School Name: Horse Lake Elementary
School District: SD#27 Cariboo-Chilcotin
Inquiry Team Members:Marie Matwick: firstname.lastname@example.org, Leslie Dickson: email@example.com, Margaret Ramsay: firstname.lastname@example.org, Marissa Ball: email@example.com, Patricia Palmer, Mike Davidson: firstname.lastname@example.org, Jillian Eyer: email@example.com, Lisa Pugh: firstname.lastname@example.org, Sheena Stenerson: email@example.com, Ty Lytton: firstname.lastname@example.org, Kristi Pecor: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOII (focus on core competencies, OECD learning principles, etc.)
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Not applicable
Focus Addressed: Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We wanted to increase our students’ sense of belonging and/or community.
Scanning: Towards the end of last year I gave the intermediate students a survey including the four key questions (or a version of them). I informally posed simplified versions of the key questions to various students in different primary classes. I learned that, predominantly at the intermediate level, students had difficulty coming up with two adults at the school who thought they would be a success at life. I found this to be shocking and concerning as I had always thought we had a very supportive, positive school community.
Focus: As a staff we began discussing how some of our students had trouble fitting in and needed extra support feeling comfortable, safe and cared about at school. In previous years staff had been “assigned” an at-risk student to seek out and check in with periodically. We did not want to be so formal, but wanted to ensure these students’ emotional and social needs were being met. Hence we decided that we wanted our PLC to focus on ensuring all of our students felt that they belonged and were included positively in our school community.
Hunch: School routines can sometimes become routine and it is easy to be complacent about what we are doing when things seem to be working well. It is necessary to occasionally question our traditional structures and practices to ensure they are still relevant, applicable, and meet all of our students’ changing and different needs.
New Professional Learning: We will explore what different schools have done to foster a sense of community and belonging with their students. We will also need to investigate how to compassionately include all of our students with their individual needs and differing backgrounds and histories.
Taking Action: Beginning of the year strategies:
We are planning to have monthly assemblies where we recognize our students. We are implementing a “Horse Bucks” program where students who are doing good deeds will receive a Horse Buck. Teachers will share with each other which students may be more at risk so all teachers can keep an eye on them. Our PLC groups will be meeting in primary and intermediate groups. Each group can implement or design a plan to increase students’ sense of belonging either in their classrooms or as a whole school.
How it worked out:
We did implement the “Horse Buck” program at the school. Most every student in the school received at least one Horse Buck at some point during the year for doing good deeds. All of these Horse Bucks were put into a box in the office. Every month or so we would have an assembly and our principal would pull a set number of Horse Bucks out of the box and the chosen students would choose an item from a prize table. The students name and good deed were read aloud so everyone would know what they had done. The students love these assemblies and wait anxiously to see if their name is chosen.
An exploration block was implemented, however, we only had time to do one this year. Every teacher chose a STEM project to do and these were all presented to the students. Each student got to choose the top six projects, out of eleven, that they wanted to do and they were assigned to one of these projects for an hour in the afternoon. We mixed up all the grades for these projects, hoping to encourage collaboration among students from different grades and classes. It was an extremely successful afternoon for both teachers and students. There were some teachers who were not looking forward to it, but when it was over they said they really enjoyed it and would definitely do it again. We are going to continue having exploration blocks on a regular basis next year.
All teachers identified vulnerable or at-risk students in their class. We then discussed how to divide these students among the adults in the school so they had someone other than their teacher checking in with them. After discussing it at a PLC meeting it was decided that, for the most part, having teachers check in with students that were likely to be in their class next year would be a great idea. This would allow teachers to establish a relationship with these vulnerable students before school began in the fall. Some classes had more than two vulnerable students (some less), so other students were divided among the principal, Learning Support teacher and Education Assistants. In order to make it easy, the students were ones these supporting adults already worked with, or worked in close proximity to, in their classes.
Through talking with both the primary and intermediate teachers we thought that having our intermediate classes mentor their primary buddies on topics such as being a good friend and getting along with others would be fabulous. We thought that they could possibly work on skits together to showcase what they discussed. The primary teachers were frustrated with the amount of minor conflicts occurring between students that resulted in them tattling to an adult about everything. They wanted to help teach them how to resolve these minor conflicts on their own. Conversing with the intermediate group about this got us thinking that sometimes hearing something from an older student, rather than always the teacher, may be more impactful. Of course, this will take some training for the intermediate students. As such, this is also an activity that we hope to implement next year.
