Thursday, February 07, 2019

An example of workflow in SS10

Recently, a teacher asked for some suggestions for setting up a BC Social Studies 10 course. I thought I'd preserve the content of our exchange in this blog post... with a few minor edits and of course the caveat that there as many ways to frame a course as there are teachers.

Resources to get started:
Pacific Slope Consortium resource pages:
Pacific Slope dropbox share folder:
Thielmann's Web River SS10 page:

On this SS10 page, the files from a a few years ago -- still a good fit for the new SS10 although they are quite dependent on the textbook (Counterpoints 2nd Edition). The approach is more linear than thematic, and is oriented more to a critical understanding of content than it is to the curricular competencies of the revised curriculum. Still, these could be the basis of a foray into the new curriculum.

I use Pages and Keynote rather than Word and Powerpoint, so posting my original files would not be of much use to most teachers. For my website, I convert everything to pdf and will be updating the later units as I find the time.

Although I've done these in multiple orders and configurations, in a typical 18-19 week course with classes every day, here's how I usually break down my topics:
  1. Canada from the end of WWI to the end of the Great Depression (2-3 weeks)
  2. Canada and WWII (2-3 weeks)
  3. Canadian Politics and Government (2-3 weeks)
  4. Postwar Canada 1946-1984 (3 weeks)
  5. Modern Canada 1984-present (2-3 weeks)
  6. Global Development, Population, and Environment Issues (3-4 weeks)
  7. Project time and presentation time (2 weeks)
It's a tight squeeze. I think it is better to drop some topics rather than push faster to get through them all.  Taking a thematic approach, or moving around based on the competencies, would naturally look different, but I consider a certain amount of fidelity to some intentional content to be a basic structure that has to be present for a course to work. In other words, take any approach to setting u pa course, but the content needs to be appropriate, deliberate (even if it is simply a protocol for following current events) and paired up with everything that takes place in the classroom.

I usually break my lessons into the following routine:
  1. Some kind of provocative source or image or question to start the class, even just something on screen for them to think about
  2. A handout with questions related to the lesson (these are the files I've posted on my website) -- generally these are overkill and I do not collect them or mark them although they are the basis for the unit test and they can use them as open notes on tests.
  3. A lecturette or chalk-and-talk through the main ideas of the lesson. Many of these are accompanied by a slideshow. These are anywhere from 10-50 minutes depending on the topic, use of media, amount of questions & discussion, tangents, etc.
  4. Some media, either during the lecturette or after, or to finish class: usually short clips from documentaries, e.g. a single scene from the Canada's History series (many of which are available on youtube) or something interesting found online. I avoid the funny/cartoony summary videos that might grab attention but usually lack depth and accuracy. I avoid showing anything longer than about 10 minutes... at any rate I don't show more than a few minutes before stopping and discussing.
  5. I try to build in at least one discussion question or group activity or such to shift the lesson from me to them. Using "manipulatives" is a good way to do this (copies of primary sources related to the topic that they can move around at their desks and make judgments, assess significance, cause & effect, etc.).
  6. I build in some time for students to complete questions -- I don't assign homework but I do suggest they use home time for review and working on long-tern projects.
There are some other things that happen along the way but that's my basic old-school method. Some of my lessons span two or even three classes -- the longer the lesson, the greater the chance I'll use multiple media clips and design a real group activity rather than just wing it with discussion questions.

The use of questions is very important for the Social Studies teacher.  There are so many sliding scales to consider: wait time, level of difficulty, expectations for responses (including how responses are gathered), questions for clarification and keeping a line of inquiry moving vs questions that are meant to slow things down for thought, discussion, or action. Questions can be open or closed, have pre-conceived answers or not, verbal, written, graphic etc.  Some questions can just be thrown out, while others will benefit from structured activities using organizers, stickies, pair/shares, group/shares, journalling, debate, and so on.  Developing techniques to ask good questions, to manage good discussions, and involve as many students as possible takes time and will depend on context (including the identity of the teacher and students).

 usually intend to start each class with a current events item (usually a video clip from an online news source), but sometimes I forget or I'm anxious to get into the main lesson. Current events are picked either at random (because they are interesting) or because they tie in in some way to the lesson. I also use maps allot, and give students blank maps of Canada and the World that they bring out regularly to jot things down, like another place to record notes and orient them to where stuff is actually happening in the world.

Depending on the group of students and your design goals, you may want to propose an essential question or two to guide the course, perhaps something based on the Big Ideas or maybe something that stretches a little further and connects with concepts from beyond the course (that's what distinguishes an essential question from other types of questions).

One that can be used with SS10 is "Why Canada?" -- in other words, how has our political, social, cultural, economic, and environmental identity been formed and changed over time and at home & abroad, what makes us Canadian, is there actually one vision of what it means to be Canadian, how to we move into new ways of understanding this (e.g. reconciliation), how are we different than other countries, etc. etc. -- why Canada?

Another one I've used for SS10 is "Why Bother Voting?" -- in other words why should we bother to learn about our past and present, and care about the future, what are the issues of our time, and what agency do we have in affecting change; how does our government work, how do the other institutions (trade orgs, levels of gov't, education, health care, indigenous & northern affairs, treaties, climate agreements, etc) affect our way of life and future in Canada, what do the parties want, how do know who to vote for, whose voices are left out of the process, how do we include them, in what way should we live such that our beliefs are made real in the world, etc., etc. -- why bother voting?

There are others, of course.  In any case a good essential question is unpacked over time, does not have a simple answer, and lends itself to cycles of inquiry. If you try this route, try to get the students to develop the sub-questions (the "driving questions") and consider the idea of a multi-modal response to the essential question as a summative project or alternate to a final exam. Take a look at this teacher's use of essential questions to guide her Psych 11 class: 

For summative assessments (unit tests), I normally allow open notes. I typically have a few matching and multiple choice questions to cover the basics (essential content) and then short answers to cover most main ideas, often accompanied by prompts like an image or quote. I often have some map questions, or a longer written response based on a set of prompts (sources) or a guiding question from the unit. Sometimes I just use 11x17 paper and have students "map" out their response to an essential question using any info they want from the unit. It's not perfect but usually tells me what I want to know. Obviously, I don't post the tests online but I can send some to you if you wish. I'm a busy guy, but sometimes I get back to folks in a timely manner!

For formative assessment, I sometimes have them put together reactions, interpretations, etc to primary sources either on their own or in groups, and then I provide whole-class feedback and project some exemplary responses (or even typical ones) -- with their permission -- using a document camera. I also move around and read their question responses and give them individual feedback -- mostly if they ask for it.

Lots of other stuff going on in a class, for sure, but I thought you might be interested in my workflow. I have a few longer assignments and projects I've done over the years, but the Echo Project was my favourite <>.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Writing exams: Paper vs Online

Up until a few years ago, our BC Social Studies 11 students wrote a provincial examination to wrap up their course.  This was a standardized test featuring 55 multiple choice questions and two essay questions.  The exam was the same for all students in the province and was sometimes used by the school, district, or province to provide data on how students were doing.  Teachers occasionally used the exam results to give them feedback on whether what they are teaching has had the desired outcome.  In many cases the exam was ignored.  Not precisely a high-stakes exam (although it was worth 40% of the students' overall mark), although for some teachers it drove their course planning and was often seen as a barrier to more creative ways to teacher the course.  In my opinion it was a reasonable assessment; it drew from all areas of the course curriculum -- 20th century Canadian History, Human Development and Environmental Issues, Canadian Politics and Government -- and included a balance of straight-forward and higher order questions.  The exam also assured that students across BC more-or-less got an introduction to common topics of citizenship and Canadian identity, the state of the developed vs developing world, why it was worth voting (and who the parties were), and about Canada's involvement in world affairs. It was perhaps too focused on content and less on broader thinking concepts and subject-specific skills (other than interpreting population pyramids).  The essay questions could be hard for students, but they really showed whether students could synthesize learning from a big chunk of the course, and also whether they could write at a level that could be expected from a Grade 11 student.

