School Name: Pemberton Secondary School
School District: SD#48 Sea to Sky
Inquiry Team Members: Steve Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brittani Peters: email@example.com
Kat Ast: firstname.lastname@example.org
Emma Mullings: email@example.com
Nina Jacobson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bri Aldcroft: email@example.com
Jodie Petruzzellis: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE Transitions (focus on Indigenous learner transitions)
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies, Other: Indigenous Leadership
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Differentiated instruction, Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Flexible learning, Formative assessment, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning, STEM / STEAM, Transitions, Universal design for learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Addressing student transitions across grades 7-12, as a catalyst to begin decolonizing education in our community. This year, this involved addressing these key areas: 1) Teacher collaboration to support Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and being; 2) Building relationships and strengthening belonging for students through Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and being; and 3) Building community connections through strengthening relationships with Lil’wat and Stʼatʼimc Nation families.
Scanning: During this past unique year working around Covid protocols, the bulk of this work has been done in the context of the grade 8/9 classes and with the powerful voices from students in the Indigenous Leadership program. We also managed to push some of this work into one of the grade 10 math classes, and worked with Signal Hill Elementary for some intentional changes to the grade 7 student transition. Based on our scanning in these different settings, we gained insight into the four questions. One key realization we had in regards to the attachment and connection of Indigenous leaders at PSS, is that they can typically identify several staff in the building that believe in them. However, often these staff are not all enrolling teachers and might not necessarily be the student’s current teacher. For example, a student might feel connected to both of the Indigenous Support Workers and an Education Assistant, but feel disconnected from their current teachers. Or, they might feel really connected to their grade 8/9 teacher and the VP, but be struggling in their transition to grade 10. This led us to reflect on how to build connections in our school and how this connects to staffing. Our scanning process was heavily impacted this year by the work that was pushed by the students in the Indigenous Leadership class. The theme they explored this year was around unpacking racism and building a more vocal and inclusive presence for Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and being at our school. It was powerful to have this inquiry project stem from this focal point, and a real privilege to have been a part of the process. It feels like we began to scratch the surface to see the potential path ahead, and how it can be a catalyst of wider systemic change.
Focus: Based on these observations from the Scanning Process, we are aware of the continued existence of some systemic divisions in our school. This is emblematic of the wider community and the entire country as well. As participants in a racist system, we feel as though the work as educators is to identify and begin the complicated journey of unpacking colonial structures. In doing so, we can have a positive impact on the Indigenous Learners at this school, while also benefiting the education for all of our students simultaneously. It has been powerful this year witnessing students in grades 11 and 12 begin to notice some of these subtle shifts. Breaking down systemic barriers has and will continue to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for our whole school, that is far more meaningful to learn and teach in.
Being part of the public school system, which operates as a part of the provincial government and is controlled largely by staff of settler heritage, it is necessary for us to work at unpacking our positionality. First Nations which run schools such as XCS (Lil’wat Nation) are in a position to indigenize, as they are controlled and led by Indigenous people. As an institution, SD 48 will focus on decolonizing. In doing so, we will address colonial power structures and narratives in relation to our teaching practice, course schedule, schedule, etc. This is a messy, challenging, and long process. As has been repeatedly communicated by the First Nations Education Steering Committee, there is a great moral imperative in doing this work. It will ultimately benefit all of our students.
Hunch: There are a great many hunches that we came to in reflection of our learning from this year. They all connect, however, to an overall realization that the students that we work with experience several different complicated transitions throughout their education (i.e. Elementary School to the PSS Middle School, Middle School to the PSS Secondary School, and then on to their post-secondary path). Within this, however, there are multiple other transitions such as between French Immersion/English, the grade 10 Outdoor Education Program, movement between XCS (Lil’wat Nation School), and the impact of streaming that takes place across Math, Science and Social Studies in grade 10-12. As students move through these many transitions, there are barriers that Indigenous students specifically experience that are systemic in nature. In some cases this can lead to disconnection and disengagement as students move through the senior grades. This ultimately impacts the desired outcome that all students will finish grade 12 with dignity, purpose and options. We have identified numerous opportunities within these transitions to address these barriers and have managed to tackle some of them. Over the past 3 years we have been actively addressing the transition from grade 7, and through the grade 8/9 Middle School Program. Pushing this momentum into the grade 10-12 program is proving to be far more challenging. This is connected to a variety of factors, such as the impact of different programs of choice to enrich learning, but also promote streaming. The students also typically shift to working with an almost completely different staff team than they had in grades 8/9. Across these barriers and amongst others we have identified the impact of “prestige” as a being a major factor. At the NOIIE conference this year, Dr. Amelia Peterson talked about the importance of recognizing prestige as a barrier to inclusion. Prestige refers to the way that we view certain careers, schools, and courses as higher values than others. For example, we think of math and sciences as more prestigious than arts and humanities. Exclusive entry supports prestige.
