In March, 2018, Parents for Diversity, along with black organizations in the National Capital Region, met with then Attorney General of Ontario, Yasir Naqvi, to discuss systemic racism in schools. During the meeting, parents shared their experiences of being silenced by teachers and school boards, and feeling alienated when their children experience anti-black racism. The one issue these parents kept raising was that they did not know their rights, and how to be a voice for their children.
Parents for Diversity committed to developing a workshop for parents on how to advocate for their children when they experience anti-black racism. Since then we have delivered several workshops for parents on anti-black racism, including this Saturday, when we held two workshops. Initially, we planned only a workshop for parents but many educators and service providers registered for the parent workshop. We decided to create a separate session for them, and both workshops sold out.
One of our members is a photographer, and did a photo exhibit with quotes from a recent study about black students’ experiences. We wanted to use visual images to convey the personal experiences of young people across Ontario who are experiencing racism in school. The vibrant and innocent faces juxtaposed with the quotes about streaming, disproportionate discipline and other issues faced by black students was powerful.
It was uplifting to see educators spend their Saturday morning reflecting on unconscious bias, racism and what we can do to make our schools more inclusive. The morning session focused on unconscious bias and its impacts in the education system, as well as the legal obligations schools owe to their students. Participants worked through scenarios and had group discussions to explore specific steps educators can take to address anti-black racism.
We heard about the challenges educators face, such as the impact on the school environment when parents teach their children negative racial attitudes. Educators shared positive experiences of using restorative practices to heal relationships between students following conflict, as opposed to only resorting to disciplinary measures. At the end of the workshop, teacher candidates who had participated in the workshop continued discussing issues from the workshop with a wise advocate who has been working in equity for years. Connections are being made, which is exactly why Parents for Diversity exists!
In the afternoon, speakers and participants shared stories about the many forms of racism that they and their children face. We discussed human rights protections for students in school, and ways in which parents can navigate the school system to effectively advocate for their children.
One of the most rewarding parts of our workshops is the opportunity for parents to share their experiences with each other and to know that they are not alone. This allows them to also develop networks with other parents and community groups who attend our workshops. We hope that parents feel empowered to be a voice for their children. Towards the end of the workshop, we shared a problematique on anti-black racism that participants edited collectively. It set out parents’ specific concerns on anti-black racism, and ways in which to address these issues, such as increasing the hiring of black and racialized teachers, as well as the need to collect disaggregated race-based data. Our hope is to finalize the document into a letter that parents can then send to their school boards. Parents have agency, and need to feel like their voices are being heard.
An important message we try to convey in our workshops is the importance of maintaining positive parent-teacher engagement. This is not always easy, especially when incidents of racism arise. We encourage our educators to develop more culturally responsive approaches to teaching that not just acknowledge the different identities and experiences of students, but nurture them. One useful tool in fostering culturally responsive teaching is the Inclusive Classrooms Self-Assessment for Educators that the Turner Consulting Group has developed.
This weekend was full of insightful moments, and we are grateful for the teachers, teacher candidates, school board officials, parents and allies who filled our Saturday with thought-provoking discussions. This is what we live for: the opportunity to work together to create more inclusive schools where every child as an equal opportunity to succeed.