Mary Jane Shannon Elementary SD#36 Surrey

School Name: Mary Jane Shannon Elementary

School District: SD#36 Surrey

Inquiry Team Members:Meg Allan;
Kim Deschutter;
Kerri Hutchinson;
Amanda Hill;
Celine Feazel;

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)

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

Curricular Area(s): Not applicable

Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? How might an explicit focus on place (instruction, experiences and explorations) foster growth of a positive relationship between learners and their school community?

Scanning: After a series of preliminary discussions, we were able to distill a common idea that permeates a number of areas of potential growth that teach team member was concerned with. We looked at the overarching interest- place based learning- then linked it to findings from our 4 Key Questions. Through that process we determined an area of teaching focus that also links to aspects of the fabric of the school community that we feel deserves attention.

Focus: We chose the focus because we know there is important work in relationship building that happens within individual classes, but we see a need for extensions between classes as well as through the school as a larger community. We hope that these experiences provide a starting point that can be built upon in the years ahead. We hope that it informs us in such a way that we can speak of the impacts to the larger school community, and look for ways to broaden the focus on place and relationship.

Hunch: Our school community is a dynamic place with change, both in learner and staff populations, that can lead to feelings of disconnections. We feel that, as yet, despite the close individual class communities that develop, we are missing pieces that allow for learners to believe themselves to be part of, and supported by, a much larger community within the school. We feel that intentional focus on grounding learning in place may create shared experiences as well as opportunities for inter-class collaboration where staff interact with other learners in meaningful ways. We expect that will facilitate the growth of a belief within the learners that there are more than simply their classroom teacher that believe in their capacity for success.

New Professional Learning: Our hunch was that we would impact the learning in the class and school communities by making a more explicit focus on place. Some classes focused on the outside place (through school grounds and park explorations), one class focused on the relationships that are tied to this place. Access to the outdoor space, picture books (Once in a Blue Moon, From the Mountains to the Sea series (Community and We Share the Seasons) access to Knowledge Keepers during our Residency Week) consistent community of support teaching staff (LST, counsellor) CCW and EA’s that learners are willing and able to engage and work with once given opportunities for relationship building are prioritized. Buddy classes were also utilized to reinforce interconnections.

Taking Action: We paid particular attention to how we might provide teaching and explorations that connect to place – multiple experiences that allow for the learners to actually feel connected to the place, not just rely on the “words” of explaining place. Experience, develop connection regardless of whether or not they can explicitly explain or reflect- authentic through experiences.
Connection and relationship that allows for the kids to feel safe in and attached to this place. The work is not going to happen if the feeling of safety does not exist. Connections fostered and prioritized through experiences that layer on each other. The feeling of support through connection and relationship can then foster feelings of learners’ own responsibility and a valuing of their own contributions.

Checking: As a collective, we feel that each year we start from scratch when it comes to creating community relationships within and between classes. We think there must be a way to create more carry-over from year to year so the process builds on previous growth. We think this is the area we are the least satisfied with. We are curious about how to approach this in the year ahead in a way that invites other staff. We are about to begin a process of seismic upgrading that will have an impact on the way we view and function as a community. (Many of our classrooms will literally be displaced, as an entire floor of classrooms will have to move into portables. )We think this will provide us with an opportunity to be more innovative when it comes to community connections and relationships.
Kindergarten is a joyful place, but in order to build upon the importance of this work and make even more meaning and connections in future years I believe my students first needed to uncover and reveal more about themselves. Who are they? What similarities and differences do we have with one another? How to we connect to our place outside? How do we develop a relationship with nature and when we do, what can we learn about it and ourselves? I think we’ve worked authentically in exploring these big ideas in a hands on way. We’ve continued to cycle back to them and express meaning in artistic ways, connected to authentic literature, reflecting over time and with that learning has come. Providing even more of these opportunities is what I’d like to do more of next year. –Kerri

Grade 1 students have worked on using Hawthorn Park as an outdoor classroom, one afternoon a week. The process began as a way to explore the natural world of our school community and our hope was that in addition to science connections, spending time there would help to inspire a connection to Hawthorn Park as their place. Our trips resulted in hands-on observations of seasonal changes (the berry cycle of Spring has been of particular interest) and reflections on how students feel when they are there. We have explored texts that focus on place and relationships to land, such as Wild Berries, and have used the plant identification part of the resource “Honouring the Journey Through Our Culture.” The students have used plant identification cards from the kit to identify Indigenous plants of our place and have even learned some names in Halq’emeylem, the Indigenous language of our place. Currently, they are working on an art installation project with their Grade4/5 buddies from this inquiry project, where they will represent the aspects of the place that are important to them and how it makes them feel. – Meg and Kim

Grade 3 & 4 students have responded positively to school staff who have been consistently present in my class over a length of time. Many students require a good rapport with staff in order to trust them when helping them with work or opening up to them. After a couple months, students who struggled to work with anyone but the teacher, now feel comfortable working and opening up with other staff in the building. Building rapport with students involved being present in the class during work time as well as during play time. Students building rapport with staff in the school will be an ongoing process as this needs to happen every year due to staff turnover. –Amanda

This is a challenging year for children living in close proximity to the “turmoil” created by road construction in the neighbourhood. Houses have been torn down with others still slated for demolition. Significant impacts are visible in the park where large numbers of trees have come down and a large swath has been excavated. Our class explorations in the small urban forest on the North side of the park have allowed us to enter into a peaceful place where we can focus on connections to nature, and some of the responsibilities we have to this place. Explorations into seasonal changes allow for us to gain some understanding of elements of continuity and interconnection that translate into ways we can view the human relationships in the class and school communities. We supported explorations with mentor texts including Danielle Daniel’s Once in a Blue Moon. –Celine

Reflections/Advice: We want to explore ways in which we can have professional discussions that will allow for teachers and staff to uncover the ways that relationships connected to place need to be fostered. We want to explore ways in which staff can create bridges between classes from one year to the next and how as teachers we can make ourselves more open and available to students outside of our classrooms to ensure that students feel an attachment to staff, even if they do not feel it for their classroom teachers. We wonder if there are questions that we could ask across the school that will allow us to get a better sense of what the connections to place are and whether students are feeling safety or lack of safety in our school community.

Advice we would share with other schools who are interested in place-based learning would be to set a specific time dedicated to taking your students to learn outside. Regardless of whether you have access to a forest, as we fortunately do, there are so many opportunities to learn and observe the natural world from the grounds of your school. So many kids commented on how good they felt when they were outside, and the calming effects nature has on our minds and bodies, and that has made us realize what a priority it is to create learning opportunities that are outside. We also benefitted from utilizing Indigenous books and resources that focus on place.

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