School Name: Montecito Elementary
School District: SD#41 Burnaby
Inquiry Team Members: Jessica Vaughan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fonda Papathanasiou: email@example.com
Brandi Price: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Oral Language, Social Studies, Other:
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving)
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? We wrote personalized land acknowledgements so that each student and staff member had a better understanding of the purpose behind the land acknowledgement.
Scanning: The students at Montecito were very proud of their ability to memorize and say the Burnaby School District’s Indigenous Territory Acknowledgement. We wanted to make the land acknowledgement personalized through exploration of our own cultural identities, our personal connections to the land, and our understanding of Canada’s history. We included the opportunity for all of our students to make all, or a part, of their personal acknowledgement in their home language.
Our plan directly supported the First Peoples Principle of Learning that learning is reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
Focus: We were hoping to develop a deeper understanding of Canada’s history and build a sense of agency in our students for the steps they can take towards reconciliation.
Hunch: It appeared as if in order for the staff to lead the students through this process, they would need to be led through the process themselves. Most staff felt comfortable reciting the school district’s Indigenous territory acknowledgement, however most were hesitant to speak more from the heart. We felt that this was due to a concern that they may “get it wrong” more than a lack of emotional understanding of the reason for giving a territorial acknowledgement.
New Professional Learning: We engaged in two half days of professional development. On the first, we spoke with Ms. Brandi Price — our district Indigenous Resource Teacher — about the Indigenous People’s connection to the land, the purpose of a territorial acknowledgement, and the important parts to include in the acknowledgement to ensure that it is done “properly”. On the second day, we engaged in some activities to explore our personal relationships to the land and our families stories of coming to Canada. At the end of this process, in small groups we each shared a personalized acknowledgement of the land and why we are grateful to be able to live here.
Taking Action: After our second Professional Development session, we took the strategies we had practiced back to our classrooms and used them to discuss Indigenous Territory Acknowledgements with the students. For some teachers this was one lesson that resulted in weaving their student’s thoughts into the Burnaby School District’s acknowledgement. For other classes, this was a series of lessons that drew on Social Studies big ideas that were being discussed in the class already. Each class focused on why they are grateful to live on this land, and as age appropriate, some also discussed in more detail why it is necessary to acknowledge the Indigenous territories our school sits on.
Checking: Most students were able to put a personalized (or class created) Indigenous Territory Acknowledgement on their report cards for third term. We saw growth in most of our learners.
Most classes were engaging in this process during the time when the news was full of stories of the bodies found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The staff took the news to heart and came together to create lessons and a whole school response that was meaningful for staff and students alike. Teachers who have not previously taken leadership roles in the area of Indigenous learning, took on the organization of these activities and showed their own personal growth in this area.
Reflections/Advice: One thing that made this inquiry so impactful was the personal learning that the staff went through to feel they were ready and able to bring this activity to their class. We did not have the ability for our District Indigenous team to work with classes directly and that made the staff’s learning and teaching that much more powerful. Next year we hope to continue to foster connections to the land and to each other through buddy (multi-age/grade) groupings working together outside, to develop their curiosity and connection to the land.