A Letter to the Class of 2020


To the Grads of 2020,

Well, it has been a month since I last felt an urge to write. Perhaps this is due to being busy with my ‘quarantine life’ or perhaps it’s because I have felt weighed down by the immense realities before us. We are entering into new, uncharted territory as we start to think about remerging into the world and this has felt daunting to me, if I’m going to be perfectly honest.

As I have been thinking about this reemergence, my focus always lands on our young people; our future. I need to begin this terrain of thought by speaking directly to them today because lately they have inspired me in ways that I am finding hard to put into words, but I will try. So, to the Class of 2020…

I have felt a fierce need to protect you throughout the first months of this pandemic, but there’s more:  As your teacher and counsellor, I have felt like it’s my duty to help calm you, reassure you, and tell you that it is all going to be okay, when I’m not quite sure what the future holds. I recently realized, however, that this support is actually a two-way-street. I get a sense that all of you want to protect us adults as well. You have gone out of your way, in fact, to make sure we know that we are contributing to your wellbeing throughout all of this, and I hope that we are. This is a bit mind-baffling to me; your ability to look outwards and worry about others during this unimaginable time.

I believe you have shown this support by remaining calm, composed and hopeful for your futures as we have grappled with how to support you. You have been gentle on us as we navigate that. Thank you. I often find myself an emotional heap by the end of the day, not because of the current state of the world, but because of the hope I feel about the future when I speak to you.

This time is about YOU: When I started crying in class the other day (re. emotional heap) in an act that you probably thought was a little corny but kinda nice, I actually felt a bit selfish. This time we find ourselves in isn’t about me and how I’m feeling about helping you; it’s about you and your future, and you have approached this task with a grace and grit that leaves me speechless.

As I watch you accept offers and get excited about what that means, I feel so hopeful for you and what the world has in store for you. Please never lose that vigour and drive that only a person with their whole life ahead of them can possess. We all need it; you are our future, and we need you trained and ready to do great things and navigate a complex world in your chosen fields.

The world will be normal again, and you will be stronger because of this: You are Generation ‘Z’; a generation that has come of age during the ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Me Too’ movements; during a time when the world is facing real problems due to climate change and now a global pandemic. Coming of age in these moments has made you flexible and adaptable in ways my generation can’t understand. You embrace the acceptance of others; you believe that ‘love is love’; you are digital natives and you navigate your online worlds tactfully and with purpose. You are acutely aware of your position in the world, partly due to the fact that you have information at your fingertips and partly because you are open to and respect the opinions of other generations and your peers. You are a large demographic, outsized only by the baby boomers, and your voice is equally as large.

If I factor all of these points together, I can’t help but think of the amazing adults you are all going to become (or are already becoming), and how you are going to lead the world without fear. You will have the plight of those less fortunate heavy on your minds as you watch them struggle through this pandemic; as inequalities come into focus in ways we wish we didn’t have to see, but that we need to see to make better. Let that guide you ethically in all that you do.

So, to the class of 2020, please continue to be hopeful and fierce about securing your futures. Go to university and train up in your fields with all of your passion and energy. Know something about science if you are a social scientist, future engineers and doctors, take a philosophy course; artists and musicians, we need the joy and creativity you bring to the world now more than ever. You will all be working together in a complex but exciting future to solve the worlds problems while continuing to show the people that beauty and goodness is alive and well.

I think about you all every day and I can’t wait to celebrate the class of 2020 in a few short weeks; keep going hard with your studies, you are almost there! You got this and this is (still) YOUR year!

Dr. E 🙂

Observations & Lessons in Isolation – Week 4


Hi Everyone,

I don’t know about you, but we have somewhat settled into the ebbs and flows and weirdness of staying (and working) at home. The weirdness will never disappear; we are social creatures who need to be around one another, but I am realizing there is a ‘new normal’ that exists for the time being. I have also been making a lot of observations and learning a lot of lessons in the discomfort of this time. I keep remembering that we are ‘healthy at home’ as opposed to ‘staying at home;’ it changes perspective completely and makes me think about those who do not have this luxury.

Here are some observations of my first month (or so) at home.

We are Living History: I have found a great deal of comfort in educating myself in these first few weeks. I have to admit, sometimes I go down into a dark hole and have to dig myself out for my mental health’s sake. But, I have found comfort in this education for the most part, and especially in reaching back into history to learn about how others coped with epidemics in the past; this situation is not new to us humans, though the combination of our modern lives with an epidemic is. Nonetheless, we can learn from the lessons of the past, even if those lessons are not the ones we want to hear.

The head of my school recently introduced me to a NY Times Op-Ed piece by David Brooks that traces the lack of public consciousness following the Spanish Flu of 1918, which is puzzling, as it killed many more Americans than World War I did. Brooks argues that perhaps this was because people didn’t treat each other so well during these times when they felt “trapped, waiting for events outside their control, unable to act, unable to decide.” And let’s not kid ourselves, this is where we are at currently; we really have little control. This thinking hits at the personal level; what people did or did not do in these challenging times. I’ll leave Brooks rather grim examples below for you to peruse.

