Listen and Be Honest

I attended ICSEI, the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement last week. I listened to powerful keynotes by Russell Bishop, Charlene Bearhead, and Warren Simmons. These passionate and articulate educators from New Zealand, Canada and the United States shared themes of equity, caring and action for indigenous, black and latino students which resonated strongly with me.

Photo Credit: cfdtfep Flickr via Compfight cc

This was on the heels of reading I’m Not Your Racial Confessor in Slate magazine, a conversation between Jamelle Bouie, Aisha Harris, Gene Demby and Tressie McMillan Cottom.  (Thanks to Sherri Spelic, blogger and educator, for sharing). Everyone needs to read this. It reminded me not to be “wilfully ignorant” about the reality of systemic racism in our society.

Then yesterday, I read about an interview with Joseph Boyden where he attempted to explain the questions about his ancestry. When asked what Boyden’s role should be within the indigenous community, Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie said, “… behind First Nations, being a supporter, not white-splaining and being a spokesperson.”

So, here I am, a middle class white woman with a life of privilege. I do not know life as part of a minoritized or marginalized group, but I want to understand. I want to be a supporter. I can only do that by listening to learn without imagining that I have any answers. And I need to be prepared for difficult and honest conversations.

Just…listen and be honest.

My Name Is…

Back to School posts are everywhere! It’s that time of year after all. It’s great to read about caring, relationship building, visioning. That is all super important. We know that if students and teachers don’t feel valued at school or if there aren’t good relationships, success for everyone goes waaaay down. But I think there may be a missing ingredient when it comes to relationship building, at least from the posts I read.

What about the students’ names?  

Rusul Alrubail tweeted this out recently:

The link takes you to a really great post called “10 Ways Well-Meaning White Teachers Bring Racism Into Our Schools” and it’s a must-read. Even though it uses an american lens, we can’t let ourselves believe that these things don’t happen in canadian schools too. It made me uncomfortable, since I recognize myself in some of them, but that was good. How else can I continue to face and question my ingrained biases?

Rusul had a conversation about number 4: Intentionally or Unintentionally Mispronouncing Names on Twitter (you can go here to see the whole conversation) which I jumped in on. I, too, believe that naming is powerful. It is also political. There is a long standing tradition in Canada of changing the names of those who come to our shared country when they don’t suit our English or French tongues. I’m really glad that this tradition has almost died out. When we don’t pronounce student or colleagues’ names properly, we diminish ourselves and each other. It’s a message that you’re not that important. And using the excuse of “it’s just too hard” or “those names are crazy!” (yes, I’ve heard that) isn’t OK. 

Rusul’s post, Growing up with my name, is a window into how it feels. Her humour and gentleness in dealing with this subject is inspiring.  I know I’m going to keep making those efforts to pronounce others’ names correctly. I hope you are too.


Canadian Experience?

Canada officially welcomes newcomers. At Canadian immigration offices around the world, we tell people their gifts, talents, training will be valued and respected when they arrive on our shores. Every week, our school registers newcomer families.

School councils in Ontario have an essential role in advising school staff and bringing parent, student, family and community voice to the forefront. Our school council is made up of parents who care deeply about the education of their children. They came to Canada for their children, but also in hope that they can contribute to our shared society. We have the benefit of the thinking and experience of a physician, a car mechanic, an engineer, a chemist, and a secondary school teacher. Among us we speak over eight languages. Our parents bring an advanced world view informed by thousands of years of culture from their countries of origin. I feel privileged to be part of their conversation and to learn together.

Yet, how many of these talented people are working in their field? One. Even though they were all welcomed to Canada, they can’t be certified or find work. Why? Because they don’t have “Canadian experience”. And you can’t get Canadian experience without certification.

This sad situation is a reality for so many of our parents and families. What a waste of human potential. We all need to examine our assumptions about the contributions of all Canadians. How can we widen our view and make sure everyone is able to contribute to the Canadian experience?