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Consultations with educators regarding the future of remembrance in the classroom

Executive summary

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) contracted Goss Gilroy Inc. (GGI), an independent company, to  consult Canadian teachers and other educators on the future of remembrance education in the classroom.

To the Canadian educators who participated in our consultation: We thank you! We will combine your input with other feedback we receive through consulting with Veterans and the Canadian public. 

This input will help us plan, create and shape new and existing educational tools and learning information they need to teach about Canadian military history, and to honour the contributions of those who served Canada. It will also help us develop new approaches to commemorative programming. Our collective aim is to inspire students to remember those who served.

1. Background and objectives

Veterans Affairs Canada promotes recognition and remembrance of the achievements and sacrifices of those who served Canada in times of war and peace. The department also leads remembrance and recognition activities to promote and encourage everyone to honour the brave Canadians who served, and continue to serve, our country at home and abroad.

VAC’s Commemoration Division is developing a 10-year strategic plan as a blueprint for future commemorative and recognition programming. One of the division’s key activities is the development of historical materials and educational tools for educators to help them teach remembrance.

This consultation with Canadian teachers and other educators was about their needs and interests related to remembrance programming. The department wanted to understand their experiences, thoughts and ideas as they help students learn about Canadian military history and honour the contributions of those who served Canada. It also wanted to hear their thoughts and ideas about how to improve VAC’s commemorative learning materials and programming and what tools work best in providing this content.

Their input will help Veterans Affairs Canada plan, create and shape new and existing educational products, tools and approaches.

2. Methods used

GGI consulted educators across Canada (in English and French) via an online questionnaire and a series of virtual discussion groups.   

Online consultations

Between 1-23 October 2020, the online questionnaire was sent to about 52,000 educators who are interested in obtaining remembrance materials and receiving notifications from VAC.

Educators completed 730 questionnaires (650 in English and 80 in French). The participation rate suggests that the results are reliable. It is important to note the participants excluded educators who have no knowledge of VAC’s remembrance materials.

Focus groups

Six online focus groups were held between 27-29 October 2020. The 35 participants (22 English and 13 French) received a $75 payment for their participation. The focus groups examined the challenges associated with teaching remembrance topics, course requirements and the types of activities students find most engaging.

Goss Gilroy Inc. recruited focus group participants through an invitation question added to the end of the online questionnaire. Interested participants expressed their interest by emailing Goss Gilroy Inc.

3. Key findings

Online consultations


Two-thirds of participants (65.3%) were teachers who have been in their current role for 11 or more years; almost half (47.8%) of them have been in their role for over 16 years. In addition, two-thirds of participants (65.5%) worked in the private or public school system, while 13.1% were either school administrators or librarians.

Approximately half (46.3%) of the participants stated that they taught students aged 8-12 years old, while close to one-third (29.6%) taught children aged 13-18. The rest of the participants taught students aged 5-7 years and 19+ years of age.

The majority of educators (42.9%) lived in Ontario, followed by Alberta and British Columbia. Only 9.3% of participants lived in Quebec, while 13.7% stated they lived in one of the Atlantic Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador).

Educators’ current commemorative activities, resources and preferences

In general, the majority of participants reported they stop for a moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. on November 11 (Remembrance Day) (78.6%) and/or that their schools held assemblies to mark Remembrance Day (73.9%).

Educators mark other anniversaries besides Remembrance Day: anniversaries that are important to the local community (24.7%), D-Day (24.0%) and Vimy Ridge Day (20.7%).

Almost two-thirds of participants—teachers (64.9%) and non-teachers (61.8%)—would like to receive information on available commemorative materials before Remembrance Day and other meaningful dates. Other participants are interested in receiving them at other times (e.g., monthly, bi-annually, etc.).

Three formats of products appeared to be the most useful. These were free printed, digital and downloadable material and learning resources. The least useful material was the live-streamed content on social media or through various forums (e.g., message boards).

