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A classroom of many voices creates a safer environment say authors


By Fred Michah Rynor

November 8, 2012


Teachers have an abundance of books available to them on how to deal with what appears to be an epidemic in school bullying. However, a unique approach by OISE instructor Larry Swartz and Kathleen Lundy, an instructor for two School and Society courses at OISE and coordinator of Destination Arts at York University, is being used to help teachers work towards the creation of safer classrooms by offering resources and strategies to encourage students to communicate, collaborate, create and be compassionate of others.

Creating Caring Classrooms is a framework for establishing an environment of critical conversations based on the idea that schools should be proactive, not just reactive.

"If you start your school year knowing how you want to address these issues then you might be able to prevent the problems before they begin," says Lundy. "In addition to sharing lessons that we have presented, Larry and I decided to gather together educators who address the many identities, cultures and realities of today's students."

Swartz, who teaches dramatic arts in both the Additional Qualifications and ITE programs at OISE, states that it's helpful that both he and Lundy come from the arts and literacy worlds of teaching themselves and could use their backgrounds to write a book that offers a creative approach to building better relationships.

"There are shelves of books already dealing with student bullying and alienation but we felt a book was needed which offered poetry, picture book references, play scripts and other published works which illuminated different problems and scenarios for students who have been ostracized."

One example they make reference to is a story by Cheryl Kilodavis about gender bias entitled 'My Princess Boy'  which talks about a youngster who is different than other little boys.

"We offer the questions raised by the author: If they saw a princess boy, would they laugh at him? Call him names? Or simply like him for who he is? Another author featured is Yangsook Choi whose picture book 'The Name Jar'  deals with immigrant status, cultural differences and personal pride in one's identity," says Swartz.

Lundy and Swartz are particularly pleased that Creating Caring Classrooms has been so well received by academics, teachers, teachers-in-training and the children who actually live in these environments.

"We present sources and then provide strategies which help kids discuss what they've just been exposed to," Swartz explains. “We want students to voice their opinions, to share their stories and consider the opinions and stories of others. By doing so we are helping young people respond, interact and learn about others. This results in a much broader text which is applicable to elementary as well as secondary classrooms."

Currently, the book is being used in several teacher education seminars, School and Society and Curriculum courses at OISE and by several candidates in the Initial Teacher Education Program. As well, Lundy and Swartz have presented workshops to administrators, school staffs, experienced and beginning teachers in schools and at conferences.

"We are pleased too that the book has been translated into French under the title 'La Classe en Harmonie' , adds Swartz. "Part of that appeal comes from the fact that throughout the book we enlist an abundance of voices of educators who, through their writings, explore topics that include competition issues, classroom aggression, gender stereotyping and the reclaiming of Aboriginal education."

Lundy reiterates the theme that an engaged classroom where critical conversations take place is a healthy classroom and to that end contributed her own script which focuses on how a young girl copes when targeted for wearing a head scarf in class.

"How she talks to her mother about her problems and the need to be included is the kind of scenario necessary to show teachers and children alike the reality of this common situation and I purposely left the ending of the story open-ended in order to encourage the class to come up with their own solutions " she says. "The material we've selected allows us to show that we all live with issues of ambiguity in a complex world where there are no pat answers. The source material and teaching strategies are meant to encourage a multitude of conversations."