I am a retired Peel Board teacher. So, as my response to the Peel Board’s community forums to get feedback on We Rise Together, the Board’s action plan to support black male students, I submitted the following recommendations as I was unable to personally attend the sessions.
Plan of action
Start initiatives from the primary level. It is much too late at the Grades 11 and 12 levels.
Heavy doses of character education, with positive self-affirming statements. Help students to develop the habit of positive thinking and the resulting positive actions.
Heavy doses of career education (visioning exercises and help students to work towards those goals). Help students to develop the attitude of seeing possibilities and opportunities, not problems or obstacles.
Encourage classroom libraries with a wide range of reading materials. Allow and encourage students to help build those libraries.
Heavy emphasis on academic mastery and good citizenship from early in the system.
Encourage students to take responsibility for their education by providing opportunities for them to take individual initiative to address their needs.
Help students to understand the purpose and role of education in their lives and in the wider society.
Many teachers know what to do but are fearful to take the initiative because of the possibility of career suicide and career homicide. Remove that threat. At each school there should be encouragement for teachers to do the right thing and what is right.
Encourage teacher efficacy, while preserving the division of labour, if that is the most efficient way to operate. Encourage teachers to identify issues and take the initiative individually and/or collectively to address those issues through positive action.
Encourage segregation to address specific issues and not as an ideology of oppression.
Utilize willing teachers and other personnel of African descent and Caribbean heritage in the various schools. Let them be “persons of contact” for both staff and students regardless of the division of labour.
For students presently at the secondary school level, schools should start immediately to have frequent information sessions to help students understand the education system, fully understand the implications of course selection, give them true options for course correction, and provide positive means for them to be motivated and work towards their academic and career goals. This is a tall order given the present system. “But if the mind can conceive it and we truly believe it, we can achieve it,” Rev. Jesse Jackson. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthen me” Holy Bible.
School administrators probably need more retraining than the staff. They need a re-arrangement of their brains. They need more opportunities for “brain work” than “brute force”. They need to read, read, read, not only policies but materials to stimulate thinking and enlightenment. And they need the latitude to be innovative and not operate just like “trained seals”.
Yes, have school administrators employ staff to reflect the student population proportionately. Images do matter. When school administrators say they only hire the best, that is a myth. It is only true largely in their brains, only. In spite of the best intentions of the Board, there is still manipulation of the hiring process.
Establish channels where there can be confidential, open, honest feedback on a range of issues. Diversity of ideas is healthy for the system.
I am willing to play a positive role in the formal system to bring us closer to the desired outcomes. That role is to be mutually determined.
I am still devoting some of my time to helping parents and their children understand, navigate and succeed in the education system.
Dr. Leon A. Barrett, EdD/PhD
December 4, 2016