CRRP Initiative: Final Report
The Inclusive Education Branch, Ontario Ministry of Education
We wish to thank the Inclusive Education Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education for providing us with the funding for this initiative. We were honoured to have the opportunity to do this work and share this work in a way that is broad, accessible and hopefully impactful for those who participate at all levels of education and especially for the students, families and communities we serve daily.
Participating Schools: William Burgess Public School and Irma Coulson Public School
We would also like to thank the two participating schools, William Burgess Public School within the Toronto District School Board and Irma Coulson Public School within the Halton District School Board. The superintendents, administrators, staff, and overall school communities welcomed and provided support to this initiative. This work could not have been done without their willingness to “go on the journey” with us as we all continue to push ourselves, to learn more, to make a difference for more students in our schools. We are sincerely grateful for their dedication, professionalism and trust in the process as we all continued to learn together.
Issues related to equitable educational experiences and outcomes are a priority in North American schooling systems. In Ontario, the Ministry of Education’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy (2009), as well as many other educational policies, recommendations, and educational bodies, have called for educators to explore their practices and the outcomes of schooling. Specifically, standardized provincial assessment data, school-based achievement data, and student voice as well, speak to differential experiences and opportunities for success for different groups in the local school systems. Educators must have space and time to learn more about, reflect on, critically examine, talk about and take action on these issues to create change.
Since 2005, the Centre for Urban Schooling (CUS) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto has focused its work on the issues that impact racialized and historically marginalized youth in Toronto. CUS faculty and staff members highlight and explore the complexities of urban schooling environments that connect to issues of equity and are dedicated to improving the educational experiences and outcomes for youth in schools, especially those for whom the current system has not and does not work. From 2008-2014, the Centre’s School Services staff primarily focused its professional development work with teachers and administrators on Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP) and how to connect the theoretical foundations to practice. Additionally, a large component of this work related to exploring and building understanding of issues of inequity and oppression in schools and how to challenge this in our own thinking and day-to-day work.
In March of 2013, The Inclusive Education Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education contacted the School Services Division of the CUS to learn more about the work that we do and could possibly do in a broader way to support educators understandings of this work across the province. The Centre’s professional development experience and publications regarding this work over the last several years afforded us this unique opportunity.
Over the next several months, the Centre created and put forth a proposal to provide the Ministry with an initiative that took place over the course of the 2013-2014 academic year and would share a “Tale of Two Schools” who were attempting to engage in understanding the issues and implementation of CRRP. The work began with two schools in the fall of 2013 and ran until June 2014.
This final report and facilitator’s resource will share the core components of the work; highlight reflections and experiences from participants; and share ideas and resources that will support providing options for others across the province who wish to understand possibilities for what this work might look like across and within schools. We, as well as the Inclusive Education Branch seek to share the learning across the province as a means to creating more equitable places, spaces and outcomes for all of the students we serve.
Engaging in professional learning based on Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP) requires intentionality in the design, planning and delivery of the modules. To maximize the use of professional learning materials provided, it is recommended that consideration be given to the following:
Choice of Facilitators: In choosing facilitators for this professional learning, it is important that they have previous experiences in working with educators connected to issues of equity and some foundational understandings of culturally responsive and culturally relevant pedagogy. This is especially important in areas where the conversations may generate multiple perspectives. It is essential that a facilitator be able to provide information to support this work and be willing to challenge any deficit discourses that may arise. Additionally, the approachability, collegial disposition, ability of the facilitator to speak from experiences, the literature, challenges and personal learning related to this work can also make a difference in how participants receive the information, and participants’ comfort in asking questions and engaging in the activities.
Participants with different understandings: In working with an entire school to engage in this initiative, as is true with students within a classroom, there is wide diversity in what the participants bring to the collective learning spaces regarding interest, knowledge, experience and current equitable understandings and practices. It has been important for us to provide foundational information so that everyone is clear on the work that is part of this initiative, while at the same time making sure that we allow for the interests and expertise of the participants to also inform the work. This is a continual balance in regards to how much content to provide as well as time to make sure that all important components are covered.
Additionally, within this category, there are participants who express concern about the work of the initiative tied to their own understandings and ability to fully engage in being an educator that embodies CRRP. Questions of “saying the wrong thing” or “not having enough knowledge” are sometimes expressed by some of the participants. It is important that facilitators be able to support and encourage participants at all phases of learning and application.
Obtaining all Participant Voices: As we attempt to capture the broad thinking of participants engaging in the professional learning, there still remain some participants who are less inclined to share. Facilitators are advised to continually look at the ways in which they can capture diverse voices on the various issues that are part of the initiative and find opportunities to explore multiple ways in which this work can move forward.
Model for the Professional Learning Modules
The facilitation team met with each school, once per month, with the exception of December. The on-site professional learning sessions were ½ day and involved three core components:
Exploring our social identities as educators
Conversations about equity in schools must bring the educators’ embodiment and issues of social identity into the room. Who we are, in terms of power and privilege, hidden and visible identities and the “lens” we each have developed over our lives and our life experiences matter in this work. We have to discuss where we sit on certain issues; challenge ourselves on our own biases in our thinking and practice and look at the factors that have shaped us in the work we do, and where we can push ourselves further in our own respective journeys. In the professional learning, we engaged in a number of activities to highlight these components.
Grounding our conversations in educational literature and theory
What happens in our schools does not sit in isolation of a broader theoretical context, current educational literature and current (and some past) policy. The work that we are discussing with educators comes from real issues that are being grappled with in schools across that world. Grounding our conversations and questions in research that exists allows us to make new connections and see new possibilities with additional thinking by those who also do this work.
Developing application in practice through collaboration
Within most of the learning modules, we built in time for colleagues to collaborate, investigate, and communicate about the issues we addressed and discuss HOW they might work within their own classrooms and schooling spaces to engage in the work. Examples of how other educators have tried things in their own classroom spaces to reflect their growing understandings of CRRP were used as a catalyst to think about inquiries that support the work the current participants wanted to explore.