways for these students to show what they know, even if it means taking unplanned opportunities for assessment or evaluation.