Education conference: schools must teach the values of social cohesion

By Avis Glaze and Tom KearSchools must teach the values of social cohesion.  Schools play a pivotal role in helping to shape the future of our communities and, indeed, our country. They can serve as a laboratory of what effective human relations look like.  They teach skills such as respect and responsibility. These were leading statements of keynote speaker Dr. Avis Glaze, at a meeting of parents, teachers and students that nearly filled Westview Centennial Secondary School's auditorium last May 15.The Making Connections conference was the brain trust of leaders in the TDSB's North West 2 family of schools and York University's Faculty of Education.  Increasing the participation of parents with teachers in the education of their children was the main concern.Avis Glaze is well-known as an international leader in the field of education.  In her opinion, the staff of a good school teaches and models empathy for others, and works hard at ensuring equal opportunity for both genders and all races.  Parents also do their part in making sure that their children attend school and are adequately fed and clothed. She stresses the fact that this is also an important part of a good stewardship of the contact that teachers have with the young lives in their care.Addressing parents, Dr. Glaze pointed to the great influence of consumer marketing and advertising on children, placing material desires prominently in their minds.  Parents, therefore, need to ask questions that help their children focus on life-long and career-oriented goals.  They also need to know how to creatively say ‘no’ to some of the material and short-term wants expressed by their children, so they don’t grow up with a sense of entitlement.

She stressed the need for systematic and intentional career development within our community.  Children need to have some awareness of the kind of career they would like to pursue, she said. This process should begin early before all the stereotypes that limit their potential set in. In the middle grades, they should participate in career exploration in which they learn about a variety of occupations that match their interests and potential. The key here is for them to keep their options open and to take a variety of courses. Career planning in a more specific way starts in high school.Glaze believes all forms of assessing what students know and are able to do is important.  She believes that parents have the right to ask, as one articulate mother once did: “What is my child learning? How is she/he learning it? And how do I know he/she has learned it?”  The assessment of students is done by both teachers in the classroom, and by the Ministry of Education in province-wide tests or even by students themselves through self-assessment.  From these assessments, the parent and the child know where they stand.In conclusion, Avis referred to two education priorities she believes administrators should focus on: one is special attention to keeping young men in school and assisting them to graduate, and the second is education for eliminating all forms of prejudice, including homophobia. She is a strong human rights advocate who believes that we cannot be selective about the human beings for whom we advocate. People's rights must be protected while we demonstrate that we also accept the responsibilities of living in one of the best countries in the world.Dr. Glaze's inspiring talk was ushered in and ushered out with uplifting music from the documentary Playing for Change. Listen to and watch the musicians play their inspiring music at www.playingforchange.com.Glenford Duffus, TDSB superintendent, thanks the conference organizing team. A special thank you note goes to Larry Maloney, vice-principal at Westview Centennial Secondary School, for his leadership of the team and the other members of the Parental Engagement Committee: Yvonne Goulbourne, Craig Crone, Michael Harvey, Kervin White, Alison Gaymes, Rita Paul, Sukhwinder Buall and Frank Costa. Also, a special thanks to our partner York University under the auspices of the York Centre for Education and Community. Parents and community members also participated in a variety of workshops in the afternoon. Here's Westview teacher Rosalie Griffith on two of the Making Connections workshops:Pathways to Success – Life After Secondary School (Secondary)Presented by  Kervin White and Alisia MeilachThis session was well supported by parents at the conference.  Approximately 50 parents and guardians from a variety of schools in the area were able to benefit from a review of the various streams and specialized programs offered at the secondary level in the community.  A thorough explanation was given of the differences between Applied, Academic, Locally Developed, Open, College and University courses.Additionally, the cooperative education and apprenticeship options were discussed. The most important aspect of this session was its interactive nature.  Parents were able to ask any questions that they had regarding post-secondary pathways and requirements.  Current and retired teachers who joined into the session helped to facilitate and add additional information.  Parents in attendance seemed to greatly appreciate this session; they left with their questions answered and smiles on their faces!Communication – Communicating with your TeenagerPresented by  Szimbah HanleyThis session focused on the Virtues project and its approach to communication.  While issues of discipline and correction were addressed, the main focus was on how to speak positively to one another and to your teenager.The Virtues project was explored in connection to using principles of positive character traits when dealing with an adolescent.  Parents were encouraged to model positive responses and behaviours and to, in turn, teach these to their children. Detective Jon Ling of the Toronto Police on the workshop he hosted:The title for my presentation was Youth Crime and Your Child, and the following topics were discussed with the audience:

  • A brief history of the laws regarding youth in Canada, including the much maligned Young Offenders Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act that replaced it.
  • An explanation of why the law was changed and the principals behind the new act, a move from punishment to rehabilitation.
  • A discussion of the current trends in local youth crime; group violence, female youth violence, the use of weapons, and sexual assaults.
  • A discussion of gangs, what is involved and why a young person might join a gang.
  • Violent media and how it may affect your child.
  • What the Toronto Police Service is doing in regard to youth issues and youth crime.

The presentation was mainly attended by parents and it provoked somegood conversation in regard to youth crime and youth issues.Other Making Connections workshop topics were as follows:

  • Achieving Healthy Relationships – Life Under One Roof (Elementary and Secondary)
  • Safety – Keeping Your Child Safe (Elementary and Secondary)
  • Schoolwork – Supporting Your Child with Schoolwork (Elementary)
  • Making Connections – Engaging in Your Child’s Schooling Experience (Elementary and Secondary)