In January 2013, a group of Social Studies teachers in Prince George conducted an informal experiment to compare the results of students who wrote their provincial exams using either the paper format or an online format in a computer lab. Who would do better on the written section?

At the first school, the teachers insisted on paper copies of the exam.  At a second school, they decided to try having all of the students write online.  The written section on the exam -- an essay on a historical topic and a second essay on a topic related to human geography or the environment -- is marked by teachers.  Our schools have similar demographics, the exam is the same, and the teachers who taught the course have similar styles and roughly the same attention to content, division of curriculum, and review strategies.  We did notice that the school with the online writers did not seem to emphasize human geography to the same extent as the other school, and this showed up in the responses to the second essay.  There were two classes in each school writing the exam, so we had about 50 exams at each site (thus 100 essays) to provide data.  The students did not get to choose paper vs online, so this perhaps removed the element of preferred styles and comfort-based selection.  Students with special adaptations required (e.g. scribes) wrote the exam in a separate sitting and were not included in our experiment.  The exam session is 2 hours, although most students require and hour or a little more to complete it, so "exam" fatigue" is rarely a concern.  The essays are all scored with the same 6-point grading rubric (see image above), and the teachers marked the exams together with two teachers marking each paper and agreeing on a score.  The discussion of results and conclusions (this blog post) are the result of the conversation between one of the markers from each school -- myself and a colleague. We participated in the marking but did not actually teach any of the classes involved.

While we weren't completely impressed by their achievement, the Paper group won this contest with ease. There was a higher overall average score, with less 0s and 1s and almost no NRs. The student students provided more detail, used more complex sentences, and had fewer lapses with grammar and punctuation. Interestingly, they related more "stories" from class; that is, more anecdotes that sounded like direct quotes from the teacher (for better or worse) or lines of thinking that were the result of activities that likely involved writing or speaking in class (as opposed to something studied before the exam).  They also had more repetition -- cycling back through an idea to fill the space.

The online writers had a lower average, with considerably more NRs, 0s, and 1s, and no 6s. They had shorter sentences and paragraphs, and used more informal grammar and less punctuation. These students had a higher prevalence of poor diction (word choice or vocabulary) but the syntax was fine (arrangement of words and phrases). We concluded that they knew most of the same facts and possessed similar opinions as the paper group,  but simply referenced them without expansion, kind of a "I know this stuff -- just read my mind" approach.  

With all of their writing contained in a textbox, then online writers had no annotation of their text, no circling or evidence of revision (eraser marks) or any other evidence of the "struggle" to capture their thoughts. We admitted that we felt a bias about this -- writing that came from (and had) a "personality" seemed to be more authentic than the digital text. We also found the digital essays easier to mark -- without the "personality," e.g. the peculiarity handwriting (particularly neat vs messy) we spent less time second guessing whether we were assessing a visual quality that was not necessarily tied to their level of understanding. With digital writers, it was simply a matter of how does this piece of writing place on the rubric?

Our interpretation of these results was that students writing essays online fall into a pattern of digital communication that is informal, truncated, and full of insinuation rather than exposition. Their writing has a quality of expedience and we imagined they were written much faster than their paper counterparts. The students writing essays on paper exhibited more care and attention to their work, but also included more material meant to fill up the page.  Perhaps the online writers had no expectation of how "big" their essay should look on the screen, whereas the paper writers looked at three lined pages for each essay and had a feeling that they should at least get to page two before wrapping it up.

We agreed that students are very comfortable writing in digital spaces, but this does not necessarily serve them well for formal tasks such as essay writing.  This conclusion goes against what many experts would suggest -- even based on our own experience, it would seem that the digital format would serve one better: it is easy to go back, fix errors, cut & paste from one section to another for a better flow, change one's mind about various parts including paragraph and so on.  But this is our adult sensibility, we are teachers who have spent years writing, first on paper and later with the "magic" of computers and word processors.  For some of our students, using a word processor is like accessing a heritage skill.  They are more finely attuned to the gestured inputs of digital devices, and are slower to type and less likely to take advantage of editing tools than the generation of students who used computers but did not have smartphones.

We carried these observations forward to other schools in 2013 and resisted them after subsequent SS11 provincial exams; our conclusion were generally reinforced by what we heard from every school.  The school that used the online exam in our experiment in 2013 started giving students a choice about online vs paper, and they also put a renewed emphasis on writing skills in their Social Studies courses.  These particular provincial exams are no longer with us, but I thought this would be an interesting set of thoughts to consider as we anticipate a new round of standardized tests in BC -- the upcoming Grade 10 numeracy assessment and the Grade 10 and 12 literacy assessments.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Collaborating for Inclusion

This is a story about the integration of Outdoor Ed and Social Studies, but also a story about what inclusion looks like.

Ian Leitch is teacher in Prince George and a member of the Pacific Slope Consortium (as am I!). Over the last few years, we have been working on a project we've called TTSP -- you can read about that here.

Many of Ian's contributions to the Pacific Slope and dialogue with TTSP members revolve around his ongoing efforts to integrate outdoor and experiential learning and identity-building curriculum with Social Studies and Outdoor Ed classes. This has translated into unique courses, such as a version of Social Studies 11 Explorations that centers on the Canoe in Canadian history, geography, and culture, with student learning about traditional ecological knowledge and experimenting with "pioneer" skills.

These course trials have led to powerful learning at his school. His wilderness expeditions are legendary, and have taught students about their own limits and strengths, and their capacity for inclusion.

​In 2017, Ian invited Miranda, a remarkable student who lives with severe Cerebral Palsy and spends most of her day in a wheelchair, to join his Outdoor Ed class. With community resources, family and classmates' support, Miranda was able to participate, right up to setting out on a canoe expedition. On a second outing, Miranda had another first -- sitting by a fire and carving wood. This class experience allowed her to act on her love of nature.

Aidan, a young man living with challenging autism, was able to construct his own shelter and spend a – 20 degree winter night under the stars. He did so because the place was made safe for him by his teacher and classmates. One of the key learning outcomes for this course was how to co-design field excursions to involve every student. For Ian's class, inclusion is a team effort.


Photos (Ian Leitch) & names, and stories shared with student & parent permission

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Introducing the Capacities

Or, How to Think Like a River.

In British Columbia, we are about 6 years into 8+ year process to implement new curriculum in our K-12 schools.  The "redesigned curriculum" seeks to make some of the implicit goals of education -- communication, critical and creative thinking, personal and social responsibility -- explicit by identifying them and calling them core competencies.

