#OneWordOnt: My Word? Radical.

14 Jan

I have read several of the #OneWordOnt posts and continue to be inspired by how many dedicated, caring, compassionate teachers we have in our profession. Ontario is in the beginning stages of what we hear is a “Refresh” of our curriculum. As teachers, we don’t know what it will look like. We’re usually the last to know about these things. However, I can’t help but think that this gives us an opportunity to rethink our classrooms and our practice. The more I think about it, the more I feel, deep in my bones, that the word that will guide my teaching, that continues to guide my teaching is: Radical.

The Oxford Dictionaries online define “radical” as, “(especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough”. We need to consider the fundamental nature of teaching and learning in Ontario. We need to acknowledge that it’s not working for everyone. Despite our best efforts, despite our best intentions students continue to fall through the cracks. Predictable patterns of institutionalised racism, sexism etc continue to be replicated in our classrooms. The idea of radical change in our curricula seems like a good place to start, but I secretly hope it’s just the beginning. I hope that every teacher in every classroom finds some way to dig deeper, to push harder to be that radical voice that pushes for that fundamental change that will ensure that no student feels isolated, that every student is given every opportunity for success. I’m taking a close look at each and every lesson I teach to consider its fundamental nature. Am I perpetuating the biases and inequities that I was taught? Am I pushing students to think critically? Am I challenging both my assumptions and theirs?

The second, but no less important definition listed for “radical” is, “Advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change”. As a teacher I am very careful not to tell my students what to think, but I do want them to keep asking better questions. There are countless people working to ensure that the air we breathe and the water we drink is preserved for our students and their children and their children’s children. We have the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We know what needs to be done. It is imperative that we listen. Listening is where it begins, but it can not end there. We need to be radical ourselves, push ourselves past what’s comfortable so that we can be better for our students because they need us to be. I work every day to be better for my student who was beaten and jailed by police for walking while black. He courageously presented his memoir, his experience to my grade 11 English class and I knew I could not just listen. 

When I hear the pain of girls talking about their experiences, hearing their faith derided and questioned, when I see a student attacked by a stranger for walking while wearing the hijab and being brave enough to tell us

We CAN NOT as teachers merely listen, empathise. We need to do more. We need to be radical, in our classrooms, in our communities, to truly be our students allies.


We are lucky to live in Ontario, where (at least for the moment) there is strong Media Education in the form of our Media Strand that runs through the language curriculum in Elementary and through the English curriculum in Secondary. Media literacy asks us to consider texts and environments in the context of culture and history. It asks us to take a wider view. It demands that we address what we encounter every day in our mediated worlds in our classroom so that, ultimately, we can be better and do better. So when a TDSB teacher asks his students to consider racism in the classroom, he can make it a part of his English lesson. Being radical ultimately encompasses aspects of both definitions. I will be looking at every lesson and interaction with a critical eye. This year, I’m going to work to be more radical, and it is work. It is an ongoing process of reflection and critical thought. I will keep having conversations that aren’t easy. I will keep pushing for both myself and my students to think critically, to examine the fundamental beliefs that we have, to be more thorough in my teaching. I will embrace the change that is possible when there is a radical shift because I need to work continuously to be a better ally for our students.