Benns’ Belief: Avis Glaze helped break down barriers

By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Dr. Avis Glaze.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year was Break The Bias. 

What a great opportunity, then, to highlight my mentor and friend, Dr. Avis Glaze, who has spent her entire life breaking down barriers, whether in her own life or for countless others in the field of education.

Formerly a teacher at every level of the school system, Avis  was already a system leader when I met her — the director of education for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board in Peterborough. When I first interviewed her, we immediately connected on so many important community and education issues, from the importance of empathy to leadership and character education.

Soon then-premier Dalton McGuinty would tap her to lead Ontario’s new Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat as chief student achievement officer. Avis asked if I would join her as senior writer.

During those years I watched Avis push the team’s agenda through the insufferable pace of government decision making with an unflagging blend of resolve and charm. Compared to most, the work of our department moved at lightning speed. (I’m sure Kathleen Wynne, the education minister during some of these years, remembers the force of nature in her department that was Avis Glaze.)

The oft-repeated phrase by Avis then was that “the children cannot wait.” She brought an intense and formidable sense of urgency to the importance of student achievement, whether for the needs of diverse learners, the achievement level of boys, or ensuring cutting-edge resources for teachers. This commitment made her a powerful ally to educators across Ontario. But it was her sense of empathy and her drive to eliminate bias, stereotypes and discrimination that made her uncommonly effective as a human being.

Avis would go on to become an international consultant in education, helping Canadian provinces, American states, and countries such as Scotland, Norway and New Zealand achieve better results in their education systems, always with the fervent belief that all students could improve.

Breaking the bias, to use this year’s phrase for International Women’s Day, means taking a stand to achieve equity. I commented to Avis once that it seemed like teachers were sometimes afraid to take a stand in the classroom, lest they be seen as political. Her answer was unexpected.

“Let us not kid ourselves. Education is political. If we accept the view that politics is about how we allocate scarce resources, then we have no choice but to be political. In fact, I would encourage all teachers, leaders, parents and community members to be political. It is about advocacy for the things we believe in. That means making our voices heard.”

On this International Women’s Day, I think of women like Avis and I realize the gains we have made were born of struggle, advocacy and yes, the political will, to break down bias wherever it is found.

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