Henry Anderson Elementary SD#38 Richmond

School Name: Henry Anderson Elementary

School District: SD#38 Richmond

Inquiry Team Members: Sasha Pawer: spawer@sd38.bc.ca, Jessica Szeto: jeszeto@sd38.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: spawer@sd38.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

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

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), First Peoples Principles of Learning, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus was to incorporate the First Peoples Principles of Learning into the curricular learning areas with intention, authenticity and meaning.

Scanning: We recognized that the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL) connected well with the curriculum, but noticed that we were not linking the two. Although the FPPL are not embedded in the BC curriculum (i.e., the exact phrases from the FPPL are never explicitly stated in the learning areas), we recognized the natural connections between many Big Ideas and the FPPL. We wanted our students to develop a deep sense of place (e.g., “What is my role as a settler?”) and to learn and appreciate Indigenous knowledge and culture. In line with the curriculum, examining the impact of colonization on First Peoples societies in BC and Canada, was an essential connection to the FPPL. We asked ourselves, for example, do our students: “Recognize the role of indigenous knowledge? Recognize the consequences of their (and others’ actions)?” These questions were at the forefront of our scanning process.

Focus: By exploring the FPPL in greater detail and integrating them into our instruction and learning experiences for the students, we wanted to ground our work in authentic and meaningful practices that support and honour Indigenous people and communities. While we acknowledge the dynamic and specific pedagogies of diverse First Peoples groups, we recognize that the FPPL serve as a framework for incorporating Indigenous education across all curricular areas. Ultimately, we were hoping that our learners—the vast majority being settlers—would develop greater awareness, understanding, and perspective of Indigenous people and communities.

Hunch: Although the FPPL posters are displayed in nearly every classroom, and events such as Orange Shirt Day are recognized, we considered how many of our students had limited knowledge beyond knowing that Indigenous people are a part of Canada. In other words, students had a surface-level understanding of the FPPL and Indigenous practices and cultures, but had not yet developed the competencies to think critically and communicate on the true nature of Canada’s past and present relationship with Indigenous people.

As non-Indigenous educators who are in the process of unlearning and relearning the truths about colonization and Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people, we sometimes felt unprepared to teach students about Indigenous culture, practices, and issues in previous years. We often used storybooks by Indigenous authors in our classrooms. Still, as we did more learning and professional development, we recognized that we could do even more in the classroom to develop students’ understanding of the FPPLs. We noticed that our learners were not fully comprehending the relationship between First Peoples and Canada, which is a disservice to both the students and Indigenous communities. To move beyond performative actions or gestures, we reflected on how we could incorporate substantial and long-term conversations and learning around Indigenous content.

New Professional Learning: One crucial area of learning was Pro-D sessions lead by Jo Chrona, curriculum coordinator, FNESC. The two sessions were titled: “Beyond the Poster on the Wall: Moving Forward in Indigenous Education in BC.” Jo Chrona’s website, https://firstpeoplesprinciplesoflearning.wordpress.com, was particularly useful in understanding how and why to incorporate the FPPL into our classrooms. She articulates how developing a deep understanding of the FPPL, including its background and contexts, is fundamental to using them appropriately. We also attended a Pro-D led by Laura Tait, Nanaimo’s Assistant-Superintendent, titled “Moving Towards Equity in Indigenous Education.” The session focused on how the beliefs and values of school staff support the learning of Indigenous students and, by extension, all students. During her session, she shared a valuable document on “Indigenous Understandings Learning Progression,” which allowed us to self-assess our beliefs/attitudes and knowledge/understandings of Indigenous peoples. We considered incorporating this document into our classrooms, including co-creating a similar document with our students. Lastly, we obtained several ideas and resources by following Indigenous educators and activists on social media platforms, like Megan Tipler (@tiplerteaches), an Edmonton-based teacher and Métis. She shares decolonial teaching practices. We highly valued access to authentic resources from Indigenous educators and ensured to give credit to their work.

Taking Action: One strategy we used was to explicitly state which FPPL we were focusing on for certain learning areas. When we identified the FPPL focus for ourselves and the students, we brought in more Indigenous perspectives into our instruction and teaching. Additionally, we were able to tie in the FPPL to the Big Ideas we were exploring. While we would like to use FPPL explicitly more consistently next school year, referencing the FPPL was a proactive way to ensure that we included Indigenous perspectives.

Another strategy that we used was to prioritize and centre Indigenous literature in our classroom. First, we purchased books written and/or illustrated by Indigenous authors to have easy access to them. Then, when we needed a book on a particular topic, we first considered an available book by an Indigenous author. Often using social media of Indigenous educators, we took the time and effort to find various Indigenous texts.

Our students’ actions went beyond just recounting or sharing Canada’s past and present relationships with Indigenous peoples. Instead, we also focused on celebrating Indigenous peoples, exploring how we could learn more from them, and establishing concrete ways to support local Indigenous peoples. Throughout the year, during our outdoor classroom experiences, we also did the land acknowledgement specific to our location each time. We also discussed in-depth what the land acknowledgement meant and why we were doing it.

In consideration of how our actions worked out, we recognized that by creating space for Indigenous knowledge and perspectives, our non-Indigenous students and ourselves learned so much as settlers in Canada. As we prioritized the voice of the Indigenous student in our class, we noticed that their classmates were highly respectful and responsive to their experiences and perspectives. We also noticed a keen interest in our students in following the media on Indigenous people and current events, with many students bringing up what they had seen or heard on the news at school. Students were keen to take action to support Indigenous peoples.

Checking: At the beginning of the year, while students were open to learning more about Indigenous peoples, they tended to see it as a “subject” rather than reflecting real-life events and happenings. By the end of the year, students were making deep connections between what they saw and heard in the media, other learning areas and expressing an understanding of some facets of Canada’s past and present relationship with Indigenous peoples. We are proud of our students! Nevertheless, we recognize that there is still work and learning to be done, both as educators and students.

Reflections/Advice: We learned that it is possible and valuable to incorporate the FPPL in our teaching practices through this inquiry. We realized the value of developing consistent routines where the FPPL help guide the Big Ideas and the curricular content and competencies.

For our next steps, we would like to have the opportunity to work more closely with Indigenous educators in our school district. While we recognize the importance of respect their time and experiences, we would welcome any collaboration, whether in the classroom or as Pro-D. We would also like to take the initiative to create opportunities to share with and learn from other educators in our school and our district who are prioritizing Indigenous education.

Our advice for other schools with similar interests would be:
– Do lots of research
– Listen to and prioritize Indigenous voices
– Keep unlearning and relearning
– Take action now
– Don’t let the fear of being “wrong” hold you back from engaging in Indigenous education or the FPPL

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