This is the learning of history that is most poignant for me; at this level of the personal. Hearing people’s stories; Anne Frank in hiding, displaying human resilience and kindness in the face of impending gloom, men marching off to war, and the story of the life they left behind and the realities of the trenches; people’s personal connections to those in the World Trade Center, and I could go on and on. So, if we are living history, what will your story be? Will it be one of kindness, resilience, humility? I hope so, and I hope so for myself, too. I hope you document this time and share it with your loved ones in the future; it might be their survival guide one day. I have been giving my students the same advice, if only for it to be their ‘I walked through 10-foot snowbanks to get to school’ story when their kids say they are bored someday.

If you are a teacher, your students REALLY want to see you: I know many of you public school teachers are feeling anxious about a return to work and what that is going to look like. I just completed my first week back at it and after that first class, I was chatting with a colleague who hadn’t yet taught and was feeling nervous, as we all were. I told her, “you will be so overcome with emotion and joy to see them healthy and smiling, all your nerves will just go away,” and I think that was true for all of us at Lakefield College this week. On the other side of this is, of course, our students; all 16 of mine were sitting in the queue of our zoom meeting 5 minutes before the class started; better punctuality then in person! We had a laugh about that. My point is, they really wanted to be there, and to see each other and their teacher and talk about their futures because it’s comforting and connecting. It was so nice. Good luck to you all next week, your kids want to see you and hear from you and let this carry you through your nerves and confusion as you navigate these tricky educational waters we are in!

Gratitude: I will admit it; I am not a person who is full of gratitude. It is not one of my top strengths; not even close. I spend my time focused on accomplishing (maybe too much so), loving my people and perhaps not living in the moment enough. But during this time, gratitude has taken a center stage for me. Perhaps it’s the change in pace and my lack of control in how I move around the world currently, but I am feeling so grateful these days. I went out for a run this morning and was grateful for the spring air, that I could take my family outside in the yard, that we have food security and a roof over our heads. To pre-Covid me, I would think I sounded super corny and would have given myself a big ‘ol eye roll, but nope, not now. Things I definitely take for granted in my day to day life have come into clear focus these days. I hope that continues when this is all over, it has changed my life and perspective, in such a short time.


We Don’t Need Stuff: I am one of those people who NEEDS my morning coffee from the bakery. But the things that we thought we needed aren’t as readily available to us anymore, and it’s changed the way we think a bit, as least it has amongst my group of friends. A recent talk with some mom friends about where to buy our kid’s pants online turned into one about sewing a nice patch onto blown-out knees. I have been enjoying a coffee at home in the morning and second-guessing online orders because I just don’t feel I need it. I have shifted my attention from consumption to simplicity; I feel like a little old lady puttering around in my garden, but I love it. My kids have stopped asking to go buy a toy after a couple of weeks of tough conversations and have taken to collecting snails and worms outside and biking around. I hope relishing in this simplicity stays with me (and us) after this is over.

Thanks for listening to my musing about this month in physical isolation, I would be interested your hear what you are learning in these wild times!


Connection in Isolation



Hello Everyone,

I have been hesitant to write this post.

At first, I felt as though people must only want to read blog posts from the epidemiologists and medical professionals rather than the educators and sociologists. I know that’s the only content I have been devouring for the past two weeks. But, as we settle into this new reality, it has become clear to me that we need to hear from one another now more than ever. We need to think deeply about our human interactions in a time when they have become scarce. I think sociology can help us with this as we ease into our new way of life, however temporary.

I write about this historic, unprecedented and extraordinary time we currently find ourselves in…together. The keyword here being ‘together.’ At the most basic level of sociology is this idea that we are shaped by the people around us; that we are the drivers of our personal destinies and that we can decide what we want for our lives. In these uncertain times, all of these ideas seem to be under siege. Our governments continue to be forced to draw on rather draconian measures to flatten the COVID-19 curve, our destinies are relegated to the confines of our homes (and our digital worlds) and our social networks stop at our immediate family members.

What sociology also tells us, is that the most intimate of actions are shaped by the larger social world around us. Perhaps never before in history has this statement been so powerful and so obvious as we ban together in nothing less than wartime to fight this intruder. Staying inside with your family, in what might feel isolating and personal, is of course part of a powerful social collective undertaken in the name of our common humanity. I am finding great comfort in this notion that ‘we are all in this together’ and that the concepts inherent in sociology are still very much intact as we continue to be shaped by the world around us from the confines of our own homes. It also helps me to stay at home.

