The School That Equity Built

By Judy Kwasnica, Jan Moxey and Annemarie Shrouder

The search for equity in our schools is a complex goal that involves every aspect of a child’s daily experience. “The School that Equity Built” began as a gender-based equity initiative with a focus on gender related violence. But as we began our discussion, it became clear that no aspect of equity can be approached in isolation. Equity emerged as a multi-faceted concept, its fabric a pattern woven with many threads, all of which contribute to a child’s life-long sense of self-worth and identity.

Students are not just dealing with their gender. There are many other factors that influence who they are, how they relate, and the experiences they bring to school. Our perception of self and our interactions with others are influenced by gender, cultural background, physical or mental challenge, racial identity, socio-economic class, age, religion, sexual orientation, and ability. The interplay of these differences in thousands of interchanges every day is what makes the search for a truly equitable environment so challenging.

Exploring gender equity led us to discussions about knowing each other, having a voice, and collaborative problem solving. A school built on equity demands practices that respect, value and ensure the safety of all staff and students. A school built around equity and inclusiveness becomes a community where students feel their voices and experiences are valued.

ETFO has demonstrated leadership in the area of equity. One of the priorities of this Federation is to “promote social justice in the areas of anti-poverty, non-violence, and equity.”

In the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession, the commitment of the teaching profession to equity for every child is emphasized. It states: “Teachers know how the differences arising from cultural heritage, language, family, gender, community and other factors shape experience and impact on learning. “Teachers are dedicated to helping students appreciate their own identity, know more of their cultural heritage, learn in ways that are appropriate for them, connect their learning to their own experience and spiritual and cultural understandings, and become responsible, discerning citizens. (College of Teachers, 1999).

In such a complex quest there is always more we can do, more we have to learn, and ways we can improve. In the end there is nothing more valuable that we can do for our students. Being valued, being respected, being safe and having a voice, are truly basic to every child’s education.

It is our hope that every child can walk into school and feel accepted, respected and included – open to learn. A school built around equity offers that opportunity to al children, regardless of their circumstances.

An Equitable Teacher


  • Uses inclusionary, non-discriminatory language. A teacher’s example is a powerful one and can change the way others think.
  • Encourages students to use inclusionary language in their speech and writing.
  • Discusses the concept of interdependence and how all living things share this planet.
  • Allows all students to take turns in helping roles, such as playground equipment monitor, plant caretaker, overhead projector operator, and messenger.
  • Does not allow uninviting body language. This is an unspoken insult.
  • Assists the children in developing a plan of action that identified ways prejudices should be eliminated.
  • Listens to the children and respects them as equal human beings.
  • Conveys to students that attitudes, feeling, desires, strong emotions and various reactions are neither necessarily female nor male, but are human responses.
  • Dismisses children and groups of children for discovery learning by several methods. Seating arrangement, house league group, birthday month, sock colour, alphabetical order all provide ways to avoid grouping by gender.


  • Makes it a firm rule that no aspect of a child’s identity, such as gender, race, ethnicity, ability, religion, age, socio-economic class, dress or sexual orientation is ever a reason for privilege, exclusion or teasing.
  • Comforts and supports the person who is the target of the discriminatory behaviour.
  • Discusses with the class how it feels to be included or excluded.
  • Develops pride in students but not ‘superiority.’
  • Confronts statements made by students outside your classroom and by other teachers that are offensive or that stereotype females or males.
  • Interacts with all students and calls on those who are reluctant to volunteer answers or opinions.
  • Compliments both boys and girls on their effort and their achievement.

Problem Solves

  • Confronts troublesome issues and determines the reasons for the conflict rather than overlooking or covering them up.
  • Teaches children to trust their ability to solve problems.
  • Allows talking time so that the students can discuss their fears and hopes. This will foster a better understanding or one another.
  • Provides opportunities for active listening, assertive speaking, and critical thinking.
  • Holds a class meeting once a week to assess the successes of the week. </UL< p>


    • Enables the children to develop ease with a respect for physical differences.
    • Encourages children to respect and care for their bodies and not to be hurtful or harmful to others.
    • Gives all students opportunities to be leaders.
    • Insists that all children take equal responsibility in carrying out the necessary jobs for the classroom.
    • Rotates students through ‘Student of the Day or Week.’ Each person is special and gets to perform all the extra roles and jobs, which occur during the day or week. This eliminates favourites.
    • Encourages group work, cooperative learning, mixed groups, peer discovery activities, independent work and buddy reading. This will build confidence and reduce the fear of taking risks.
    • Allows boys and girls the freedom to express their feelings.


    • Helps children become aware of our shared physical characteristics and humanity.
    • Teaches that to be male includes fear, compassion, gentleness and vulnerability.
    • Teaches that being female includes intelligence, courage and being successful.
    • Identified the similarities among people, even though they have differences.
    • Teaches that differences are good, while oppressive ideas and behaviours are not. Together we are better and stronger.
    • Uses the same tone of voice and language when interacting with students, ensuring that there is no difference because of gender, race, ability, etc.

Names Can Hurt Me
A Classroom Unit for Grade 2

Curriculum Expectation
Describe the types of verbal and physical violence, such as name calling, kicking and hitting. (Health: Personal Safety and Injury Prevention).

Equity Building Expectation
The students will be able to describe the different types of verbal violence, and how to deal with them.


