School Name: LA Matheson Secondary
School District: SD#36 Surrey
Inquiry Team Members:Annie Ohana; firstname.lastname@example.org
Gillian Swartz; email@example.com
Gurpreet Bains; firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Writing, Physical & Health Education, Social Studies, Other: leadership, social justice
Focus Addressed: Indigenous pedagogy, Other: health and wellness
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We continued our focus on culturally relevant pedagogy and how to implement it in various facets of a high school education but also wanted to start integrating indigenous understandings under Health and Wellness.
Scanning: Our youth care workers as well as our staff found that many Indigenous students were wanting access to health and wellness resources during their day. It was clear that personal academic success was completely tied to how students felt physically, mentally and emotionally. Students who faced anxiety for various reasons, including separation from family were not as engaged in class and to be honest not attending as regularly either. It was clear to us that we have to take care of the child first, before academics.
Focus: The results we were hoping for were two fold: One, that with our Indigenous students we could allow them safe place to express themselves, find regulation and self care when it came to their health and well being, and find balance that would allow them to attain success within the classroom.
Two, at a larger scale with our entire student body, that through culturally relevant pedagogy being used by teachers who were willing to fuse Indigenous content with their own, that rather than marginalizing Indigenous content only to the select few, that our entire student body through a number of classes could learn of Indigenous ways of being and find ways of managing health and wellness through such mechanisms as well.
Hunch: It seems like discussions of academic rigour along side teachers praxis didn’t always center on health and wellness. Indigenous students were and are falling through the cracks as “behaviors” such as non-attendance and lack of work ethic seemed to pile up and drown a student until school was no longer a welcome place. It takes a larger mindshift for teachers to realize that making Health and Wellness an integral part of a students’ day, needs to be given just as much priority as attendance and test scores.
New Professional Learning: We’ve focused on perhaps a basic form of professional learning, the use of Indigenous Knowledge such as the understandings of a Medicine Wheel and also a focus on resiliency. We provided teachers with breakdowns of what physical/emotional/spiritual/mental content that would help grow understanding within both teachers and students as to how to find balance. Secondly, a larger goal in the school has been to define resilience from both a teacher and a student standpoint. The Aboriginal department has been a part of that process and we have been working as a staff through both readings and surveys amongst students on what resiliency could look like.
It is important to note that our youth care workers have been working incredibly hard to build up a practice and physical location for which students could tap into health and wellness practices. This is ongoing and hopefully next year we will be able to officially launch an actual location within the school, and program of sorts for students to add to their resiliency and learn more about the physical/emotional/mental/spiritual aspects of themselves in a safe place.
Taking Action: Our actions are ongoing and include attempting to add to various curriculum and professional development opportunities understandings of the Medicine Wheel. This has helped to elevate the understanding of such Indigenous Knowledge at our school, and we have seen students do well with it and use it within contexts of leadership and mentorship programs within our school.
Our focus on Health and Wellness has been one where Gillian and others have been providing space for students to explore their Health and Wellness in the simplest of ways, but long term have been working on a more physically present and larger scale project which would see access to all kinds of programs for students. This is still in the beginning stages, more to come next year!
Checking: We are not satisfied. While yes, certain understandings have been easier to put into place, the reality is that for some of our students, their anxiety, depression, realities are quite challenging. We have tried to target certain students and have them spend time with our elder, Gillian to be that safe space, and Annie to work on larger initiatives to infuse knowledge/content. When we look at attendance and school connectivity, there are positive signs, but also a lack of progress as well. Some students are coming to school regularly and going to class ( with a lot of support from various staff in the building), but others while initially making progress are struggling.
We do think this is a long journey and that the path forward is to continue, as understanding grows, perhaps a more concrete shift ( that might include changes to a student schedule for example) might be the next push we need to truly integrate what we are trying to accomplish into our students and staff’s lives and workplace.
Reflections/Advice: We have learned that Health and Wellness cannot be a one time endeavor, that it is very much ongoing and that for our students who face greater struggles, that such work, and programs must be integrated into their day. We have also noted that for teachers who “get it” and practice the idea that we must focus on so much more than just academics, they are seeing success, and that students do tend to gravitate towards them. School connectivity in a positive sense has grown and that is something we would like to focus on further in the coming years. We would encourage schools to continue to focus on Aboriginal understanding and knowledge as we have seen only positives as students become accustomed and also have positive notions of what Indigenous knowledge entails. When students who are non-Indigenous start to ask questions about the Indigenous perspective, or even remind teachers to do so, that is a very good sign indeed. At the end of the day there is no panacea or cure-all. I think the focus we need to turn to in the future is shifting teachers’ practice and pedagogy into more of a health and Wellness/Social-Emotional learning direction because this can’t be taken on as a separate or smaller initiative shunted to the side for counsellors and youth care workers to maintain but rather has to be an integral part of school culture, academic culture, and an overall goal of students to attain. An A in a class will only be worth its weight when a students feels at their best. All the data in the world and student behavior seems to suggest as such. It’s time for us to truly listen and make it central to our practice.