This is a time when we need to feel empowered through new kinds of human interaction. I sat on my first ‘zoom’ call last night and connected with women I respect on multiple levels through our screens. At first, it felt contrived, but after several minutes, I settled into this idea, and I felt empowered; empowered that I could still connect with these women in times when I couldn’t see them in person; in a time when seeing them in person could put others lives in danger. And this is the sociological idea that we can see ourselves in the actions of others – we are doing it for one another and because of one another. If only on our computers, I could still pick up the deep sense of purpose each woman had as we found ourselves in this new reality. It almost brought me to tears.

If sociology is truly a study of the interconnectedness of humans; the shared experiences we all have that shape the very personal decisions that we make, there perhaps has been no time in history where we have been more connected towards a common goal attained through individual effort then now. We are truly living history. Though it is devastating to watch lives being lost (my heart breaks for Italy, currently), it is also uplifting to watch the videos my friend sends me from her apartment in Spain each day when the people clap in unison and play music for the health care workers (clip below). I watch my daughter begin to understand actions for the greater good as I explain the idea of sacrifice (today, it was not going for ice cream) for ‘grandmas,’ and I am anxious but excited to gear up and engage with my students all over the world on a digital platform next week. If we are all in this together, then we can surely accomplish great things from our couches and home offices. And we can surely educate our young people; these past two weeks have been an education in itself.

So, as we move forward in making our very personal decisions, shaped and intertwined with a global fight, I hope that you connect with those you love outside of your home, that you smile with your students as you start to navigate online learning and that you enjoy your time connecting with your loved ones as you find yourself in these precarious but unifying times.

In good health,


Critical Media Literacy – Guiding our youth as they navigate their digital worlds


Critical media literacy can be defined as, 

an educational response that expands the notion of literacy to include different forms of mass communication, popular culture, and new technologies. It deepens the potential of literacy education to critically analyze relationships between media and audiences, information and power … it is an opportunity for youth empowerment (Kellner & Share, 2007, p. 60).

Hello Teaching/Parent Community,

My apologies for my lack of writing recently, but you know, start of the school year shenanigans! This time of transition is both exciting and exhausting, and it leaves little time for work to be done outside of the classroom and home as we adjust to our new routines. It is a good time to be gentle with our expectations of ourselves and others and manage our self-care when we can.

With that said, my brain never does stop its musings about educational topics that are near and dear to me, and when I don’t have time to write, I often take to discussion with my colleagues (who am I kidding, I will gab about these topics all of the time!). Recently, I have been thinking about the concept of critical media literacy; how we utilize this teaching concept in our classrooms and how we can disseminate it outside of school. I have been working with the healthcare team at my school on some workshops steeped in critical media literacy as a way to help our young people navigate their online worlds in meaningful and safe ways.

I worry that we aren’t doing critical media literacy enough or properly as an educational system in Ontario. Let me provide some academic research to support this statement. Kellner and Share (2007) posit that North American education systems still function “under a protectionist or anti-media approach, oversimplifying the complex relationships youth have with media and removing the potential for empowerment that critical pedagogy and alternative media production can produce” (p. 61). ‘Empowerment’ is not often a word that comes to mind when we think about our young people and social media. I would like to explore this concept more deeply in front of these workshops; it is one of the pillars of critical media literacy

I think previous generations tend to view social media as a black hole in which teens spiral into and cannot remove themselves. It is where bullying happens. It is where both girls and boys exploit their bodies and it is where our girls develop negative associations with their bodies as they scroll through images of the ‘ideal’ femininity. It is a space where parents and teachers cannot go, and I think for this reason, it scares us. What is happening in their worlds!? We must know, and if we cannot know, it’s obviously dangerous and we must stop it! The bottom line; humans tend to be weary of the unknown, especially when it comes to protecting our young people. 

But, here’s the thing, if we truly want to protect our young people, we must trust them. We must educate them and then we must trust them. Isn’t this the point of both parenting and teaching? We now know that helicopter and bulldozer parenting doesn’t work for our young people when we send them off into the world. Research on resilience and anti-fragility is diffusing to the masses and occupying space in many of the psychology and education conferences I have attended recently. So, I challenge you to shift your thinking about social media and move away from this protectionist position. Critical media literacy is a tool to assist you in doing so.

Critical media literacy relies heavily on students’ already existing understanding of public pedagogies (beliefs about different topics) so students must have knowledge of the apparatuses that control gendered and racialized discourses in the media, for example, so they can deconstruct them in relation to their own personal experiences (Kellner & Share, 2007, p. 62). This is where we can do some good work with our young people; we can help them break down these messages and rebuild them in meaningful ways for each individual student. This can be a challenging exercise for many teachers and parents as it asks them to consider their own constructions of social media and the body. Yes, you must do some internal work before you begin this work with your students/children. We all come to this topic with our own baggage and preconceived notions of power; really, it is our own views on these topics that guide and train our young people on how they should construct their own opinions. 

