Supporting Student Parent Success: Tips from Research and Practice

Authored by Victoria Fritz, PhD Candidate (Family Relations and Human Development) & Learning Specialist, University of Guelph

The university landscape in Ontario is changing, and our student body is becoming more diverse. As we see more students coming from non-traditional backgrounds (traditional being direct entry from high-school), we need to become more aware of the unique needs of our students in order to better support them as practitioners. One group, in particular, that I have had the privilege of interacting with both in my research and in my professional work, is student parents.

Beyond Thanksgiving

How educators can authentically honor and engage with Indigenous heritage and perspectives — all year long.

By Heather Watts

At Redefining Traditional we aim to share resources, stories, and experiences from a scope of virtual communities and educational spaces for student parents and supporters. This week, we’re excited to share a post by Heather Watts from Harvard’s ‘Usable Knowledge: Relevant Research for Today’s Educators’ blog series with the Graduate School of Education. We welcome you to take a look at many of the other important pieces they post at:

Journey of an International Student (Part Three): “Unless We Remember We Cannot Understand”

by Shamim Ahmed 

In our ‘Journey of an International Student’ series, Shamim shares his experiences and journey as an international student parent at the University of Toronto. This thoughtful monthly series aims to highlight experiences of international student parents, find connections in our community, and uplift voices of others. If you have story or idea for our Redefining Traditional community, you can submit it here! 

On December 2nd 2019, we were traveling to Bangladesh after almost 3 years of being in Canada! Everyone was so excited for this vacation. We saved money for several years to buy tickets and see our families again. December is a good time to visit Bangladesh. It is winter there and green landscapes, fresh vegetables, seasonal cakes, and warmth of your dear ones are waiting! Bangladesh is a tropical country and we have six seasons throughout the year. I know you might be surprised, and I will share all about these seasons in one of my blogs in the future. But today when I refer to winter, do not get confused, it is not like the winter we observe here in Canada. We have a lot of rainfall in Bangladesh, but apart from that, the temperature is high throughout the year. The average temperature during summer is around 39-degree Celsius. Therefore, when I talk about winter in Bangladesh, it is 15-20 degree Celsius, pretty much the summer in Canada!

The Importance of Meaningful Land Acknowledgements

Our land acknowledgements series highlights important stories and teachings from each of the Redefining Traditional team members – Heather, Shamim and Kaitlyn. Through these posts, we aim for our community to think about how land acknowledgments are immensely important, and to ensure we engage in teachings about specific cultures beyond a day or month of recognition. We also highlight important questions to support our community so that an acknowledgement moves beyond a ‘script’ and towards an ongoing conversation.

Our first installation is by Heather Watts!

Journey of an International Student (Part Two): “The Heart Is Not A Lonely Hunter”

by Shamim Ahmed 

In our ‘Journey of an International Student’ series, Shamim shares his experiences and journey as an international student parent at the University of Toronto. This thoughtful monthly series aims to highlight experiences of international student parents, find connections in our community, and uplift voices of others. If you have story or idea for our Redefining Traditional community, you can submit it here! 

This week’s snowfall* was quite unprecedented. I was not expecting a heavy snowfall on the first day of November; not at least from my experience of living in Toronto for the last four years. Snowfall was heaviest when I came to Toronto in 2016. I remember our most adventurous journey to this city was then to visit the Queen’s Park, a 10-minute walk from our home. The park was full of snow. When we entered the field, it felt like we were about to drown into a rough white sea! It is such a fond memory. However, I think, snowfall gradually decreased in the following years. Is climate change started impacting the urban cities too? Maybe. There is no chance that we ignore or deny the effects of climate change on our beloved habitat. It’s true and it’s happening.  

Three Things I Wish I Knew About Being Both a Parent and a Grad Student at UofT

By J. Sparks, Graduate Student at the University of Toronto

This is a re-post from the Intersections blog at the Family Care Office at the University of Toronto (learn more here!). While this post is based on experiences at the University of Toronto, we recognize that these insights apply to all student parents in higher education and we invite you to share any insights in the comments below!

If I had an opportunity to go back in time, I would have shared these three things with my former self about what to expect as a parent and as a student enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Toronto.

Reflections on Orange Shirt Day

By Heather Watts – Design Researcher at the Innovation Hub

Last year around this time, I wrote the following post on my Facebook page: 

Icon of an orange shirt with the text 'Every Child Matters' on it.
Orange Shirt Day Logo: learn more at

A lot of feelings as I dropped Nico off this morning, sporting his orange shirt. Today is Orange Shirt Day, a day designed to educate people and promote awareness about the Indian residential school system and the impact this system had on Indigenous communities for more than a century in Canada, and still does today. 

This system was assimilation and erasure packaged and tied as ‘education’. What do we mean when we use this word? What are we teaching? What are we intentionally leaving out? What narrative are we working to maintain? 

As I walked my little love to his school here in Toronto, I reflect, what narrative continues to be the one that is upheld? What constitutes knowledge? Who is taught about and in what way are they remembered, revered, and celebrated?  

Let us not just be performative on this day, or any day for that matter. Beyond shirts. Beyond land acknowledgements. Let us be critical. Let us be systemic and institutional change agents. 

Over the past twelve months since I posted these words, I have engaged in the topic of Reconciliation on a scholarly level, as well as on a personal level. As an Indigenous woman with family members who are residential school survivors, there is a lot to consider when it comes to this journey of Reconciliation. I still very much believe that there is a dominant narrative that our institutions of learning work to maintain, and in large part, that narrative omits, marginalizes, and misrepresents Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).  

A Fall Like Never Before: Academic Success Can Still Be Colorful!

Written by Shamim Ahmed – Design Researcher at the Innovation Hub

Academic success is so important for students, and we know it well. We often think academic success is all about studying, but if we reflect on lifestyles where academic progress seems to flourish for folks, studying is not necessarily the only thing that has helped them succeed. A little bit of planning and giving importance to the smaller but important things in life supported them to be successful in their academic journey. However, this summer was difficult for most of us. Due to COVID-19, students might have to make up for classes, continue home schooling or face financial uncertainties. Due to the pandemic, many students might not have been able to engage in summer activities, visit family, or have a summer vacation that helps us return to the Fall semester energized. It is well known how overwhelming it can be returning to school – especially now, no matter your degree or grade. It is not just applicable to new students, but also for the returning students after an uncertain summer of 2020.    

Share Your Story Feature: Children’s Picture Books Featuring Parents and Care Givers with Disabilities

Written By: Terri-Lynn Langdon

Stack of picture books

As a child with a visible disability growing up it was really rare for me to find media and written content about children with a disability. As a mother to a toddler, I am now finding it challenging to find content that addresses parents and caregivers with disabilities. Often when me and my little girl go somewhere together, I am the only wheelchair-using parent. Representation matters. It mattered for me as a child. I needed to see disabled children being and succeeding in the world and it matters now. I want my child and others to know that parenting with a disability is a valid way of being. 

My Son Will Know Multiple Stories

Written by Heather Watts

“The single story creates stereotypes…They make one story become the only story”.  When I heard these powerful words spoken by renowned author Chimamanda Adichie, it brought me back to a day in my twelfth grade Canadian Politics class. It seemed as if it was just another day. The same students. The same teacher. The same posters celebrating the “cultural mosaic” that is Canada lining the walls. But something would happen during these seventy-five minutes that would change the way I saw myself, forever.  

Heather's son smiling while holding a book, looking up at Heather. They are sitting on a set of stone steps and are both wearing graduation caps and gowns.
Heather and her son getting graduation photos taken (2019) in celebration of a Master of Education program and pre-school!