York takes academic leadership role at Congress 2023 

Female conference lecture teacher professor

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

Upwards of 250 York University faculty members and scholars are among the presenters during the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where they take an academic leadership role in sharing their research with colleagues from across the nation. 

The flagship event of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – taking place May 27 to June 2 at York University’s Keele Campus – returns to an in-person format this year, following a hiatus in 2020 and the subsequent virtual format in 2021 and 2022. Congress is the largest academic gathering in Canada, with at least 10,000 participants attending this year. The event was last hosted at York University in 2006. 

Congress 2023 provides a platform for critical conversations, including diverse voices and perspectives to create collaborations that help drive the future of post-secondary education. This year’s theme “Reckonings and Re-Imaginings” will guide the direction of discussions and knowledge sharing in presentations, panels, workshops and more.

Andrea Davis
Andrea Davis

“I am excited by this theme because it’s a call to reflection on where we (as scholars, activists, artists and thinkers) are and how we got here,” said York University Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Andrea Davis, who is serving as academic convenor for Congress 2023, when the theme was announced. “Rather than simply centering the problems, this theme insists that we imagine otherwise – that we consider what a different set of possibilities might look like and that we come together collectively to create the kind of world we want to live in.” 

York faculty and scholars will contribute their humanities and social sciences research and expertise through more than 250 different events scheduled in a variety of programming streams, such as the Big Thinking Lecture Series, Career Corner, Black and racialized programming, Indigenous programming, scholarly presentations and more. 

Contributions come from all 11 York Faculties, three Organized Research Units, two divisions and other units, such as the Teaching Commons and York International. 

“We took the opportunity to apply York’s strengths as an institution that is known for supporting social justice and social responsibility. At Congress 2023, the University is playing an active role in igniting and sustaining positive change through scholarship, creative practice and conversations that generate new perspectives,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

Philipps is also a member of the Scholarly Planning Committee for Congress, which is comprised of York faculty, staff, graduate students and senior leadership, who together have helped to guide and shape the themes and programming for this year’s event through broad consultation with the York community. Learn more about the Scholarly Planning Committee here

York programming at Congress 2023 

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design will feature work from faculty and graduate students with topics exploring culturally relevant pedagogy, accessible tech for Canadian artists, film screenings and more. 

Diverse programming from the Faculty of Education – which contributes to more than 60 events – includes re-imagining teacher education, book launch events, the risks of queer lives during the pandemic, findings from a Black feminist qualitative study and more from faculty and graduate students. 

Both faculty and graduate students from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change will participate and explore topics such as the intersectional feminist approach to gathering and analyzing stories that reconsider risk, and a look at ceremonies of mourning, remembrance and care in the context of violence and more.

Glendon College faculty members will consider the ascent of right-wing populism in Canada, the politics of refusal in the Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette novel Suzanne, and more. 

Research by graduate students will be the focus of contributions from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, with a variety of presentations on diverse topics, including the impact of the pandemic on intimate partner violence in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, a focus on mental health and the suicide of Black men, female activists and their relationships with their mothers, and more. 

From the Faculty of Health, faculty members will explore how academic nursing leaders addressed the complexities of sustaining quality nursing education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, participate in a roundtable on transnational Black communities and overcoming epidemics and a panel on promising practices that support aging with equity. Faculty will also present research on Indian immigrant fatherhood in the perinatal period, the experiences of immigrant Pakistani youths, and Asian Canadian exclusionary experiences in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to research contributions, a graduate program assistant will perform at the Swag Stage.

Lassonde School of Engineering will have contributions from faculty and an undergraduate student that focuses on designing a more equitable science curricula and York’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4), which will be presented in partnership with a student from the Schulich School of Business.

Knowledge sharing from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies will come from undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching and research assistants and faculty, with participation in upwards of 80 different events at Congress. Some of the research will cover racial profiling among Canadian university professors of Chinese descent, re-imagining criminal justice, activism and inclusion, decolonizing transnational human rights engagements and partnerships in Africa, queer rural teacher activists and more. 