In unpacking these hierarchies we noticed that students finish school with different tickets. There is nothing in the new curriculum that supports certain courses to be exclusive, and yet we see this happening on the ground. Programs such as academic courses can have barriers to entry and success. This can be mitigated by fully implementing the new competency based curriculum, but we still have some ways to go with this. The timetable can be a barrier at a small school. Programs like the outdoor education program are awesome, but also exclusive and can drive the time table (there’s a financial piece and an application process). We notice similar structures existing in senior Math, Science, Social Studies and French Immersion courses.
New Professional Learning: This past year we participated in a variety of professional learning opportunities; some of these were formally structured events, and others were more collaborative and informal. As is so typically the case, it was the more collaborative and informal experiences that proved to be the most powerful. The list below is a sample of these experiences and represent things that various staff on our team participated in. We unfortunately did not all have these experiences, but we were able to collaborate and reflect on the collective learning together.
1) Working with Carol Fullerton on increasing the inclusion in numeracy education
2) Afternoon with Edwin Bikadi from the Lil’wat Nation. This session was focused on land-based education for a small group of staff, with the emphasis on an ancient St’at’imc village site. It also involved the unpacking of collective trauma from the small pox epidemic in the late 19th Century and how that can guide us in our work to decolonize education today. I cannot understate the power of this experience.
3) Ongoing learning through the Indigenous Leadership Program at PSS and across the district. This specifically included the 24 Hour Drum event that took place in a remote Covid friendly manner this year.
4) Reviewed the work of Monique Grey Smith.
5) Planned and participated in a school wide workshop on decolonizing education — guided by the resource Decolonize First, by Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee.
6) Followed up with staff book club discussion on the same resource — Decolonize First, by Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee.
7) Separate (but connected) Inquiry Project on Decolonize Education, that specifically looked at STEM (at PSS).
8) Ongoing Middle School staff team collaborative teaching model to deepen decolonization.
9) Mentorship from Indigenous Support Staff, Brittani and Larissa.
10) Attendance in the NOIIE Conference 2021.
Taking Action: The following actions proved to have desired impacts on facilitating the desired areas of change to support Indigenous student transitions:
1) Working continuously on collaborative teaching across grades 8/9
2) Facilitating further inclusion in math education by removing math 10 AW, thus increasing student options
3) Increasing the visibility and position of the Indigenous Leadership Program, to push against systemic racism and provide an empowering voice in the school and community
4) Launch a cross-curricular Indigenous Studies class that is attractive to all students of diverse learning needs (offered next school year)
5) Incorporate experiential education and learning on the land as much as possible — this was not necessarily always in a very planned way, but often very subtle so as to be also more universally accessible
6) Increase the staff understanding and use of the role and knowledge of the Indigenous Support Working staff to support students
7) Arranging more intentional communication and staff visits between Signal Hill Elementary and PSS, to ease the transition for students into grade 8
Checking: We gained some really powerful feedback this year in talking to some grade 11s and 12s that were cognoscente of the shifts that had been happening over the past couple years. This aligned with what we were also beginning to see this year. Some specific markers included increased student participation in senior math and physics, increased participation and exposure of the Indigenous Leadership program, increased connection and student integration in grade 8/9, and students anecdotally sharing increased feelings of attachment and connection to staff in the building. However, we are aware that we have only just begun and that the actions we have taken have merely been a scratching of the surface of what is possible and morally imperative. As happens in the inquiry process, these successes have led to better articulation of the other challenges that we had not yet really noticed. We are very much not satisfied with this work — this is why we hope to continue this path for another 3 years to further catalyze change within our school.
Reflections/Advice: The following is a list of some of our preliminary plans to continue our work next year and beyond:
1) Strengthen student transitions between Signal Hill Elementary, XCS and PSS. We began teacher visits this year and strengthened other systems, such as student tours, and hope to push this bigger next year. This will be facilitated by our former principal moving to Signal Hill, along with another staff member. We also began using the Indigenous Leadership Program to bridge these schools to positive effect. We hope to further expand this next year.
2) Further strengthen the role of the Indigenous Leadership program in the school.
3) Build up and ensure that a Land-based Indigenous Studies class operates along with the Indigenous Language class (Ucwalmicwts).
4) Push the increased math inclusion from grade 10 into grades 11 and 12.
5) Expand teacher collaboration in grades 8/9, while also bringing in more teachers across all grades.
6) Push the changes in inclusion that began in math into other areas including outdoor education, science and social studies. This would involve breaking down prestige that serves as a barrier to inclusion.
7) Integrate staff that have predominantly been involved in the new grade 8/9 program into grades 10-12; this will ensure a continuity of care amongst the students as they transition, and also help to facilitate increased inclusion and connection in the senior grades.