Posters for a safe and welcoming school
Just before school opened this year, Toronto teacher Derik Chica put up some posters welcoming everyone back, including kids and their families who had been excluded from the 1998 sexual education curriculum that the Ministry of Education arbitrarily imposed on students across the province. This came after a summer of retrenchment by Doug Ford and his government of sycophants who cut everything from Toronto City Council to a curriculum writing team for aboriginal peoples’ history. Below, Derik describes his project.
Why I decided to do this:
I think it’s always important to try and create a school that is as safe and welcoming as we can make it so these posters were important to put up regardless of the political climate. However, the erasure of pro-2spiritedLGBTQ+ Health and Phys-Ed curriculum by our new government left a hole of exclusion in schools and so I felt it was even more necessary to show all our students that everyone is welcome. In addition, we are in a time where I feel it would be irresponsible of me, as a public educator, not to make a public statement regarding the need to support our 2spiritedLGBTQ+ students and how this new government backtracked on equity and inclusion. So, I put out a Tweet and Facebook post saying I was putting up these posters.
Support from Staff
I ran this idea by my Principal, Cynthia Nguyen, who was completely supportive. She has been supportive of various equity and inclusion initiatives at our school and encourages it. I put the posters up a week before school began.
TDSB Safe and Positive Spaces
The TDSB has a positive space initiative with a representative from each school. I was the representative at another school before I was surplus and moved into different schools repeatedly over the years.
The way I perceive “Safe and Positive Spaces” is that while we may never be able to guarantee a “safe” space given the unpredictability of other people and systemic forces that require collective effort to overcome, we can work towards a safer space. To me, this means explicitly using and displaying positive language regarding 2spiritedLGBTQ+ communities and integrating initiatives that look to create safer spaces for them in our schools. It also means consistently reflecting on my practices of teaching and offering guidance counselling in my school.
How can education workers continue good work?
Curriculum is but one tool teachers use to support students in their growth. As I wrote in a tweet before
While curriculum may be limited now, the environment we create in our classrooms or schools is vital to how students engage with curriculum. We all know that students who feel comfortable in expressing themselves and their ideas, will do better in any subject in school. So we need to create environments that enable expression.
Statistics and experiences show us there is an opportunity gap in education with certain marginalized groups severely under-achieving. Therefore, the learning environment we create needs to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-transphobic, anti-homophobic, anti-oppressive and so on in order to close that opportunity gap and support all our students. It is not enough to be reactive to oppressive situations in our schools but we must also be pro-active and do things like put up posters, start initiatives, create dialogues, make public statements, and invite communities into our schools. Equity and Inclusion Policies and Memorandum from school boards and the Ministry of Education provide bureaucratic backing for making these types of decisions as well.
So does just being a good educator for our students.