Gabriola Elementary School SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

By August 28, 20182017-18 Case Study

School Name: Gabriola Elementary School

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members:Andrea Doak (, Dave Travers, Jen Holme, Miranda Culbertson, Luke Laurie, Tom Bradbrooke, Sooz Svensson, Rose Boulton, Laura Boulton, Sarah Armstrong, Suzi Volk, Julie Durmuller, and Quincy Kelly.

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOII (focus on core competencies, OECD learning principles, etc.)

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Career Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Developing and maintaining relationships in our learning community is essential to our ability to support learners in a place-based environment to develop literacy, numeracy and social skills.

Scanning: The scanning phase began at the start of the year with discussion of the vision process that led to our school commitment to place-based learning and invited all staff members to share questions and connections. Prior NOII/AESN inquiries, Guiding Principles and School Goals were reviewed and examined with reflection on formative assessment data for literacy/numeracy and observations of student engagement. The 4 questions were asked school-wide by the Teacher Librarian in the role of Inquiry and Innovation Lead Teacher. Intermediate students were supported to respond to the 4 questions privately using Google Classroom. Primary students were engaged in 1:1 conferences to record their responses. We noticed that there was an ongoing need for students to develop their ability to be self-reflective about learning progress and to make intentional plans for the next steps required to improve. This process also highlighted our students’ enthusiasm for learning in subjects of interest and the diversity of areas of interest within and across our classes. The most captivating part of students responses was the connection that students identified with supportive adults in the building. It was clear that relationships were strong with past and present teachers and education assistants. In addition, a significant number of students identified their relationship with our principal. Because this is our second year with a place-based focus, it was reassuring to see an increase in responses that named community volunteers and family members as integral to our learning community. This increase encourages us to continue investigating how to support, develop and maintain relationships that extend our learning into our community. The First Peoples Principle that we continue to focus on as a place-based school is that “Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.” Our plan for future inquiry work will look at land-based learning and developing sustainable cooperative learning relationships through connection with our local First Nation, the Snuneymuxw People.

Focus: The initial plan for this inquiry was to continue an examination of how we can work to support literacy, numeracy and social skills development through in an intentionally place-based learning environment. This is a broad goal which seemed to rely primarily on individual practice and professional learning. As we engaged in shared professional development to deepen our knowledge of resources to support Aboriginal understandings and place-based practices, the importance of creating and nurturing relationships with people and place became a central focus. Therefore, we shifted the focus of our inquiry to developing relationships as part of laying the foundation for place-based education. We were hoping to help our learners connect about learning across grades and through learning from community members and the place itself. We also hoped to foster more adult – student relationships in our building and in outdoors and alternate settings on the island.

Hunch: Our dedication to place-based education arose to help us make learning more relevant and engaging for our learners. Changes in the curriculum require changes in practice and a part of that process involves thoughtful engagement in program delivery. With significant staff change, we have also been actively building relationships with each other as a new team of educators. In addition, we live in a small island community. We are fortunate to have long standing relationships with several community groups and individuals who contribute to our learning in an ongoing basis. However, we see a need to become more collaborative about our process for co-delivering learning opportunities and reflective about the value of one another as co-learners as well as co-educators. We want to be mindful of existing relationships, yet we see a need to form new connections to inspire and extend learning opportunities for all learners. We also recognize that authentic connection with local Aboriginal learning requires making connections beyond our island. Our need for change arises from our dedication to being place-based and the perpetual need to deepen our relationship with the people and environments where we learn together. Our concern arose from wanting to consciously create sustainable, reciprocal relationships that would add to the experience of all involved rather than taxing our limited human resources.

New Professional Learning: We intentionally focused most of our professional learning this year on the human and natural resources that are available to support our place-based approach to education. A number of island organizations and agencies are supporting initiatives in our school, and we continue to work on developing ways to honour those connections through cooperative grant applications and PAC funded honorariums. In professional learning groups, outdoor learning opportunities around the island are explored together on an ongoing basis and book resources collected in previous years are available for sharing and engagement during our meetings. Our district Aboriginal Education Coordinator was able to work with staff and students weekly in the fall, bringing people and learning opportunities to connect with local Aboriginal teachings. We had several months of regular visits from an Elder and are continuing to foster a co-learning relationship with the Snuneymuxw First Nation elementary school by inviting them to our Yes2KNow event and attending their Big House Celebration in the Spring. We recognize ongoing need to develop and strengthen relationships with people and place in order to facilitate place-based learning in our community. It is integral to both our daily practice and long term goal planning. Therefore, as much as possible, the cultivation of learning relationships continues to be strategically embedded in professional learning and playfully explored through informal conversations between members of our learning team. Finally, we continue to work with Faculty at SFU to explore options for a more lasting learning together relationship that could be funded by grants to help us explore greater connection to our local indigenous ways of knowing, learning and teaching.

