Who’s who in the education system?
Understanding the key people who support students in their special education journey is important. Understanding each person’s role and responsibilities helps to make sure that you know who to talk to about any concerns you may have, and also helps you build good communication and relationships to best support a student’s learning. If you have a concern that needs to be addressed, it is best to start by talking with the teacher, and then if problems are not resolved you can speak to people with higher levels of responsibility, as needed.
Teachers must have a recognized teaching certificate to teach in the Ontario public education system. Teachers are often the most important individuals in a student’s education. They work with the student every day, and have the ability to create safe and caring environments for the student. Their responsibilities include:
- Preparing and teaching lessons, evaluating progress
- Supervising student behaviour and maintaining classroom discipline
- Developing and implementing Individual Education Plans (IEPs)
Principals also create safe and caring environments. They manage individual schools, and have one or more vice-principals to help them. Their responsibilities include:
- Supervising all staff within the school
- Student admission and placement
- Administering the school budget and reporting
- Maintaining Ontario Student Records (OSR)
- Overseeing implementation of IEPs
- Implementing student discipline
- Working with the student and parent councils
- Implementing school board-wide policies and setting in-school policies
If you have concerns you can raise them first with the teacher. If your concerns are not getting resolved or you are not getting the help you need, you can contact the school principal.
Superintendents are people who work at the school board level. They are usually responsible for more than one school, within a specified district of their school board. They are responsible for the administration of those schools and often participate in suspension appeals, disciplinary meetings, and requests to transfer schools. Superintendents are sometimes assigned to oversee board-wide programs, such as special education, or equity and anti-oppression. You can contact the school superintendent if you are not getting the help you need from the school principal.
Directors oversee publicly funded school boards. They distribute funding, develop policies based on Ministry regulations, provide programs in schools, such as special education, and ensure schools follow the Education Act. You can contact the school board director if you are not getting the help you need from the superintendent.
Trustees are elected during municipal elections to represent community interests. Trustees take part in committees regarding student expulsions and are responsible for the school board’s budget. You can contact the school trustee if you are not getting the help you need from the superintendent
The Ministry of Education is responsible for overseeing all aspects of Ontario’s public education system. The Ministry sets policies and guidelines for school boards, allocates funding to boards, develops province-wide curriculum, sets requirements for graduation, and approves textbooks and other resources.
The Minister of Education is an elected Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), and is appointed Minister by the Premier. For more, visit: www.edu.gov.on.ca
The Ontario College of Teachers regulates the teaching profession in Ontario. This includes establishing the requirements needed to be a certified teacher, overseeing qualified teachers, and investigating complaints against teachers. For more, visit: www.oct.ca
The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) is an independent government body, that oversees province-wide standardized testing. These tests occur in grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. Subjects include Reading, Writing, and Mathematics, and Literacy. For more, visit: www.eqao.com
What’s my role as a parent?
Parents and educators both share a responsibility to support a student in reaching their learning goals. It is helpful to approach the relationship with the school as a partnership, where everyone collaborates to best support the student.
Parents/caregivers are experts about their child’s strengths and needs, and the child’s situation outside school. Parents should:
- Maintain open lines of communication with key staff in schools
- Read all reports and documents provided by the school
Each school board must have a Parent Involvement Committee (PIC), and each school is required to have a Parent Council. Getting involved on the council, or getting to know the parents on the council, is a great way to learn more about the school, advocate for supports, and make sure that parents are represented.
Speaking up when you have a concern can be scary. But, there are supports that can help you through challenging processes, or even just by talking to you about your situation and offering advice.
What is my role as a student?
Students also have a role and a responsibility to take charge of their learning to whatever extent they can.
Students know themselves best and are experts about their own experiences, and can also be the best source of information about what can help them learn. We know that when students are included in decision making processes they become better at identifying their needs.
Students should be given every opportunity and be encouraged to:
- Be engaged in their learning
- Share their strengths and needs with teachers
- Talk about their concerns when learning strategies are not working
- Know their education rights
Speaking up when you have a concern can be scary. You have a right to education, which means that you have a right to have your education delivered to you in a way that allows you to reach your full potential. If something is not working in the classroom or school setting, you can talk to someone you trust and tell them what is happening for you,
There are supports that can help you through challenging processes, or even just talking with you about your situation and offering advice.
Consider joining your school’s Student Council. It’s a great way to connect with other students, get involved in your school, and make sure that the student voice is heard.
Communicating with the School
Parents/caregivers are partners with educators in supporting students and are encouraged to take an active role. Keeping open communication with the teacher and school is one of the most important things that a parent/caregiver can do to support a student.
You do not need to have an issue to communicate with the school. Keeping the lines of communication open from the beginning can help if challenges come up.
Tips for Communicating with the School:
- Attend parent-teacher meetings
- Schedule regular check-ins in ways that work for both you and the teacher, such as through phone calls, emails, or in-person
- Write notes ahead of a meeting or phone call to organize your thoughts and prepare
- Take notes during meetings
- Plan classroom visits in advance with the school/teacher
- Write notes in the student agenda/ notebook to communicate with the teacher
- If you are able to, look for opportunities to get involved, such as in extracurricular activities
- If you need translation for meetings, the school should be able to help. Ask the Principal or Guidance Counsellor for support in accessing these services.