Leading and Teaching Against Storied Assumptions

Poverty is not just a statistic, and statistics do not get to the poverty phenomenon in ways that illustrate how it plays out in school milieus. Take this storied snippet as an example:

Peters Street School has been in existence from the historical time of the Irish Famine of the 1840’s. Famine ships from Ireland brought immigrants in the thousands and, in under one year, the city of Toronto during that time rose from a population of 20,000 to 60, 000. The culture and tradition was to care for the sick and dying, especially the children. Fast forward to present day and Peter Street School is described by Principal Bradley as a school that has continuity from its historical past: a neighbourhood that has been quite Irish until the mid 20th century still gives back. Principal Bradley explains, “When you think about it, for a lot of kids, they fit into what’s happened before. They came to escape poverty, they don’t speak English, their parents came here to give them a new life, and so it’s like the tradition continues, except now we have kids from all over the world. So the Irish organization raised money and bought tin whistles for all our students at Peters Street School. I remember I was riding my bike through the park and one day I heard a tin whistle. It was Shelley up in her balcony! She was playing the polka and I thought, ‘Okay, this is a good program because these kids feel good about themselves.’ So it’s influencing the whole neighbourhood. There’s music in the neighbourhood – it’s alive with music. The metaphor is a lovely one.”

Principal Bradley leads with a philosophy that builds on the strength of tradition and on success in the historical context. The tradition of care and collaboration exists at a high poverty school such as Peter Street. In contrast, there are many schools whose climate and attitude about children and families living in poverty is to focus  only on what is missing in these diverse contexts. For example, consider these statements that have been shared by educators in high poverty schools:

  • Those kinds of kids will never learn how to read anyway, what’s the use?”
  • “We’re parenting parents, and they’re losers. That’s why their kids are losers too.”

Principal Bradley and the teachers at Peter Street School respond to such comments by teaching and leading against storied assumptions.


To learn more about this scenario, including the author’s own response, please attend the Intersections of Diverse Teachers and Diverse Learners at CSSE 2013, or stay tuned to the DiT website because we will be posting those details in the near future.

Until then, please leave a comment so that we can read your responses to this scenario. Here are some questions to consider interacting with each other and the author (Dr. Darlene Ciuffetelli Parker, from Brock University) about:

  1. How would you respond to this scenario?
  2. How do you lead against storied assumptions of children and families affected by poverty?
  3. As an educator, how might you respond to educators in your place of work that say:
  • “Those kinds of kids will never learn how to read anyway, what’s the use?”
  • “We’re parenting parents, and they’re losers. That’s why their kids are losers too.”