School Name: Adams Road Elementary
School District: SD#36 Surrey
Inquiry Team Members:Jaiminder Kang; email@example.com, Kori Langston; firstname.lastname@example.org, Lilliana Bolton; email@example.com, Shelley Vernon; firstname.lastname@example.org, Monique Berichon; email@example.com, Jennifer Cox; boston_J@surreyschools.ca, Carly Guraliuk; firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Not applicable
Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), First Peoples Principles of Learning, Growth mindset, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We used the resource “Circle Forward” to participate in a book study which focused on us creating a safe and welcoming environment in our classrooms and school while infusing Aboriginal understandings and practices into our everyday teaching and school culture. We focused on trying lessons from modules 4 and 5, which centered around building connection and community and social and emotional learning.
Scanning: Some of us that were already doing morning meetings noticed when doing the scanning process that we wanted to make our circles more meaningful as we all have students that really struggle to connect with others and we wanted them to form stronger relationships with their peers, teachers and families. Those of us that weren’t doing any circle time wondered how this would affect our classroom climate and how the students interact with each other.
Focus: We were hoping to reduce some of the anxiety that is prevalent in certain students in our classes. We were also hoping to help our students connect to their own identities and cultures by learning about the First People’s perspectives. We wanted to increase their understanding of the importance of social and emotional well-being and feel more comfortable sharing their feelings.
Hunch: We feel that we could build a stronger school community by doing more school events that bring everyone together such as the First Peoples in Residence weeks we just completed. While some teachers are focusing on Aboriginal themes in their own classroom, we are only doing that as a school once a year. We could be incorporating more of the First Peoples Principles into how the school runs as a whole so that students are hearing the same kind of language on a consistent basis so that it becomes more familiar and comfortable. In a school with so many needs we are trying to find a way to bring everyone together to support their social emotional learning and make them feel welcome and connected to their school.
New Professional Learning: We focused mainly on using “Circle Forward” in a book study format and each teacher would discuss the lessons they tried and if they were successful or not. We found that the lessons in modules 4 and 5 were very relevant to helping us achieve our goals of building a community in our classrooms and creating an environment of honesty and openness. We got ideas from each other on how the lesson went so that we could then try them with our own students.
Taking Action: Those of us that are in classrooms mostly did the lessons in a circle and talked about the importance of sitting in a circle and its connection to Aboriginal understandings. When we asked our students to reflect on our circle time, many said that the benefits of sitting in a circle are so that we can focus on what people are saying, to show respect, so that we aren’t distracted, so we can hear each other and really pay attention to how others are feeling. Some of us also use some form of talking stick so that students respect the person speaking by giving them their full attention. Those of us that were able to successfully use the lessons in circle time reported feeling like it helped our morning meetings go to a deeper level. It also helped the students become more patient and understanding and have a better understanding of each other. The circles help them feel heard and important and they learn how to speak in front of others as well as the importance in listening to others.
Some teachers had a bit more difficulty implementing the lessons as they had student teachers but they are very excited to try them after hearing how successful they can be. A few of the inquiry members are involved in social development and while they found it challenging to do a circle with such a small group and given some of the students particular needs, they look forward to seeing what a huge effect it could have on the students they work with next year if it is started right in the fall. They did try some of the strategies in a one-on-one basis and are happy with the progress they are seeing so far.
Students who did participate in the circles reported that they felt like it gave them a good start to their day to be able to talk about how they are feeling and learn more about their class members. They also seem to have a stronger understanding of the First Nations principles and way of life. When we did one of the lessons in module 4 about identity for example, Allison Baird the SEL helping teacher was in my class and she connected the identity pyramid to the First Nations principles and how they view their roles and connection to others.
Checking: We feel like we have made a good start. Our students are getting used to the circle format and responded well to the lessons we tried and connections we made to Aboriginal understandings. Some of us have noticed that our students are more understanding of each other, more patient and kind. We feel that they are becoming much more willing to open up and share their feelings because they know that we are a community that cares for each other and respects what we each have to say. We are starting to make some really positive changes in our individual classrooms and we all really feel like this is a valuable resource that will benefit our school and students for years to come.
From the teacher’s perspective, some of us felt that we are getting to know our students on a deeper level and able to connect with them more since beginning this inquiry. We have also noticed that they seem to be more connected and willing to work with different people in group and partner situations. We have also found that doing circle activities give those students who might not otherwise be heard or noticed the chance to express their feelings and thoughts so that others can get to know them better.
Reflections/Advice: We learned that using circles to model and teach Aboriginal understandings has been very successful so far and that we want to continue trying it again next year. The resource we are using has so much useful information and lessons that we only got a chance to try 2/13 modules and we haven’t even had a chance to look deeply at the appendices yet which look rich with wonderful information and exercises.
We plan to talk about this resource at summer prod-d at our school to inform the rest of the staff about the lessons they could be using to include Aboriginal understandings into their daily teaching. We hope to expand the number of teachers in our book study so that more of the students in our school benefit from Circle Forward and teachers trying to build a community in their classes.
We also want to bring these understandings and feeling of connectedness to the school as a whole. One idea we were given by our Aboriginal Learning Helping Teacher/NOIIE facilitator was to bring in the Mobile Museum to teach a number of our students about Aboriginal understandings and so that they could experience a hands-on interactive presentation. We would then hope to have them further investigate their own culture and possibly bring in some artifacts that are important to their family and share some stories.
We would recommend this resource (Circle Forward) to other teachers and schools as it has so many ideas and ways to incorporate First Nations pedagogy into the classroom. It is also great for a school that is focusing on Social Emotional Learning as a school goal.