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Interview with an AQ Innovator

By Melissa Campeau
Photo: Courtesy of Tina Zita, OCT

Photo of AQ innovator and TEDx speaker Tina Zita, Ontario Certified Teacher.

Evolution may be a necessity but change often brings really great things, too. Just ask Tina Zita, OCT, a TEDx speaker, AQ course designer and facilitator for OISE/UT, thought leader and modern learning resource teacher with the Peel District School Board. The profession continues to shine a spotlight on inquiry-based and anti-oppressive stances in the classroom — and that’s something Zita feels is paying big dividends for both teachers’ professional learning and students’ success. Zita champions these philosophies through her work online and has been instrumental in helping the College weave both stances into Additional Qualification (AQ) course guidelines. Most recently, she contributed to the Teacher Leadership AQ guidelines design, as well as the creation of a new resource to support AQ course providers [see p.13]. Here, Zita shares her thoughts on these forward-thinking stances and her work with the College.

“If I want teachers to honour the voices, the cultures and the experiences that each student brings, then I need to do the same when I design experiences for them.”

How do you define the inquiry and anti-oppressive stances?

An inquiry stance is when we allow critical questions to drive our learning, constantly examining how we can better meet our learners. An anti-oppressive stance is recognizing that our systems are not fair for all involved. It requires an inquiry stance within our practice to ensure that we’re listening to our diverse communities and equity leaders as we find new ways to empower all learners.

Do you see these stances as interrelated?

I do. If our belief is that education is meant to foster a critical, creative, healthy society, then we have to recognize that society isn’t those things for everyone. As educators, we need to accept and embrace that our system isn’t fair and equitable, and seek changes we can each make to our practice.

Why did these approaches become so important to you?

It happened organically over the years. I grew up overseas in different countries, and although I didn’t always succeed in a traditional academic fashion, I had teachers who went above and beyond to support me in my learning journey. For me, an inquiry stance started with a desire to share what I had experienced as a child, feeling competent and capable.

I remember walking into one of the first AQ courses I facilitated for OISE — with a room full of knowledgeable educators — and it reminded me that here, too, I could spark learning. It was great to see how AQ courses were not just about imparting knowledge but rather pushing our learning forward as a community (myself included). Over time, my role became that of a provocateur.

There’s a great quote in the Ontario kindergarten program document that defines the vision of a learner — it talks about seeing learners as competent and capable, respecting the variety of families and communities they come from. If I want educators to see students that way, then I need to approach the AQ courses in the same way.

If you see the 20 or 30 learners in front of you as competent and capable, I think that automatically pushes you to an inquiry stance. It leaves you wondering how you can challenge their learning and grow together.

What obstacles do teachers face with these stances?

One of the struggles (both in the classroom and in an AQ course) is that balance between having high expectations and standards, while also allowing for personal exploration — layering on a critical lens that challenges our biases and assumptions. The struggle is in that balancing act that many of us haven’t experienced in our own education.

It was author Alvin Toffler, known for his writing on modern technologies and the digital revolution, who said, the key literacy skill of the 21st century is the ability to “learn, unlearn and relearn.” Many of us have been educated in one system and we’re really trying to question that, proactively.

What advice do you have for teachers taking these stances?

Get to know your learners. It’s listening and getting to know them as individuals; we educate holistic beings and not just the academic side of them.

Another important piece is taking that inquiry stance ourselves — whether we’re facilitating, designing or teaching — so that we are in an active learning stance together, as a learning community. It’s about putting ourselves in a vulnerable, uncomfortable place of learning, while pushing others to do the same.

Any final thoughts to share?

We need to model what we want learners and students to experience. If I want teachers to honour the voices, the cultures and the experiences that each student brings, then I need to do the same when I design experiences for them.

Resources for Exploring Inquiry and Anti-oppressive Stances

Want to know more? Modern learning resource teacher Tina Zita, OCT, recommends seeking a range of perspectives through social media and print — from colleagues to local leaders to international figures. “Find great voices that challenge you and follow them!” suggests Zita.

Here are seven Twitter handles that Zita follows:

  1. @PLloydHenry
    Phiona Lloyd-Henry, OCT, instructional co-ordinator for equity and inclusive education with the Peel District School Board — a passionate, thoughtful and outspoken advocate for equity in the classroom.
  2. @tanyatalaga
    Tanya Talaga, Anishinaabe author of Seven Fallen Feathers and All Our Relations — a CBC Massey Lecturer in 2018 and a Toronto Star journalist.
  3. @chrisemdin
    Christopher Emdin, professor in the department of math, science and technology at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York — co-launched the Center for Health Equity and Urban Science Education online community in 2013.
  4. @JenApgar
    Jennifer Apgar, OCT, 21st-century technology coach with the Upper Grand District School Board — tweets regularly about equity and inclusiveness in the classroom with a sense of humour and plenty of curiosity.
  5. @stepanpruch
    Stepan Pruchnicky, OCT, experiential learning lead with the Toronto Catholic District School Board — has a keen interest in educational reform and raises questions about who, what and how teachers teach.
  6. @ZohrinM
    Zohrin Mawji, OCT, Grade 8 teacher with the Peel District School Board — posts about literary circles, student letters to Amnesty International, coding breakthroughs and other everyday triumphs and inspiration.
  7. @LizUgoEYC
    Elizabeth Ugolini, early years co-ordinator with the Peel District School Board — a cheerleader for children and educators and an advocate for play and inquiry.

Three books to dive into:

  1. We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    What does feminism mean today? That’s the question at the heart of this personal and elegantly argued essay, adapted from the TEDx talk of the same name.
  2. Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them, by Shakil Choudhury
    Writing with compassion, the author challenges readers to identify their own biases and offers practical ways to break free of our learned habits of prejudice.
  3. THINQ 4–6: Inquiry-based learning in the junior classroom, by Jill Colyer, OCT, and Jennifer Watt, OCT
    Part of a series, this book applies the big ideas of inquiry-based learning to the practical needs of junior students and teachers.