OSSTF/FEESO’s Equity Mentorship Program

Abstract imagery of colour silhouettes of a group of people encompassed by line art in the shape of curved lines forming a mirrored glass effect.

Forging new paths for leadership

t its 2016 Annual Meeting of the Provincial Assembly, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) approved the development of a formal, intensive mentorship program for members from equity-seeking groups. The pilot program, in place 2017–2021 was subsequently reviewed by a work group consisting of mentors and mentees who had been in the program. The re-imagined, now permanent, Equity Mentorship Program (EMP) was approved in 2022 and will graduate its first cohort in June 2024.

The new program is mentee-driven, completely focused on meeting mentee needs, and stimulating growth. Structurally, as mentees are selected first, they have involvement within three consecutive school years and mentors have involvement within two consecutive school years.


At the “direction setting” meetings, mentees are guided through an individual and intentional process to reveal their interests, needs, and wants for professional and personal development. Information provided by the mentees at these meetings is included in the subsequent fall call-out for mentors to create the safest, most productive, pairings possible. This program is 1:1, mentee/mentor, true pairings. Approval is given for more mentors than mentees and two OSSTF/FEESO Provincial Office staff are also assigned, with additional involvement of many more provincial and local leaders who step up to be contacts and “event buddies” for mentees attending events. This commitment of resources ensures that mentees are fully supported in all aspects of the program.

Each “group session” is composed of two parts: training and consultation. The content of the morning training flows from the mentees’ interests. For example, this first cohort received the following targeted training sessions over their two years:
• Provincial Office 101,
• Parliamentary Procedures,
• A Day in the Life,
• Roles & Skills,
• Facilitation, and
• So Now What?

The afternoon consultation time is for mentees, mentors, and staff to share within the group where they have been and where it makes sense to go next. The six “experiences” are chosen through mentee-mentor-staff consultation and attended by the mentee and the mentor as a team. In the two years, the teams have been to over 30 varied experiences, seven external to the Federation.

While structured soil is necessary, the success of any garden is its harvest. Judging by the comments of some of those in this first cohort, we believe we have planted well:


Q: Have you grown as a result of participation in the program?

Mentee responses:
I have grown in many ways, both professionally and personally. With the support of my mentor, I have gained experience and with that has come confidence. I have been able to expand my networks, hone my skills as a teacher and as a leader, and I’ve been empowered to keep growing along my chosen path. I have been able to realize abilities and talents I did not know I had! I’ve improved my teamwork skills as the EMP was really that—a team of people supporting each other. I’ve had a lot of practice with collaboration and I’m now a lot more likely to seek support in other areas—like in my job and in my local District. It’s a byproduct, I guess, of being in the EMP and realizing that I don’t have to do everything alone and people in fact want to support me!

Oui j’ai grandi beaucoup en participant à ce programme. J’ai acquis beaucoup de nouvelles connaissances sur le fonctionnement de la Fédération ainsi que rece­voir de l’éclairage sur mes intérêts futures. [Yes, I grew a lot from participation in this program. I acquired new knowledge about the workings of the Federation and have a clearer vision for my future interests.]

I just want to thank you all for the opportunity provided to me through the EMP.
I am so proud to be part of the program and I feel like the experience has helped me grow both personally and professionally.

Mentor responses:
• The program has given me the ability to see many different perspectives on education across Ontario and how we operate within OSSTF/FEESO. It is very easy to become focused on how things run within your own school board or District. Hearing from others on a regular basis helps not only further your understanding of the issues across the province but gives you the ability to bring new ideas forward in your own area.

• Interestingly enough, the experience was reciprocal, as my mentee’s choices led me to explore additional opportunities, including various training sessions, workshops, and experiences that I might not have otherwise considered. Answering mentee questions about committees, roles, tasks, and situations allowed me to recognize the substantial growth I’ve undergone since I became active within the Federation. It was a valuable exercise in self-awareness and a reminder of the progress I’ve achieved. Additionally, the relationships built within the program have been instrumental in broadening my perspective. Hearing and understanding the lived experiences and realities of others provided me with reflective insights into a host of issues I hadn’t previously considered. This experience has contributed immensely to my personal development and has fostered a deeper understanding of diverse perspectives, making the entire program an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience.

• I have grown considerably as a result of my participation in the program.
Although I came in as a Mentor, I felt as though I learned more from my mentee than he ever could have learned from me. Working in both different boards and subject areas, I was surprised by how our common interest in equity and inclusion impacted our view of our very different programs in similar ways. Being part of this program meant that I was attending committees and conferences that weren’t necessarily of interest to me. This proved fruitful for me because I was forced to learn in areas where I had a little less experience and comfort—this in turn helped me realize a passion for areas of the union that I didn’t know I had!


Q: What was the most impactful experience?

Mentee responses:
• For me, the most impactful experience was the one in which I met with OSSTF/­FEESO staff and explained what I was looking for. It allowed me to be honest and it was refreshing to be able to ask for what I wanted. The space they created was safe and surprising because I realized then that the organization wanted me to succeed and was going to do what they could to support the attainment of my objectives.

Le plus grand impact sur mon expérience est l’enrichissement personnel dans les connaissances et le réseautage comme membre de la OSSTF/FEESO. [The biggest impact on my experience has been the enrichment of my knowledge and of my network as an OSSTF/FEESO member.]

• Without these experiences, I would’ve never known some of the challenges that many of our diverse colleagues are faced with…thank you to all of you who have made this happen and for your support throughout these last two years.

Mentor responses:
• For me, as the time has progressed in the program, seeing the mentees flourish and gain confidence in OSSTF/FEESO spaces has left a lasting impression. It is amazing walking into a conference and being able to see mentees networking with many different people, speaking at microphones, asking questions, and leading conversations. It is inspirational to see what all of the mentees have accomplished in such a short time frame!

Witnessing their drive and determination to explore deeper into our union and into committee experiences to acquire knowledge not only for personal growth but also to assist others within their own District and across the province has been incredibly rewarding. Being part of the program allowed me to create new friendships with individuals from across the province that I would have otherwise never had an opportunity to do. These friendships made during the past two years are something I will forever cherish. It’s truly been a collaborative and inspiring journey that has extended beyond my initial thought of what the Equity Mentorship Program would be.

I would say that the most moving events I was able to attend were the Addressing Anti­-Black Racism/Racism Committee, the Annual Meeting of the Provincial Assembly (AMPA), the Status of Women Conference, and the Equity, Anti-­Racism, and Anti-Oppressive Officer Triennial Conference. What made these events memorable was the willingness of vulnerable members to band together to stand against injustice. Without this program, so much of what I am doing now wouldn’t be possible. This program has meant the world to me.

The OSSTF/FEESO Equity Mentorship Program is creating quite the buzz and we have been sought out for information-sharing meetings with fellow unions working provincially, nationally, and internationally. We are so very proud of the EMP and its participants. The Federation is confident both the program and its seedlings will continue to influence and propagate.

Equity Mentorship logo
About Rosemary Judd-Archer, Erin Leonard, and Adele Ramcharan
Rosemary Judd-Archer (she/her) OSSTF/FEESO Educational Services Department; Erin Leonard (she/her) President, Occasional Teachers’ Bargaining Unit, District 14, Kawartha Pine Ridge; Adele Ramcharan (she/her) Teacher, District 9, Greater Essex

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