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Terrance Alonza Saunders: culturally relevant learning leads to better learning

Year: 2019 – Province: Ontario

Certificate of Achievement Recipient

Terrance Alonza Saunders

Language Arts, Social Studies, Drama and Dance, and Associate Host Teacher, grades 6–8
Lawrence Heights Middle School, Toronto, Ontario

"Mr. Saunders transformed my daughter from a timid and shy duckling into a confident and eloquent swan [in a Grade 8 theatre production]. He saw something in her and did not let a special education designation prevent her from shining."  — Parent

Following in the footsteps of his mother, who was a teacher for 40 years, Terrance Saunders has worked since 1989 in a Toronto neighbourhood with one of the city's highest child poverty rates. By now having taught multiple generations, he has always been committed to students' success.

Teaching approach

Taking an anti-oppression and inclusive approach, Terrance works to ensure his teaching is culturally relevant to his students, believing that students can learn better when they are understood, feel loved and are held to a high standard.

In the classroom

  • Encourages students to explores and discuss controversial topics: for example, a theatre production looked at the traditional narrative of Confederation from the perspective of non-signatories to the British North America Act through dialogue, tableau, dance, music and costumes.
  • Uses an inquiry-based model to generate higher order thinking in students: asking and answering questions about the role of education in society, and how the school board could rethink Remembrance Day assemblies to reflect the contributions of all Canadians.
  • Strives to make school a success for Black Canadian children: for example, to engage the students and emphasize the value of education, he introduced them to a book about a man who returned to slavery to teach other slaves to read and write.
  • Harnesses drama and dance, integrated with language arts and other subjects, to tap into student interest and energy, and build self-esteem and inspire confidence; students read widely and take part in drama productions to give them the courage to speak truths.

Outstanding achievements

  • Commissioned to teach a community drama workshop to address the issues of displacement, community violence and economic well-being as part of a larger community revitalization effort.
  • Held Position of Responsibility at board's Africentric Alternative School, creating its first celebrations of the Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and leading activities for African Heritage Month.
  • Served as coordinator of fine arts program within university education faculty, placing teacher candidates in a variety of socio-economic and ethnically diverse communities, and helping them develop culturally relevant lessons.

Get in touch!

Lawrence Heights Middle School
50 Highland Hill
Toronto ON M6A 2R1

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