Osgoode Hall Law School faculty members and a visiting Fellow will present their research on girls and Young Women before the Cour du bienêtre social of Montréal, conflicting interpretations of women in Canada’s thalidomide tragedy and Indigenous laws and jurisdiction for addressing harm. 

Faculty members representing the Faculty of Science will share their research on geological fantasies, the stark effect, and offer perspectives during a roundtable on overcoming epidemics and the transnational Black communities’ response. 

Find more information about open programming events at Congress here: https://www.federationhss.ca/en/congress2023/york-programming.  

Congress 2023 celebrates Indigenous education initiative Wüléelham


By Elaine Smith

Join the Faculty of Education for “Presenting Wüléelham: The Gifts of Our People,” a May 31 celebration of the Faculty’s Indigenous education initiatives and the visionary behind them – Professor Susan Dion, York University’s inaugural associate vice-president, Indigenous initiatives and a Lenape and Potawatomi scholar, with mixed Irish and French ancestry.

Susan Dion
Professor Susan Dion, York University’s inaugural associate vice-president, Indigenous initiatives

Wüléelham translates from Lenape as “Making Good Tracks,” and the program has led many Indigenous students on a journey to becoming educators and academics themselves. Its options – the Waaban Indigenous teacher education program and the master’s and PhD cohorts – were developed to highlight the specific strengths of urban Indigenous communities. They are not intended to be taken in a linear sequence; instead, students make their own tracks, choosing to participate based on their timelines and interests. 

“Susan [Dion] saw the opportunities to develop these programs and made it happen,” said Pamela Toulouse, a visiting scholar at the Faculty and the emcee for the day’s events. “We want to celebrate these programs and honour her for seeing the possibilities.”

The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the McEwen Auditorium, Room 141 in the Seymour Schulich Building and is open to Congress 2023 attendees and the local community. It features a traditional opening and closing by Elder Pauline Shirt, three panel discussions and a Circle on the Gifts of Our People, where Dion will be awarded with a Star blanket at 2 p.m.

“The Star is about being visionary and it is a reminder of the possibilities Susan gave us,” said Toulouse. “When we wrap her in it, it is letting her know that the community will always hold and take care of her and that we are okay, too.”

Students in the Wuleelham program
Participants in the Wuleelham program

The three panels will demonstrate the benefits of the Wüléelham programs. A Waaban panel happening at 10:30 a.m. will feature alumni from the teacher education program discussing what they learned and the gifts gained and carried into the workplace. A second panel at 11:45 a.m. will include graduate students from the Master of Education (Med) Urban Indigenous Cohort, focusing on the opportunities they have had. Finally, a faculty-staff panel will start at 1:15 p.m. and this group will share their stories about working with the students who have come through Wüléelham.

Shirt, who will open and close the program, is one of the driving forces behind the Wandering Spirit School, a learning environment that is culturally safe and nurtured their child’s Indigenous identity.

“There is a special relationship between Elder Pauline, Susan and Wüléelham,” Toulouse said. “Wandering Spirit School is the place where many of the Wabaan students go to do their teaching placements; it’s a downtown school. Pauline is a main reason that the school came into being and a leader in Indigenous education.”

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend, community passes are available and term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.

Call for inclusive mathematics education research published in prestigious journal

Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

York University Assistant Professor Molade Osibodu is the lead author on a paper titled “A Participatory Turn in Mathematics Education Research: Possibilities,” a paper published in the prestigious Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, which calls for greater participation in research involving minoritized communities.

Molade Osibodu

The journal is considered the foremost publication on mathematics education research, making Osibodu’s achievement a notable one with the promise of significant impact. “I feel really grateful to have the paper in this journal and have the ideas that we talked about be discussed with a wide group of readers,” says Osibodu.

The theoretical paper argues mathematics education research rooted in minoritized communities often risk excluding or only superficially accounting for their perspectives and experiences. Furthermore, it is often led by those with dominant social identities (white, male, well-funded) who attempt to comment on realities of inequity as objective observers when they may not be.

