Alana Butler a black woman with a white button up shirtWondering how to navigate equity in your classroom? Our own Dr. Alana Butler joins us to answer questions like: How do you support diverse students in your classroom without putting the spotlight on them? How do you navigate and address offensive comments in the classroom – and how do you bring it up with the entire class? Alana and Chris talk about representation, focusing on individual strengths (versus deficit), belonging, culturally relevant pedagogy, and so much more! 


Dr. Alana Butler joined the Faculty of Education in 2017 and currently teaches both Bachelor of Education students and graduate students. Her research interests include the academic achievement of low-socio economic students, equity, diversity, and inclusion policies and practices from k-12 to higher education, at-risk children/youth and their educational attainment, and multicultural education. Find out more about her on the FookNConversaton Podcast


Theme Song: Talking about innovation in teaching and education, Popular Podagogy. Discussions that are topical and sometimes philosophical, Popular Podagogy. Popular Podagogy.

CC: Hi there. Thanks for joining us and welcome to another episode of Popular Podagogy, where we bring new ideas in teaching and education to life. I'm your host, Chris Carlton, and this podcast is being brought to you by the Faculty of Education at Queen's University. Welcome to our podcast. In this episode, I am excited to be speaking with Dr. Alana Butler, who is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education here at Queen's University. Our podcast conversation today revolves around everyday equity challenges in the classroom and some tips and strategies on how to deal with them. Dr. Butler joined Queen's University in 2017 and currently teaches in the Bachelor of Education and Graduate Studies program. She is the Equity, Diversity, Ingenuity, and Decolonization lead at the Faculty of Education. Her research interests include the academic achievement of low socioeconomic students, equity, diversity, and inclusion policies and practices from K-12 to higher education. She also studies at-risk children and youth and their educational attainment and multicultural education, just to name a few of her focuses. Alana, welcome to our podcast.

AB: Thank you. It's an honor. I'm a fan of popular pedagogy, so I'm so excited. So thank you, Chris, for inviting me.

CC: Well, we've been waiting a long time to have you, so I'm excited that we were able to tee this up. Alana, our topic today is equity in the classroom. And as a teacher myself, it means making sure every student has the resources and support they need to be successful and where individual factors don't hold back students from reaching their full learning potential. From your research focus, Alana, what is your personal viewpoint as to what equity means inside a classroom?

AB: Yeah, thank you. That's a really important question. I'm very fortunate and I really have the opportunity to work with a lot of teachers in school boards, the Toronto District School Board, and very recently, over the past few years, working with our local school board, Limestone District School Board, about equity in the classroom. So I believe I define it the same way you do, Chris. There is a big difference. Like typically when I engage with teachers through the PD sessions that I've been able to do, Chris. There is a big difference, like typically with when I engage with teachers through the PD sessions that I've been able to do, I talk about the difference between equality and equity. So as you stated, equity is different from equality because it's about supporting students and setting them up for success, recognizing that students are at different places in the starting line. So you've probably seen that YouTube video where, you know, everyone's at a different place in the starting line. You know, some individuals come in and they've got, you know, a lot of advantages due to their socioeconomic status. It might be their parents might be English language speakers, highly educated. If you're coming from a refugee and, you know, English is your second language or third or fourth. You're definitely starting at a different place. So providing them equity means providing them with the resources that they need, recognizing that everyone brings a different social identity. And some of our social identities may require additional support in order to succeed. Equity in the classroom also involves representation. So I'm a big believer in representing the diversity within your curriculum, which is in many different areas you can do that. And you as a math teacher, you know that you can integrate indigeneity and integrate different cultures within math as well. What I also feel about equity, I also define equity as also focusing on individual strength rather than deficit. So a lot of times, sometimes we can very easily fall into a deficit framing of students where it's like you're looking at what they don't have. But I think equity also involves looking at what they do have in terms of their strengths, building on that and helping them to support them in terms of their academic, you know, the academic achievement. And achievement isn't just academic as well. There's an overall well-being piece for students and for them to feel like they belong or they're engaged in the school. So Limestone District School Board, for instance, has been doing some recent survey data to look at belonging. And so that's also a key piece to bridge to their academic success. So what are the factors that make the contribute to student belonging? And these are definitely things that fit into it, which are equity. Equity and inclusion help students to feel like they belong. So it might be like, you know, things like culturally relevant pedagogy, as Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings talks about in her work. incorporate the identities of the students and supporting them in their unique ways that they need to be supported. And so there are a broad range of social identities that need support. There's race, you know, so religion, socioeconomic status, ability, you know, recently there was a fair on neurodiversity too. So there are all these different areas that I think are so important for teachers to think about when you look at equity and what it means in the classroom.

