Frank J. Ney Elementary School SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

I. General Information

School Name: Frank J. Ney Elementary School

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Julie Ludwinowski – Lead –
Gregg Halfyard – Principal
Tina Moore – Aboriginal Ed Worker

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

II. Inquiry Project Information

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Case Study

Grade Levels Addressed Through Inquiry: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Areas Addressed: Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Physical & Health Education, Science, Other: Indigenous Understandings

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Indigenous pedagogy, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Journey of Syeyutsus: Reconciliation in Action through meaningful ways to develop an appreciation of Hul’q’umi’num culture while developing healthy relationships.

III. Spirals of Inquiry Details

Scanning: Syeyutsus, derived from the Hul’q’umi’num language, embodies the concept of harmoniously navigating two worlds—the timeless teachings of the land and First Peoples, alongside the complex realities of today’s ever-evolving society. However, the proliferation of social media platforms has introduced intricate social complexities that can significantly impact adolescents’ self-perception and interpersonal relationships. The culture of social comparison and negative interactions fostered by these platforms often leads to a diminished sense of belonging among young individuals.

During classroom discussions, it became evident that many of my students owned smartphones and actively engaged in various global social media platforms, spending an average of 3 to 5 hours per day immersed in electronic devices. Their preferred activities primarily revolved around online gaming and social media, regardless of age restrictions. Astonishingly, aside from interactions with family members, the majority of students admitted that their socializing occurred predominantly within the confines of the school environment. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated their challenges, as social interactions decreased due to cohort restrictions and limitations on after-school gatherings. Consequently, heightened anxiety and social isolation were palpable among the students.

As educators, we closely observed the struggles our students faced in cultivating positive relationships while navigating the pervasive influence of social media, particularly during the pandemic, when technology usage soared. The increased demand for social-emotional support led us to access both in-house resources and external agencies. This experience prompted a collective desire to enhance social-emotional learning opportunities through an Indigenous lens, integrating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) practices across various curriculum domains. Our aim is to create an inclusive and supportive community that fosters the development of Indigenous Allies among our students while creating a stronger sense of belonging.

Focus: We selected this area because we believe in the power of holistic education that incorporates diverse perspectives and promotes the well-being of learners. By integrating the First Peoples Principles of Learning, Circle of Courage, and Social Emotional Learning Framework, we aimed to create an inclusive learning environment where all students, regardless of their individual abilities and backgrounds, could thrive. Our goal was to foster a sense of belonging among the students, not only within their peer group but also within the broader community, and connection to the land through the common thread of Lahal – also known as Slahal, bone and or stick game throughout various Indigenous nations. We recognize that building a culture of belonging requires careful planning and time, and we saw the implementation of these principles as a way to achieve this. Through a large-scale project that embraced cultural teachings and invited other classes to participate, we utilized various curriculum elements such as language arts, applied design, and physical health & outdoor education to engage students and facilitate their understanding of what it means to be a good ancestor. By learning about Indigenous ceremonial and medicinal plants, participating in traditions and ceremonies, and socializing with peers, students could develop healthy relationships with themselves, others, and Mother Nature.

Hunch: Our hunch is that the practices at the school, particularly the emphasis on inclusive and differentiated learning (UDL/ID practices) and the focus on building a cohesive classroom community, have positively contributed to the experiences of the learners. By starting the year with a whole-class project and gradually transitioning to smaller projects, students were able to prepare for a full day of upper intermediate inclusion. This approach allowed for individual growth and catered to students’ varying abilities and interests. The use of fireside chats and personal goal setting fostered rapport among students and promoted a sense of empathy and compassion. The culminating project of hosting a Lahal tournament for the upper intermediate grades provided an opportunity for students to work collaboratively and contribute to different aspects of the event, aligning with First Peoples Principles of Learning and UDL practices. The tournament day itself offered additional learning experiences, including storytelling, crafting, and exploring Indigenous knowledge. By engaging students in an interactive event and involving them in the entire process, all students felt a sense of ownership and celebration at the end, reinforcing their belonging and overall positive experiences.

New Professional Learning: Our professional learning grew significantly through the additional support we received from our local union, the NDTA, and the mentorship days they sponsored. These mentorship days allowed our team to connect with a local Indigenous teacher who was fluent in the Hul’q’umi’num language and had a deep understanding of local traditions and protocols, as well as a solid competitive grasp on Lahal. This teacher became a mentor to our team, guiding us through the process and sharing valuable teachings. The students not only received instruction from this teacher mentor but also from our team of teachers. Furthermore, the involvement of the community, particularly the Elders who joined us for the event, provided a profound learning experience for both students and teachers as we drummed and sang together.