Complicating the power dynamic tension between researchers and studied communities is how mathematics education positions minoritized students and families as outcomes of politically motivated reform, which has the potential to cause harmful or dehumanizing mathematical experiences.

“Humans are a part of this work and so you have to include their voices and particularly for those of us who claim to want to do work that is equity focused, that is socially just then we have to recognize that it is paramount to center the voices of those whose experiences we seek to better,” says Osibodu.

“If we really want to have meaningful change in mathematics education, we can’t keep doing research the same way. If the goal is to engender positive social change, then we have to also recognize the community members have a lot of knowledge to bring in – especially if you are not part of that community.”

The paper offers several recommendations towards a more participatory research paradigm, which integrates those for whom mathematics education research is most consequential:

  • historically marginalized communities should be co-researchers;
  • disparate forms of knowing should be re brought into continuous contact with emphasis on conversation around where marginzalition is most felt;
  • people, institutions and practices need to be acknowledged as historicized;
  • tensions should be embraced as spaces for learning with outside researchers understanding that their participation may unintentionally colonize the research process; and
  • practices should be renegotiated toward making social change that outlasts the research project or promote structural changes that shift resources in more equitable ways.

“In however many years of math education research has been going on, youth of colour, and other marginalized groups are still struggling in their experiences,” says Osibodu. What’s called for here is a sentiment she credits to academic Katherine McKittrick, and her book Dear Science and Other Stories. “If you want to get new, different answers, you have to ask different questions. That includes the types of methodologies that you are embracing. You have to try different things,” she says.

The approaches outlined in Osibodu’s paper highlights a promising route. “I hope that more math education researchers consider doing work this way.”

C4 team receives teaching innovation award

Award stock image banner from pexels

Members of York University’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) team were awarded the 2023 D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), which recognizes post-secondary collaborative teams for their innovative approaches to promoting student-centered teaching and learning.

C4, launched in 2019, enables students to work on real-world challenges with social impact, promoting team-based collaboration, advanced research and design, critical and strategic thinking, and more.

The award was bestowed on those associated with C4’s innovative approach to pan-university interdisciplinary experiential education, including:

  • Danielle Robinson, co-founder and academic co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor in the Department of Dance;
  • Franz Newland, co-founder and co-lead of C4, as well as associate professor of Space Engineering;
  • Rachelle Campigotto, classroom coordinator assistant for C4 and contract faculty in the Faculty of Education;
  • Dana Craig, Libraries liaison for C4 and director of student learning and academic success in the Libraries;
  • Danielle Dobney, team culture strategist of C4 and assistant professor in Kinesiology and the Athletic Therapy Certificate program;
  • Andrea Kalmin, curriculum lead, classroom coordinator for C4 and adjunct faculty in the Department of Social Science;
  • Alice Kim, scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) research lead for C4 and interim assistant program head for Psychology at the University of Guelph-Humber; and
  • Natasha May, Teaching Commons liaison for C4 and educational developer in York’s Teaching Commons.

The D2L Innovation Award is an international recognition, open to applicants from all countries. It evaluates and rewards innovations in pedagogical approaches, teaching methods, course design, curriculum development, assessment methods, and more. It is named after D2L, a cloud-based learning analytics platform.

Award recipients are invited to a retreat held the day of the pre-conference at STLHE’s Annual Conference. This retreat includes a facilitated session, lunch, and a social and learning excursion focused on innovation. At the conference they will be recognized at the Conference Awards Ceremony and receive a certificate in recognition of their work.

Welcome to the May 2023 issue of ‘Innovatus’

Header banner for INNOVATUS

Welcome to the final issue of Innovatus for the 2022-23 academic year. As we move toward 2023-24, it’s fitting that we end the year with a focus on education, a field that promotes growth and change.