Almost one-half of participants reported they were prepared to teach about the Second World War (51.3%), or the First World War (46%) given the lesson plans, tools, and activities available to them today. Yet, they were the least prepared to teach about the Korean War (15%), followed by Canada’s mission in Afghanistan (17.1%) – although the same learning materials are available.  

Feedback on current products

More than three-quarters (77.5%) of the participants knew that lesson plans are available on the VAC website. However, only two-thirds (68.1%) of participants reported using VAC’s lesson plans in their classroom. Participants from Quebec, those who taught children aged 5-7, and those who were not teachers were less likely to have used lesson plans.

Lesson plan feedback: Combat Boots

The Combat Boots lesson plan and activity pages help support students in learning about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The material helps them connect with the human side of war. It also helps them understand the importance of remembrance.

More than half (53.6%) of the educators, who worked with youth aged 5 to 12, reported their students would be engaged by this lesson plan. One in ten (10%) said they would not be engaged. About three in four educators (76.9%) said it would be easy to teach this lesson plan. More educators (83.6%) said it meets their course requirements.

Also, more than three in four educators (75.4%) reported they are interested (very or extremely) in borrowing historical artefacts after COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. For example, a pair of combat boots used at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2017.

Most educators (90.5%) would use the Combat Boots lesson plan in their classroom. Participants expressed a high level of positive feedback about this lesson plan. One commented, “It’s very important for students to remember the sacrifices that have been made for our freedom...their freedom. It's also a way for the students to recognize how fortunate we are to live in a peaceful country like Canada.”

Lesson plan feedback: Remembrance dog tags

VAC offers a lesson plan and activity pages about remembrance dog tags. These materials help students “put a face” to remembrance through identification tags Canadians wear while on duty in military service. (Special interest dog tag lessons are also available. These include lessons focusing on women and Indigenous people and Canadians who died in service —those younger than 18, and those with ties to hockey.)

More than half of educators (56.2%) who work with youth aged 13 to 18, thought their students would be engaged with this lesson plan.  Less than one in ten (6.9%) said they would not be engaged.

Overall, seven in ten educators (70.5%) reported it would be easy to facilitate the lesson plan. More than three quarters (81.3%) said it fits in with their course requirements. Interestingly, teachers were less likely than non-teachers to see a fit. It’s important to note eight in ten (81.2%) educators said they have the technology needed to support the lesson plan and (80.9%) would use it in their classroom.

Remembrance education in the future

Educators responded to these questions related to remembrance education:

  • What was their likelihood of using various types of remembrance educational material?
  • What are some ideas for remembrance resources, projects and activities?
  • What are their recommendations for inclusive learning products?
  • What is their interest in an approach that focuses on a different region of the world each year?

Educators reported that they are most likely to use three types of educational materials:

  • free printed material (87.5%),
  • hands-on learning activities (86.3%), and
  • material available for download (77.3%).

Educators were least likely to use activities that should be completed at home.

Almost eight in ten (78.3%) educators were very interested in topics related to helping Canadians after natural disasters. These include Canadian Armed Forces operations during the 1998 Eastern Canada ice storm or the 2016 Fort McMurray forest fires.

Educators also liked inclusive remembrance learning products, resources and activities. These materials are designed to engage students of all demographics, including new Canadians, Indigenous, LGBTQ2+, visible minorities or from unique social or cultural backgrounds.

Almost, six in ten educators (59.7%) were interested in an approach that looks at Canada’s contributions across generations of our military history – including modern day service. The approach focusing on a different region of the world each year. These educators provided ideas for projects, activities and events. This included technology that would help young Canadians learn about history and remembrance. Their suggestions included:

  • develop age-appropriate video clips and interviews with young service members who participated in war, to resonate with high school students;
  • provide hands-on and technology-based activities about trench life, and interactive virtual tours of museums and archive holdings;
  • provide craft projects and historical costumes for younger students;
  • provide online simulations of the First and Second World Wars, including video game scenarios, to engage and teach older students the reality of Canada’s military past; and
  • hold virtual discussions with Veterans of all ages.