Critical media literacy education gives students the opportunity to discuss alternative media production and empowers them to create their own messages that can challenge dominant discourses on a whole range of issues. Let’s go back to my rather grim paragraph on the negatives effects of social media. Through talks with trusted adults, students can begin to challenge the bullies through advertising “Bell, Let’s Talk,” and the normalizing of mental health, girls can post pictures where they are happy and thriving with a group of friends as opposed to the bikini shot; not having your parents or teachers in this space will allow you to share in ways that are more authentic, perhaps. You can see the dialogue shift. 

This is really just a start to my thinking more deeply about taking my academic research on this topic and translating it into practice. Mediasmarts is an amazing online resource with lessons geared towards critical media literacy. My next post will share what I have developed and how I will deliver it to our students.

THANK YOU for reading,



Standardized bodies < Accepting & Celebrating Difference



Hello all,

Happy summer to you all! While I have been enjoying the outdoors and time with my fast-growing littles, I have also found some opportunities to continue thinking and learning as well, which is always nice. This past week, Dr. Blair Niblett invited me to guest lecture in his M.Ed class at Trent University. I was flattered to be there and the talk brought up some great questions and conversations about my area of research, and I wanted to share some of this with you for this post.

One of the questions I have continued to think about was put forth by a student who teaches in a police foundations program. He was curious about what to do with young people who struggle with fitness activities, such as the Beep Test (a standardized running test). He mentioned that his students have increasingly been having a harder time achieving a passing grade on the test, and it was troubling for him. As a person committed to helping others get more physically active, I get it! But, I am also a huge advocate for eliminating any and all standardized tests in PE; heck, really any standardized test cross-curricularly. Asking students to perform and get results on the exact same fitness task, when they are all built so totally different and individual is absurd to me.

The tricky part and what was brought up in the class was this question; ‘so, do we just let them become overweight and inactive if we aren’t pushing them in these ways?’ What do a lack of fitness testing and a push for intuitive eating look like for this generation, and is it actually good for them? This has come up a number of times at conferences and talks that I do, so I thought I would share my answer in a few points;

1.) The obesity epidemic is sensationalized in the media (Gard, 2002), in fact, a good majority of this generation are fit and healthy. ‘Fit’ and ‘healthy’ means different things to different people, however, and I think this is where confusion and discomfort often rest. A recent article published in the European Heart Journal found that individuals who are metabolically healthy (i.e blood pressure within a healthy range, cholesterol, blood sugar, and other indicators fall within a healthy range) yet overweight are at no greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than those who are of normal weight. What this means is that “we’re learning that a body that exercises regularly is generally a healthy body, whether that body is fat or thin,” shares Dr. Glenn Gaesser, a professor of wellness and exercise at Arizona State University.

2.) Once we get comfy with the fact that many different body sizes and shapes can be healthy, we can start to let go of our pre-conceived notions that one is not fit if they do not look like the model in the fitness magazine or do not run a specific distance on a running test. To achieve this specific ideal alienates the majority of the population, and may lead individuals towards a sedentary life, as they do not feel they will ever be able to conform to the very specific and prescribed ideals of health. Or, they might go so far the other way to achieve something their genetics do not allow, that they run into problems with eating disorders and addiction to exercise. We obviously don’t want either of these two scenarios for our young people.

3.) Tests such as the Beep Test and images of ideal, fit femininity represent the most recent version of healthism. Healthism, a term coined by Crawford (1980) is the belief that health can be achieved unproblematically through individual effort and discipline; furthermore, it represents a moral imperative to do so. In other words, in a neoliberal society, it is the job of the individual to achieve a healthy body; to fail at this is to fail yourself, and to fail the society in which you live (increased health care costs, etc.). This perspective misses an important marker of achieving good health; one’s sociodemographic status. A child who lives in an affluent neighborhood, with healthy food options that their parents can afford, and a plethora of organized sporting activities of their choosing is much more likely to achieve good health than the child of a single-parent who cannot afford healthy food, nor has the time or resources to cook that food or put their children into organized sport. This is a striking comparison when you think about it. Both of those kids may be standing on that starting line side by side, about to run the Beep Test.

So, for us educators and parents, what do we do with this information? It is important to remember that a healthy individual can look all kinds of different ways and can achieve good health in ways that are meaningful and sustainable to them. For this reason, I cannot stress the importance of giving our young people choice. If the beep test doesn’t work for you, how about a walking test, or a swimming test, climbing, X-country skiing; running while dribbling a soccer ball, whatever it is you love to do? We need to teach our young people that traveling down their own path towards good health is going to look different than the person beside them, both internally and externally.

Most importantly, let’s promote things that our children love to do to move their bodies. I think if we do this, we will speak more to this generation and we will become trusted allies on their paths towards good health and body acceptance.

Thank you for reading,