Will Gage
Will Gage

Change is also afoot for Innovatus with my term as associate vice-president, teaching and learning, coming to a close. It has been a pleasure serving as publisher of Innovatus, because it has continually reminded me how prevalent creativity and dedication to innovation in teaching and learning are here at York. Each year, I am delighted as wave after wave of interesting, challenging programs and projects emerge from our Faculties. An enjoyment of learning is something we educators hope to inspire in our students, and from this vantage point, the myriad efforts are reaping rewards with no end in sight. I am proud that the team in this office has helped to disseminate the insights and efforts of so many of York’s excellent minds. 

In this issue, our spotlight shines on the Faculty of Education, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. A number of professors have collaborated in turning their research and experiences into books that can be used to teach others. Working in partnership is one of the University Academic Plan’s priorities, and Carl Everton James, the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, and alumna Leanne Taylor, PhD, examine the experiences of first-generation university students. The inaugural chair holder, Nombuso Dlamini, serves as co-editor of a collection of scholarly essays she and her colleagues wrote during her five-year term. Meanwhile, Gillian Parekh assembled a team of colleagues at York and elsewhere to create an educator’s guide to equity and human rights in special education and a corresponding website.  

Our final story this month isn’t about a book, but about adding new technological education courses to the breadth of York’s offerings so teachers can instruct students who are looking toward jobs in the skilled trades. Tradespeople are in demand across the country, and educators can make those career pathways more inviting and accessible. 

I know you will find these stories illuminating, given that education is our business – and our passion, something that is reinforced as I review the Innovatus stories each month. 

As I leave my role as publisher, I thank you all for your interest in and support for Innovatus. I have no doubt that the team will continue to provide you with a stellar mix of interesting, informative stories each month. 

Best wishes,

Will Gage
AVP, Teaching & Learning

Faculty, course directors and staff are invited to share their experiences in teaching, learning, internationalization and the student experience through the Innovatus story form, which is available at tl.apps01.yorku.ca/machform/view.php?id=16573.

Groundbreaking work in Faculty of Education will foster positive change
Faculty of Education Dean Rob Savage shares how teaching and learning reflects a focus on innovation and improvement to shape and respond to the complexities of education in the 21st century.

Faculty of Education responding to need for careers in skilled trades
Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education has introduced four new courses to address the shortage of high school teachers with qualifications to teach skilled trades.

Book highlights the importance of supports for university students
A book co-authored by Professor Carl James, York University Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, profiles York alumni as first-generation students.

Human rights and equity in special education
It’s time to rethink our approach to special education, says Gillian Parekh, and she and a group of fellow educators and scholars have put their energies into creating change with a guide on equity and human rights in special education.

Collaboration continues to be modus operandi for inaugural Jean Augustine Chair
Inaugural Jean Augustine Chair Nombuso Dlamini reflects on collaboration that led to collection of published essays.

Groundbreaking work in Faculty of Education will foster positive change

Image shows a group of students working with a professor

Teaching and learning in the Faculty of Education reflects a focus on innovation and improvement in order to both shape and respond to the complexities of education in the 21st century in a principled and informed way.

Dr. Robert Savage
Rob Savage

In this issue of Innovatus, you will read stories about the groundbreaking work that our Faculty is undertaking to challenge the status quo to uncover new possibilities in the advancement of education. This work is grounded in our commitment to the values of social justice, equity, diversity and decolonization with a focus on sustained action for positive change as represented in our new Five-Year Strategic Plan (2023-2027).  

The featured stories are a snippet of our collective successes and achievements as a Faculty and are examples of the ways in which we are infusing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into our collective work. 

Education is ever-changing, and as a Faculty we are thinking holistically about this dynamism across all of the ideas, innovations, partnerships, sectors and fields we are engaged with, to provide transformative research and teaching and learning experiences for our students as they go on to become future leaders in their communities. 

Rob Savage
Dean, Faculty of Education

Faculty of Education responding to need for careers in skilled trades 

One participant got support from his teachers and this greatly encouraged him to be himself

By Angela Ward

Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education has introduced four new Technological Education Additional Qualification (AQ) courses and is merging classroom learning with on-site sector experience to address the shortage of high school teachers with these qualifications. 