Focus groups with educators


Educators have several challenges in teaching and incorporating remembrance and military history into their core curriculum. During the focus groups, they discussed effective strategies to  deal with these challenges. The educators found it difficult to make remembrance real to students, when children have lived during peaceful times in a country that has not fought in many wars. During the focus groups, they discussed options on how they could make the topic of war and remembrance more appealing to students of various ages.

Canadian Armed Forces around the world multimedia kit

Educators in the focus groups viewed video on how to use the Canadian Armed Forces around the world multimedia kit. The feedback on the multimedia kit was very positive with most educators saying that they would use this kit in their classroom and are interested in ordering it. They identified various aspects of the kit they would use, while others felt it was too advanced for younger students.

Some educators preferred the kit on a USB flash drive, while others wanted to access the kit online. This depended on their students’ needs and their access to the internet.

Classrooms of today and the future

The participants discussed several issues:

  • topics they find are difficult to teach
  • the types of materials that they need to relate to children and families of service members and/or from other world regions
  • the usefulness of various products
  • preferred teaching approaches
  • the value of printed learning materials and the use of technology in the classroom

4. Conclusions

The online and focus group consultation with educators provided helpful input and positive feedback about remembrance activities, resources and preferences.

Mostly, educators practice traditional remembrance activities and mark major military anniversaries on the dates they occur (e.g., Remembrance Day). However, they want to receive the related learning materials from VAC before these meaningful dates throughout the year.

Most educators prefer printed materials (87.5%) and hands-on learning activities (86.3%), including digital products (77.3%). While most participants are aware of and use VAC’s lesson plans, only half of them would use the Combat Boots and the Remembrance Dog Tags lesson plans in their classrooms.

Generally, it was found that a large majority of educators would use the free Canadian Armed Forces around the world multimedia resource kit in their classroom and would agree to order the USB key containing the kit, while others thought that the kit is too advanced for younger students.

The most requested materials were topics related to helping Canadians after natural disasters (78.3%), peacekeeping and peace support efforts with a focus on different regions of the world each year (77.6%). Also, they would like the learning materials to be inclusive and mindful of the diversity of students across the country (e.g., Indigenous, immigrant, LGBTQ2+, racialized, other minorities, and students affected by trauma).

5. Recommendations

While the results are very positive, educators made several recommendations for VAC to consider:

  1. Continue providing printed materials and other learning resources (either hardcopy or downloadable) related to remembrance activities prior to Remembrance Day and other meaningful dates throughout the year, while introducing new technologies gradually.
  2. Promote the Combat Boots and Remembrance Dog Tags lesson plans and other remembrance lesson plans to educators including educational supports that will help educators engage their students at all levels and ages.
  3. Consider simplifying, streamlining or providing options for customizing the Canadian Armed Forces Around the World multimedia resource kit so that educators can use the material in a wide variety of settings with different age groups and/or abilities. Also, provide options for distributing learning materials to communities and schools that do not have full access to all technologies and for students who prefer a hands-on experience and/or are primary age.
  4. Promote learning activities that will engage students (e.g., animation, films, media, short activities, the use of artefacts, activities with movement, photo galleries, pedagogical games, tactile resources, infographics, escape room activities, a remembrance app, etc.).
  5. Promote materials that teach children about the contributions of Indigenous peoples, racialized peoples, LGBTQ2+, and other minorities.
  6. Develop materials for educators to help them teach students about sensitive topics such as the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing.

6. Notes to readers

  • All results are expressed as percentages unless otherwise noted.
  • Percentages may not always add to 100 due to rounding.
  • Demographic differences are identified in the report. The tabulated data is available under separate cover.
  • The contract value was $42,232.00 (including HST).
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