Brechin Elementary SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

I. General Information

School Name: Brechin Elementary

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Wendy Robertson,; Tonia Collins,; Lisa Brett,; Sommer Miller,; Tara McConnie,; Katie Bernaquez,; Christina Smith,; Meghan Mann,; Oksana Legebokoff,; Andrea Andrews,

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

II. Inquiry Project Information

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Case Study

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Areas Addressed: Social Studies, Other: Core Competencies

Focus Addressed: Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? What can we do as a school community that increases our sense
of pride, enjoyment, kindness, empathy and belonging and will this increase academic engagement?

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: This inquiry question stems from our October Pro-D on Differentiation, where we learned that no matter how much we differentiate, if students did not feel a sense of belonging, they would not engage in academics. We observed that many students, in particular, the Gr. 6/7 cohort, did not have a positive outlook of Brechin. We also understood the effects of Covid on students’ mental health and how this could affect their attitudes towards school and the loss of a sense of community. Our thinking was guided by the First People’s Principles of Learning, particularly: “Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).”

Focus: We chose this area because we felt a disconnect between the children and the classroom, as well as the whole-school community. We were hoping for children to feel a sense of belonging and pride in the school. We wanted children to feel cared for and secure. We understood that building community could help with academic engagement.

Hunch: Our hunch was rooted in our great concern for the Gr. 6/7 classes. Their attitude toward school had the potential to have a toxic impact toward the school community but we, as a staff, needed to shift our negative identity of some of these children. We also assumed that changes in our academic programs would help with engagement, but we realized that it was so much deeper and complex than that. Our hunch is that Covid has had a negative impact on their sense of connection and being.

New Professional Learning: We decided to explore the resource, “Reclaiming Our Students: Why Children Are More Anxious, Aggressive and Shut Down Than Ever – And What We Can Do About It” by Hanna Beach. This led to a few brainstorming sessions to come up with activities that would enhance students’ sense of belonging and make coming to school more fun. We also learned that we needed to “rebuild our village” and spend some time together developing a sense of community as a teaching staff. We used our February School-Based Pro-D Day as a chance to re-connect as a staff and explore Hannah Beach’s workshops on trauma and building community through her video series, “Insight Out- A Trauma Sensitive Guide to Leading All Kids,” with Hannah Beach and Tamara Neufeld Strijack.

Taking Action: We started off with an Attitudes Towards School Survey (see slide 5, below). We took that data and noticed trends (see slide 6 for data results). We noticed that there were students who still could not name a caring adult and had some discussions around what we could do to increase students’ attitudes towards school (see slide 7). We also brainstormed clubs, activities and events that would support our community-building goal (see slides 9-16).

Brechin Community Building End-of-the Year Slideshow link:

Photo descriptions: Some ways in which we built community over the year at Brechin. 

Checking: We re-did the survey and found that:

  • ALL students were able to name two or more adults in the school that care about them.
  • 67% of students agreed/strongly agreed that they had a positive attitude toward Brechin (liked school, liked Brechin, felt like they belonged), compared to 60% at the start of the year.
  • 47% of students moved up the scale on most of the statements at the end of the year.
  • 33% of students stayed the same compared to their answers from the start of the year.
  • 19% of students moved down the scale on most of the statements at the end of the year.
  • We noticed that there was a strong correlation between the students who moved up the scale and their relationship with the teacher. It was evident that community building within the classroom and the efforts made by teachers to connect with their students attributed to the increase in satisfaction toward school.
  • We also noticed that the decrease in attitudes toward the school were attributed to factors specific to that student or to something that happened that day (i.e. they were caught on a bad day). For example, one student said they have been experiencing racism from a few students. Another student had just gotten into trouble from the teacher.
    We saw improvements which we were pleased with, and we were most pleased with the fact that ALL students could name two or more adults that care about them.

Reflections/Advice: This PLG was not only a chance for us to build community with our students, but to also find ways to connect as a staff. We wish to continue to build a stronger community at Brechin. With the pandemic officially behind us, we will take the following steps:

  • Dedicate the first week of school to do some classroom and school-wide community building activities (DNA- Dreams, Needs and Abilities project)
  • Continue with supporting clubs
  • Continue with Beemer Barkouts and assemblies that focus on the locally-developed traits
  • Have all teachers survey students in late fall on naming one adult that cares about them in the school and continue to focus on those students throughout the year.
  • Survey how many students are in a club to see if we are meeting the needs of all the students.

Advice for other schools: Be comfortable with letting go of the academics for a little bit. Focus on a sense of place and belonging.