Technological Education encompasses 10 broad-based technologies with four of these in-demand courses being offered by York University as Additional Basic Qualifications (ABQs). Ontario teachers can now earn a new “Tech Ed” qualification in the following areas with more planned for the near future: green industries; health care; hospitality and tourism; and hairstyling and aesthetics. These new Tech Ed AQ courses allow teachers to expand and extend their knowledge, so they can design and deliver programs to the next generation of talent for in-demand careers.

Anna Jupp
Anna Jupp

“If technological education teachers have trade or sector experience, such as nursing, these Additional Basic Qualification courses support them in translating their specialized knowledge and experience to classroom teaching and learning,” says Anna Jupp, director, professional learning, Faculty of Education. “Our courses are designed to help educators create student programs that not only meet Ontario curriculum expectations but inspire students to pursue careers in the skilled trades.”  

The creation of the new courses results from a shortage of teachers who have the training and qualifications to teach these subjects, which has been a growing issue for years. Areas such as hospitality and tourism require specialized sites such as kitchen facilities, which can be a logistical and costly challenge for course providers. Accessing the latest technology is also a challenge, as teachers need to have access to tools and equipment in these areas to be trained in safely using the tools of the trade, so that students can also be taught.   

Typically, 125-hour AQ courses are structured in a fully online format, where candidates sign in at various times to complete their coursework. In contrast, these Tech Ed AQs offered Jupp and her team a new way to restructure the way educators learn in their chosen broad-based technology. While those enrolled may or may not have sector experience in their chosen field, the Tech Ed AQs are structured to account for 60 hours of traditional learning and 65 hours of experiential learning.   

“There have been challenges in the last several years when it comes to technological education in high schools,” Jupp explains. “We’ve seen a lot of technological education classrooms being dismantled. High schools had carpentry or mechanic shops and kitchens but because of low enrollment among students and a shortage of qualified teachers to teach these subjects, these classrooms were shut down.”  

Both education and the government are preparing teachers and students for future jobs in the skilled trades, highlighting experiential education and technical skills. Jupp notes that the Ministry of Education recently announced that to obtain a secondary school diploma, students will require at least one technological education course to graduate, starting in September 2024.   

“It’s important that teachers be trained, so that students get excited about the trades and get the opportunity to explore them at the high school level,” Jupp says. “This way, students with an interest or talent in the trades can start thinking about this option for their post-secondary path.  

“In thinking about equity and different pathways, it’s important to provide not only options but opportunities for those who are university-bound and those considering a future in the skilled trades. In education, we’ve been looking at ways to offer possibilities for both routes.”  

The technological education additional qualification courses help to build the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise of teachers and feature a custom Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) platform. This offers users a balance of both flexibility and structure as the courses are a blend of online (both synchronous and asynchronous) and in-person learning. The 65-hour sector experience component is unique to York and to all technological education courses across Ontario.   

“We’re proud of our design,” Jupp says. “We included subject matter experts, such as teachers who hold both experience teaching these courses and experience working in their tech sector. The course developer for the health care course, for example, is both a health-care teacher and a former nurse, bringing with her a wealth of sector and teaching experience.”   

Their Moodle LMS design “allows for the initial development of a course,” Jupp notes, “but also provides instructors with the opportunity to customize the course they’re teaching based on the needs of their students. We’ve designed a course where instructors and candidates meet online synchronously once a week for five weeks. Online is preferred since candidates are participating from all over Ontario and attend these classes in the evenings. While facilitated by an instructor, these AQs allow for a highly collaborative environment.”  

After the class, candidates complete Moodle assignments or activities which reflect the topic of the evening and connect back to the classroom. Within their chosen sector, candidates job shadow to earn their 65 hours of sector experience in a placement through the approval of their instructional leader.  