Within each course, the curriculum is framed by Big Ideas. Curricular Competencies, and Content.  Depending on who you talk to, or which Ministry of Education document you read, or video clip from an expert you watch, these frames (the whole new curriculum really) are quite fluid...
  • Big Ideas can be rolled in or out, curricular competencies can be swapped out for others, and the content is merely a suggestion.
  • There are no standard assessments to measure success.
  • There are multiple opportunities to embed indigenous perspectives, but no detailed prescriptions for what this should look like.
  • There are entry points for community and place-responsive education, and a greater emphasis on holistic interdisciplinary learning.
  • There are implications for pedagogy, but no actual dictates about what that looks like or what paradigms should guide the "new teacher."
  • Having common course outlines within schools will be elusive -- choice and flexibility is where it's at.
  • The implementation was underfunded and lacked clarity, and the whole process has had political undertones related to government funding and control of educational agendas (i.e. as opposed to teachers' agendas).
  • Parts of the process were too slow or experienced punishing delays (e.g. piloting Grade 10 curriculum for three years in a row).
  • Some teachers are organizing their course and assessment using the Big Ideas, others are using the curricular competencies for this purpose, while others are sticking with content to structure units and guide assessment.
  • Most teachers will, of course, pay attention all three and aim at some kind of synthesis.
For better or worse, this is the plan for the next long while in BC. I am still rather excited to be part of this change, or at least parts of it, but very much aware of its shortcomings, its unintended consequences, and the challenges faced by teachers in making sense of it. I often work with new teachers, both in the local UNBC teacher training program and early career teachers in my school district. These are the ones who are thought to have been "trained in the new curriculum" but in reality they are more uncertain than the "vets" about what it all means. They realize that the "fluid curriculum" gives them creative reach and freedom to experiment, but wow would they ever like some modelling and guidelines.

Speaking of fluidity, I have given some thought to how to assess students in the this brave new curricular world. It is a competency-based system, and yet assessing competencies on their own is great for formative work (try, evaluate, reflect, revise, re-try) but not so great for summative (final standing, marks, and advancement).  For example, I don't think we want to start having report cards that say Johnny got an A in establishing significance but a C- in perspective taking. The curricular competencies work well for individual tasks, for taking apart problems and developing skills.

In the study of stream dynamics, we have a couple of terms to describe how rivers move sediment -- competence and capacity. Steam competence refers to the size of particles that can be carried; the higher the competence, the bigger the particle size. This is mainly the job of young rivers in steep terrain, rolling and dragging big stones and carving away at the valley walls. Stream capacity refers to the total volume of sediment that can be carried.  Rivers with high capacity have already seen the big particles broken down, and carry a big load of sediment in suspension and solution, and lay it down beside the river or cary it out to sea.

I love these terms as a metaphor for what happens in classrooms. At first we take on big problems, one by one, and start to see how it gets easier when the problems start coming apart. We erode the barriers, and build a unique channel through a challenging landscape. Later, we have the capacity to make broad connections between problems, to communicate what we have done, and take responsibility for the impact of our knowledge and understanding. This process is cyclical, happening over and over again in a class, a course, a K-12 education. Thus. I am interested in using my classes to develop both student competence and capacity.  While any individual task may practice and assess competence, when it comes to overall marking categories and summative assessment, as well as readiness to advance to the next grade, my focus in on capacity. For the context of Social Studies,  I have settled on four: Foundations -- this is knowledge and understanding of core content, Skills -- both hard and soft, like the ability to read maps, determine bias in sources, or organize an argument, Thinking -- application of concepts (mainly the curricular competencies) and cognitive skills to problems of history and geography, and Connections -- inquiry, synthesis, and activation of learning. Here is the framework I use to position "The Capacities" within the new Social Studies curriculum (and here is the pdf link):

This is my latest stab at trying to reconcile the various parts of the hidden and revealed aspects of the curriculum, and to provide a topography for student assessment. As always, feedback welcome via @gthielmann, in a comment below, or by email gthielmann (AT) gmail (DOT) com.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Teachers as Advocates for Public Education

Like many school districts, the one in which I work has policies on employee rights & responsibilities that includes language on how teachers can speak out:

3.14 is an interesting one and the focus of my post. It has been used as a bugbear by both employees and the employer to suggest that teachers have a gag order on public commentary and should avoid bringing concerns about the education system to the media. This sentiment was not the intention behind the policy nor should it be the basis of interpretation. This was made clear during a policy revision process in 2016-17 that included Policy 1170.3. Both sides affirmed the idea that employees are welcome to use reasonable tools to raise awareness and make improvements to public education.  The employer did not dispute the almost ubiquitous association between responsible use of social media and public commentary. The Prince George Teachers (PGDTA) lobbied to bring changes to this policy, to affirm the idea that healthy, responsible, public comment by teachers was both of benefit to the education system and also respectful of tradition and diversity, not to mention Charter rights. Alas, the feedback and proposed changes from the PGDTA were rejected by the trustees on the advice of senior management.

The wording of this policy as it stands does, however, provide a starting point for a reasonable interpretation of the extent to which teachers can use public commentary to advocate for a quality education system.

The key word here is "irresponsible" -- e.g. a public comment making a critique personal (e.g. directed toward a district employee), or using false information, inflammatory language, breech of confidentiality, slander, careless generalizations, etc. "Responsible" comment should be welcome. There is no gag order (or Charter or Rights exception) on teachers using media to improve the education system, nor does a critique of a particular policy or initiative undermine the public education system -- it is intended to bring about effective change.

We have ample precedents of practising teachers in Prince George and BC responsibly offering public comment in order to identify educational issues and suggest solutions. I have done this myself many times since 2010 on radio, newspaper, TV, public board meetings, and on social media. I have spoken out on technology plans, school closures, program implementation, district budget cuts and budgeting process, superfluous spending, management of student data, student data security, school achievement contracts, asset disposal, collaboration models, labour negotiation, bad faith bargaining, Labour Relations Rulings (one of my faves), school ground greening, school repair, response to mental health services, and many aspects of leadership and district planning process.

As a rule of thumb, the more the public comment is directed towards general trends and local or provincial phenomena that we can all own as a education system, the better. "Public commentary" should be about "public issues" and not about private concerns and personal grudges. A good example is the current revision to the curriculum in BC -- hundreds of BC teachers have chimed in via twitter, facebook, and blogs about how this process has unfolded and about the mistakes made along the way. These folks are not just complaining or hanging on to the past, they consistently offer solutions or alternatives, and speak from a position of authority and/or experience.

There are special circumstances that call for actual whistleblowing, e.g. a response to corruption, gross negligence, child protection, workplace harassment, or serious safety violations.  Sadly, our district policies do not include protection for whistleblowers, and no doubt there have been issues in the past that were allowed to fester unchecked because no one wanted to confront the problems publicly.  I believe that situations calling for whistleblowing should be dealt with separately from Policy 1170.3 -- advocacy for public education is one thing, coming forward with an allegation of harassment or a dangerous workplace hazard is another.

Of course, many teachers are comfortable leaving advocacy on serious or sensitive issues to their union leadership -- that's ok. Full-time released union officers are not bound by Policy 1170.3 or its equivalent elsewhere, and often do spend some of their time preparing briefs for the media and engaging in public comment through social media and public presentations to local school boards. We can rely on the BCTF, too, for providing public education advocacy -- they have devoted considerable resources to this end and have made it a core value of the organization.

Ordinary teachers, however, should be comfortable with the idea that part of their responsibility as a professional is to be an advocate for public education. This means that they should not shy away from responsible public comment and, where appropriate, political action and social justice projects. Our job does not end in the classroom, although that is the most important part. Our job includes diverse roles within overlapping educational communities on many scales, from the classroom all the way through to international solidarity. In between are school, district, and provincial issues that absolutely require both private and public comment from teachers. Thankfully, each of us does not have to attend to all issues at all scales -- do what you are good at, do it when you are ready, and do it responsibly.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

New job

After 23 years of teaching Social Studies, English, Geography, and other fun stuff, sometimes with various pull-outs blocks for leadership or support and coordination, I'll be out of the classroom next year, for at least one year.