Taking Action: Our team engaged in an Appreciative Inquiry activity at the year end to identify and summarize the most effective actions taken to support our focus for the year. The following list of strategies are organized around the key elements that shaped our inquiry: Collaboration, Relationship Building, Love of Learning and Place-Based Education
COLLABORATION (What worked and what we want more of…)
– Resource and idea sharing with same or similar grade colleagues
– Combined Classes for Library / I&I with TL to facilitate literacy & LiD inquiry
– Primary cooperative learning and teaching for local field trips to Drumbeg
– ADST Trades Trailer Woodworking with combined classes for leadership in the fall
– Creating the School Wide Write “clothesline” project using the 6+ Traits of Writing
– Exploring professional resources in ProD

RELATIONSHIPS (What helped build them and what we need to do to maintain them…)
– Committing time on a regular basis to community interaction (seniors, gardening, band program, buddy classes, empathy days, GIRO workshops, Elder visits)

– Family involvement in school activities (Gatherings, field trips, morning reading routines, Book Fair, ongoing communication, student led conferences)
– Staff connections through shared lunch on Mondays and Pro-D exploration
– Student and staff check-ins – both formal and informal routines in classrooms and halls
– NDTA supported Professional Learning Group and Professional Learning Partnerships
– Principal developing a kind connection with all students, staff, families and community

LOVE of LEARNING (What inspired it in us and our students…)
– Engaging in rich discussion about poetry
– Seeing students personal creativity and ownership of learning inspired through connections
– Watching our assignments evolving with the interests and intentions of our learners
– Observing growth in reading
– Excitement during project-based learning
– Knowing and appreciating the students as individuals
– Learning Hul’q’umin’um’ with Gena Seward
– Drumming and talking with Elder Lolly
– Developing a band program from one note to an arrangement and excitement
– When they became interested in their learning
– Engagement in learning outdoors

PLACE-BASED EDUCATION (What worked well and what we want more of…)
– Visiting local sites (grocery store, provincial and regional parks, museum)
– Hands-on projects integrating local content and materials
– Working collaboratively with Gabriola groups and organizations: Arts Council, GROWLS, Museum, Library, Senior Center, the Commons / PHC, GALT
– Variety Show at Port Theatre
– Local animal inquiry and staff and student exploration of the island
– Outdoor learning spaces on school property including forest, gardens and “classroom”

Checking: This inquiry focus evolved from previous inquiries, initiatives and whole school learning activities which led to a commitment in our school goal and by our team to become a place-based learning school. Since we were in a year of significant staff change and learning about how to bring this commitment to life, our focus became supporting one another in this process and accepting that it doesn’t all have to happen at once. The differences that we observed can be highlighted by the following observations with appreciation:
We celebrate the support and expertise of our NLPS team: Classroom Teachers, EAs, SST, Principal, SLP, CYFSW, Psychologist, Counsellor. We realized that extending our definition of Place-Based to include the Salish Sea Communities will help broaden our learning and become more inclusive. We value collaboration with our school and community which brought meaningful experiences for staff and students in a variety of formal and informal ways: Big House Visits, Yes2Know, Museum Project, Broom Initiative, GIRO lessons, Book Fest / Isle of the Arts Author Visits, Rainbow Inclusion Day. We are proud of showcasing our learning with Student Led Conferences, Drama Club Plays, Winter Concert and Variety Show Cross-Grade performances, and Track and Field.
Evidence was gathered from staff through an Appreciative Inquiry process which relied on reflection and observations of students. In addition, students in Grades 2-7 were consulted using an online questionnaire drawn from the 4 questions to seek guidance on future practices. Primary students were involved in whole class discussions to draw input about what worked well, who they connected with, and where learning brought them joy. All of this evidence points to continued desire to make cooperative efforts to address challenges and deepen the focus in upcoming years. Discussion of challenges and next steps follows.

Reflections/Advice: As a learning team, we felt fortunate to have a central focus for connection of professional learning, student engagement and initiative planning. We identified the following challenges and next steps to guide us in the upcoming school year. While our focus and learning have been specific to our context, the broad lessons – to be intentional about how and when to collaborate – to attend to relationship building thoughtfully – to remember that love of learning can connect us all – and to value the place we learn as part of our experience of education – these lessons can been applied anywhere. Our advice would simply be to be open to discovering together any guiding focus to help your school connect and learn with purpose.

– Complex and changing timetables
– Classes with multiple teachers
– Collaboration with two classes in the library without time for pre-planning
– Programs/people changes and losses
– Consistency in expectations at school not established together
– Not all classes having a buddy class

– More time to meet, share and plan
– PLCs with increased focus on collaborative intentions to address professional inquiry
– Intentional ongoing Place-Based Field Trips with combined classes
– More social interactions for staff
– Learn more about our local history and future possibilities
– Work more with local Snuneymuxw First Nation community
– Shift focus from place-based to land-based learning

Leave a Reply