CC: Thank you so much, Alana. I really like what you said in terms of it's not just the academics, but part of the academics is that overall well-being and engagement. And I think that's such an important factor. And a lot of the time, it's the fact that we need to get to know our students. We need to get to know their starting point in the line, like you said, but also their background and who they are, who their family is, and sort of where they're coming from. And that comes down to that, to the individual students and looking for the individual strengths, which I think is such an important teacher strategy when we're looking at it. So Alana, as a teacher with the Limestone District School Board here in Kingston, I feel that our board doesn't have the most diverse student population, but you still run into the situation where you have a few students in your class who may have different cultural and racial backgrounds. And so my question would be, how do you support a diverse student in your classroom if they are the only ones, so without putting the spotlight on them?

AB: Yes. So that's a really important question, spotlight on them? Yes. So that's a really important question. And it's highly relevant for the local school board that we're in, but also highly relevant for a lot of our teacher candidates, maybe teaching in communities where it's, you know, there may be fewer minorities than you're teaching in, you know, somewhere like Scarborough, or you're teaching somewhere in a metropolitan area that's very diverse or Ottawa or somewhere. I think that's a key question. So that has come up with the local school board in terms of the teachers and being like, oh, hey, you know, hey, you're from whatever country or you're a refugee from a particular country. What is it that you need? So I think not spotlighting them is really important. But you said something earlier that I think I recommended that makes a lot of sense when working with them. One of them is to work with them, slowly gain their trust, form a positive relationship with that student. Like that's the best thing you can do to do that is to form these little relationships. And I talk to teacher candidates about that. Like something simple is scheduling like a five minute conversation every day with your students and try to get to know each of them. And then you can slowly gain their trust and kind of ask them about, you know, is there anything as a teacher I could be doing in the curriculum that would make you feel more like you belong? Like, would it be books? Would it be, so you could actually talk to them one-on-one. The worst thing, of course, is to spotlight them in front of other students in the classroom. And it just makes them feel embarrassed and targeted. So speaking with them one-on-one and just say, is there anything I can do to support you? Are there any books from your culture you'd recommend? Any songs, anything that I can integrate in the classroom that you think would be something that you would like to see? me would be something that you would like to see. So you can try and represent their culture or represent some aspect of their family in the classroom. Also getting to know the families is also really important. So forming a positive relationship with that child's family or the youth could make be a child or youth. Form forming a relationship with the family is also really important. So engaging with their family is another way to kind of to support them where they can see that, you know, you're having conversations with their caregivers, or guardians or parents, whoever they may be, and that you're you're taking that extra time, time to learn that. So I think that's really important to do that. And, you know, if there are things from that student culture that they mentioned to you, you can build that into a whole class lesson so that everybody learns about that. So somebody was, I just had a conversation with a colleague who you know very well, Chris, just a few minutes ago, and we were kind of talking about the whole thing of like, what if you're teaching in a very multicultural like the opposite very multicultural school you've got 20 different ethnicities how do you represent all the cultures and so we were talking about like i was sharing in my example because i grew up in a very multicultural area and so what they did like teachers would you know let's have a week where we learned about italy let's have a week where we learned about greece and it was really neat i loved it it was fun you know we and you know the Greek parents would bring in their food you know so we all enjoyed it it was like a so they they had kind of a country of the week kind of thing that they did and um we got to learn about like all the cultures in the classroom over the year it wasn't like just one day um so I really like that approach so I think that you know during you you have a pretty long school year and I think you can you know you can do it is actually do things to reflect the different cultures in your classroom and and do that quite effectively so I think that's that's kind of where I'd start Chris you're the the key point that I always bring up with my students is relationship building. When it comes to things like, you know, behavioral guidance, things like that, all those things to me are, it's rooted in the relationship that you build with students and rapport. I think that's, that's the key thing. That's all I tell the students. I said, I don't have any, any, any tips around classroom management other than getting to know your students, because I think that's like the single best thing you can do. So I think that applies to for equity as well, getting to know that student and, and understanding that they may feel uncomfortable being the only because a lot of us have been the only I've been the only like black student in class, like when I got to university and that and, and I noticed that there were some professors who did a good job of kind of engaging with me on, you know, one-on-one level, and others who maybe didn't do such a good job. So I thought that was interesting to know, like, you know, if you're the only one, how a teacher or professor can engage with you so you don't feel so spotlighted or feel, you know, awkward in some way