I will be splitting my time between Pro-D Coordination (managing the local teacher Pro-D fund and organizing Pro-D events and conferences) and Curriculum Support for senior Humanities teachers.  The first job I've had for 5 years, but the second one is new for me.  I'm thrilled to start this -- in some ways it looks like the work I've done off the side of my desk for years, but it will also involve some new roles.  Here is the concept map that I used to prepare for the interview:

I would like to focus some of this "Curriculum Coach" time on our early career and new assignment teachers as they grow into their roles, even those who may not have senior courses next year.  I will be available for mentoring, curriculum & resource suggestions, inquiry & assessment design, co-teaching or classroom visits, and whatever else may be of use. I'm also envisioning a new addition ro our mentoring series in our district where we connect early career secondary teachers with experienced teachers in an interactive seminar setting -- something like a carousel with hands-on activities. The one-to-one and small cohort models have worked quite well for the elementary teachers but we have not drawn out the secondary numbers we hoped for. The goal here is to impact the development of a vibrant classroom, purposeful teaching & learning, and authentic assessment.

Of course, the other side of this is that I won't be at D.P. Todd next year, perhaps never again as I imagine landing at a new school or situation when my current seconded assignment ends.  I have been at this school for 15 years -- two-thirds of my career -- and I leave with mixed emotions. As I survey the vast hoard of books, lesson material, artifacts, and remainders of student projects that have accumulated in my classroom over the years, I am reminded, mainly, of the things I love about teaching. About teaching high school Social Studies students in particular.  There have been frustrating parts, too, but I've disposed of that evidence and generally suppress those memories because, hey, when you're in in for the long haul it has to be about the passion and positive stuff, otherwise it is time to get out.  I have been really fortunate to have some special students in the last few years, students who may not have been at the top academically, but really stepped up to conduct meaningful research and find creative ways to express their learning.  That's the group I have enjoyed teaching the most.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Approaches to the Revised Curriculum

The path by which BC has arrived at a new curricular landscape for Social Studies is neither straight nor intuitive. Many teachers have expressed concern over the loss of Social Studies 11, considered a "flagship" course due to it's emphasis on the world wars, a changing Canada in the 20th Century, and meaningful exploration of politics, government, climate change, and global population and development issues. Other teachers have expressed concern over the elevated status for history and historical thinking within Social Studies and the resultant (perceived) demotion of geography in particular -- in my opinion it was not embedded strongly to begin with. Teachers are also not clear on whether the curricular competencies are skills or concepts meant to make the job of exploring content more purposeful, or whether they are ends in themselves, and thus a direct focus for assessment. Delays to implementation have caused frustration (how many times can we teach SS11 to students who have already sat the same material in SS10?), as have the confusion over whether electives should be designated as Grade 11 or 12 or both. The proliferation of choice and flexibility, once touchstones for the BCED Plan, are now seen as fragmentation and indecision. By accounts from curriculum team members (and pundits who make assumptions about these things on twitter and elsewhere), some feel they had too much freedom to make decisions while others feel they had too many constrictions imposed by the Ministry of Education. The very fact that the curriculum across the disciplines so strongly reflects the personalities and projects of individual members is itself a source of interest. Is it even possible for the curriculum to be free from the stamp of individuals? What would it have looked like if others were involved? Whose feedback made it to the top of the pile?

So what do we do about it? It is my belief that the chaos introduced by the planning and implementation process over the last few years, and the resultant curriculum documents, will amplify some of the strengths and weaknesses that currently exist in BC schools. We have teachers unprepared to teach their subjects, who have come to rely on worksheets and modules (usually not their own) or a series of disconnected projects. We also have teachers who have intense passion and knowledge for certain topics or methods, some of which were closely tied to pre-existing course structures and titles, some of which were never fitted to the courses to which they were assigned. For better or worse, the revised curriculum offers a window of time in which teachers may indeed write their own narrative into the curriculum, to shape the very contours of their teaching practice, and define big ideas, competencies, and content in a way that resonates with their core values as educators. This is, of course, both dangerous and exhilarating, and will result in as much bad practice as it does success. If this opportunity is combined with a commitment to take our respective disciplines and our own teaching craft seriously, to hold each other accountable, and to be willing to share our curricular decisions and classroom results with other teachers, then the experiment can be a positive one.

Take it for what it's worth. Along with so many other teachers, I intend to drag as many Social Studies teachers from the unprepared, uninspired side to the knowledgable and passionate side. Trust me, I know both sides personally, and have in fact built many snow-storms of worksheets that have blanketed students over the years.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Governor General Award

This week, the recipients of the 2017 Governor General's History Awards were announced, and I am humbled and thrilled to be counted among them. The award is given to teachers of history and is based on a portfolio submission including a project, supporting work, teaching context, references, and student exemplars. We all gather at Rideau Hall to receive our awards on November 22nd, and have some other activities set up that week in Ottawa for history educators and the guests we bring. I thought I would share the information I submitted to Canada's National History Society, the group that administers the awards.

Skookum Stories -- Project Overview:

“Skookum” comes from the Chinook Jargon - a trade language that developed in BC and the West Coast during the 1800s. It means “big” or “strong” and has crossed over to become a word in the English language. This Skookum Stories project is about telling a strong story that draws on student's roots and culture, and is based on primary and secondary source evidence.

Provide a description of the project you are submitting. Be sure to clearly describe the activities, processes, and outcomes:

Skookum Stories is an inquiry project for BC Social Studies 9. Students set out to find out more about their cultural heritage. This often starts by settling on what "family" could mean and to make an inventory of the people in their life they could talk to and what evidence they might have about the past. Next student decide what parts of their “story” as they know it interests them for further inquiry and then make the effort to talk to elders, preferably two or more generations back, but just one if that is not possible. Students gather evidence and conduct research about either their family’s roots or their culture, with special attention to stories that have a connection to history, place, and ideas. Students for whom 'family" is a real challenge are often led towards local history & community research, or broader sources that deal more with culture than family. Along the way, students design inquiry questions to help guide their work, and organize their evidence and response to their questions. As the project progresses, they build in spoken and visual elements and get feedback from friends, family, and teacher(s) before finalizing the story and presentation. Finally, they share their story collection with class, share the visual elements (usually artifacts or sources), and wrap up with a contribution to a Skookum feast. The inquiry cycle leading up to the presentations happens off and on for about two months, with some class time devoted specifically to research techniques and project work. The presentation cycle takes about two weeks (13 hours) for a class of 25, with another class devoted to sharing of food. Specific outcomes for this project include: 1) Working with "competencies" -- the historical thinking concepts that are now embedded in the BC Social Studies curriculum, 2) Making personal connections with history, specifically themes and events from the Social Studies 9 curriculum, and 3) developing Research, Inquiry, and Communication skills. Unofficially, two of the most important outcomes are to become confident as individuals who have important stories to tell, and to keep alive the evidence of the past that too often go the graves of the people who have gathered it or were witnesses to history. Each time I have used this project with students, I have taken notes on their findings and what they got out of it. While respecting student privacy, I have blogged about the process and highlights of student stories. Any examples I post with potentially identifying details have gone through a permission process with the students and their parents/guardians.

