Equity, Diversity and Learning Committee
In 2008, the WCDSB Poverty and Learning Committee was established to address issues related to economic poverty, and its impact on teaching and learning. Members of this committee, including teachers, administrators, community stakeholders, chaplains, and student service workers, met once a month to deepen their knowledge, identify gaps in student access and achievement, plan workshops, and devise strategies for advocacy.
During the 2014-15 school year, members of the committee represented the WCDSB as part of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy: Building Capacity Across the Province initiative. This initiative involved teachers, administrators, and superintendents from 11 other Boards across the province in efforts to meet the benchmarks established in the Ontario Equity Strategy. The members of the Poverty and Learning Committee who participated used Liberation Theology and the Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable as frameworks to guide their work. They later devised a plan to help increase the awareness of poverty across the system, foster teacher leadership, and provide targeted professional development for pastoral staff.
In 2016, the committee was reformulated to address concerns beyond poverty, and renamed the Equity, Diversity and Learning Committee (ED&L Committee) to reflect the expansion of its mission. Today, the ED&L Committee is engaged in the development and implementation of activities that build the capacity of WCDSB staff to increase the integration equity-based and inclusive practices, and to improve academic outcomes for all students, but especially those who are most vulnerable.
Sphere of Influence: SYSTEM-WIDE
Focus Area: Communication & Assessment
- To use board-wide audits to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities presented as a result of economic poverty.
- To inform and influence the attitudes and dispositions of staff towards empowerment-focused responses to teaching, learning, and interactions with students and their families through regular and consistent communication.
Sphere of Influence: SCHOOL-BASED
Focus Area: Teacher Leadership
- To facilitate the integration of culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRRP), as articulated by the Ontario Ministry of Education, so that it is evident in classroom practice, the school environment, the ways in which educators think about themselves their practice, and their interactions with families.
Sphere of Influence: PASTORAL
Focus Area: Understanding the lives of students, and honoring their stories
- To use Liberation Theology, the Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, and cultural relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRRP) as lenses through which to learn about the lives of students outside of school, encourage student voice, and honor their stories through liturgy and the daily pastoral care provided within schools.
In keeping with Catholic social teachings, Pope Francis’ vision, and the call to be a “People of Hope,” Liberation Theology and the Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable serve as the conceptual lenses that inform the work of the Equity, Diversity and Learning Committee. Culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRRP) is the instructional framework promoted by this group.
The work of the WCDSB Equity, Diversity and Learning Committee is anchored in the Theology of Liberation, which is an interpretation of Christian theology that emphasizes a concern for the liberation of the oppressed. Originally co-founded by Gustavo Gutierrez in South America, Liberation Theology provides the committee with a philosophical approach and guiding principles for social advocacy that are fully aligned with our Catholic faith. There is no incompatibility of principle between the social teaching of the church and liberation theology. One compliments the other for the good of the whole people of God (Introducing Liberation Theology. Boff & Boff, 2015:38). Gutierrez emphasized that theology is not just to be learned, it is to be done, and that God calls upon each one of us to live authentically in order to bring His teachings forth by example and servitude.
Amongst other things, Liberation Theology includes a critique of the structural causes of spiritual and material poverty, and calls for the church and the poor to unite and organize for transformational social change. “We all need to make the option for the poor: the rich with generosity and no regard for reward, the poor for their fellow poor, and those who are even poorer than they” (Introducing Liberation Theology. Boff & Boff, 2015:46). We believe that framing our vision through this active theological lens can have a positive impact in our schools, and that through our actions we are modeling for our students what it means to walk in Jesus Christ’s footsteps.
Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
The Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable provides us with the theory on which to build our advocacy. The phrase “preferential option for the poor” was first used in 1968 by the superior general of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe, in a letter to his order. It emphasizes the Catholic obligation to extend the understanding of the poor to include all those who are marginalized in society, and encourages us not to ”…idealize poverty, but rather hold it aloft as an evil, cry out against it, and strive to eliminate it. Through such a spirit of solidarity we can alert the poor to the injustice of their situation. When Christ assumed the condition of poverty, He did so not to idealize it, but to show love and solidarity with men and to redeem them from sin. Christian poverty, an expression of love, makes us one with those who are poor and protests against their poverty” (cited in The Teachings of Modern Roman Catholicism on Law, Politics, and Human Nature edited by Witte, J. & Alexander, F. S. Eds. 2007)
The Preferential Option for the Poor is a reminder of how we should be leading our lives as Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ. It calls us to lead by example, from a place of empathy, and care. The Preferential Option urges Christians to look at the world from the perspective of the marginalized. It challenges us to create conditions for marginalized voices to be heard, to defend the defenseless, and to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact of the poor. The Option for the Poor does not mean pitting one group against the other, but rather it calls us to strengthen the whole community by assisting those who are most vulnerable. According to Pope Francis, it will “allow all peoples to become the artisans of their own destiny…since every person is called to self-fulfillment” (Evangelii Gaudium 190).
Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy
Culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRRP), as articulated by the Ontario Ministry of Education, describes teaching that integrates a student’s background knowledge and prior home and community experiences into the curriculum and learning experiences at school. Central to this approach are the beliefs that culture is a resource for learning, and human diversity is a strength, not a deficit. Teachers who reflect CRRP in their work and interactions with students: (1) are aware of the ways in which socio-cultural structures impact experiences and opportunities, (2) teach in ways that are informed by their students’ prior knowledge in order to expand their thinking and learning, (3) have positive and affirming views of students from all backgrounds, (4) use constructivist approaches so that student construct their own knowledge, (5) have a deep knowledge of their students and families, how their students learn best, and where they are in their learning, and (6) view themselves as change agents working towards equity.
In 2016, the Equity, Diversity and Learning Committee launched two job-embedded, intensive learning opportunities that are supporting WCDSB educators to deepen their understanding of equity, and to build their capacity to meet the needs of all students, but especially those who are most vulnerable. These programs include the LEAD Academy and the Equity Trainers Collaborative. Participants in these programs work together and independently to engage in deep learning so that Liberation Theology, the Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable and culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy are evident in their school environments, the ways in which they think about themselves and their practice, and their interactions with students and families.
Leadership for Equity and Diversity (LEAD) Academy
During the first year of the LEAD Academy (2016-17), participants worked in school-based teams to devise an equity project to meet the needs of the most vulnerable students in their school population. A Board-wide team, which included teachers from various schools, focused their efforts on a project to address the needs of schools low-income communities. During the second year of the program, school-based teams will shift the focus of their work to their individual classrooms and grade levels teams, while the Board-wide team will continue its work, and engage schools principals in the process.
Equity Trainers Collaborative (ETC)
Participants in the Equity Trainers Collaborative (ETC) receive training (on site and virtually) in order to build their capacity to support equity related projects at the school, family of schools, and Board-level, including the professional development of classroom teachers and administrators. During ETC seminars, participants learn to: (1) identify the types of professional development experiences required to increase teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to CRRP, (2) facilitate conversations designed to raise awareness about diversity, equity and learning, and (3) design, deliver, and evaluate professional development that will engage their colleagues in authentic, and relevant learning experiences. By participating in this program, ETC members are also being prepared to facilitate future cohorts of the LEAD Academy.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit Collaborative Inquiry Summer Institute
This summer institute uses a collaborative inquiry approach to create a space where participants learn how to infuse FNIM perspectives into their work with students and colleagues. It is open to all WCDSB teachers, administrators and student services workers. Participants in this institute critically examine mainstream, “Western” pedagogically approaches, and become exposed to indigenous ways of knowing as one way to “fill the gaps” within Eurocentric approaches to education. First Nations, Métis and Inuit Holistic Lifelong Learning Models are presented as alternative approaches education that account for the intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual development of both children and adults.
During the institute, participants examine best practice from the field, become acquainted with resources available in and beyond the WCDSB, and develop a plan for classroom-based activities, or new professional practices, that they can put into action during the upcoming school year. After the summer, participants continue to receive support from the group through occasional on-line activities, and opportunities for sharing. Participants will also engage with aboriginal Elders, community members, and local artists whose collaboration will enhance and enrich the learning experience during and beyond the summer.
Educating for the Common Good Conference
Every other year, OECTA hosts the Educating for the Common Good curriculum conference. Participants hear from a number of keynote speakers who are prominent in the fields of social justice and human rights, and participate in discussions and workshops that allow them to link key issues to their classroom teachings.
Harmony Movement is a non-profit organization which provides interactive diversity and equity education programs that empower and inspire youth, educators and those in the social service sector to develop an equity lens, empathy, respect, and leadership skills as leaders for social change. They also provide professional development in the following area:
- Educator’s Equity Workshop
- Culturally Responsive Practices for Educators
- Train-the-Trainer Educator Equity Leadership Certificate Program
- Professional Development Workshop
- Equity Presentation / Keynote Presentation
- Consultation in Equity and Inclusion Education
- Online courses
PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR AND VULNERABLE
CULTURALLY RELEVANT AND RESPONSIVE PEDAGOGY
BOOKS & ARTICLES
ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS & CENTRES
RESEARCH & REPORTS
- Equity vs. Equality in the Classroom | Think Inclusive https://www.thinkinclusive.us/equity-versus-equality-in-the-classroom/
- What Role do Teachers Play in the Educational Equity Movement?