Throughout the year, we applied First Peoples Principles of Learning in our work with the initial class. Engaging in fireside chats in a circle formation fostered a sense of equality and respect among students, allowing them to learn about each other’s goals and engage in respectful conversations. We incorporated positive praise to recognize and celebrate students’ progress towards their personal goals. Additionally, the students began to have meaningful conversations while working on the mini projects, parallel to the experience of learning from an Elder during a fishing trip where advice, direction, and stories are shared. These professional learnings enriched our teaching practice and deepened our understanding of Indigenous perspectives and pedagogies.

Taking Action: Taking action towards our project involved a multi-faceted approach that encompassed both internal and external actions. Internally, we implemented various strategies to ensure the success of our endeavor. We collaborated as a team of teachers, drawing upon our collective expertise and knowledge to design engaging and culturally responsive learning experiences. We provided ongoing support and guidance to our students, encouraging their active participation and fostering a sense of ownership over their learning. Additionally, we continuously reflected on our practices and made necessary adjustments to better meet the diverse needs of our learners.

Externally, we reached out to the broader community to expand the impact of our project. We sought partnerships and sponsorships, such as the support we received from the local union and the involvement of a community business. These connections not only provided financial assistance but also created opportunities for cultural exchange and community engagement. By inviting community members, including Elders, to participate in our activities, we fostered meaningful connections and deepened the understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture.

Furthermore, we actively shared our experiences and learnings with other educators, both within our school and beyond. Taking action was a continuous and dynamic process, driven by our commitment to student well-being, cultural inclusivity, and community engagement. By implementing a range of strategies, fostering external partnerships, and sharing our experiences with others, we aimed to create lasting change and positive impacts for our learners and beyond.

Checking: Checking up on the learnings and hunches became an integral part of our project as we were committed to ensuring its ongoing success and effectiveness. We conducted regular assessments and evaluations to gather data and insights on student learning outcomes, engagement levels, and overall well-being. These assessments helped us gauge the impact of our teaching strategies, including the incorporation of First Peoples Principles of Learning, Circle of Courage, Social Emotional Learning Framework, and UDL practices. We analyzed student work, observed their interactions, and sought their feedback to understand their experiences and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, we revisited our initial hunches and compared them to the actual outcomes. This process allowed us to reflect on our assumptions and validate or adjust our understandings accordingly. Through continuous monitoring, reflection, and adjustment, we ensured that our project remained responsive to the evolving needs and aspirations of our learners, ultimately leading to meaningful and transformative experiences.

To gather comprehensive feedback on the impact of our project, we conducted a follow-up survey with all the participants, including teachers, staff, and community members. The results of the survey revealed a significant shift in understanding and perspectives regarding what it means to be a good ancestor. Prior to the events, the common response to this question was often uncertainty or simplistic answers like being nice when you’re old. However, after the meaningful interactions with Elders and the storytelling, the responses shifted towards a deeper understanding of interconnectedness and the importance of kindness and respect. Participants expressed sentiments such as, “It means being good to Mother Earth, oneself, the water, air, animals, and the land because we are all connected.” Other responses highlighted the significance of inclusivity, helping others, treating the Earth and its creatures with kindness, and demonstrating respect towards everything and everyone. These reflections showcased the profound impact our project had in shaping participants’ understanding and values, reaffirming the positive changes we aimed to instill including developing a sense of belonging.

Reflections/Advice: Through our project, we have not only confirmed our beliefs but also experienced the profound impact of Indigenous ways of knowing and community-minded games. The connection we established with a local business and the enthusiastic participation of an Elder in our activities were truly transformative. It became clear that our endeavours extended far beyond creating a sense of belonging solely for our students; they created genuine opportunities for belonging for everyone involved including a member of a community business… creating an Indigenous ally opportunity. Reflecting on our remarkable achievements, we are inspired to expand our project next year by deepening our collaboration with the local business and extending invitations to other schools to participate in the tournament. Moreover, we are eager to empower our students to take on a teaching role, allowing them to share their newfound knowledge and experiences with others. Our overarching goal is to continue fostering inclusive communities while honouring and promoting Indigenous perspectives and practices to create opportunities for a sense of belonging.