Describe your teaching philosophy and how this project supports that philosophy in your classroom:

I see classrooms as ecosystems, as constant rearrangements of ideas and efforts. Although I teach Social Studies -- generally seen as a combination of history and geography, I think what I'm really doing is identity work, creating space for students to challenge themselves and grow into something stronger than when they arrive. The ecosystem metaphor works on many levels, with inputs such as light, soil nutrients & moisture, species diversity, and time relating to things like instruction, learning resources & activities, inclusions, and pacing. Perhaps my role in the ecosystem is that of the forest denizen, an old tree that provides support for the whole structure. The Skookum Story project taps into all of these things, with students owning most parts of the inquiry, resources, and pace. Very few things we do as a class bring us together as a community than the project presentations. The diverse stories and journeys of discovery really stick with the students, and have changed me as a person and teacher. I have been fortunate for many opportunities to develop and share resources for heritage inquiry in BC, both on the web and at conferences and workshops. I am both honoured and baffled by the number of teachers who have accessed the Social studies resources I’ve posted online over the years. Dozens have tried and adapted the project, and collectively we’ve pushed traditional heritage projects into the realm of inquiry and application of critical thinking.

Explain what makes your project unique and the particular environment (classroom, school, and community) in which it was developed and implemented:

The idea of a heritage-related project is not new in the realm of Social Studies or History classrooms. I think what sets this apart is the sense of urgency to connect students with elders (and their stories, documents, and artifacts) before those connections are lost. I am astounded at how many students discover or rediscover important and interesting stories from their culture and background that no one in their immediate family knew about. This intergenerational cycle is important for cultures to survive and thrive. Another unique aspect to this project are the options for students that have difficult or complex family situations. I have been supported in my work by school staff, in particular my librarian and fellow Social Studies teachers, and by the Pacific Slope Educational Consortium, a collection of teachers who work on critical thinking resources. I also get a lot of support and feedback from students and parents. This project is almost always of value to families, and in some cases has opened up lines of dialogue and facilitated personal change for students and their inner circle of family and friends.

Explain how your students use the historical thinking concepts in this project using specific examples from your student work submissions:

The project requires use of inquiry questions around each of the concepts.

Significance -- we explore what makes a story interesting versus important, for example is an ancestor's involvement in an event (such as the Northwest Rebellion) significant on it's own or is it the event itself? Of course it depends. This year, I have had students share their connection to many significant events including the Loyalist Migration, Irish Potato Famine, North West Company, gold rushes and railway construction, Red River Rebellion, WWI, Spanish Flu, WWII, Japanese Internment, Residential Schools, and the Sixties Scoop.

Evidence-- students learn the difference between primary and secondary sources and use both to anchor their projects. This year students used journals, photos, military records, interviews, and other documents.

Continuity -- students find patterns in their research that can also be found in history, starting by asking what is different and what is the same. My students often compared homesteading lifestyle with modern conveniences.

Cause & Consequence -- many of my student this year examined the cause/effect cycle related to immigration.

Perspective -- students are challenged to find at least one issue within their research for which they can present differing points of view backed up by evidence. Examples this year include the Japanese internment.

Ethical Dimensions -- students are encouraged to look at values held by ancestors and make judgements as to why they existed and what impact they had. Racism is a common "value" that comes up, as is the idea of patriotism in times of war.

Please provide any additional notes or comments that would help us understand the nature and value of your project in Canadian history:

When I first started doing heritage inquiry in Social Studies, it was often difficult to get my Aboriginal students to take on their own cultural heritage and family stories as a focus for their project. Many of my students had close relatives who experienced various forms of colonization including time at residential schools such as nearby Lejac. Over the years, this has changed; in my mind this has happened for a few reasons. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission process has given many of the elders a safe space in which to share their powerful and often devastating stories. In turn they are now willing to talk to their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren about what they experienced and witnessed. "Being Native" is now less of a stigma -- teachers and Aboriginal Education staff have done great work in the last 10 years to include, develop, and honour Aboriginal perspectives and identity; this has been an emphasis of our revised BC curriculum. I have also gotten better at working with reluctant learners and finding supports for students that have difficult stories to tell or tricky family situations. This also goes for students who have been adopted, live in care, or are not in communication with family members.

Links: list any URLs that house any related material related (e.g., class website, Flickr, YouTube, etc.) and describe the role they play in your project:

Links and resources have been assembled at

Friday, October 27, 2017

School as a system of spaces

Recently, I had my Grade 11 Social Studies students examine the "human experience" at our school, D.P. Todd Secondary in Prince George. 

We thought about all the ways in which we create "affective ties with the material environment” (a reference to Topophilia by Yi Fu Tuan). These are the bonds that people form with the places they visit and inhabit, and can be characterized as positive or negative and everything in between, or neither for that matter. We began our thinking with some history of the school and ideas around why it was built the way it was back in 1976.

We schemed out the patterns, the categories of interaction that take place. In no particular order: safety features & processes, natural light vs artificial light, meetings places, high traffic areas, places to eat, food service, programs in operation, sound and music, state of technology, use of tables and seating, state of repair & equipment, accessibility (e.g. inclusive of disabilities), private vs public places, connection to nature, doorway & entrance experience, noise levels & places to make noise, evidence of celebration, temperature or climate control, communication systems, fun/happy vs sad/depressing, evidence of history/tradition, student-centered creations.

The students set out to take photos as evidence of these patterns. See below for some of the examples -- notably absent are the images that show students "doing their thing" at school -- we did not publish these due to privacy.  Our conclusion was that a school is not just one place, but many spaces that are collected together to meet different expectations.  We had near-consensus that our school building is tired, in need of repair and renovation, and fails to meet certain expectations.  Four of the top concerns were: lack of natural light (most classrooms do not have windows, same for the hallways and open spaces), lack of nature-connection specifically trees on the school grounds, no place to sit and eat lunch (many kids sit on the floor with their backs against their lockers), and a dingy unwelcoming front entrance. As one student put it, when you put our school under the microscope it doesn't look good. For the positive, the students mentioned that student generally feel welcomed and have a positive experience of being together despite the deficits in the school and on the grounds, perhaps due to the school's smaller size and population. Mind you, one student likened this to Stockholm Syndrome. There was also agreement that the library or "learning commons" functioned as a positive space and had good hits on our checklist.

