School Name: Pemberton Secondary
School District: SD#48 Sea to Sky
Inquiry Team Members:Brianne Aldcroft – firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Evans – email@example.com
Joanna Williams – firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Other: Social/Emotional Learning
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Fostering relationships between vulnerable learners and teachers to support student engagement/connection to classroom as a place.
Scanning: We scanned data collected by the district, and from our students and teachers, that demonstrated a feeling of disengagement or disconnect with students’ learning and with school as a whole. We really focused on the key question of “How are you doing?” when looking at how our students are performing, but more importantly feeling, when they are at school. Our team noticed high instances of disconnect and lack of engagement predominantly with our middle school learners (grades 8 and 9), and we wanted to work towards building better relationships and understandings with these students.
Focus: We selected this area because of concerns we had around our middle school learners and their connection to school, as well as their engagement with content or extra-curriculars. We hoped that in really looking at it through data, we would be able to pinpoint some key areas we could work on improving to help students develop further engagement and connection. We were hoping that by starting with relationship building through Circle implementation, that we would have better chances to improve these conditions.
Hunch: While we have put in some work over the past few years to specifically design for our middle school students and their learning, as well as attempting to target specific vulnerable students, we noticed that more could be done. We recognized that some of these strategies were helpful in supporting individual students, as well as creating a start to relationship building, but that we really needed to actually make relationship building an important part of the middle school learners’ day in order for progress to happen.
New Professional Learning: We started with a seminar on Trauma Informed Practice so that all teachers had a good basis of knowledge in this area, as many of our students fall into this framework. For resources, we used our Cultural Support Worker and an Aboriginal Support Worker, both from our local Lil’wat nation, as well as our District Principal of Aboriginal Education. These three brought in local Indigenous Ways of Knowing in order to help facilitate Circle through a local perspective.
Taking Action: We started with collecting data from the students and teachers who would be participating, asking various questions about engagement and connection. This helped us pinpoint exactly what areas we needed to work on improving for our students. Next, we decided that based on differing schedules and specific conflicts with timing, as well as the teachers involved asking for an Aboriginal Worker to be present each time Circle was conducted, that we needed to aim for trying to implement Circle at least once a week for each class of middle school learners. We did this over the period of a month. I created a schedule to help keep everyone on track with where they needed to be, and when Circle would be taking place and where. We started the first week strong, and had Aboriginal support and a teacher present within each circle, and we were already able to see the profound impacts that Circle time had on our students.
However, as always happens when trying to organize various different people and schedules, we did struggle with staying on track with the scheduled Circle days. We often had people away that we were unable to plan for, or other important events would pop up. As well, the system at our school functions on a Day 1/Day 2 schedule, adding even another layer of complexity. Because of this, we had many instances where Circle days had to be changed on the fly, or where they were unable to happen altogether.
Checking: Because we conducted this close to the end of the school year, we were only able to re-poll the teachers at the end of it, due to impeding timelines for the students. Teachers were able to report some small changes here and there in regards to their relationships with students growing better/stronger. I myself, was only able to attend one Circle day, but even from that one day I was able to say that my relationship with those students in attendance was improved.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen this inquiry run for a longer period of time with a bit more consistency so that we could have really seen if Circle implementation had more long-term benefits to relationship building. I think we were able to see some immediate results, but I would have liked to see if more time would have allowed the students to also track their relationships to see if improvement happened. I do not yet feel satisfied with our inquiry.
Reflections/Advice: We have learned that we need to have more back-up plans in place for when things do not go as planned, and that relying on specific people to always be available does not always work. We also learned though, that this is a very worthwhile endeavour to keep putting our efforts and resources towards, as we did see some positive changes to relationships, no matter how small.
Next, because of some further changes we are making to the middle school timetable, we are hoping that Circle will become a regular thing that occurs within our middle school classrooms. We now have the space and flexibility for it, so that is one less barrier to contend with.
Advice for other schools would be that this is a worthwhile cause, and that no matter how small the change is, it still has an impact on your students. So I would highly suggest that if you have a similar idea, you try your best to move forward with it, and then see where you might have to make specific changes for your context. We are going to keep working away at this, and adapting as we go.