Last year we had talked as a staff about putting a “Buddy Bench” out on the playground for students that were looking for someone to play with. As we were discussing the topic of belonging the idea resurfaced. One of the teachers mentioned that we have picnic benches in the forest that hardly get used since they are in a very shady location. We talked about possibly having them moved to a sunnier location and those being used as buddy tables. This conversation then rolled into the possibility of setting up an outdoor classroom. It is an idea that everyone loves, and we have now included our PAC in the conversation. We are hoping that using the outdoor classroom will be an enticement for some students to want to be at school and hence increase their sense of belonging and community.
An idea that was presented by both teachers and students was to do a whole school art piece. Although we thought it was a great idea it was not something that took priority during our conversations throughout this year. However, we have several teachers who are planning to work on plastic recycling next year and one of their ideas is to do a whole school art piece with some of the recycling. This is a project that we will investigate further next year as it would be great for community building. All students could see their work as a piece of the whole, beautiful creation.
One of the students suggested that having a whole school field trip would be a good way to build a sense of community. After the devastating fires in our area last summer one of our teachers and our principal worked to see if we could get the whole school planting trees. It is an amazing idea, both for building community in the school as well as helping the greater community recover from the tragedy. Working on the project has shown how big it really is, and it has proven to have many hurdles. One hurdle is that there is a limited number of trees that all of the schools in the area need to share. The date that we were assigned is a date that some of our primary classes already had a field trip scheduled. Therefore, we have three classes that are going to plant trees.
A simple, yet effective, idea that came from a primary PLC meeting was to give students who were having a rough day a positive note. As such, all teachers have been given several pages of different motivational quotes that they can give to students as they see fit.
Checking: The two groups in our school spent a lot of our meeting time brainstorming ideas for enhancing students’ sense of belonging in the school. We had a lot of great ideas put forth, but unfortunately we ran out of time this school year to implement everything we wanted to do. Although we have made some impact throughout the year for some students, we are hoping that when we continue this inquiry next year and implement all our wonderful ideas then we will have a more significant impact on a greater number of students.
For the primary grades we gave them a simple, one page, sixteen question survey part way through the year then again at the end of the year. There were slight improvements in some of the categories in a few of the classes. One class in particular had great improvement in the questions regarding friendship – at the end of the year most of the students that felt they did not have a friend and/or anyone to play with at recess and lunch at the beginning of the year did by the end. By the end of the year most of the classes had at least one or two more students who liked being at school and had a friend or someone to play with at recess or lunch.
At the beginning of the year we gave the intermediate students an eight page survey. We chose not to give the same survey at the end of the year since it was intense and we had not made a significant dent in what we wanted to do this year to increase the sense of belonging. Instead we had the intermediate teachers reflect on improvements they had noticed in specific students.
One student was very negative when filling out the survey part way through the year. As the year comes to a close she has many friends in her class and has someone to play with at recess, lunch, and outside of school. She enjoys being at school.
There is one class that had a few students who were a handful and did not interact positively with adults. One of these students would always have a defensive attitude when talking to adults. Now he is friendly and confident with the same adults, even outside of the school. Another of these students has had adults give him positive reinforcements about his behaviour improving throughout the year, and he has continued to be much better behaved and easier to interact with.
We had a student who is in school for the first time this year, in an intermediate class. His behaviour did not always jive with his classmates and he was subjected to bullying at the start of the year. This class has chosen to have open, honest conversations in the classroom, with everyone present, to discuss the problems this student was having. As a result of these conversations the student is now confident to tell adults when someone else is treating him badly and his classmates are including him more in their activities.
There is a very socially driven young woman who, in previous years, has had very sporadic attendance at school. This year, however, she attends very regularly and has been improving academically with this continued attendance. One of the reasons we attribute to this increase in attendance is that one student who could be a bully moved to another school, therefore, there was no longer someone making her feel as though she did not belong. Also, the teacher in this class is very receptive to having small group conversations with students when problems arise among them. These discussions have helped improve several students’ school lives and made them feel more positively about being at school.
Finally, there was a student who vocally announced that she was going to kill herself in the fall and she is still with us. She has become connected with others in her class and even had a birthday party with some of her classmates attending. She has changed a lot during the year, showing less attitude towards others, including adults. There is no longer a concern that she will harm herself, which is an amazing transformation for her to go through this year.
Reflections/Advice: We plan to continue working on this inquiry next year. It is a vast topic and we have come up with so many great ideas, but we simply did not have enough time this year to even make a small dent in everything we wanted to do.
It is very satisfying to know that even though we did not get to many of the things we wanted to, we still helped some students feel as though they belong more to the school community. Hopefully next year our impact will be even greater.
Our advice to any other schools with this interest is that it is a really big undertaking. However, the potential positive impact that we could have on students’ life is immeasurable.