As a teacher doing this work with students, I have a short-term wishlist for D.P. Todd, realizing that a the promised full-scale renovation may never come:
  1. Our school has undifferentiated expanses of hallway and an entrance area that is too small and crowded -- at present these are the only public spaces where student can gather. We need some spaces for students to "retreat" and see themselves reflected in the school experiences -- take out some lockers and put in benches and display cases to form small alcoves. Finish the table replacement cycle by bringing in a few more of the red & blue oval tables and getting rid of the cafeteria style tables in the main hallway.
  2. Have a few areas, even wallspace, that the students control or can manipulate from week to week and year to year. Include digital spaces and outdoor spaces in which students have a sense of participation and choice. Our school should represent the "present" of it's student body, not just the past.  
  3. More trees -- almost all of the "historic" trees at our school were Pinus Contorta and fell victim to the pine beetle epidemic in the early 2000s.  We have a handful of scraggly trees left, including some "accidental" cottonwood saplings coming up between a sidewalk and a fence. Kids deserve communion with trees on a daily basis, and we have the room for single specimens, rows, and small groves of trees, not to mention flowers, plants, shrubbery, or sculpting of small hummocks. The established and repeated rationale for denying past efforts to replant trees -- that it is easier and cheaper to mow lawn that it is to maintain trees -- is unacceptable.
  4. Offer an incentive for teachers to declutter, get some feng shui, and make their classrooms more welcoming -- a new coat of paint or a bit of new furniture can go a long way. Swap desks for small tables where requested, and replace the terrible chairs that snag kids' hair and clothing on the rivets.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Sourcebook

Along with 8 other BC teachers, I've had the pleasure of working on a teaching & learning resource for BC Social Studies 9 -- "Thinking it Through." The other teachers were Rob Lewis, Joe Pereira, JP Martin, Vince Truant, and Jennifer Pighin from Prince George, Paula Waatainen from Nanaimo, Janet Ruest from Chemainus, and Shannon Leggett from Vancouver. We each wrote some of the topics or case studies in the Sourcebook, and I had the fun job of editing, writing the introduction, and other tasks along the way. It was an enjoyable learning curve on curriculum design and publishing a book, and a good experience working with the folks from Pearson Canada.

Here's a little primer on the book for those that might consider using it in their classroom.

This “Thinking it Through” Sourcebook will help students develop their critical thinking skills as they explore selected topics from the revised BC Social Studies 9 Curriculum.

This book is organized according to seven CONTENT STANDARDS, each with four case studies in critical thinking: Revolution and Change, Imperialism and Colonialism, Migration and Shifting Population, Nationalism and Nation-Building, Regional and Global Conflict, Injustices and Rights, Land and People.

The authors have selected primary and secondary sources, all kinds of questions, and suggested extension activities for 28 case studies. Each one is a sandbox for teachers and students to explore CURRICULAR COMPETENCIES and apply historical (and geographic) thinking concepts. Students will push their thinking about what they can learn from evidence, and realize how the account changes depending on the evidence they use.

Finally, by developing the ability to think through historical, social, or geographic evidence, students will learn how BIG IDEAS have shaped the past and the present.

Perhaps the most important purpose of the Sourcebook is to suggest to teachers and students a method of “doing” Social Studies. Whether the focus is on instruction, discussion, inquiry, story-telling, or project-based learning, Social Studies should be grounded in the work of exploring relevant sources from the past and present, the work of creating valid accounts about important ideas and events through the examination of evidence and application of historic and geographic thinking concepts.

The Sourcebook can be an “untextbook” – not meant to be the only resource used by the teacher and students (which is sometimes the criticism of past textbooks), but something that appears at regular intervals in the classroom in order to develop the capacity for critical thinking. It also makes an excellent bridge between the many texts and resources designed for the previous BC curriculum and the “asks” and content shifts of the revised curriculum.

The authors hope that teachers and students replicate this process beyond the examples used in the Sourcebook -- that they develop the habit of finding provocative sources that delve into the heart of historic, social, and geographic problems, and then applying critical thinking concepts to discover their worth in building understanding about the relevance of history and place in everyday life.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

To Trump or Not to Trump

"I may be 13, but I’m wide awake to the racism in America" reference: Opinion, Globe and Mail, August 23rd, 2017
A friend and colleague shared this article from a 13-yr-old student in Seattle... and it got me thinking about how discussions of privilege, race, current events, silence, and appropriate action will play out in my teaching practice this year.

With the return to school imminent, I am wondering how to approach the subject of Trump's America with my Social Studies students. With many others, I’ve watched on in both fascination and horror as the bizarro version of the American Dream has unfolded over the last eight months — the successful merger of reality television with their political system. While it’s been easy coming to my own conclusions about how Trump is contributing to racist, xenophobic, and anti-LGBTQ attitudes, it will be a bit harder to figure out how to bring fair and reasonable discussions about Trump into the classroom.

There is a tradition among Social Studies teachers of remaining politically neutral (if there is such a thing), and presenting many side of issues so that students can draw their own conclusions. This is especially important when it comes to current events and controversial topics. While not tantamount to silence, teachers often hold back on ethical judgments so as not to drag students towards their own beliefs. In practice this is hard to do -- should I be surprised that students, by the end of course, will share many of my own perspectives on the world? Hopefully they develop the skills to disagree with me as well.

Developing critical thinking in Social Studies is not a precise exercise in objectivity. As we examine evidence, consider the judgments of others, and develop our own opinions, we take up values and confirm beliefs, we align ourselves with causes, and we sometimes commit to a course of action as a result of our stances. This is what we want. But we also challenge the judgments of ourselves and others, question beliefs, redefine values, and change course from time to time -- hopefully as a result of carefully considering and reflection on evidence. There are "objective" aims and methods within these exercises, but always in some kind of dialectic with the subjective, with our experience and reaction. We also encounter turning points, where our (ideally) objective foray into the evidence makes some positions untenable, and others responsible. The scientific evidence of climate change comes to mind. Or confronting racism. There may be two sides to a story, or many sides, but it is not wrong to come to a critical assessment that implicates the untenable and promotes the responsible.

Trump's presidency has produced ample evidence on which we can and should make critical assessments. After Charlottesville, it has become clear to me that Trump has crossed a line into demagoguery, and that his growing negative legacy is now fair game for Social Studies teachers and their students.

How will I do this? I'm thinking of using articles on Trump, video clips, statements from public thinkers, Trump's tweets, reactions from American and non-American politicians, and sources from other demagogues, presidents, or maverick leaders in some kind of station activity. The proximate goal is for students to put Trump into some kind of historical perspective, but there are other intentions behind this activity. Maybe we can use this to introduce protocols for unpacking current events, for practicing critical thinking (the "competencies" in Social Studies), and for reinforcing that history is something we build based on evidence and interpretation, not something static that is received.

Or, I could simply write "Trump" on the board and see what students have to say.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Assessment in Social Studies

Why do we need a new way to assess progress in Social Studies?

It may not come as a surprise but most teachers loathe marking. Being a part of student success, monitoring progress, providing feedback -- that's not so bad, but actually giving up late afternoons, early mornings, evenings and weekends to work through piles of student papers and projects can be a real killer. Marking is the new smoking.

I don't claim to have figured out how to provide valid student assessment without putting in some actual time with student work, but I want to clear that the work I am paying attention to is actually indicative of success and that my efforts at marking and evaluation are of some benefit to students and not just something I have to do.

To compensate for the arduous nature of marking, many teachers have adapted some strategies to shorten the tasks and "thin-slice" their reporting of student progress. Recently, I have worked with BCTF staff and another teacher to develop a workshop on assessment. The video above might horrify teachers, but there are recognizable elements in Mr. D's approach to assessment that we have seen in ourselves and in our colleagues over the years. Who hasn't found shortcuts?

