School Name: Courtenay Elementary School
School District: SD#71 Comox Valley
Inquiry Team Members:Heidi Jungwirth: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: Heidi.Jungwirth@sd71.bc.ca
Type of Inquiry: NOII (focus on core competencies, OECD learning principles, etc.)
Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Other: core competencies (the personal, social, and emotional ones)
Focus Addressed: Community-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Learning courage through establishing relationships, and bringing into the classroom, members from L’arche Comox Valley
Question 1: What happens to a child when they develop a meaningful relationship with a vulnerable person? In this case, the vulnerable person is a developmentally delayed adult. Does this relationship become mutually beneficial? (to both child and adult?) Do “normal” children have something to learn from a developmentally delayed adult? How will knowing that this adult cares about them affect their own capacity to care about others?
Question 2: For the many of the students in my class, the question that seems more relevant would be: are you able to learn? Can you set aside the many challenges and anxieties that you face each day, and take advantage of the learning opportunities offered to you?
Question 3: For vulnerable children, this question often takes the forefront – well ahead of any academic or vocational competency – but the questions are more accurately ” how are you doing? Are you able to set aside your challenges and vulnerabilities and be open to learning?”
Question 4: With vulnerable learners, the progress can seem to take forever! So much of the learning needs to be spiralled back on and repeated, with the hope that there will be some retention. Often, we move forward and bring the past learning with us. The intention is to repeat and move forward at the same time.
Focus: What I wanted to do with this inquiry is to have the students learn about courage by forming a relationship with someone who would traditionally be thought of as a vulnerable person. The reason for doing this was to give my students (who are themselves considered vulnerable learners) an opportunity to see weakness as a strength. It is my hypothesis that when weakness is considered a strength, that this is a powerful mindset which leads to empowerment. In a way it is similar to “don’t be afraid to fail” but when a weakness (with the students, I use the word “challenge” instead of weakness) is at a personal level, it is a much stronger connection to self-esteem. One way of thinking about this is taking the concept of “growth mindset” to a deeper level.
Hunch: It is my hunch that the students will develop a strong, caring relationship with our visitor from L’arche. It is also my hunch that the students will feel understood by her. I expect that my students will recognize her vulnerability, and in wanting to help her feel capable and welcome, they will rise to attempt things and develop positive behaviour habits that they might otherwise not.
New Professional Learning: I spent the whole year researching and writing about the concept of empathy. Interestingly enough, the term empathy only came about in the last century, and began as a way to describe the relationship that someone has to a piece of artwork.
Parallel to my professional learning, I could see my students developing their skills of empathy towards our visitor from L’arche, AND, (my emphasis) increasingly, towards each other. This development of empathy was particularly apparent in a few students. (some of the students were ones that were particularly vulnerable themselves)
Taking Action: Parallel to the experience of having a vulnerable adult come into my class, I had weekly lessons on important aspects of the core competencies. Personally, I think that the term “core competencies” is challenging, because the skills that I was working on were skills of the heart. The term core competencies is a sterile one, and not helpful when talking about skills of the heart, such as empathy. In order to make the educational experience more authentic, I used the term “courage”. So…we spent the year learning about how to be courageous.
On Monday, we had a class meeting, where a specific skill was taught and explored. The students wrote/drew a reflective piece about that particular skill, and then some sort of aesthetic activity was undertaken to support the learning of that skill. There are 35 different skills that were taught, so it is not practical for me to write them all down here. I have developed this curriculum to the point where I am able to share it with others who may be interested.
Checking: The result of this inquiry has been nothing short of magical. The relationship that the students developed with our visitor from L’arche were deep and caring. The students increased in empathy both towards our L’arche visitor, and also towards each other. The most striking growth was seen in 5 of my students who were considered some of the most vulnerable (which also means behaviourally challenged) children in my class. The students did weekly writing in their courage journals, and from their writings, I could see an increase in their ability to reflect on their behaviour and actions. At the end of the year, each student in my class wrote a short piece about how they became more courageous this year. The responses were beautiful.
Reflections/Advice: What I learned from this inquiry is that one must approach the core competencies from the heart. When you try to teach the core competencies from a sterile perspective, the learning might happen to some extent, but it is not as rich or a life-changing.
As a result of this inquiry (although I must also add that I have been exploring the topic of courage for a number of years, so I didn’t develop everything this year) I have decided to expand my vulnerability in this area and teach the curriculum while at the same time blogging about it. I have no idea how this will go, but I do hope that by blogging, I will connect with other people who are interested in the topics of teaching courage and empowerment.
As for advice to give other schools interested in this project, the first thing I would say is that I hope you would like to join me on my journey next year by reading and contributing to my blog. The second piece of advice that I would like to give (which probably should be the first piece of advice) would be to recognize that when you are teaching about courage (or, if you like, core competencies) in order for meaningful learning to take place, the person who has to be the most courageous is the teacher. It is only when you let your heart be seen, that the students will reciprocate and let their hearts be seen.