School Name: North Peace Secondary School (Senior Alternate)
School District: SD#60 Peace River North
Inquiry Team Members: Brenda Birley:firstname.lastname@example.org, Sydney Vandergaag: svandergaag, Kari Fortais: email@example.com, Ryan Pearce: firstname.lastname@example.org, Christine Taylor: email@example.com, Sarah Elson-Haugan: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mark Giesbrecht: email@example.com, Tyler Mika: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Matahematics / Numeracy, Physical & Health Education, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal 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, Flexible learning, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning, Universal design for learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? The focus was inclusive social emotional learning that involves community and encourages growth mindset, critical thinking, communication and self regulation.
Scanning: Scanning using the four key questions happened at the beginning of the inquiry and throughout the learning period. Inquiry questions were asked during individual interviews, circle talks, daily self-exploration assignments, weekly reflection and goal setting assignments and project summaries. Scanning went beyond the four questions. For example questions such as describe 2 things you learned in class this week, and describe something you learned about someone else this week, were included in the weekly review. As well, questions such as what makes you nervous and describe how you dealt with a difficult social encounter, were included in daily self explorations. The questions and the way they were asked were done in an inclusive and flexible manner. Students were able to answer in written and/or verbal formats (journalling, one-on-one interview, circle talk discussions, video presentation). The approach was student-driven, questions developed and changed depending on what students were experiencing and sharing, and what we were observing. We learned from the ongoing inquiry that students felt supported by staff in the sr Alternate (all responses received indicated that students felt supported, many responses said that the Sr Alternate was a family. Students completing social projects feel empowered by their learning. Students (past/present) commented that talking circles gave them an opportunity to speak knowing they were being heard.
Focus: There is a need to encourage not only academic growth but social-emotional learning and connectedness. We need to provide opportunities to: explore self, practice positive communication, work collaboratively, build community and make positive contributions to a broader community.
Hunch: History of failure negatively impacts the student’s belief that he/she can make positive change. Negative stigma on Senior Alternate students contributes to their negative self-worth. Students’ perceptions of themselves will change as they begin to look outside of themselves. The community’s perception of the students will change as it recognizes the positive contributions of the students.
New Professional Learning: What we have learned as a group (students and staff): problem-solving, assertive communication, individuality, respect, critical thinking, boundaries/limits, expanding comfort zones, letting go, and accepting failure.
What we still need to learn: everything from the first list X 2, emotional regulation strategies, conflict resolution, community connections, time management, and cross-curriculum/balance.
We explored positive psychology and search for purpose (Viktor Frankl), growth mindset and experiential learning, emotional self-regulation. Some of the resources we used are listed here: The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, et al., The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals by Schab LCSW, Lisa M., Communication Skills for Teens: How to Listen, Express, and Connect for Success by Skeen PsyD, Michelle, McKay PhD, Matthew, et al., Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety: A Workbook for Overcoming Anxiety at Home, at School, and Everywhere Else by Willard PsyD, Christopher, Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation by Jennifer Katz and Kevin Lamoureux, Teaching to Diversity: The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning
by Jennifer Katz and Faye Brownlie, and DBT Skills in Schools Skills Training for Emotional Problem Solving for Adolescents (DBT STEPS-A) James J. Mazza, Elizabeth T. Dexter-Mazza, Alec L. Miller, Jill H. Rathus, and Heather E. Murphy. Learning sessions with Jennifer Katz (Three-Block model) were extremely helpful in understanding inclusive methods of teaching and assessing understanding. Using DBT strategies workbooks helped us to begin to build strategies for self-regulation, however, more learning in this area is needed. Our biggest supporters and teachers were members of our community and the students themselves.
Taking Action: Our action plan involved the creation of the BAA Personal and Social Development Course (adapted from North Vancouver SD44 BAA Self-Efficacy 10, developed by Dave Cadman, Lucas King, Maureen Stanger, Caren Hallwith ). Mandatory participation in a minimum 1 semester of PSD for all Senior Alternate Students was implemented. The course topics are personal development, self-exploration, emotional regulation, self-management, social development, social awareness, communication, relationship building, and social responsibility. The biggest component of the course is to complete social change projects (individually and in groups). The outline of the social project is as follows: Define a cause or issue that is important to you, Increase your knowledge about the topic, Share your knowledge with others, Invite others to collaborate, Create a plan to make change, Implement your plan, and Evaluate your project. These projects are completely student-driven; staff became facilitators, supporters, and team members while the students took lead roles. The projects ranged from baking and delivering cookies to seniors in the care home, sponsoring families at Christmas, fundraising for the Women’s Resource Centre and the Salvation Army, promoting Pride week, community clean-ups, promoting the Sr Alternate through the creation of a logo and fundraising to purchase hoodies for all of our students, Youth in Care advocacy and Mental Health week promotions. Our biggest project resulted in the creation of a school orchard and two traditional healing gardens (which will have informational signs written in Dane Zaa and Cree). This project involved applying for a grant to Tree Canada, seeking community sponsorship, working with Indigenous elders and community members, organizing and meeting with horticulture and permaculture experts in the area, designing and prepping our garden sites, researching and ordering our plants, planting the orchard and garden sites, learning cultural etiquette, planning and organizing a grand opening celebration. This project will continue through the next school year and into the future.
Checking: Student check-in included project summaries and reflections. Below are some of the questions asked and responses.
How did this project change your thinking?
“It changed it by showing me how the time and effort you put into something shows in the end. So I will try to put more of that into things from now on.”
“It changed it by showing me that helping with stuff is good. When you put in good energy you’ll get it back.”
What skills did you need to complete your task?
“I needed to communicate well, continuously check in with everyone about where we were all at and I had to be very organized and do a lot of planning.”
“Creativity and patience”
How did working on this project make you feel?
“Seeing them smile and happy is just the best feeling in the world”
“Better about myself”
“Helping others made me forget about the bad in my own life”
What could be improved?
“Be better organized”
“Better communication, I could have not yelled when I was frustrated”
“More people could have helped”
What did you learn about working with others?
“It is nice to have company”
“People have different things they are good at”
“Sometimes it is hard to work with others”
Watching these students become leaders in the school and community was amazing. Personal growth in students included strengthening community, building communication skills, and developing confidence. This was seen in specific incidences, which include but are certainly not limited to, one student who began with extremely poor attendance and ended with almost perfect attendance, nine students applying for and receiving scholarships, one student feeling confident to apply and enroll in college, one younger student emceeing a public opening with the guidance of an older student. Their efforts were recognized by the larger community, one of our students received the Fort St John Youth Award at the community awards gala, and the Senior Alternate was thanked for their community leadership by the class valedictorian during the Grad Ceremony.
Reflections/Advice: We discovered we are just at the beginning and need to continue our work and learning processes. These are some of the points worth considering. It can be very difficult to give up control, to let students lead and possibly fail. You never know where projects will go, projects can be a huge time and energy commitment. Students are feeling connected to the senior alt. family but still disconnected in the larger community. Moving projects outside Sr Alt, involving other students, will create bonds beyond our walls. Finding ways to include and balance subject areas will allow for more productive use of time. We need more time learning and teaching emotional regulation and conflict resolution.
Staff coordination/collaboration time is difficult to organize. We need to build stronger bonds with our communities and to better access knowledge keepers, elders, motivators, and mentors.