Jupp sees the hands-on learning element in technological education courses as key. “Some providers in the province offer similar courses but went the fully online route, which I think leaves a gap,” Jupp says. “Educators need hands-on experience of knowing how to use the tools and equipment such as properly sanitizing hairdressing tools. They need to know how to effectively transfer this knowledge in a classroom setting.”   

The Office of Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education has been offering AQ courses to Ontario educators since the mid-’90s and are proud to now offer over 100 additional qualifications. These technological education courses and their innovative format are their latest development. Jupp and her team say they are looking forward to always finding new ways to offer their high-quality, in-demand courses in ways that bring the best learning experience to educators possible.   

Book highlights the importance of supports for university students

Campus walk spring students

By Elaine Smith

“Education will get you to the station, but can you get on the train and will you know where to get off?” says Professor Carl James, York University Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, building on a quote by a Ghanaian refugee, Kofi, that refers to the experiences of first-generation students attending university. In other words, being admitted to university is only the first step; the next is navigating the terrain. 

A book written by James and Leanne Taylor, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Brock University, profiles York alumni who participated in a 2002 pilot project, or, as Taylor calls it, “an intervention,” as incoming undergraduates. The project was designed to support first-generation university students during their undergraduate years, recognizing that they didn’t have parents who could offer them insights into the world of post-secondary education. 

“The barriers that they face in accessing higher education don’t go away once they’re on campus,” Taylor says.

First-Generation Student Experiences in Higher Education: Counterstories (Routledge: 2022) catches up with a selection of these students 20 years later and profiles their experiences prior to university, during university and in the years afterward. It is subtitled Counterstories “as a way of pushing back on ideas of the ideal student,” Taylor said. The book highlights the students’ successes and challenges and offers insights into the types of supports that first-generation students find most useful. 

The participating students faced barriers due to race, community, class, gender and/or sexual orientation. 

“We wanted to see how we could assist them when they got to university,” James says. “We as professors don’t necessarily realize that they have no idea how to negotiate university or the campus.” 

The “intervention” 

The pilot project required each participant to take part in an entrance life history interview and follow-up interviews and to keep journals of their experiences. They interviewed family members to learn more about their perceptions and expectation and also had work placements. In addition, Taylor ran a weekly group session, referred to as the ”common hour,” where students could discuss their experiences, goals and aspirations. 

“We worked with two cohorts of students over three years and there was a weekly group meeting, a common hour, where we discussed their experiences, goals and aspirations,” says Taylor, who served as the research assistant for the project while working toward her PhD at York. Combining those sessions with all the other information, “We had a rich, rounded idea of what they needed.”  

During the course of their weekly sessions, Taylor became friends with many of the students, who weren’t much younger than she was. These strong ties made it easy to reconnect with them after many years and arrange further interviews. 

“It was something special to go back and see where their lives have shifted,” she says. 

Many of the students said the weekly common hour was pivotal in their success in navigating the subtleties of university culture and in helping them balance peer and parental expectations with their actual university experiences. They were able to identify the existing conflicts and the areas where there was a lack of support – a gap that parents didn’t always know how to fill. 

“The students also challenged the idea that people from marginalized backgrounds are always behind,” Taylor adds. “They drew on other types of capital, such as community, to help them succeed. They also framed themselves as belonging, but were aware that others saw them as students who were admitted as part of an access program.” 

Taylor says the book challenges the idea that all first-generation students are similar; they are complex and “understood the intersectional pieces of their lives.” She believes universities and schools need to understand from where students draw support and how to help support and mentor them. 

“We also see the counterstories as telling us how students resisted and challenged the university structure and pushed back on the dominant narrative,” she says. “We have to realize that there are inequities in the institution itself.” 

Practical applications 

These discoveries should help inform the ways universities and individual faculty members work with first-generation students and how they address the students’ needs. 

“The book is a useful teaching tool,” James says. “I have used it with teachers and assigned various teachers a student in the book so they could compare their own stories, and participants identified with different stories. Many of them talked of having similar students in their classes.” 