CC: i 100 agree with you alana and one of the things it doesn't matter what subject i'm teaching here at queens my number one message is about strong teacher student teacher parent teacher community relationships um we all need to have that feeling of belonging and so how we create that is often through just that personal connection. And relating back to one of your stories too, my last school I was at, we did this incredible multicultural school dinner where we had so many different countries and different cultures represented. And it was just, as they always say, food brings everybody together. But what an amazing opportunity to just learn about all of these different cultures. And it became an incredible teaching opportunity as well that went on for months after the actual dinner. So some really good ideas in there. Another challenge to deal with in classroom teaching is that you hear in schools and and you've seen it in the news lately is the racist or homophobic or sexist remarks and abuse between students it was just in the news a little while ago so my question is a two-part question what do you do if you think you hear one of your students make this kind of comment, a racist, homophobic or sexist remark or more difficult? What if you hear it or you think you hear it, but you're not absolutely sure who said it? How do you approach that scenario?

AA: OK, so I think that's it's really important to have. I think it's really important to have. I believe in using those things as teachable moments. So having a whole class approach to zero tolerance. So first of all, as a teacher, the worst thing, and this is what I tell my students, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. Ignore it. Don't like that. That is so like I've had teacher candidates in my class who grew up in Kingston and they were, you know, members of racialized minority groups. And they talked about the fact that what hurt them most was teachers who ignored the issue, the things that happened to them and just pretended like nothing was happening. They said they were more hurt by that than actually the person calling the name. When they looked to their teacher for help and the teacher was just like kind of skulking away, feeling embarrassed themselves and not knowing how to handle it. Because a lot of times that's why teachers don't deal with it is because it's not like they actually endorse it, but they don't know what to do. So it's like a panic moment and you're just like, oh, what do I do? Yikes, you know? And I think that's really important. It is. It's so critical. So ignoring it is the worst thing to do. First of all, you need to, you know, tell your students in a whole class setting that it's not tolerated. Homophobia is not tolerated. Ableism, you know, using the R word, using the N word, not tolerated, ableism, you know, using the R word, using the N word, which I can share with you at this point, that our local school district is actually producing a resource specifically on that, which is like, I think I'm so excited about that. I've known about it for a while, but I've been sworn to secrecy until they got it approved. But I understand it's going to be released soon. But it's about for teachers how to handle like the n-word in the classroom because that's something that has been on the increase in LDSB so I think the worst thing that's exciting yeah it's exciting when the report comes out I'm going to send it to everyone it's going to be posted on our faculty resources for EDI for sure so using using it as a whole class approach, emphasizing that it is unacceptable to use words that are homophobic or racist or sexist or, you know, ableist or anything like that. It's just you need to reiterate that there's zero tolerance for that. Why? Because you're making students feel excluded and making them feel. So, I mean, one way you can approach it is through empathy, right? It's like nobody wants to be made fun of and be made to feel bad. And as a teacher, when you hear those things, you understand somebody's being harmed by that. So you need to acknowledge that there's harm done with those kind of words. Whether you think you heard it, you're not quite sure, you just want to be reiterating that it's very important. If there's a case where it does happen, because it does happen sometimes, the consequences for the, there should be consequences in terms of a discussion that's had with, it could be the student who's using the inappropriate language. And if necessary, you may want to involve the parents as well, depending on how you assess the incident. It might be useful to assess the parents because I think that's another thing that you might want to consider. Sometimes the language, especially for very young children, can actually come from their parents. And so having a discussion with the parents about like, okay, the child is using this language, like, I wonder where, where can you help us understand, you know, can you help us understand where this child's getting this language from? And sometimes it's like parents, they may be not aware of what they say, but children overhear things, they're sponges, and they, they, they listen to language. So I think that's important too, is getting the parents involved, depending on to language. So I think that's important too, is getting the parents involved, depending on their ages. But in this school setting, just establishing how important it is to have no tolerance for that type of language, and to approach it from the standpoint of empathy, to talk about how it's connected to making people feel like they don't belong or making people feel like that, you know, they, they, they are, you know, they're not wanted, they're marginalized in the school. And I think that's something that we don't want to have happen for anybody. So you can definitely approach it as a, as a teachable moment. But as I said, like, and you agreed with the worst thing to do is, is ignore the harm that has happened. So acknowledge that it's a words hurt, you know, there, there, there's a harm that it comes with a person being called a name. And even if it's just a name that somebody overheard or they're repeating something, or they're even repeating something, they may have heard in a song, it can still be hurtful to somebody else. And so that's another thing that often comes up too, is like, what if you're just repeating music lyrics that are very offensive? Because that does come up a lot, especially in the high school level. And I think that's even, you know, more for teachers to say, like, this is inappropriate because this language is harmful to some people. Just because it's in a song doesn't make it okay. Just because it's in some kind of lyric, it doesn't mean it's okay. It's still harmful language for some people.

