School Name: Courtenay Elementary School
School District: SD#71 Comox Valley
Inquiry Team Members: Heidi Jungwirth: firstname.lastname@example.org, Leah Baron: email@example.com, Meghan Hagar: firstname.lastname@example.org, Haley Taylor: email@example.com, Katie Collinge : firstname.lastname@example.org, Margot Janz: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7), Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Other: All curricular areas, including core competencies, because we are looking at effective ways to teach all subjects to complex learners.
Focus Addressed: Other: see above explanation. If we look at teaching as having a hierarchy of skills, these skills would form the base of what teachers need to be successful.
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Developing a system/network for encouraging and supporting teachers who are working with complex learners.
Scanning: As teachers and learners in the Comox Valley School District, we strive everyday to create classroom environments where equity and inclusion make it possible for every student to have dignity and acceptance. These diverse, inclusive environments are ideal nurturing ground to empower all learners.
After asking the 4 questions, we confirmed our observations that, increasingly, these complex classrooms are places where some students (and teachers) struggle to feel safe and connected to their learning. When we consider the OECD Principles of Learning, we keep coming up against barriers that prevent teachers from effectively using these principles. Our hunch is that (to use the OECD language) the gatekeeper of learning, the social-emotional well being of students, is often so compromised that learning becomes challenging, if not at times impossible. Looking at the First People’s Principles of Learning, we recognized that many of these were directions to take our relationships with students.
We then asked ourselves this question, “how can we make our classrooms better environments for all learners to grow and thrive?”
Focus: What we want is that everyone can have a positive, challenging, and empowering experience as a learner in our school district. We want the topic of complex students and classroom environments to be a springboard for all educators to work together for the good of complex learners and all learners. These are ambitious goals. Teachers who have inquired about such topics have seen incredible change within their classrooms, and we want to bring this knowledge to the whole school district. We want to create a place of support for teachers who are interested in pursuing such change.
Hunch: Our hunch is that it is a very difficult thing to acknowledge that complex classrooms need more support than can be easily given. There are talented, experienced and knowledgeable teachers who have found themselves in unteachable situations due to the complex nature of the class. This is a difficult topic to talk about, and can be accompanied by denial of the problem, or blaming the teacher or the system.
We want to take a solutions oriented approach to inquiring about this topic, and in doing so, provide a safe place to have courageous conversations about the challenges that students and teachers face.
Our hunch is that exploring existing supports and resources within our district and community will empower our group members to create more inclusive and supportive classroom environments. We also have the hunch that there are supports and resources in use in other school districts that we are not yet accessing. We hope to learn from these other school districts and bring their ideas back to SD71.
New Professional Learning: Each group member chose a topic under the umbrella of the question, “Through the vehicle of ‘Courageous Conversations’ how can we, a diverse group of educators K-12, support each other and our learners to grow and thrive in our increasingly complex classrooms and world?”
This process was always meant to be a multi-year one, and we have only met 6 times. Individuals are still in the process of figuring out which professional learning direction they want to pursue.
The topics being explored are:
Margot: Interested in a multi-disciplinary approach with community service providers working together with the schools.
Tonia: Interested in Brené Brown. Daring Classrooms.
Heidi: Interested in supporting teachers. Wants to interview teachers who have complex classrooms or are working with complex students. Eventual goal is some sort of a “support group?”
Katie: Reading Ross Greene’s books, Lost and Found and Lost at School. The current use of non-traditional discipline is having implementation challenges.
Meghan: The invisible population, looking at classroom complexity. School wide approaches to supporting the kids who fade into the background because they aren’t acting out. Stuart Shanker self-regulation.
Haley: Learning in Safe Schools by Faye Brownley and Judith King. Interested in RTI model. Resources from the community and the school.
Taking Action: After sending out an initial email to see about the interest in our school district for a “Courageous Conversations ” group, I was quite shocked to receive over 30 answers from people who were interested! Of course, most of these people were over committed, and our initial meeting had 9 people come. Lots of these people weren’t able to commit to the group at this time, and in the first months, more people dropped out. I think that this is the usual way things go with teachers! People want to do too much, and there isn’t enough time. We ended up with 6 people who kept on coming to the meetings and one person asked to join, but we have put it on hold because of Covid.
We decided to meet every 3 weeks, and kept that schedule up for 5 meetings. Things began to get to be too much about the end of February, and then completely stopped because of Covid. I did reach out to people during the Covid time, but everyone was too overwhelmed to have a meeting online.
As for how things worked out, we are still planning to continue in some format next year, so this all remains to be seen.
Checking: Due to the long term nature of the design of our group, these questions are difficult to answer. I would say the initial learning done by each member was exciting and inspiring. The rest remains to be seen. Covid certainly ground things to a halt, but the learning will continue next year.
I will share one story (from me, not the group). The idea of conversations and the benefit of having them helped me come up with the idea of the intermediate team from our school (which is only 4 teachers) having daily check-in conversations while we were working from home. The other teachers agreed, and almost without exception we had a 9:00 meeting where we shared our plans for the day, our insecurities, and the fun ideas we had come up with. These meetings were my anchor during the time we were working isolated from home.
Again on the topic of conversations, at the end of June, our staff talked a lot about the successes we had during the period of online schooling. This was great, but I felt like there was a conversation that we weren’t having: what were the challenges about online schooling and what did you do to overcome them. Instead of waiting for administration to organize this conversation, I decided to ask any interested teachers to come to my classroom and share their stories. I was surprised/pleased that every single teacher came to this meeting. We shared challenges and how we overcame them, and recorded (and shared) this so that we can refer to it when and if we go back to online schooling. It was also interesting to see that many of the things that teachers learned from doing online schooling can be also used in regular, in-class learning. Many teachers have changed their practice as a result of what they learned during Covid time.
Reflections/Advice: My main learning is that teachers having (courageous, non-judgemental) conversations is fundamental to improving things for learners. I am really looking forward to further developing the ideas that we explored at a preliminary level during our time together this year. I plan to lead this group into a second year, and I anticipate that the benefits of us having courageous conversations will continue to grow.