He has also used the book with graduate students when teaching Education in the Urban Context. 

“They liked the book and were able to identify with some of the experiences, and they pointed out that some of the students didn’t always see their own privileges.” 

The book also dovetails nicely with York’s academic priority, from access to success, as set forth in the University Academic Plan. 

Human rights and equity in special education 

Two people sitting on floor, one with laptop, one with workbook

By Elaine Smith

It’s time to rethink our approach to special education, says Gillian Parekh, as she and a group of fellow educators and scholars have put their energies into creating change with Equity and Human Rights in Special Education: Critical Reflective Practice Guide, as well as a corresponding interactive website.

Gillian Parekh
Gillian Parekh

“Our work addresses a need,” said Parekh, a York University associate professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Disability Studies in Education. “For a long time, social justice discourse in education has ignored ableism, but we argue that ableism intersects with many types of discrimination. For example, how we evaluate students’ capacity and organize students into ability-based placements and programs as well as who we assume will benefit from particular opportunities and/or interventions can be influenced by gender, racial, class and other forms of bias.

“Disability is also identity. Both the identity and experience of disability can be produced through social, rather than biological experiences. To understand disability solely through a medical lens is a very Western, and limited, approach. Part of our work is to identify how schools exclude on the basis of ability, the implications of those exclusions, and to advocate for practices that generate the best outcomes for students.” 

In recognizing the need for change and planning to effect a shift in attitude, Parekh gathered a team of 10 scholars and practitioners with expertise on equity and human rights and special education from four institutions to create the guide. Her fellow creators are York colleagues Carl James and Angelique Gordon; Kathryn Underwood and Nicole Ineese-Nash from Toronto Metropolitan University; Luke Reid from the University of Toronto; and David Cameron, Alison Gaymes San Vicente, Karen Murray and Jason To from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Alison Gaymes San Vicente
Alison Gaymes San Vicente
Karen Murray
Karen Murray

“The data show systemic issues, not only in terms of which students are overrepresented in special education identifications and placements, but also in regards to students’ future trajectories through school,” said Parekh. “When you’re in a position of power, you need to think carefully and critically about how and why you make certain decisions and how those decisions influence students’ opportunities. Are there alternatives to explore? We’ve laid out a great case for why critical reflective practice is important.” 

Gaymes-San Vicente, a superintendent with TDSB, said, “We are all aligned in the belief that some aspects of the education system need to change to give everyone a fair chance. There are systemic structures and ableist beliefs we need to challenge in order to create a space where everyone can achieve.” 

Murray, a TDSB system superintendent for equity, anti-racism and anti-oppression, added, “Research has shone the light on issues tied to ability that have become normalized and we need to start thinking about how and why we act in specific ways. We need to shine the light on these serious issues.” 

The guide, which is available in both English and French, has chapters devoted to context, such as discussions of ableism and disability as an intersectional experience and a look at human rights in special education. It then moves on to address critically reflective practice; culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy; and racism and bias in education. It closes with ideas about what school districts can do to make improvements.  

Since its release in 2022, the authors continue to disseminate it to audiences who could benefit.  

“It is reflective of educational policy and practice in Ontario, but the broader themes can be applied nationwide,” Parekh said. “There are broader institutional pieces that can be used in any institutional context.” 

The team has presented the document at various events and conferences. The individual members are all involved in consulting, advocacy and/or professional development and they continue to promote it to a variety of audiences. 

“The timing is right,” Parekh said. “Across the province, school boards are heavily engaged in equity work and this is another complementary toolkit they can use.” 

Murray noted, “I use this guide as a framework for conversations around bias. The guiding questions it poses can be used a framework for moving forward. As a tool, it allows you to see how to extend learning and understanding. There are foundational pieces here that can be used as anchors when you’re thinking about planning for your school, and it’s comprehensive in suggesting next steps for various stakeholders. There’s something there for all of us.” 

