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

School Name: Frank J. Ney Elementary School

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Julie Ludwinowski, Grade 6/7 Teacher :
Patrick Young, Principal:
Tina Moore, Aboriginal Support Worker:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Physical & Health Education

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Growth mindset, 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.

Scanning: Syeyutsus, a Hul’q’umi’num word for walking in two worlds, can be described as living and honouring the teachings of the land and first peoples, while navigating the ever-changing complexities of today’s world. The social complexities of various social media have the potential to affect adolescents’ self-view and interpersonal relationships through social comparison and negative interactions, including cyberbullying.

When engaged in classroom discussions (i.e. circle talks, healing circles), many of my students stated they have smart phones, social media accounts of various global platforms, and spend an average of 3- 5 hours a day on electronics. When they talked about activities of engagement, the generated list was heavily waited towards online gaming and social media platforms regardless of the age requirements. Many of the students admitted, beside family members, they usually only socialize with actual people when at school. And, now during COVID times, they said social interactions were significantly less, as school cohorts were implemented and after-school get togethers were limited as well as discouraged. Students noted feelings of heightened anxiety and social isolation.

As a staff, we observed students really struggling with positive relationships while balancing appropriate use of social media sources, especially with a heightened usage of technology during this pandemic. So much so, in house social emotional support staff and outside agencies were consistently accessed, resulting in a desire to reconnect our students to our community of learners, elders, culture and the land, by honouring the Journey of Syeyutsus in meaningful ways.

Focus: By engaging in Syeyutsus — learning, modelling and playing the Hul’q’umi’num game of “Lahal” — staff will intertwine verbal teachings from the Seven Teachings, Circle of Courage, and First Peoples Principles of Learning, alongside culture sharing of Elder teachings and Mentorship. By doing so, creating opportunity for students to build healthy relationships with peers and others through culturally enriched hands-on activity; thus, limiting social media exposure and increasing student engagement.

Hunch: With limited hands on social interactions due to pandemic restrictions, as well as months of online learning, students may struggle with focusing and interacting with others for long durations and in a respectful manner. Although the game of LAHAL is fast paced and can appeal to those gaming enthusiasts, students may find it difficult to focus on learning the rules much less the verbal teachings, while students gather sticks from the land and prepare game pieces. Also, due to COVID restrictions, direct Elder mentorship is limited to coordinated FaceTime sessions, which may take away from engagement.

New Professional Learning: Elder Teachings & Mentorship – Most impactful regardless of being on a FaceTime social media platform. Selecting the right Elder for various topics was critical. Elders have such diverse backgrounds, yet selecting an Elder that walks and has walked in two worlds (Syeyutsus) is essential. Also, having a prior discussion with an elder about the NOIIE project was helpful. We outlined what the session would generally cover. An Elder from Tahltan First Nations played a pivotal role as his experience as an Aboriginal School Counsellor and Cultural Teacher made it easy for him to ‘dance’, so to speak, with the students’ responses yet entice them with his innate ability to connect with kids.

  • Circle of Courage Platform
  • First Peoples Principals of Learning
  • Teacher mentorship with experienced growth mindsets
  • Consistent wrap around team approach with staff [including CYC, EA, ASW]
  • Supportive and encouraging Administration

Taking Action:
Interacting with the Land – Walking in the forest and gathering sticks for Lahal. Students were introduced to various elements of the land and how the land can provide. Local vegetation was discussed and explored. With the sticks gathered, students shaved off the bark while listening to culture shares and storytelling; students stated that the repetitive nature of shaving off the bark with an utility knife was soothing while listening, resulting in student’s ability to listen intently with respect to speaker. Although we did not complete a whole Lahal set of game pieces this year, it is definitely something for next year.

Cultural Sharing – Learning traditional teachings [how to cope with life’s situations and relations] through narrative story telling/ songs, while learning protocols when engaging with Elders, as well as other adults, in a positive way; learning socialization and how to speak to others with respect and dignity, while still having that grandparent family feel.

Traditional Songs – Learning to sing and dance to celebrate cultural diversity; dancing made people laugh while working on physical fitness. Students had to simulate holding hands while doing a round dance — which was uncomfortable for many — but continued to move forward as the foundational protocols from Elder chats made an easier transition into dance.

Wish List – FOOD – if you feed them, they will come! Although food can be expensive, sharing a meal together is cross culture as well as socially engaging. Although due to COVID, making and the sharing of food was not allowed within our school. However, this is something I wished I could have incorporated in between breaks from playing Lahal.

Checking: Student reflections were key to understanding various discoveries made. Students started with reluctant comments when engaging all NOIIE activities that did not involve a chrome book; examples included “I don’t want to do this,” “can I just watch it on Youtube?” and “I just want to be inside.” Students struggled with being respectful of their words let alone listening to directions and stories. It wasn’t until we gathered sticks outside while discussing how the Coast Salish Peoples lived off the land with various vegetation, that they began to ask questions rather than give demands and or reluctant comments. However, the most profound and pivotal point was with the conversation with an Elder who spoke about building healthy relationships and understanding your own beauty. He shared stories that were relevant to school life and grade specific — grade 6/7 in this case. Students and staff laughed and listened intently, as well as asked questions when appropriate.

Yet, the “ah ha” moment was when the students were asked to write “what is your beauty,” as well as define what respect for self and respect for others looks like. Staff noticed many students had blank pages. Even after further explanation around beauty could be described as your gifts, strengths, talents, and character traits, many students tried to avoid the question and/or listed surface type traits such as the “best hair” or “best iPhone/gaming system”; students were listing outwardly things. Also, as the rest of the class was transitioning to gym after completing their assignment, the students who were left were the students who struggle the most with making good behavioural choices on and off social media platforms.

One would think the “ah ha” moment would stop there, but it didn’t. I followed up with that particular Elder; as a retired seasoned counsellor, he described the students’ actions even before I shared them with him. He knew most students would struggle with defining their beauty. He mentioned establishing healthy relationships starts with respect of self, and most students who have had some sort of trauma will have more difficulty completing the task as they don’t respect themselves.

Reflections/Advice: After debriefing with that particular Elder, we can find ourselves truly on that Journey of Syeyutsus. Constantly navigating that spiral of inquiry… thinking of new ways to move forward with what was learned… reconciling with self through meaningful ways.

Things I am adding to my teaching practice:
– Increase rich learning – small group off-site, turning students into leaders, cultural shares w/Elders
– Wellness in all domains
– Finding additional meaningful ways to connect and build healthy relationship with students

Do not be afraid to show/express your own [school appropriate] vulnerabilities, as well as share how you over come them – it is an essential pivoting point. Students can pretty much sniff out authenticity and people who genuinely care about them. If you’re not afraid to show vulnerability, then they won’t either.

By “restoring friendly relations” [reconciling with self – finding out who you are in order to find your path and people], students become courageous and success follows; success will look different for each student.

Hay ce:p qa to my students for the honour of guiding & witnessing you develop resiliency through the fire of adversity while connecting to traditional teachings and the land.
Hay ce:p qa to Frank J. Ney Staff for the privilege of paddling with you on our journey of supporting our students.
Hay ce:p qa to Elders for your stories, your guidance, your teachings and for your willingness to share.
Hay ce:p qa to all of you out there in the NOIIE community for your dedication towards learning and growth.

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