14.  Chart paper and markers.

15.  Two song sheets included on the following pages. “If You’re Angry” and “Give a Compliment.”

Lesson Plan for the Teacher

o    Put these two headings on chart paper: Helpful Words. Harmful Words.

o    Ask the class to recall a time when someone used words to help or harm them.

o    Have the students categorize the examples under the correct heading.

o    Explain to students that harmful words may be order, teasing, ultimatums, racist remarks, sexist comments, name calling or put-downs.

o    Ask the students how they feel when someone uses words to harm or hurt them.

o    Discuss phrases like: “Names will never hurt me.” “That didn’t hurt. Or “I don’t care.”

o    Discuss how to use problem solving when confronted with harmful words. Children will learn to: State what behaviour they don’t like, ask the person to stop, tell a grown-up, stay near other people, etc.

o    Explain to the class that helpful words ma be an apology, praise, greeting, encouragement, congratulations, dialogue or a compliment.

o    Encourage students to help each other make a conscious effort to use helpful, rather than hurtful words.

o    Distribute the two songs included with this unit, or show them on an overhead transparency.

o    Lead the students in singing the songs together and make up new verses.

Follow-up and Extension
Additional curriculum expectations are involved depending on which ideas you choose.ul>

o    Students keep track and record how often helpful or harmful words are used on a TV show.

o    Use this tally to share the results with class and then make suggestions to improve.

o    Each child’s name is written on a heart-shaped paper. As acts of kindness are performed, the person who sees the good action gives a star or sticker.

o    Read Being Bullied by Kate Pretty or Franklin is Bossy by Paulette Bourgeois to the class.

o    Have a “Positive Day” where each student says at least one positive thing to a minimum of five people. At least two of the people should be students they usually do not play with or someone who has teased them before.

o    Activities on verbal violence may be found in resources such as Second Step by the Committee for Children and Working it Out: Tools for Everyday Peacemakers by Lions Quest.

Students can self-evaluate using the Group Work Self Evaluation Checklist. Alternatively, during the day the teacher or a student helper could tally how often helpful and harmful words are heard in the classroom, at lunch, recess, in the halls, in the washroom, etc.

Work Group Self-Evaluation Checklist

How did your group work? Activity


What was the activity?


Group Members’ Names







We listened

We took turns

We used quiet voices

We gave everyone a chance to talk

We did not use put-downs

We encouraged each other

We asked for help when needed

We used time wisely

Adapting to other grades

This grade 2 lesson Names Can Hurt Me can be adapted to grades one, three and four. Teachers with combined grade expectations and diverse student populations will also find this adaptation useful.

Health and Physical Education: Healthy Living
Grade 1: Describe exploitative behaviours, such as abusive behaviours, bullying, inappropriate touching, and the feelings associated with them. Grade 3: Identify examples of real and fictional violence, such as schoolyard fights, cartoons, movies. Grade 4: Apply decision making and problem solving skills in addressing threats to personal safety from abuse or physical fighting. Apply the same to injury prevention with topics such as bicycle safety, road safety.

All grades benefit from a focus on preventing name calling and bullying. The amount of time and detail will be more sophisticated for grade four but grade one students are capable of understanding how names can hurt.

If You’re Angry

Sung to tune of
“If You’re Happy and Know It”

If you’re angry and you know it,
Count to ten, 1, 2, 3 …
If you’re angry and you know it, Count to ten, 1, 2, 3 …
If you’re angry and you know it,
And you really want to control it,
If you’re angry and you know it,
Count to ten, 1, 2, 3.

If you’re upset and you know it,
Call a friend, Hello!
If you’re upset and you know it,
Call a friend, Hello!
If you’re upset and you know it,
And you really want to control it,
If you’re upset and you know it,
Call a friend, Hello!

If you’re furious and you know it,
Hug a pillow, M-m-m!
If you’re furious and you know it,
Hug a pillow, M-m-m!
If you’re furious and you know it,
And you really want to control it,If
you’re furious and you know it,
Hug a pillow, M-m-m!

If you’re cranky and you know it,
Walk away, Goodbye!
If you’re cranky and you know it,
Walk away, Goodbye!
If you’re cranky and you know it,
And you really want to control it,
If you’re cranky and you know it,
Walk away, Goodbye!

If you’re _______ and you know it,
If you’re ________ and your know it,
If you’re _______ and you know it,
And you really want to control it,
If you’re _______ and you know it,

Give a Compliment

Sung to the tune of
“Frère Jacques”

Give a compliment,
Give a compliment,
To your friend,
To your friend,
Say something positive,
Say something positive,
Brighten the day,
Brighten the day.

When you get a compliment,
When you get a compliment,
From a friend,
From a friend,
Say thanks sincerely,
Say thanks sincerely,
That’s the way,
That’s the way.

I like your T-shirt,
I like your T-shirt,
And your jeans,
And your jeans,
Thank you very much,
Thank you very much,
They are new,
I like them too!

This unit is excerpted from The School That Equity Built, a 112 page publication prepared for ETFO by Judy Kwasnica , Jan Moxey and Annemarie Shrouder. Published in 2000, it includes details of a 14-lesson Integrated Discoveries Unit, a glossary of terms, as well as annotated lists of references and resources. While the unit is aimed primarily at grade two, directions are given for adaptations to grades 1, 3 and 4. The School That Equity Built is available from ETFO’s ShopETFO for $15.00, plus taxes, shipping and handling. ShopETFO on

Judy Kwasnica teaches early literacy in Thames Valley.

Annemarie Shrouder teaches grade 5 in Peel.

Jan Moxey is an Executive Assistant in ETFO’s Professional Development Service Area.

ETFO thanks the principals and students at Clarksdale Public School, Halton, and Dunrankin Public School, Peel, for their assistance in the photography for this resource.