students in gymnasium mimicking teacher who has her hands in the air
Photos by Christine Cousins

The Hero in Us All

Barbara Cogan

How do you celebrate an inclusive, diverse, welcoming school community whose students love to perform? How do you share the message that respect and caring, helpfulness and heroes are part of our school culture? How do you recognize the growth and learning that you see in your school’s ongoing Pink School initiative? Our answer was to create “Planet Pink” – a choreographed, school-wide video – and wait for it to take off!

When the climate committee at our Peel elementary school sat down to look at the “Your Voice Counts” survey data collected over three years, we were surprised. In a school rich with extra-curricular sports, clubs and activities approximately 25 percent of students indicated they still felt they lacked a voice, they were concerned about bullying and they didn’t feel safe.

Our response was to find a way to personalize the board’s goals within our learning community. Our school has approximately 555 students, enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 5, and includes ELL, ASD and special education students. Families from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds live within the setting of a local heritage district and span a wide socio-economic range.

Over time, we worked to create a culture that was meaningful, authentic, intentional and transparent, and that preserved our strong traditions.

Building a Positive Climate in Our Schools

Initially, the climate committee started with a few simple changes. Rather than once a year, monthly Pink Days were designated for the second Wednesday of every month and a Pink Pledge was recited and posted in every classroom. The students worked with a board media expert to create a video of the pledge that was shown at assemblies.

As our work began to grow deeper, we wanted to extend the focus from bullying to inclusion and acceptance. Classes began to meet monthly with their Pink Day Buddies partner class. Different grade level classes were paired to work on activities that promote inclusion, while at the same time, building capacity for staff as teachers worked collaboratively on ideas for their shared lessons.

Hero Programs

After a year, the climate committee was ready to move to the next phase. A year-long Hero program was developed under the leadership of Vice-Principal Paul Anderson to introduce and reinforce the Peel board’s six stated attributes of character – caring, respectful, responsible, honest, cooperative and inclusive. Each character trait had an influential young person, or hero, attached to it to provide a relevant and inspiring role model, e.g., Terry Fox, Shannen Koostachin, Craig Kielburger. Students learned about each of these character traits, one at a time, through a chosen hero at each of the six student-led character attribute assemblies.

Longstanding school traditions were incorporated into the assemblies: invite parents,



Teachers sitting together brainstorming

Eliminating violence against women has always been one strong focus of ETFO’s advocacy work.

Author reading to students

What do you do when you can’t find a resource to start important conversations in your classroom? You create one, of course. Peel teacher Greg Maxton (who writes under his married name, Kentris) had become increasingly frustrated with the persistent, intentional and casual homophobia that he saw in his middle school teaching environment.