School Name: Lena Shaw Elementary
School District: SD#36 Surrey
Inquiry Team Members:Adriane macLennan; firstname.lastname@example.org
Amber Geremia; email@example.com
Rachel Baldry; firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Zepedeo; email@example.com
Marlene Brajak; firstname.lastname@example.org
Joanne Johnson; email@example.com
Emily Pitman; firstname.lastname@example.org
Shane Reader; email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Not applicable
Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), First Peoples Principles of Learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus this year was on making meaningful and thoughtful connections between the FPPL and the Core Competencies.
Scanning: Data collected during the 2016/2017 school year revealed that seven out of twenty-three Aboriginal Students could not identify two adults that thought they would be a success in life, and two could only name one adult. Through our teacher-focused inquiry last year, in-house survey results indicated that staff engagement and comfort level with Aboriginal curricular content had steadily increased. There was a sense that staff were on-board and believed in the work being undertaken through our inquiry and we wanted to build off of that momentum this year. The hope of course being that as staff gradually became more comfortable integrating Aboriginal content into their teaching, our learners – especially our Aboriginal learners will be able to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. Ultimately, we want our learners to believe their learning is purposeful, to be reflective in nature and to have an idea of where their learning can take them in the future.
Focus: Our focus was to be on something concrete that we felt that staff would feel comfortable delving into with respect to integrating Aboriginal Education into their classrooms. We felt that the FPPL was a logical starting point, as it is an accessible document that could be used in all classrooms. We also felt that we had sufficient resources available to staff through the learning commons that would connect nicely to the FPPL. Again, the hope being that giving staff a tangible entry point into Aboriginal Education would have a positive impact on our students.
Hunch: Our hunch is that the comfort level across staff with respect to Aboriginal Education varies significantly. We feel that our decision to focus on staff was the right choice for our school and want to continue to encourage and empower staff to grow in their teaching.
We believe that the educational experience (with respect to Aboriginal Education) of our learners varies from grade to grade and we want to be able to help staff level out these variances so our students will benefit from the work we are collectively undertaking.
New Professional Learning: This year, the staff at Lena Shaw were given the opportunity to participate in several learning activities that were connected to Aboriginal Education. First, staff were invited to take part in a book club that focused on Aboriginal Issues through the lens of Darrel Dennis in Peace Pipe Dreams. Next, Angela Brown, a diversity educator for the VSB, offered a professional development session that centered on issues related to Reconciliation and links to the new curriculum. Finally, the staff was treated to a powerful after school session with Jo-Anne Chrona, Curriculum Coordinator with FNESC.
Reading Peace Pipe Dreams provided staff with a safe-space to have inspired conversations about contemporary and historical issues that are at the forefront of Reconciliation. The book highlights the importance of Aboriginal Education through a “light-hearted/tongue-in-cheek” discussion of many topical, hot button, political issues. Conversations were deeply compelling, emotionally charged and ultimately fantastic learning experiences. The novel served as a springboard to rich dialogue that served to inform us of some deeply rooted anxieties surrounding knowledge, sensitivity and an all-around understanding of Aboriginal Issues in general.
Angela Brown’s professional development session at our school was a fantastic opportunity for staff to further their understanding of underlying systemic inequalities within our schools and society at large. We were invited to explore how discrimination, on the basis of sexism and racism to name a few, truly permeates and to overcome its detrimental consequences is an active process of awareness and understanding.
Finally, Jo-Anne Chrona gave a powerful presentation on the creation of the FPPL. Jo-Anne articulated a rationale for the “why” component of Aboriginal Education that really seemed to resonate with all of the staff who attended. The session was inspirational and grounded for many the importance of this work and how crucial it is for teachers to believe in what they are doing in their classrooms. The session was a buzz with a lot of critical reflection among staff who recognized that they have holes in their own knowledge of Aboriginal Issues that they would like to see filled going forward.
Taking Action: The actions our team took on were intended for staff to be given a wide-range of learning opportunities related to Aboriginal Education that would make them critically reflective on their practice and see the value this could have on their students. The book club and professional development activities coupled with our experiences last year have served to ignite an ongoing dialogue of what this can look like in our school and in our classrooms. The outlook is positive with a clear recognition that there still remains a lot of heavy lifting to be done.
Checking: We reached out to staff through an anonymous survey and asked them to respond on their current/feelings and attitudes toward Aboriginal Education considering the professional activities we offered. There was a sense that teachers were appreciative and inspired to both incorporate more aspects of Aboriginal Education in their teaching and also focus on themselves as learners and begin to examine their own understandings of issues that might be holding them back. That said, there are still voices of concern that emerge out of a fear that they might be “doing something wrong” or “being unintentionally insensitive” through their teaching. What is promising is that staff felt comfortable enough to share these anxieties and they should be taken as indications that a lot of deep thought is being put into how to do this work in a way that is authentic, effective and meaningful.
Staff have also indicated that they are reading Jo-Anne’s blog, exploring the resources on the FNESC website and incorporating ideas like learning and talking circles, alongside the FPPL into their classrooms on a much more frequent basis.
Reflections/Advice: I think some of the more overarching learning from this inquiry really is that we have come a long way, but there is still much more work to be done. Staff are feeling more comfortable with Aboriginal Education and are starting to play around with ways in doing so that are authentic to them. We have also learned that there is still some uncertainty and even a bit of anxiety surrounding staff’s understanding of Aboriginal Issues. Conversations related to the book club and survey responses really highlighted this issue.
Going forward, it might be worthwhile to engage in some more round table lunch-time sessions where teachers engage in a book-club style discussion related to contemporary Aboriginal Issues and how they cast a spotlight on injustices of the past. Teachers are beginning to feel empowered on how they could integrate Aboriginal Education but it may also be worthy to explore in more the detail the question of why this is so important.