While I continue to search for my own valid shortcuts, I have put some thought into how Social Studies courses and assessment schemes could align better with competency-based curriculum and prove better bang-for-the-buck when it comes to assessing what students are actually learning. Here are some reasons some change is necessary:
  1. Students (and teachers) often don’t actually know what a grade means. Does a C+ signify an average job on some learning outcomes or failure at some and mastery of others? Do accumulated scores of 8/10, 10/10, 1/10. and 9/10 indicate a C+? Simply adding up scores does not always tell the story of what a student has learned or how they have progressed. Teachers are often confident that It should be straightforward for students to see the connection between what they do, how they are assessed, how they are graded, and what to do when they don’t succeed. Many schemes allow or even encourage students to do the bare minimum in order to get to the next level -- setting 50% as a pass is often a poor indication of competency. Students should be meeting expectations in all areas that are key indicators of success -- if it is important, it is an expectation.
  2. The idea of separating work habits from assessment of learning has obscured the fact that habits & study skills, social conditions for learning, and personal achievement are hopelessly intertwined. Students need a way to move beyond the cards they are dealt. This requires an assessment practice that respects personal stories and allows students to “contract” for advancement. Assessment should be more like swimming lessons: areas of progress that students can track, with feedback that is useful for their next attempt. Assessment should focus on performance and aim for objectivity, but we can’t be oblivious to the differentiated abilities and backgrounds of students, nor the need for elegance, nuance, and equity.
  3. It is not enough to simply assess content (whether factual recall or deeper understanding), nor is it any better to focus solely on the new (and partially developed) competencies. Similarly, schemes based on abstract or subjective standards make collection of meaningful data difficult. Something holistic and yet specific and clear is needed. We should be assessing both “competence” (ability to perform certain tasks) and “capacity” (ability to manage and complete many tasks).
So what would a new assessment scheme look like?  Rather than explain it I have mapped it out in this rather convoluted graphic. It is also posted at my New BC Curriculum site. Feel free to contact me if you want it explained further.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Equity Motions and the BCTF AGM

At the upcoming BCTF AGM, there are a series of recommendations (from the BCTF executive) and one recommendation (from a union local) that deal with equity issues among elected officials within the BCTF.  I will list the relevant motions below (copied from the BCTF Reports and Resolutions booklet) and follow-up with a summary (my interpretation), my response and voting intentions. I have also attached here a complete list of my voting intentions for all of the recommendations and resolutions that are proposed for the AGM.

Recommendation 33
That By-law 5.1.a be amended as follows:
5.1.a There shall be an Executive Committee, which shall consist of a President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, an Immediate Past- President (when applicable), and seven
nine Members-at-Large, elected in such a manner as to ensure that at least three Member-at-Large vacancies are filled at each AGM. One Member-at-Large position shall be designated to be held by a racialized member and one shall be designated to be held by an Aboriginal member. The designated positions shall have the same term and role as the non-designated positions. They The Executive Committee positions are shall be elected by at the Annual General Meeting and shall take office on the following July 1 next following. Each member of the Executive Committee shall be a member in good standing entitled to vote, in accordance with By-law 1.1. An Executive Committee member may be removed from office under the provisions of By-law 1.7 or By-law 7. 

Recommendation 34
That By-law 5.1 be amended as follows:
d. All members of the Executive Committee shall be eligible for re-election 
subject to the equity criteria established in By-law 5.1.a.e. The Member-at-Large position designated to be held by an Aboriginal member is open only to the election of a member who identifies as being Aboriginal.
f. The Member-at-Large position designated to be held by a racialized member is open only to the election of a member who identifies as racialized, including those members who identify as being Aboriginal.

Summary: The executive will be expanded to include two new member-at-large positions to be held by an Aboriginal person and a racialized person*.

Recommendation 35
That By-law 5.4 be amended to add the following and be renumbered accordingly:
d. Candidates for the Executive Committee who intend to run for positions with equity criteria shall confirm that they meet the equity criteria by self- identification on the nomination form provided to the Nominating Chairperson. During the election process a candidate can drop down to run for an equity position for which they have self-identified on the nomination form, or drop down to the remaining positions without equity criteria.

Recommendation 36
That AGM Standing Rules of Order 13.3 be amended as follows:
That the election shall be conducted in the following order:
1. President
. First Vice-President
3. Second Vice-President
4. Member-at-Large designated for an Aboriginal 
5. Member-at-Large designated for a racialized member
6. Members-at-Large.

Recommendation 37
That AGM Standing Rule of Order 13.11 be amended as follows:
Candidates defeated in an election for any office shall be deemed to have been nominated for the office next to be filled, provided they meet the equity criteria. If they do not meet the equity criteria for a specific position or they choose not to run for a designated Member-at-Large position, they will be deemed to have been nominated for the next office to be filled for which they meet the criteria. At any time in the conducting of a ballot, any candidate may, by giving notice to the meeting, withdraw from the contest election.

Summary: Persons from equity-seeking groups, if not successful in filling designated positions, can run for non-designated positions. Also establishes sequence of votes.

Recommendation 38
That By-law 5.1.a be amended as follows:
There shall be an Executive Committee, which shall consist of a President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, and two Vice-Presidents, elected for one-year terms, an Immediate Past-President, serving a one-year term, and seven Members-at- Large, elected for two-year terms. They The Executive Committee positions are shall be elected at by the Annual General Meeting and shall take office on the following July 1 next following. Each member of the Executive Committee shall be a member in good standing entitled to vote, in accordance with the provisions of By-law 1.1. An Executive Committee member may be removed from office under the provisions of By-law 1.7 or By-law 7. 5.

Summary: Instead of a 1st VP and 2nd VP, just have two VPs with equal status.**

Recommendation 39
That By-law 5.1 be amended to add the following: g. At least two of the three table-officer positions— President and two Vice-Presidents—must be held by members who self-identify as being from an equity- seeking group, which includes members who self- identify as women. This ratio would be achieved over a two-year election cycle with at least one of the three table-officer positions being held by a member who self-identifies as being from an equity-seeking group in 2018–19 and at least two being held by members who self-identify as being from an equity-seeking group in 2019–20, and this ratio be maintained thereafter.

Summary: Of the top three positions in the executive (President, 1st & 2nd Vice-Presidents), two will be from equity-seeking groups, e.g. women, LGBTQ, Aboriginal, or racialized.

Recommendation 40
That AGM Standing Rules of Order 13 be amended to add a new 13.14 and be renumbered accordingly. 13.14 In the election of the table-officer positions (President and Vice-Presidents), if a member who does not identify as being from an equity-seeking group is elected to one of the positions, only those candidates who identify as being from an equity- seeking group will be eligible for the remaining table- officer positions to be elected. Candidates who were declared ineligible or who were unsuccessful may have their name remain on the ballot for subsequent positions for which they are eligible. 

Summary: Two of the top three positions must be held by persons from equity-seeking groups, thus they can't be filled by a "non-equity" person even if there are no "equity" persons running for the positions.  See Recommendation 43 for solution to this potential problem.

Recommendation 41
That By-law 5.1 be amended to add the following: h. Up to two of the seven non-designated Member-at- Large positions may be held by members who self- identify as men with this ratio being achieved over a three-year election cycle, with up to four positions open to being held by men in 2018–19, up to three in 2019–20, and up to two in 2020–21, to be maintained thereafter. 

Recommendation 42
That AGM Standing Rules of Order 13 be amended to add a new 13.15 as follows and be renumbered accordingly:
The election for the non-designated Member-at- Large positions must be conducted in accordance with the representation established in By-law 5.1.g and take into account the numbers of members who identify as men in the Member-at-Large positions not up for election that particular year. At any stage during the balloting process, once the ratios for the years listed below are met, candidates who identify as men will no longer be eligible to continue with their name on the ballot or be declared as elected.
1. 2018–19 up to four members who identify as men 2. 2019–20 up to three members who identify as men
3. 2020–21 and thereafter up to two members who identify as men.” 

Summary: The remaining seven positions on the executive for non-designated members-at-large can only have up to two men. This will be phased in over three years.

