Thanks very much to Debbie Koehn, a Network leader, for sharing this story from the Nass Valley.
This is the time of year when present opening plays an important role but gifts come in many different forms. One of the most important gifts educators can offer students is our own opening and sharing of practices. As we grow as educators our students benefit. The Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network is enabling the learning and sharing of strong practices. One great example of learning that is taking place is our understanding of the importance of transitions.
We are learning lessons from the First Nations’ Peoples in the Nass Valley about the power of community. Last September Gitwinksihlkw Chiefs, Matriarchs, Elders and parents/family members presented the students to the Gitwinksihlkw Elementary School staff. A Chief from each Tribe gave their blessing and words of wisdom, as did other respected members of the community. The staff at Gitwinksihlkw Elementary School was honored to be part of such an important ceremony, accepting the shared role of educating and developing students’ potentials as members of the community. This ceremony was one that demonstrated communal trust and respect for all educators and caregivers working together to help students develop skills and strategies that will help guide them through the future.
Important lessons are to be learned from this ceremony. The Aboriginal community is helping to lead the way to understanding each individual’s personal need to feel like a valued member of the learning community. Each student is known to all the stakeholders by the end of the ceremony and should be more ready to move into a structured learning community after being acknowledged by all participants.
Members of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network will be taking this practice a step further, examining it thoughtfully so that we can emulate this wise practice when transitioning our students from grade to grade or from school to school.
Imagine the impact on the community when the students leaving one school structure are formally presented to the new school and staff by not just their current teacher, but by caring Elders, Chiefs, caregivers and members of the Aboriginal community painting a picture with words and actions of who the student is as a person and a learner. Students could feel ownership of a place, before even attending, knowing that the important people in their lives have come together to celebrate them as individuals. Community members could feel more at ease, knowing that students were entering a place where they already were known and knowing that the seeds of relationships had already been planted. Students and community members will have begun to develop an understanding of the new school expectations.
If done in late Spring and early June students could have the possibility of moving back and forth between the buildings they are exiting as students and the buildings they are entering – creating a bridge of relationships between the two. Peer learning partners could be established so that the learning community is actively interacting long before the official first day of the school year. The importance of moving through life skills (represented by educational buildings) would be acknowledged and celebrated in a traditional, dignified manner.
Although we cannot replace the meaningfully relationships built in home communities, we can begin to learn through watching, and attempting to embed in our schools the wise practices of education that take place daily in our Aboriginal communities.
Gitwinksihlkw Elementary School