Hillcrest Elementary SD#36 Surrey

By September 4, 20202019-2020 Case Study

School Name: Hillcrest Elementary

School District: SD#36 Surrey

Inquiry Team Members: Cole Stewart: stewart_cole@surreyschools.ca, Jessica Boss:/nm boss_j@surreyschools.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: stewart_cole@surreyschools.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Writing, Other: Social Emotional Learning/Mindfulness-Core competencies

Focus Addressed: First Peoples Principles of Learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Self-regulation and how interacting with our natural environment promotes mindfulness.

Scanning: We discussed common challenges we face with our students, including their struggle to self-regulate and their limited interactions with the natural environment surrounding them. We considered what would benefit students of varying grade levels. We considered our physical environment around our school, and what would be feasible to have students engage with nature regularly. We were interested in having students reflect on the way they feel when they interact with nature in a variety of ways. We hoped to increase their ability to be mindful and use self-regulation strategies. We also wanted to develop better understanding of the First Peoples Principles of learning, and use these principles to support personal and social awareness in students.

Focus: We were hoping for a few things:
1. That students would develop an understanding of place and build connection with the land that our school is on
2. Students would develop a better understanding of community and how our school plays a part in that community
3. Students would be able to develop mindfulness strategies through interactions with nature that benefited their emotional states
4. Students would develop a better understanding of First Peoples Principles, and see how these principles are embedded within our teaching.

Hunch: Schools have become highly focused on academic achievement and show limited understanding of Indigenous pedagogy, particularly in regards to how we interact with place. Many students are spending more and more time indoors (both in and outside of school) and experiencing less connection to the natural environment around them. Our school focuses very little on Indigenous pedagogy, and we are hoping to improve our understanding and comfort with incorporating Indigenous pedagogy into our teaching so that we can try to help others do so as well.

New Professional Learning: We explored a variety of activities and cognitive tools that fostered imaginative exploration. We made plans that allowed students to deliberately interact with nature in order to promote our teaching and their understanding of self-regulation and mindfulness. This directly supported the personal and social awareness core competencies and First Peoples Principles of Learning. The resources that were most helpful were engaging in conversation with our Aboriginal Helping teacher, Heidi Wood. Due to COVID, we have not been able to support the learning of colleagues yet.

Taking Action: The two of us met regularly and planned lessons together that incorporated mindfulness and FPPL. We bought journals for each student and designed a template for how they would fill out their journal. Each journal entry required reflection and usually included a piece of nature, such as a leaf, that each student found on our walks. We also reflected after each lesson to see what worked and what didn’t. Our biggest challenge was the location of our school, in that it does not take place near parks, forests, etc.

Checking: I think the main difference that we made was that we made students more aware of the connection between themselves and the earth. We focused a lot on how focusing on the little things around us, and specifically using our senses, can help us to connect with nature in a more meaningful way, and in doing so, improve our mental state. To be honest, we don’t think the differences were enough, which left us feeling unsatisfied. This was an overall weird year, not only with Covid-19, and we felt like we were unable to give this our best shot.

Our baseline: before we did a lesson, we asked students to jot down in their journals how they were feeling. The most common responses were “tired, bored, stressed.” Students then reflected after the lesson and the students’ responses changed to “calm, relaxed, comfortable.”
I think our students’ responses to the four questions might be filled with somewhat more understanding of what the questions are asking, but could still use more depth and connection.

Reflections/Advice: What we learned: Firstly, we learned that our school and community pose a challenge for conducting an inquiry like this, mainly due to the lack of genuine green-space and forest, or anything that really feels like nature. We had to be creative in how we designed our lessons, and think outside the box to create lessons that had purpose, connected to our inquiry, and impacted our students.

Where we plan to go: For next year, we hope to be able to create more opportunities to get our students outside and continue to use their senses to connect to their own mental health and a sense of place. We also want to further develop students’ sense of place and connection to land, and try to use story to do so.

Advice: At times this was an extremely frustrating experience. It felt like we were up against a brick wall trying to plan lessons that were engaging, focused, purposeful, embedded the FPPL and aspects of SEL. My best advice is to work closely with your colleagues, be willing to be vulnerable and admit that you don’t always understand certain things, and absolutely ask your helping teachers for guidance. Also, focus on the little things. There were times when we were very frustrated, but the most vivid memory of this inquiry for me was lying down in a field with 26 of my students, listening to the sound of snow falling. Even thinking about it brings me peace and a sense of calm. So, despite the challenges, it was definitely worth it.

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