School Name: Nanaimo District Secondary School
School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith
Inquiry Team Members: Emily Recalma: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Barnum: KBarnum@sd68.bc.ca
Michelle Smith: MSmith@sd68.bc.ca
Ricki Barlett: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Transitions (focus on Indigenous learner transitions)
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Not applicable
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), First Peoples Principles of Learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus this year was to develop and grow authentic, trust-based relationships with our Indigenous Grade 8 students through a variety of experiences.
Scanning: The First Peoples Principles of Learning states that ‘Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place). This has guided us. We formally surveyed our students twice this year — once in December, as they finished a Christmas Pancake Breakfast together. We asked them questions, such as ‘ What is going well for you here?’ and ‘Are there two teachers/staff members whom you feel care about you here?’. We asked what they needed more help with at school, and gave them options from everything from ‘English’ to ‘Food’ and ‘I would like to have daily check-ins with an adult’. These surveys were invaluable, because it showed us that even though we were somewhat adept at identifying students we thought could benefit from ‘greater connection’, there were others who ‘seemed fine’ but who craved it. Our scanning, and our students’ willingness to be honest, helped us realize that focused connection with vulnerable students was crucial, but focused connection with all of our Indigenous students, was just as important!
Focus: We selected this area because in previous years we had noticed, anecdotally, that our Grade 9 Indigenous students seemed to hit a crisis point at some point in their Grade 9 year either socially, emotionally, academically, or all three. Those students who weren’t already authentically connected to the school would suffer as we fumbled our way through an attempt to understand what they were going through, what supports they needed, and to develop those relationships. Which was difficult of these crises resulted in a lack of attendance at school and a higher dependence on friendships that didn’t make for good or safe choices. We wanted to find a way to really know our grade 8s, and to work on those relationships BEFORE they became Grade 9s and 10s. We wanted to see if ‘front loading’ the relationship piece would result in greater connection, more effective and trusting communication, and happier students.
Hunch: We are the largest secondary school in our district. We are a school that houses a French Immersion program, a Francophone program, various sports academies, etc. Our diverse population and high turnover of staff makes it sometimes difficult for students and adults to develop relationships. Our colleagues rely on emailing parents about their child(ren)’s attendance, and attendance is a huge issue within our building. Students can go long periods of time not attending, before their parents are sometimes aware of this. In addition, our Indigenous parents don’t often use email as a form of communication — meaning the communication breaks down at this point. Students were feeling that no one noticed when they weren’t in school, and that was directly translating to a feeling that the school didn’t care about them.
New Professional Learning: We have done a lot of professional reading this year. We have read, as a team, Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, as well as we are currently reading Dare To Lead. We have become involved with the Moosehide Campaign, and attended the Moosehide Day of Action in Victoria, where we marched with other students and colleagues to raise awareness of violence against women and children. Many of our students have been affected by violence in their homes, and this campaign has given both them, and us, a place to put our energy.
Last summer we attended the NOIIE UBC summer sessions, and we have enjoyed the perspectives of our colleagues across the province, who are experiencing similar and different things from us. The most helpful resources have been each other, as well as our administration. We have leaned on each other for ideas and insight into our individual students, as well as to think of them as a collective. We have supported each other’s learning in many deep discussions about what we are reading, thinking, contemplating, and enacting individually and as a team.
Taking Action: We wanted to have as many common experiences with out students as possible. We wanted to create the kind of experiences that bring families together. To do this, we knew we wanted to center around food and family. We held a Thanksgiving family dinner, where our students helped peel potatoes and decorate tables in anticipation of their family’s attendance. We didn’t get as many families as we had hoped for, but we worked on sitting with those who did come, and getting to know them. Not every student who helped and came to the dinner had family show for them. This was difficult. But we know families face so many challenges, and attending school events is not always possible or easy. We also held a Christmas pancake breakfast, and we made sure every kid on our list received a gift hand-picked out for them. We did this with the help of generous donations from our colleagues ( blew us away!). At this Christmas breakfast our Principal came and read The Grinch to the kids. It was amazing to watch them turn into little ones during the story. Thirdly, we started a drumming group. Not one of us adults had any experience with cultural drumming. I (Emily) come from the Hesquiaht First Nation, in Nuuchahnulth Territory, and women don’t drum or sing. Nevertheless, we wanted to try. We invited Patrick Aleck, Snuneymux’w First Nation, to start us off with his Equality Song. After that we met each week on Wednesday mornings. We had a multi-grade group, mostly of our grade 8s, but some others who we had hand chosen as also in need of cultural connection. This was the most amazing transformative experience for all of us. As we were all beginners, we took turns being brave. We took a chance, and moved our drumming group online after COVID-19 hit. Each Friday during COVID, we met at noon on Microsoft Teams, with special guests in the community to lead us with new songs. These experiences together are special memories we won’t forget.
Checking: Our only measure of the ‘differences we’ve made’, is that we can see and feel that the relationships we have worked so hard on are real and they are strong. There have been fewer stronger tests to relationships than COVID-19, and our bonds remained strong through this time, even given challenges of technology, internet access, and various things that made connecting difficult. While we haven’t been able to debrief formally with our students since COVID became a big part of our lives, we believe these relationships are strong and will carry with us forward into the years to come.
What we have learned so far: Relationships can sometimes organically just happen, but rich relationships happen when you put the work in. Our collaboration, our professional reading, and our intent in this inquiry has made such a difference in our lives as adults, and we believe we see the difference in how connected our kids feel with us.
Where to next: We keep doing more of the same, while looking for new cultural and other opportunities to strengthen our bonds and increase student success.
What advice would we offer other schools: Gathering formal and informal information on your students is vital. Having TIME to spend with your students, without distractions, is crucial. Doing everyday things together, and also trying new things together, creates and fosters trust.