CC: I think, Alana, we could do an entire podcast on song lyrics. Yeah, exactly. And I think your point also that it can happen at any age. Yes, it's sometimes highlighted in the high school age, but it's often the younger age group that may not know the exact meaning of what they were saying, but it's still, and I love that you hit it home, don't ignore it, make it a teachable moment, talk about the empathy, talk about the harm that can do, and then if necessary, bring in parents or caregivers as well. I think that's a very well-rounded approach. And again, the emphasis on we just can't ignore it because that's not helping at all. Now, I know there are a lot of education websites that have articles that discuss the topic and specifically how teachers have the opportunity to change these situations into teachable moments. But where would you suggest we start this learning process? Is there something that you sort of would gravitate teachers towards?

AB: Yes, I think there are lots of resources. And this was something that during, I think, 2020, you know, it was quite a year for a lot of school boards and, you know, not only school boards, schools, finding resources around equity. So we were able to, even in our faculty, curate a lot of them. So we, in our faculty of education a web page with with EDI resources, and we have a new EDI coordinator who's actually working on this. And this so a lot of amazing stuff that I've seen have been added to some of these websites. So for teachers, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, so ETSO has some great resources online. That is for elementary teachers, OSSTF, Ontario Second School Teachers Federation. So a lot of the unions have really good, well-developed resources around equity that I saw kind of develop kind of, I think 2020, there was like a real, you know, impetus to have more anti-racism resources, anti-oppression. So the websites have really been developed very well. OCT also has some links to that. So the first step would be if you're unsure is to go look at your union website and kind of see like what's there and they they often have links to other kind of resources um there are lots of professional development workshops that are offered through unions also the ontario principals council also offers um some online workshops i've participated in some of those and they have a lot of them have websites that they're there so the resources are actually there permanently on their website they have a lot of those resources take advantage of ongoing professional learning opportunities as they come up through your board and you see them show up there are lots of you know tons of webinars that you can take where you can learn a lot more about these issues and And also, I think teachers, and you probably agree, Chris, teachers have a responsibility, I think, to ongoing professional learning. So a lot of it is taking the initiative yourself. I can tell you that I, you know, in addition to learning from my colleague, Dr. Airton, but prior to that, I remember being like, not knowing a lot about gender diversity and enrolling in workshops so I could learn a lot more because I didn't know a lot about the different terminology used and different. So I found it, you know, interesting and important for me to take that on as my goal to learn more about this. And we do, we need to do the same thing when we're learning about things like Islamophobia, the importance of that, anti-Semitism, learn, like, so I think there's so many things that we can take on on our own to pursue our own professional learning in these areas that we may have gaps in, because no one, I think there are very few people, there's some people that have all, know absolutely everything about equity and inclusion, but I feel like, you know, there's some areas that I have that are a strength. Other areas I'm still learning anymore, like neurodiversity is a great one. We're having the opportunity to learn about neurodiversity, I think, is very important. And not a lot of us know about that. So that's something for ongoing professional learning. So I think that you can, at the very least, you know, Google resources, that's, that's also another thing you can do, like, you know, simply type in search terms and try and find some resources. I would try as best you can, though, to find Canadian resources, because as you know, Chris, like the context in the US might be slightly different. So trying to find Canadian resources is also something that I try to do with my professional learning is to look at resources from scholars, teachers and other types of educators who are working in the Canadian context. But there are a lot of them that you can find online through Googling. But I would recommend going through your professional body and looking up the equity resources is a way to start.'s a starting point but you have an ongoing um an ongoing commitment to professional learning many of you have uh i mean there are some books that are seminal i think bell hooks's work teaching to transgress that to me is like one of the a good handbook for teachers to kind of um be like read that Gloria Ladson Billings work on culturally relevant pedagogy, I think would be a must read for teachers just to give you kind of a grounding. So I think there are some like key books that I think give you a sort of starting point as to where you can go in terms of equity and inclusion in your classroom.

