Learn

Toronto, Canada

Taking Teachers on Community and Faith Walks

Toronto District School Board

December 14, 2011

Inner-city teachers get to know the community by going outside the school

When the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) was looking for a way to support educators in being responsive and relevant in their teaching practices, the purpose was to bridge gaps between the home, school and community. One approach was the introduction of Community and Faith Walks which teachers in some of Toronto’s inner-city schools have been participating since 2008.

The Toronto District School Board is the largest school board in Canada and one of the five largest in North America. With close to 600 day schools, it serves approximately 259,000 elementary and secondary students in the regular day school system. The board has been recognized as one of the most diverse in the world, with over 80 languages represented (Good Idea: Integration Through Education: Toronto’s Second Generation Makes the Grade).

Walking past the school yard

Before the teachers attend the walks, they participate in a framing session that supports the unpacking of biases. They also follow up with a debriefing session that facilitates sharing, consolidates learning and supports next steps. There are two kinds of walks in the programme – community walks and faith walks.

Community Walks: Educators in Toronto’s inner-city schools often live in communities other than those they work in and may not be aware of the variety of lived experiences of the students they teach. Community walks help them see the beauty, challenges, and possibilities of each community as well as the resources available to families and students. They provide teachers with tools and first-hand experiences in creating curriculum and learning environments that are culturally responsive and locally relevant. Participants visit local community agencies, nearby parks, grocery stores, apartment buildings, daycares, and health centers.

Faith Walks: Faith can play a crucial role in a child’s development and learning experience. Educators must be aware of the religious diversity in their schools to support the creation of practices that honour and value this diversity. Participants of Faith Walks visit places of worship such as mosques, temples, churches, and synagogues, and speak with religious leaders about supporting students of that faith in a pluralistic education system.

“Going on a Community Walk and debriefing with my colleagues brought about the understanding that there are limited spaces for students in the inner-city to play in a safe environment,” explains Bruce Currie, Model Schools for Inner Cities Teaching and Learning Coach.

“So, we really need to make sure that we are supporting daily physical activity and allowing children an opportunity to demonstrate their learning through bodily-kinesthetic activities and not simply pencil and paper.”

Success

After going on a Community or Faith Walk, many teachers have changed their curriculum and instructional practices to be more reflective of the students’ lived experiences. Administrators have questioned and revisited their school goals and budget decisions as a result of this experience. Several parents have expressed increased trust and faith in schools where educators participate in these events.

“I felt proud to see all these busy people coming to our home; I gave them a speech about how Bengali families run,” said Mr. Mujib, parent at George Webster Elementary School.

There has been a steady increase in the number of Community and Faith Walks since 2008. In 2010-2012, administrators and teachers from 15 schools attended a “model” Community and Faith Walk that they then replicated back at their schools. Currently, all staff members in the Model Schools for Inner Cities program, serving schools in high priority neighbourhoods, are being trained on the process and are using this awareness to support innovative teaching, supporting children’s well-being and parent and community engagement.

The TDSB Walks Initiative was also part of the Maytree Foundation’s tour of four cities in Germany in November 2011, called Good Ideas from Toronto: An Exchange of Immigrant Integration Practices.

Making it Work for You:

  • Ensure commitment to equitable and inclusive practices at all levels of a school board.
  • Position students, parents, and community/religious leaders as the experts.
  • Meet with community members, religious leaders and parents prior to the walks to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of their purpose.
  • Allow for time to frame the discussion (with a focus on strengths-based learning as opposed to deficit thinking) and time to debrief.

Themes: Learn


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