My name is Sidney Pompa-Sidhu and I’m a Year 2 teacher candidate at the University of Ottawa. I’m currently doing my last practicum placement with RSEKN before I graduate this upcoming spring. This blog is a reflection on my experiences as a teacher candidate with a focus on inclusivity and practicing culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy (CRRP) in the classroom. As someone who wanted to work in education from a very young age, I’m extremely grateful for the extensive experience I’ve had teaching and learning with children and adolescents. I have developed an understanding that every student is unique, with learning abilities that intertwine with the diversity of a classroom.  

Often discussed and promoted in Ontario schools, CRRP, as described in an earlier RSEKN blog post, “promotes the importance of recognizing, acknowledging, and in various ways including the range of cultures that exist in any classroom”. As mentioned in the post, Culture Shifts, and So Should Your Response, “the ongoing challenge to implementing CRRP is that cultures are ever-changing …. because of the cultural flux, gaining a consensus on what [CRRP] pillars are has been debated for decades, and adaptations continue”. Though cultures are ever-changing and it is not always easy to implement CRRP, I do believe that teachers should be making every effort to create culturally relevant curriculum to better suit the needs of their students. This will lead to a friendlier and kinder classroom environment and an overall better school experience for the students in your class.

As a teacher candidate, I taught English to students in grades 9-11 at the academic, applied and locally developed levels at Brookfield High School. Brookfield has an extremely diverse population, which reminded me of my own experiences as a student in elementary and high school in Toronto. Many of the students that I taught in the applied English classes were students who had recently come to Canada and whose first language was not English. My associate teacher always made a point to incorporate culturally relevant reading materials so that every student felt that they were being represented in the curriculum. Together, we read one book in particular that really stood out to me and that every student in the class thoroughly enjoyed called Bifocal by Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters. This novel is told from the perspective of two teenage boys (one Middle Eastern and one white) and tackles several issues regarding racism, stereotyping and fear. If you’re teaching English at the high school level, I highly recommend reading this book with your class.

I had a very similar experience while doing my practicum placement at Churchill Alternative Public School, working with students in grade 4. My associate teacher always made a point of acknowledging every holiday and briefly explaining what it was, why it was important and how it was celebrated around the world. She would also do a daily read-aloud that always consisted of people of different cultures and religions around the world. My associate teacher would regularly talk about being inclusive why it was important to always be kind to one another regardless of each other’s differences. I quickly noticed that this was something that really registered with these nine and ten-year-olds and was extremely impactful. This placement taught me that it is never too early to start having conversations about the importance of inclusivity, diversity and equity with students.

Creating an environment in which all students and parents feel that the classroom is an inclusive, safe, open and caring space should be a priority for all teachers and educators. Students of all ages learn better when they are in a learning environment that they feel comfortable in. Taking from my experiences as a student and a teacher candidate, students should always have a say in their own learning. Actively engaging students in their own learning and hearing what they have to say will be something that I continue to do in my future practices as an educator. 

All teachers need to evaluate the strengths, needs and interests of their classroom and find ways to develop, implement and assess culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogies and assure they are inclusive of marginalized and racialized groups. In making this a priority in my own classroom, RSEKN will certainly play a role in my future practices as an educator by continuing to support equity and diversity and supporting communities of practice across Ontario in anti-racist and refugee and newcomer education. As an educator and teacher, it is important to remember that something that may seem minimal to you, could have the biggest impact on one of your students. 

Written by Sidney Pompa-Sidhu