CC: And I know we're going to list a lot of those resources on the website as well, Alana. And that lifelong learning, I think, is such a positive and something that teachers really have to look at that professional learning. And I'm going to give a shout out to our Faculty of Education Library as well. Brenda Reed there does an incredible job, like you said. And the great thing is it's available to all teachers at Limestone District School Board. They have access to the faculty library.

AB: So I sort of forgot about our unions or our professional unions. There is a lot of great things that are in there as well. Yeah, I wanted to absolutely give a shout out to Brenda. I just saw her yesterday because I was just in there. And I was just, she has a nice, really nice Black History Month display now. But she is just an amazing resource on a personal level. And then the Education Library also is a wonderful resource. So I would say that I would also encourage anyone to visit the Education Library. You'll get a warm reception. And the librarians there, in addition to Brenda Reed, they're also they're all amazing. So that's that's I'm glad you mentioned that. Please. You know, let's not forget that Brenda and the library, because she does such an amazing job.

CC: She sure does. Now, you've sort of answered this question, but I'm going to say it again, or say it for the first time. A tradition of our podcast is to ask one final question, and that is the same for all of our guests. And that is, what is a one sentence advice that you would give to teachers, new or old, about bringing equity into the classroom?

AB: Okay. Yeah, that is a challenge. I'll tell you, Chris, that's a challenge. I'm glad you gave it to me in advance because I think I would have really struggled because I have so much to say about that. So trying to capture it in one sentence is challenging, but I think I'm going to try. Here's my effort here. Here's my attempt. This is my attempt. Equity is not an add-on, but a critical element of teaching. That's what I'd like to say. Equity is not an add-on, but a critical element of teaching.

CC: Wow, I like that. Very good. We're going to post that somewhere and write in bold. That is wonderful. Alana, I've learned so much. I've got two pages of notes here. So that's the part of my lifelong learning. I want to thank you so much for sharing your time, your research and your ideas with us today. These classroom challenges of inequities and racial and these type of comments are not going away. And as teachers, we need to find the tools, the professional development to help us change that narrative of this ongoing story. And I really appreciate and our listeners will appreciate all the information that you have given to us. And I really encourage them also to take a look at the resource page because you're going to be providing us with some information there. So, Alana, thank you so much for your time again today. I really appreciate it. Thank you for inviting me. It was an honour. I'm so excited because you produce a wonderful podcast.

CC: So thank you, Chris, for the work that you do, as well as the amazing teaching that you do in our faculty. You also contribute so much here, and I'm always excited to hear about new things in your area. So thank you so much for doing this. Thank you. That does it for much for doing this. Thank you.

CC: That does it for another episode of Popular Podagogy. Again, thank you to our amazing guest, Dr. Alana Butler. Josh, as always, where can our listeners subscribe to make sure they don't miss any of our Popular Podagogy podcasts? Yeah, you can find this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the Faculty of Education website, and pretty much any other place you get your podcasts. Please don't forget to check our Queen's Faculty of Education website and search for Popular Podagogy for additional resources and information on this important topic. Well, that's it from myself, Chris Carlton, and our incredibly talented and resourceful podcast team of Josh Vine and Aaron York. Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay connected. And we will see you next time for another episode of Popular Podagogy.