By Laura Bickle
“When students are treated with honour and dignity they learn better.” That’s the sentiment you’ll find at the core of the work Chris D’souza (chrisdsouza.ca) does to promote racial, cultural, socio-economic, gender and LGBTQ equity and inclusion in the education system.
Throughout his 25 years of teaching, D’souza was an equity and diversity officer for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, as well as a course director in the faculty of education at York University. Eleven years ago, he founded the Equity Summit Group of Ontario, a collaboration of over 26 school board representatives. D’souza was also a part of the writing team that created the Ministry of Education’s Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy in 2009, which won an Award of Excellence from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
Currently on sabbatical, the former in-class teacher is an equity consultant for school boards and conducts workshops for both educators and students. While D’souza says his work can be heavy, he uses his love of music and writing to help communicate his message. He has written three children’s books and recorded songs that address bullying and equity issues.
Discuss equity and inclusion in the school system.
The student population has become more diverse, but the teacher population has not kept up. When teachers have a sharp equity lens, their students are more connected to the educator and the curriculum. And there’s increased student achievement when they’re connected.
Why did you form the Equity Summit Group of Ontario?
It was out of a need to collaborate with colleagues working at school boards with an equity, human rights, Aboriginal, Special Ed or sexual minority portfolio. We started with five school board representatives at the table and now have reps from over 28 Ontario boards. We have a listserv with over 130 individuals and we meet face to face across the province every other month.
Tell us about its mandate.
To support one another, share best practices, explore gaps in services to marginalized groups, conduct professional development, and liaise with the Ministry as well as the Ontario College of Teachers.
Describe the successes the group has had so far.
Our greatest success has been collaborating with the Ministry of Education on the equity strategy. We have also assisted school boards with the implementation of the Accepting Schools Act and the First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework.
What are your future plans?
We would like to have a larger impact on a provincial scale. We recently requested that the Minister ban all logos and team mascots that might be offensive to Indigenous peoples. We would also like to assist boards in the promotion of Indigenous and racialized teachers to administrative positions — they are currently under-represented.
What’s the greatest barrier to inclusiveness in education?
Mandatory equity training for teachers and administrators has never been formally implemented in Ontario, so that there may be a spectrum of understanding. Consistent equity professional development is the best solution.