Dr. Leon A. Barrett
PRIDE Education Columnist
On December 21, 2016, Pride News Magazine published my recommendations as my response to Peel board’s community forums to get feedback on We Rise Together, the Peel board’s action plan to support black male students. The recommendations included the following:
- Start initiatives from the primary level. It is much too late at the Grades 11 & 12 levels
- Encourage classroom libraries with a wide range of reading materials. Allow and encourage students to help build those libraries.
- Encourage students to take responsibility for their education by providing opportunities for them to take individual initiative to address their needs
- 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 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
- School administrators probably need more retraining than the staff. They need a re-arrangement of their brain. 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 and 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
In its accountability report, the board noted that “over the past year, board curriculum staff have:
- provided professional development to teacher librarians and classroom teachers to help build a collection of texts that supports Black students, using a critical literacy lens
- built links to race and racialization In high school English courses
- worked with elementary schools to develop collaborative inquiries with a focus on social justice as it applies to the experience of Black students”
Then for its actions, it noted that:
“The year one action plan 2017-18 is organized into the four We Rise Together focus areas:
Engage with the community
- Create a We Rise Together advisory council (in September 2017) consisting of Black Peel parents, community members and board representatives who will meet at least four times a year to gather related feedback and advice and provide updates
- Host an annual parent engagement session for Black Peel families led by Black Peel educators, the date and time for which will be established collaboratively with the We Rise Together advisory council in fall 2017
Deliver anti-Black racism and bias awareness professional development
- Deliver mandatory anti-Black racism and bias awareness professional development training through an external facilitator for Peel’s senior administration, Trustees, school administrators, managers and supervisors, curriculum coordinators, instructional coordinators, special education resource teachers, social workers and psychology staff. Training will commence in the fall of 2017 and continue throughout the academic year
Integrate the experiences of Black Canadians Into curriculum
- Develop the lesson plans and resources with Peel Black educators and community experts to embed the experiences of Black Canadians into the grade 10 mandatory history curriculum and the open course In Grade 11 on Black Studies for implementation In the 2018-2019 school year
- All central instructional coordinators will embed the Black experience and history into their specific curriculum areas through a comprehensive K-12 perspective. This will begin in September 2017 and continue throughout the academic year
- A further development of Black History Month resources and texts by curriculum staff to be shared in all Peel schools. This will begin in September 2017 and continue throughout the year
Inspire Black student leadership and engagement
- Host annual We Rise Together Leadership Conference for Black male students In middle and secondary schools- Conferences will take place over the course of two days in winter 2018
- Host a symposium for Peel educators that are interested in developing Black mentorship programs at the school level and provide a resource kit to schools to organize and develop mentorship programs with Black community leaders for Black male students. This symposium will take place in October 2017.”
Conspicuously absent from Peel board’s action plan, though, is a commitment to hire large numbers of teachers of African descent and Caribbean heritage to reflect the student population.
It cannot be overemphasized that live images (actual teachers) in the classrooms are important and critical.
They send a clear and direct message that we have been and are important contributors to the development of our country – Canada.
They also send a message to the students of African descent and Caribbean heritage that the teaching profession is a viable career option for them.
I hope that, collectively, we will continue with vigorous advocacy for the employment and promotion of teachers of African descent and Caribbean heritage in the school systems.
I am committed to this cause and will continue to make my voice heard on every opportunity and occasion I get and create.
Dr. Barrett is a retired Peel Region District Board teacher and educator.