Recommendation 43
That By-law 5.5 be amended to add:
If, in any given year, the AGM is not able to fill the positions that require specific equity representation or meet the ratios designated in the by-laws, due to there being an insufficient number of candidates meeting the criteria, the positions shall be declared vacant and shall be filled by the Representative Assembly, applying the same criteria, until June 30 of the following year. 

Summary: If the equity quotas are not met, they will not be filled by "non-equity' persons but will be filled by election at a subsequent Rep Assembly using the same rules.

Resolution 101—Greater Victoria
That By-Law 5.1.a and 5.1.b be amended as follows: 5.1.a There shall be an Executive Committee, which shall consist of a President, First Vice-President, Second Vice-President, an Immediate Past- President, a TTOC/New Teacher Representative that is currently a TTOC in their first five years of teaching, and six members-at-large and seven members-at-large. They shall be elected at the Annual General Meeting and shall take office on July 1 next following. Each member of the Executive Committee shall be a member in good standing entitled to vote. An Executive Committee member may be removed from office under the provisions of By-law 1.7 or By-law 7.
5.1.b Notwithstanding the foregoing,
the TTOC/New Teacher Representative, and each member-at-large, shall be elected for a term of two years. If for any reason either position becomes vacated a member-at- large leaves the position after only one year, a successor shall be elected to fill the unexpired portion of the two-year term. 

Summary: The executive will contain a designated position for a TTOC/New Teacher Rep that is within their first five years of teaching.


Response: I think the BCTF has evolved over the years, and has perhaps adopted many of its progressive views in advance of the general public (e.g. they have been leaders not followers). There are more women in leadership positions, including BCTF staff and the BCTF executive than ever before. There are frequently as many women running for executive positions as men, and with approximately the same chance of succcess given the electoral history. Some, but not all, of our recent executive committee have been composed by a majority of women. This does not yet reflect the fact that majority of BTCF members are women, but it is reflective of society in general. Aboriginal persons and persons of colour, women in particular, have also seen increased representation on committees and leadership positions, including the executive. In my mind this means that the BCTF drive for social justice and promotion of the rights of equity-seeking groups has been working. Persons from equity-seeking groups that have won elected positions and taken positions of importance in the BCTF can rightly say that they have earned it, that barriers or ceilings to their success have been reduced, and that they are there because they have earned it AND because the voting members saw their identity markers as assets and not detractors. Further evidence that existing equity measures have been successful: of our last five BCTF presidents (going back 13 years), three have been women (Sims, Lanzinger, Lambert), one racialized (Sims), and one openly gay (Hansman). Only one of the last five (Iker) was not from an equity-seeking group, but he was certainly one-of-a-kind!

One angle in the debate about the use of race and gender based quotas is that any attempt to mandate diversity will automatically exclude some groups. I think it is well established as to why race and gender form key aspects of privilege and therefore equity-seeking status. I get that, and my also my own status of privilege as a straight white male, but I also believe that we have a capable membership that can become democratically involved in ensuring diversity among elected officials without being forced to use race and gender as a voting criteria. If these recommendations are an attempt to create a more accurate reflection of society, they do not work. If they are an attempt to create a more inclusive set of voices around the table at the executive, they are missing some key voices. Why not create designated spots for persons with disabilities? How about a mandated cross-section of generations? How about regional representation? Is it okay for multiple executive members to come from the same region or even local? What about elementary vs secondary designations? What about subject specialties, e.g. so-called academic vs elective vs non-enrolling designations? What about designations for DL teachers, rural and remote school teachers, representation for bilingualism, etc.

I do not believe that creating hard quotas and ratios based on a selection of identity characteristics (particularly race or skin colour) is a productive approach to increasing overall equity, be that in leadership, the general membership, or society. Such a move will be divisive among teachers rather than increase member engagement. The remaining barriers to equity and diversity of representation within the BCTF do no lie in the electoral system, but in the appeal and recruitment for these positions. An example from the general membership -- there are far more women than men in the teaching force. This does not represent society as a whole, and has led to a lack of male role models for many of our students, particularly at the elementary level. There are also very few transgendered role models for students. To resolve problems like that, the system could impose gender quotas for hiring (alongside race), or it could put its effort into recruitment and retention. Another example -- the current push for an Aboriginal Employment Equity Agreement. While I support the idea, the problem in getting more Aboriginal teachers isn't in hiring quotas, it is in recruiting Aboriginal men and women to complete degrees and apply to teacher training programs. To me, hard quotas are the easy way out -- they appear to solve the problem by forcing diversity at the expense of democracy, but do not necessarily increase representation or the addition of new perspectives.

While I am open to further thought, reading, and dialogue about this issues, at this point I will not support these motions. I think they swing to the extreme in their response to last year's equity audit and will be a conundrum on the AGM floor in terms of emotions and procedure (expect many proposed amendments). It is quite possible that there will be unfilled positions, while at the same time earnest and capable candidates will be turned away from vacant spots because of their cultural background or gender identity. I was one of the 3000 randomly selected persons (out of 41,000 teachers) to take a members' survey connected with the equity audit, of which there were 327 valid responses. I found it to contain loaded and leading questions. While a survey of less than 1% of BCTF members might indicate some trends and range of views, it is not a clear call to make the kinds of changes suggested in these equity motions.  Also, many of the recommendations of the equity audit report did not become AGM recommendations -- the use of the report was selective.

Despite the survey, I certainly respect the intent of the BCTF executive and staff to take equity issues seriously and to keep diversity near the top of its agenda. If these motions pass, however, it will signal to women, persons of colour, Aboriginals, and LGBTQ members that they need an electoral advantage in order to succeed. I'd say give them a head-start by encouraging them to come forward for these positions. And guess what, they already do come forward, and we can see that by the relative diversity on current and past executives. I would find the motions easier to accept if there were simply

I'd love to see a more diverse BCTF executive, but not through mandated identity quotas. I would find these motion more agreeable if there were simply some spots opened up on the executive (e.g. 3 of 7 members-at-large) and perhaps just one among the table officers open to all equity-seeking candidates and that if none step forward then they could to anyone.  I believe the motions as they stand go too far and at a cost. Our executive has become increasingly equitable not through quotas but because the BCTF has become accepting of diversity and welcoming to all, and has taken democracy seriously.

*I am assuming that a "racialized" means a person of colour or a visible minority, or someone who identifies through ancestry to persons of colour or visible minorities as opposed to some sense of "European descent." Or is racialized about racial equity, about races that some social historians would consider to have been the Other for some part of the past? If that is the case does racialized include "white" folks that have been historically marginalized, such as Jews, certain Slavic peoples, people from the Basque region, Roma, Mennonites, etc.? The term requires further definition (perhaps the BCTF has done this somewhere but I have missed it), and raises some serious ethical and historical issues when used as criteria for holding office.

** In regards to recommendation 38 (just two VPs, not a 1st and 2nd VP), I am less certain of my voting intention. In principle, it makes the spot of president more competitive and less of a coronation, however it removes the tradition of preparing table officers for the top position. Does this motion imbed the "slate" politics at the AGM, or does it open it up to more movement. Perhaps only time will tell, but one thing I know now is that I want the president to be the best person possible to represent teachers at the bargaining table -- everything else is bonus. In my mind, we know if we're getting the best by allowing that person to demonstrate proficiency in roles with gradually increasing responsibility. While inclined to support this motion jus to see what happens, I also wonder if this is simply a change in order to make Recommendations 39 and 40 easier to implement.