Geordie Walker (Principal of Hillcrest High School) and Sherwyn Solomon (Principal of York Public School) shared their stories and facilitated a professional learning sessions for the University of Ottawa’s J/I/S teacher candidates as part of a course entitled, “Schooling and Society”. Awad Ibrahim moderated the learning session, while Linda Radford, co-lead of the Urban Education Cohort at the Faculty of Education, helped bring this collaboration together.

RSEKN Co-Director Ruth Kane, Principal Sherwyn Solomon, Principal Geordie Walker, RSEKN Co-Director Nicholas Ng-A-Fook & Prof. Awad Ibrahim.

Equity is not a privilege or a choice. It is a right.

Geordie Walker and Sherwyn Solomon shared their philosophy and approach to teaching and leadership, drawing upon their personal stories on the obstacles they faced in the schooling system as students. Principal Geordie described the classroom as “having the privilege of creating a space to talk about different things”.  Both educators shared their restorative justice approach with their students, noting that restorative practices are about repairing harm to nurture a relationship, where the problem at hand becomes secondary to building a relationship. This approach requires a skill-set that is learned, and not evident. In order to build a positive, equitable school ecology, compassion and understanding from teachers, school staff and administration is essential. 

Do not resolve complex problems with simple solutions.

– Sherwyn

To invest in equity, educators must trace the roots to the systemic barriers that reinforce inequity in the first place and hold their local communities accountable. They must also acknowledge systemic barriers when dealing with conflict with students, in their classrooms and in schools, rather than reduce the issue to student misconduct and inappropriate student behaviour. To practice this frame of thinking, teacher candidates divided into groups and discussed diverse student profiles that highlighted intersectionaliy and the impact and importance of culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy. Each student profile case included a series of supporting actions drawn from the Ontario Ministry of Education’s “Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy”. 

Geordie shared his reasoning behind his no-suspension school policy, and the consequences of a punishment system that does not resolve deeper issues of inequity, but rather perpetuates a cycle of violence. Instead, he suggests principals and educators take on a restorative justice approach and communicate one-on-one with students to foster and build relationships. Although this approach may “take a long time”, the outcome is more profound and certainly more  likely to promote equity.

In your opinion, what could educators do to create equitable conditions in their classrooms?

Equity Knowledge Network (RSEKN), hosted by the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education and the Centre for Research on Educational and Community Services (CRECS), is a provincial multi-stakeholder bilingual knowledge mobilization network that brings equity innovators together in order to stimulate activities and support product development that can be used to break down current systemic barriers to children and youth from marginalized groups. Email: Twitter: @KNAER_RSEKN