McLeod Elementary SD#91 Nechako Lakes

School Name: McLeod Elementary

School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes

Inquiry Team Members: Michelle Miller Gauthier
Deborah Koehn
Roberta Toth
Mark Gauthier

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7), Secondary (8-12)

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Science

Focus Addressed: Indigenous 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, Indigenous pedagogy, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, STEM / STEAM

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? As a District Team we wanted to understand what created a risk free environment for adults – what supports needed to be in place and what circumstances needed to be realized in order for adults to move learning into place?

Scanning: At the beginning of the pandemic, in the Spring of 2020, we had a large number of educators attending sessions in which materials for outdoor learning in the home were shared. Teachers were using shared materials to increase the learning with families – and increasing students’ physical activity levels, engagement in learning about their place, and environmental sustainability. When students returned to the Fall, there was increased play time outside, but place was not used as teacher or classroom. Students were routinized immediately, with lots of sitting time and lots of paperwork. Teachers were focused on ‘lost’ learning and not recognizing that learning, and understandings of learning were shifting. Students themselves were expressing frustration through words and behaviours. First Peoples Principles of Learning, ways of being and knowing, and Indigenous pedagogies including side-by-side learning are always the heart of our learning.

Focus: We really wanted to change the learning experiences for our students. We wanted nature and place to be the teachers, and we wanted to create a sense of interconnectedness with nature, place and learning. The land can create a sense of belonging, as well as an awareness and sense of responsibility for self, others and place. Seeing patterns in the world around you connects you to the patterns in literacy and numeracy skills development. Seeing the interconnectedness of life in the forest helps you to understand that all of our lives are interconnected and that understandings learned in one place can be applied in others. We hoped to see an increase of caring – not necessarily an increase in motivation or engagement, but an increase in wonder, curiosity and caring for self, place and others.

Hunch: Some practices at school are so traditional and routinized that educators no longer were thinking about their actions, they were doing them and expecting students to participate in historical behaviours that no longer reflect the learners. Learning was viewed as ‘belonging’ within four walls – and students were no longer seeing a connection between who they are and what they are asked to do. With the greatest of intentions and the biggest hearts, educators were expecting students to learn what educators wanted students to learn; but learners are no longer just wanting, but are needing different learning experiences.

New Professional Learning: We went into the forest and the wetlands, and learned from the community – people were our first resource – and then we moved into written texts. We used the Spiral, constantly spanning our learners (both adults and students) as we moved into schools in groups of three – offering literacy, numeracy and science curriculum merged with place-based learning. We talked to educators and students and after we left we continued to reach out to the communities that specifically asked for support. We returned to buildings both physically and through digital resources, such as TEAMS or Zoom. We used the Spiral to support – constantly scanning, helping adult learners focus, and providing the learning they identified as need.
Robin Wall Kimmerer – anything! blogs, books (Braiding Sweetgrass, Gathering Moss) UBC talks, etc!
Peter Wohlleben – Can you Hear the Trees Talking?
Gillian Judson – Walking Curriculum
Vander Ark, Liebtag, McClennen – The Power of Place

Taking Action: We used a number of resources to develop 50+ learning ideas, directly connected to the curriculum, that educators from K-12 could adapt to their learners’ needs. We hoped that if educators had a resource that would support place-based learning that they would be more likely to engage. We created an Outdoor Learning Network of educators in the District, and held meetings and shared resources. We connected to the District’s Koh Learning Project (a watershed research project between UNBC and SD 91) and offered learning activities for both students and teachers, so that both had the same opportunities. Whenever possible, we connected place-based learning to Indigenous learning, so they merged.

Checking: The differences are never enough, but we are, as a team, satisfied. We used the baseline of before the pandemic – we know that there were some educators already pursuing an interest in place-based learning, and we knew that some educators were connecting with Koh Learning, but we wanted to increase capacity. We have a variety of interests – some educators are passionate, and some are curious and wondering…but all have indicated interest. We know because we have an established Outdoor Learning community of educators who meet regularly, and we have community members who are interested in supporting educators as they move forward. We have members of our Indigenous communities who are volunteering to play, and those that are already guiding our thinking.

Reflections/Advice: We learned that educators are interested and want to change their own routine behaviours but need constant reminders. It is so easy to do the busy work but the hard work needs support, encouragement and celebrations, and constant affirmations and celebrations. Educators are great at celebrating our learners’ successes and we need to provide more opportunities to celebrate educator success. Principals play an influential role. We had greater success in school buildings where educator learning and risk-taking were encouraged. We are amazed at the innovative and transforming learning experiences developed by SD 91 educators. We are truly grateful for our District’s strategic plan (which encourages educator learning and risk-taking) and all the support from schools and educators.

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