School Name: Fraser Lake Elementary Secondary School
School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes
Inquiry Team Members: Kathy Chmelyk firstname.lastname@example.org
Patti An Plowman email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7), Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies, Other: Core French, Leadership, Library
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? To create a greater sense of belonging for our Indigenous students and stronger connections with our communities.
Scanning: We asked our students the four questions at the beginning of the year/term, to determine what connections the students had to adults in our school community and how they felt about their learning. We had planned to re-ask the questions at the end of the year; however, with the occurrence of COVID-19, we were unable to work with all of our students on our goals. Initially we noticed that many of our students do not have a strong connection to adults in the school, or see the relevance of their learning. When we were scanning we kept the principles in mind, but our focus was on determining how connected students felt.
Focus: We recognized that our communities are still heavily impacted by the experience at Lejac Residential School. We struggle to make strong home-school connections because of the trauma that has been passed down through the generations. Students and family members do not see the lessons and activities being culturally relevant, or that resources reflect them.
We were hoping to engage our students in their learning by providing lessons and resources that were more culturally relevant. We also wanted to provide activities that helped to create a greater sense of belonging and would help to build community.
Hunch: Many teachers have not taken courses in Indigenous Education as part of their teacher programs. In addition, our district does not offer a cultural sensitivity/awareness course, at this point. There is a lack of knowledge and understanding of Indigenous history, culture, and ways of knowing.
There is a lack of Indigenous authors or literature with Indigenous characters for intermediate and middle year readers.
We continue to search for local Elders who can teach about our local culture, history, and language.
New Professional Learning: We attended the Indspire National Gathering for Indigenous Education in Toronto, where we chose workshops which were related to our focus.
We are both members of the district Aboriginal Education Teacher Leader Cohorts, where we read and watch resources pertaining to the history of Indigenous People in Canada and the World, and collaborate on what we have learned, which has impacted our practice.
We generated a list of Elders to approach regarding an Elders in the Classroom program. We had one person briefly come in this year, and we have made contact with another Elder for next year.
Through the AbEd cohort, we were able to access the local Carrier Calendar and other resources to use in the classroom.
Taking Action: The Grade 5/6 Kindness Project helped all students feel a greater sense of belonging. We focused on spreading kindness within our school, community, and the world. The class completed collaborative artwork projects, which we displayed in the classroom. Students decided on acts of kindness they could carry out around the school. When they completed an act they submitted a “chit”, and at the end of the day the teacher counted them up and added stickers to the art display. Students also created Christmas cards for the Military and Valentine’s Day cards for Veterans. During COVID-19, students wrote thank-you cards for our essential workers and submitted flowers for a collaborative poster for our Seniors. The students also wrote quotes about kindness in the newsletter, did bi-weekly school wide announcements about kindness, and presented about the project at an elementary assembly. The students took a great deal of pride about being part of the “kindness crew” and enjoyed working together on all of these activities.
Once a week, during this semester’s French 9/10, the class met in circle formation to work on getting to know each other better. During these connection sessions, students were given a topic to discuss as a group. After our first session, a student who was quiet and shy to share in the circle, excitedly went to explain to the Aboriginal Home coordinator what we just did in class. The sessions started out being about an hour long and by the last time we were together as a group, students started bringing in their own topics to discuss — we shared for the entire hour. As a teacher, I noticed the students connecting and feeling more comfortable to share during class time as a whole. Several times a week, the Grade 5/6 class did “walk and talk” sessions where they discussed a variety of topics with different partners each time.
Checking: We feel like we made a difference based on the participation that was witnessed in class and during COVID-19. During COVID-19, Grade 9/10 asked to do virtual circle discussions and several 5/6 students came in for “Walk & Talk” sessions with the teacher. However due to COVID-19, we were not able to collect the year-end reflections from the students.
Reflections/Advice: In the past, many teachers felt that they did not have time to spend on these types of activities, due to the curricular obligations of their courses. We knew that the time was worth it, but experiencing COVID-19 this year reinforced the importance of relationships in the successful completion of course work. Spending the time to build relationships and a sense of belonging/community is worth the time taken from curriculum.
We plan to continue with this work in the classroom, and will place a greater focus on building stronger relationships with Elders in our Indigenous communities.