Thinking about Inclusion

I recently attended the Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto. This year’s theme: Fearless. It felt different than the edtech conferences I have been to. Firstly, I was not presenting a single thing and so that gave me the flexibility to genuinely explore without thinking about my own session. I also know that as a new teacher-librarian, I have much to learn.  I loved meeting some of the Ontario teacher-librarians from whom I have been learning on Twitter for the past few years.I decided to attend sessions that I normally would not attend.  Three powerful sessions come to mind and this question bubbles up for me as a result of what I have heard:

How are we genuinely building community in our schools and helping our most vulnerable students feel welcome and included?

Here’s what

  1. Jesse Wente, a First Nations activist, gave me much to ponder in his opening keynote:

He said, “We have a storytelling issue when it comes to how we relate to each other.”

How do we think about the stories being told? Who gets to tell those stories? What are some of the preconceptions we have of indigenous people and how do they impact the stories we read and tell?

He spoke about FEAR that sometimes impacts our ability to do things differently vs the way we have always done things.  I know this and how it applies to technology-enabled learning, but how does it impact the way we view the world and the information that is shared with us through the lens of journalism? 

Wente called out cultural appropriation as” the theft of our stories “which I had never ever thought about before, but can’t stop thinking about now.

He challenges that a “Narrative gap skews the way future generations will see each other.”

As he spoke, I thought about our desperate need for Critical Literacy which is incredibly important to our ability to get students to question and think critically about what they are reading.

2. Jennifer Brown and Laura Badovinic’s session on Truth and Reconciliation carried over many of these themes into a classroom setting. Brown was careful to say, “Even when we are not a member or a group. Try to go on a learning journey.” She talked about the need to be fearless about asking questions vs not saying anything at all or saying something that may harm.

They reminded us that teachers, teacher-librarians, and leaders we have a foot in coaching & mentoring but also a direct impact on kids.  

She too emphasized critical literacy questions as she worked with a grade 4 class and I loved her idea to “debunk a book” with kids, reminding us that children and competent and capable if we give them the tools.

3. Desmond Cole, a Toronto activist spoke passionately about the difference between fearless vs people who confront their fears. He says, “There are no fearless people…but those who push forward through their fear.” 

He talks about the work of educators that requires lifting people up: to provide enrichment & love of learning.

He says, “Our work is emancipatory”. He talks about harm reduction and building community and the fact that as humans our struggle is  not a “blacklivesmatter one” or an “undocumented children” one, but a collective one.  He challenged that those who have the ability to speak collectively are not, but should. 

So what?

Many of these conversations are still swirling around in my head. When you know better, you do better. How can I do better?  My Library tech did a massive weeding of our fiction section and had Of Mice and Men on the list to renew. I remember teaching this book and being very uncomfortable about the language in it, but at the same time appreciating the conversations it started with my students about ageism, racism, and discrimination against people with special needs. I had to ask myself, Is having this book doing harm to the students in my school community?  I don’t believe in censorship, and yet….

At war with myself, I asked my friend Dwayne Samuel to chat with me about it. He is the only black teacher on staff. He wondered about cultural appropriation and whether or not someone with more power who wants to start a discussion is more of an “ally than a thief.” In the end, we decided that we would get the book, but that we would tag it so that if a student takes it out, we have a conversation with him/her about it.

More importantly, he thanked me for engaging him in a conversation about this and for asking the question, “Is this doing more harm than good?”

Now what?

Inviting these discussions into the classroom can be very tricky. I talk about this in Chapter 10 of Social LEADia.The resources for that chapter may be of some help to you. I think it is necessary to have kids question texts and it is just as important for students to connect with people from around the world who hold a different perspective than they do–because social media allows us to do this simply.

Make Critical Literacy a daily practice in your school:


I am thinking about my LGBQT students struggling with their identities and the FNMI, Asian Heritage, and the other cultures represented in my school community and wondering about how they might know that our space is one of inclusion.  I don’t have it figured out am committed to walking the journey alongside my staff and students.

This Flipgrid by Bronwyn Joyce (based on SDG 10) asks kids to consider the topic of inclusion and may be an good way to start:

The February OnEDSschat focuses on Human Rights of Children and may also be a good way for you to invite these conversations into the classroom.

Thanks to the organizers of the OLA Superconference for inspiring these conversations.Would love to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Thinking about Inclusion

  1. lisamnoble

    Jennifer, thanks so much for this post. As I attended the three sessions you’re writing about here, I very much appreciated your reflections and takeaways. I really appreciated your story of the conversation around “Of Mice and Men”. I’m a huge Steinbeck fan, but part of the strength of his writing comes from accurately capturing the voices of his characters, and sometimes those voices are not pleasant. I think it takes bravery to invite people into that conversation, and I’m so glad you did that, and were able to get another, really important lens. I wish this was easier work to do, sometimes, but if we are ever going to be able to be proud of our collective story, we have to accept that it’s not going to be easy.

    Keep having those conversations, and please keep sharing your thinking about the process.

    1. Post author

      Lisa, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. It was so good to connect with you at the OLA Superconference. I agree. These are tough conversations that we need to have ourselves, and bring our students into.
      On another note, you have inspired me to learn how to knit…though I’m not sure when I will get to that! 🙂


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