Queen’s researchers incorporate equity into Ontario’s K-12 curriculum

Professors Thashika Pillay and Alana Butler discuss re-envisioning the future of education 

Image by: Herbert Wang
The researchers partnered with a TDSB school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thashika Pillay and Alana Butler, Queen’s professors, are helping teachers incorporate equity into their classrooms without adding an additional burden. 

Pillay and Butler, along with Karen Pashby, a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, partnered with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to investigate ways teachers can emphasize equity for students without sacrificing teaching requirements.

The project originally focused on integrating equity into grade nine curriculum for English teachers but was expanded to include other disciplines due to the enthusiasm of the principal at the partner school.

“We worked with a group of really incredible Queen’s research team who helped develop a thinking around what [using HEADSUP] would look like in practice in terms of integrating it into curricula courses,” Pillay said in an interview with The Journal. 

“It’s providing information and a way of thinking about the world that comes from an equity lens.”

The project used the HEADSUP framework—an acronym standing for hegemony, ethnocentrism, ahistoricism, depoliticization, salvationism, uncomplicated solutions, and paternalism—created by Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti to emphasize equity.

The HEADSUP pilot project brought seven research assistants—who were also trained teachers—into the classrooms of a Toronto school to assist teachers in teaching equity to students.

“The Queen’s team had to navigate elements of discomfort in being able to integrate [equity into the curriculum], with elements of resistance as well,” Pillay said.  

Some disciplines, such as civics, were easier for teachers to integrate equity into their existing teaching plans; other disciplines required a nuanced approach. 

“We had more challenges with math and science in the area of getting teachers [to participate]. Although, we did have some really good teachers engage with it too,” Butler said in an interview with The Journal. 

In math classes, the traditional sports word problems were replaced with questions drawing attention to current equity issues. 

“The math team tried to come up with a new take on how you would do a word problem,” 

Pillay said. “So, not talking about the baseball analogy of how far you would run between the bases, for example, but thinking about something like the rising rates of Islamophobia instead, or the gender pay gap.”

The student response to the project was mixed, according to Pillay and Butler. 

“One of the things that really came out of this for us was the importance of relationship building with students. We can’t teach any of these complicated ideas without taking some time as we’re doing the teaching to build relationships with the students,” Pillay said.

The project was complicated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced researchers out of the classroom, and to work with teachers and students via Zoom. 

“I think [COVID-19] was another factor that may have prevented some of the more solid connections that we could have made with this [project],” Butler added. 

The name of the partner school within the TDSB was not disclosed for confidentiality purposes. The Journal was unable to obtain a statement from the TDSB.

Currently, the Queen’s team is analyzing information obtained from the research assistants’ journals written during the project and the teacher interviews conducted following the project.

For Pillay, the goal is to integrate teaching equity into teacher training as a sustainable way to provide new teachers with the tools they need to implement the HEADSUP framework in their lesson planning. 

“I think we really have to start rethinking what we’re teaching, and really start to rethink the types of knowledges that we are promoting in our classrooms and in our curriculum,” Pillay said. 


EDII, Education, Equity, School, school district

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