Just as important, said Gaymes-San Vicente, “It’s user-friendly, can be powerful when the strategies and critical thinking are applied and shares complex ideas in a way that’s digestible. It has the potential to shift some of the existing dominant narratives, which must shift if we really honour education for all children. Finally, of significance, it asks educators to position themselves as learners in service of their students, rather than being content driven and teacher-centred.” 

Collaboration continues to be modus operandi for inaugural Jean Augustine Chair

feet dangling over a ledge with graffiti

By Elaine Smith

“My definition of leadership is not one where people blindly follow you,” says Nombuso Dlamini, associate professor in the Faculty of Education and York University’s inaugural Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment. “Leaders have responsibility. I see leadership as a cooperative, community-based position.”

Nombuso Dlamini
Nombuso Dlamini

Dlamini, whose research explores youth negotiations of identity in new urban environments, joined York from the University of Windsor in 2010 to assume the newly created position, which has since been renamed the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora. Although it was an academic appointment, there was a public engagement component and Dlamini wanted to create a yearly template for engagement activities during her five-year term (2010-15). Characteristically, she sought to collaborate with others, reaching out to Faculty of Education colleagues who were engaged in research about the urban environment, as well as other peers with similar interests.  

The result? An informal think tank that included Professors Uzo Anucha, Sarah Barrett, Laura Wiseman and Mario Di Paolantonio of York University; Professor Njoki Wane of OISE/University of Toronto; and then-superintendent of schools and York alum Opiyo Oloya, who is currently an associate vice-president at Western University.  

“I wanted colleagues who had an interest in looking at the experiences of people in the city: how they affirm, create, curate, co-curate and resist urban life,” Dlamini says. “I wanted to work with scholars who could help me define what this environment looks like and how to talk about it in an understandable, scholarly fashion.” 

With their input, Dlamini created the Jean Augustine Chair Forum to honour the work of Augustine, a former member of parliament, a past York University board member and a strong champion of women’s rights, as well as Black identity.  

Similar to the political life of Augustine, Dlamini says, “I wanted to ensure that women were respected, valued and revered in their community.”  

The forum was held annually during the week of March 8, International Women’s Day, and it featured a keynote speaker and a week of student and faculty activities centred around issues of global gender parity.  

“Since the Chair wasn’t fully funded then, my ‘think tank’ suggested that I apply for a grant to fund these activities and helped me brainstorm project topics in a tactical way,” says Dlamini. “They also suggested various community partners who were doing work promoting gender parity.” This resulted in the first Jean Augustine Chair-associated grant funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Engaging Girls Changing Communities. Augustine, herself, was the keynote speaker for the project’s launch. 

Not only did the group meet to assist Dlamini in forging this JA Chair yearly agenda; they met regularly to exchange ideas about research and urban issues, including an annual retreat to write and critique each other’s work. 

This collaboration had an unanticipated result: a published collection of the group’s individual essays co-edited by Dlamini and Swiss researcher Angela Stienen, Spatialized Injustice in the Contemporary City: Protesting as Public Pedagogy (Routledge 2022).  

“When we met to set up actionable activities, we also talked about how our work could help curate urban lives and help educators better understand the experiences of their colleagues,” Dlamini says. “We invited our March 8 speaker to our annual retreats. The book contains essays about living in the city and about how the city is experienced, remembered, created and resisted.  

“It’s about each author’s way of understanding the city and what about the city is enabling or becomes a barrier,” she says. “People produce and consume the city, but they also resist certain kinds of authority and ways of being.” 

As it turns out, the book works as a text in her education research course because it illustrates numerous approaches to research. 

Towards publication, in addition to the obvious focus on the descriptions of the urban environment, “I looked at the book’s other common threads, such as understanding urban life and the experiences of youth, and because I teach research, I began to see a pattern,” Dlamini says. “Each essay is framed more as a research paper, and it provides a template of different possibilities for educational research. 

“Looking back now, I feel really honoured that my colleagues trusted me with their time, ideas and emotions and wanted to engage.”