I. General Information
School Name: Ecole Westridge
School District: SD#41 Burnaby
Inquiry Team Members: Jennifer Delvecchio, Brenda Papapanagiotou, Jennifer Araujo, Lisa Parsonson
Inquiry Team Contact Name/Email: Brenda Papapanagiotoufirstname.lastname@example.org
II. Inquiry Project Information
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Areas Addressed:
- Applied Design, skills & Technology
- Arts Education
- Language Arts – Literacy
- Language Arts – Oral Language
- Language Arts – Reading
- Language Arts – Writing
- Social Studies
- Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation)
- First Peoples Principles of Learning
- Growth mindset
- Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? The focus was on restorative practices with an emphasis on investigating, authenticating and appreciating our unique origins and histories. The exploration piece was a “deep-dive” into identity called, “Museum of Us”.
III. Spirals of Inquiry Details
Media description: A brief synthesis of some of the elements we explored for the “Museum of Us” inquiry at École Westridge in Burnaby. There are no words, pictures or videos that can adequately describe how proud of these students we are and how honoured we feel to have taken this journey with them.
Scanning: The scanning process involved regular check-ins: some were casual and some were formal conversations with staff and students. It was great to see and hear how supportive classroom teachers were and to discover how much learning was elaborated outside of our collaborative investigations! Students were able to identify so many adults that believe in their success and who embraced and nurtured their personal identities during our explorations. The question of “where are you going with your learning” was invigorating because often the answer was, “I am not sure yet” or “I think that I will…”. This was exciting because it showed that true inquiry was under way – students were following their passions and there was no clear “end goal” prescribed. Our inquiry morphed and evolved each week, most notably with Division 6 (Grade 4 French Immersion). The classroom teacher, Mme Joncas, and I took risks and tried things we had never done before, layering within multiple disciplines. Checking in with students with the “how is it going” was thrilling. Students spoke with curiosity and pride about getting to know their origins: stories of grandfathers as refugees were shared, as well as immigration and reunions, often intergenerational. Journey was a pervasive theme. Artifacts with deep meaning were shared. Many students expressed joy at knowing how and why they were named, whether it was centered on traditional, ceremonial, spiritual, cultural or even comical explanations. What a delight to hear their stories!
The “where to next” question became a catalyst for change, evolution and risk-taking. Identity circles and clay-making was born from these conversations. Being back in the position of learner and the necessity of using my own “learner assets” at high intensity was exhilarating. Range; self-assessment; reflection; self-direction; exploration; own words and experiences – all of these attributes, with the learner well rooted at the center, were fully embraced in the process.
Many of the First Peoples Principles of Learning were at the heart of this process, including that learning is embedded in memory, history and story. Students shared stories from the past, present and even the future, all related to their identities. That learning requires patience and time was fully appreciated in this process. Students created and recreated. My favourite memory related to this is of a child I will call M. They began not wishing to reveal part of their identity in the clay-work identity piece. Noticing an initial reluctance, I took M aside with their draft image capture sheet for a brief check-in. M said, “I do not want people to see my paper”. When I asked M if it would encourage them to shift their plan on the paper if I could ensure that the image capture sheet would only be visible to myself and them, their eyes lit up and said “can I do that?”. Of course I said…. It is your iceberg and your story to share when you are ready. They commenced a new journey and did a project that was quite different than the original plan. The added patience and time made this a bigger success for that student. It was a beautiful journey. Patience, noticing, interacting and listening were quintessential elements in this investigation and learning journey.
Focus: I became interested in exploring identity with students last year. I designed a social emotional learning unit plan/ program and piloted it with several classes. I am curious about how a growth mindset relates not only to academic learning, but also personal emotional responses to learning such as risk-taking. After experiencing the loss in the last few years of two former students to suicide, I have a heightened awareness of the fact that a teacher’s role is not only to challenge students academically, but to also help them accept and love themselves as they are. A student’s academic progress is founded in self-acceptance because a confident student takes risks. Case in point, I have also noticed that ELL students who take risks and speak with confidence no matter their level, often learn English faster and more fluently. I have also noticed over the years that some students that are new to Canada choose to westernize their names. Xio becomes “Callum”; Anishan becomes “Anna”. The “why” behind this has been explained to me in many ways all of which seem to be a construct for convenience and to “fit in”. My hope in exploring identity and its many layers (cultural; language; emotional; neuro; religious; gender) was to have students realize that their unique identities are an integral part of their learner assets.
Hunch: In asking students about their cultures or something as simple as “I notice your name is listed as Anishan and yet you are using the name Anna, can you tell me about that?”, students seemed shy or even embarrassed. Probing further, an answer I would get might be “It is easier to say”; “It sounds more like an English name”; or even “I won’t get teased this way”. These comments were heartbreaking to me because, A) one’s name is the first part of one’s identity that is typically shared, and it is addressed every day; B) the westernization of a name is rooted in colonial history, and C) It does not feel inclusive.
This is not a unique experience to our school, this is experienced nation-wide and I felt it could be addressed. The best way to appreciate one’s culture is to explore the roots of it, hence the case study.
New Professional Learning: Linked to my professional growth plan this year, my focus was restorative practices. Like the roots of a tree, we are interconnected as social beings. It is relationships, not programs, that support and foster children. Thriving happens through belonging, being interconnected. Some of the resources I used this term to enhance my teaching practice were:
• CASEL website (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning)) https://casel.org/
• “Restorative Circles in Schools, A Practical Guide for Educators, second edition, IIRP, 2019
• “The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators, Second Edition, IIRP, 2019.
• Restorative Practice Handbook. Partly available online at: https://www.iirp.edu/images/pdf/ObqnNj_38e965_ad7507e9e2474f8aaa3b903afcb1ecf7_2.pdf
• “Be Your Best Self: Life Skills for Unstoppable Kids” by Danielle Brown.
• The Secret Languages of Trees. Ted-Ed, 2019. https://youtu.be/V4m9SefyRjg
• Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman
• https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-ways-to-implement-restorative-practices-in-the- classroom/2020/01
Taking Action: Our team is made up of teacher-librarians in District 41, Burnaby. Our studies link by the community aspect and role of the library learning commons. A library is the embodiment of acceptance: a library learning commons should connect students – to ideas and to each other.
From here, we each selected various aspects of the community. At Ecole Westridge, my focus was on investigating, authenticating, and appreciating unique origins and histories through the “Museum of Us” project. Strategies included offerings and provocations with a variety of classrooms that embodied the “Museum of Us” model. While communities do vary in their specifics and the “Museum of Us” model might look very different from one community to the next, the core elements are universal. I am happy to connect with anyone who would like to try out this model in their unique community.
Checking: The ripple event of the process within the community was profound. Students were excited to talk with their families about their family histories. Understanding their origins and personal identities sparked a sense of gratitude and appreciation which in turn emboldened them to write more profound and appreciative land acknowledgments. Students developed a more fundamental understanding of what “unceded” means and why it matters. One of the most profound books that we read in this study was Shin-Chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell. Having students read about how culture was stripped from so many children fostered a sense of gratitude that they have the ability to be who they want to be and to never take that for granted. Truth and Reconciliation begins with listening and this type of understanding.
The realization of how pivotal of a role teachers pay in student well-being really shifted their thinking about the four questions. Patience, active listening and probing deeper were very much embraced in the learning process.
Reflections/Advice: What I learned from this inquiry is that the safest environment we can provide for our students is an environment where we take risks alongside them. Candidly saying, “this is the first time I have done this project with a class” fosters mutual respect. It says, “it is good to try something new and it is okay to make mistakes”. I learned first hand what I have always heard and known to be true: students who feel safe, secure and free to be fully themselves flourish. I learned that a community fixated on lifting each other up and that is invested in knowing each other’s truths is a community where everyone can thrive. I learned that it is the little things we say and do and the way we make a child feel that matters the most: care before content is critical. My plan is to do Year 2 of a “Museum of Us”. I have agreed to be the school’s archivist of land acknowledgments. In this way we can thoughtfully carry them on to the next year and see how they change. My hope is that they will become even more eloquent and personal. My advice to other school communities who would like to try a “Museum of Us” project is for educators to share. Share story. Share memory. Share about your culture, your faith, your body image, your personal truths. Nothing prescriptive of course, but in a descriptive way tell them how these things shaped who and what you are today. Above all else: take the time to listen to their stories, their memories and to interact with their artifacts. The things you learn will connect you to them. Finally, ensure you use all the human resources you have at your school: the school counsellor, the teacher-librarian, learning resource teachers and administrators. When you have several teachers listening, nobody gets missed.