School Name: Richmond School District
School District: SD#38 Richmond
Inquiry Team Members:Karen Choo: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Eguia: email@example.com
Leanne McColl: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Other: Personal and Social Core Competencies
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), First Peoples Principles of Learning, Indigenous pedagogy, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? As a driving question for this inquiry we asked, “How can having teacher advocates at schools make a difference for students with Aboriginal ancestry?”
Scanning: We scanned for this professional inquiry by considering how best to launch our new Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement which was signed in February, 2017. In order for our district to collectively and effectively work towards the goals of the Agreement, it is essential that as a district, we work on increasing the awareness of, and commitment to the goals of the Agreement. We feel that the impact of our small but mighty Aboriginal Success team can be exponentially multiplied by growing the number of allies amongst our educators across the district.
We also scanned by asking the four questions to students with Aboriginal ancestry. When we interviewed students using the four questions, we noticed that in some cases, especially for secondary students, they were not always able to answer the question: can you name 2 people who believe that you will be a success? It was also evident that students would often name school support staff, for example, office administrators, or custodians, or lunch hour supervisors as their support people, rather than teachers.
Focus: Due to the nature of the dispersal of students with Aboriginal ancestry throughout our school district, it is difficult for our Success Team to be able to maintain a regular presence in the lives of the students. There are some schools with one or only a few students with ancestry, while the school with the greatest number of students with Aboriginal ancestry has only 15 students. In total, we have 45 elementary and secondary schools across the district, and all schools enroll at least one student with Aboriginal ancestry.
Therefore, we thought that it would be beneficial to have Teacher Advocates at schools who enroll students with Aboriginal ancestry.
Hunch: By having a teacher advocate at a school that enrolls students with Aboriginal ancestry, more specifically someone who knows them, and believes in them, and could offer support when necessary, we thought that students would feel greater connectedness to the school and to their education.
As an additional benefit, we also thought that our Aboriginal Success Team members would feel more supported in their roles, more welcomed in the school buildings, and more a part of a school team that is working toward common goals.
New Professional Learning: We consulted the Surrey School district for advice, as they already have people in the roles of Teacher Advocate for students with Aboriginal ancestry in order to understand what this role looks like in other settings.
Taking Action: We put out a district-wide call to enlist volunteers willing to act as teacher advocates at schools in our district, and 2 committed educators stepped forward. Because these positions had never existed previously, we wanted the advocates to be able to define their own roles in ways that made sense to them in their contexts. We met with them to initially brainstorm some possibilities of ways that teacher advocates could engage with students with Aboriginal ancestry. We came up with a list including the following ideas: to provide food, to offer a safe classroom space in which to be, to present information at staff meetings, and to schedule a fun community-building event. As we talked about the project with our teachers, we realized that it was important to communicate information to parents and staff about this inquiry. As we talked through what needed to be explained, it became clear that the name “teacher advocate”, as we had initially termed the role, was not quite what we had in mind. We felt that the role could sound somewhat political or adversarial to other staff members, and could also be somewhat misleading to parents of students with Indigenous ancestry. We worked through many different titles, and felt that we couldn’t come up with a name in English that worked for us. Therefore, we reached out to the Musqueam language education department to see if they could help. They gave us permission to use the word k̓ʷəməyɬəm (meaning “raise a child” in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ ). The idea behind the notion of “raise a child” in the Musqueam nation is that when a child goes through something that requires support, for example, the loss of a parent, the community gathers around the child to collectively raise the child up. We loved the meaning of the word, and the opportunity to honour the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language, and consequently, we attached the word k̓ʷəməyɬəm to both the roles of the teachers, and the project itself. The k̓ʷəməyɬəm teachers then went to their schools to bring the k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher role to life with their students. Throughout the year, we had touch-back meetings with our k̓ʷəməyɬəm teachers, to share with one another, to discuss areas of success and challenge, and to support each other in the work being done.
Checking: In order to see whether we made a difference, we had our participating teachers reflect upon the experience of being a k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher this year. We also consulted our Aboriginal Success Team for their thoughts as to the effects of our actions upon students with Aboriginal ancestry and the wider school community.
From a k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher:
One of the k̓ʷəməyɬəm teachers collaborated with classroom and learning resource teachers to support students with Aboriginal ancestry who were moving to a new school district. The teachers worked with the children on identity projects that they could take with them to their new learning environments to share with their new teachers and classmates. The children were able to creatively express who they are as individuals and who they are as learners in their own voices. It was the hope of the teachers that this would help with their transition to their new places. The same k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher also began to cultivate a relationship with another student by supporting the child in working on a passion project to share with their class. Being student-centred, both the topic and medium was chosen by the child. As a part of the process, the k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher also connected the child with an older student in the school to provide additional help and support. This was an opportunity for the child to make another meaningful connection in the school to expand their peer network. The child shared their completed project with their own class and another class in the school. In terms of the work done by the k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher and other educators involved in the passion projects, they feel that this has made a difference as the projects in both situations provided opportunities for collaboration with classroom and learning resource teachers to intentionally and specifically support students with Aboriginal ancestry. The projects also provided teachers with a way to meaningfully connect with and get to know the children as individuals. Finally, the projects offered the students an opportunity to explore their identities and/or interests, and proudly share who they are while working on and after completion of the projects.
From a k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher:
When I first engaged with this professional inquiry, I was provided with a list of seven names that belonged to the K to Gr. 6 students of my school with Aboriginal ancestry and whom received services from our District’s Aboriginal Success team. As this was a new school to me, I had just transferred from another school district, I did not know the students, nor the Aboriginal Success teachers who spent time with our school’s students, and I was beginning to develop relationships with my new staff.
Over time, the k̓ʷəməyɬəm professional inquiry began to take shape.
At SCC, staff was made aware of the k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher role and how it could hold the potential to honour and continually work towards the goals in the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, especially for our seven students with Aboriginal ancestry. Questions were asked about the role, and why it was necessary, when it was perceived that all of our teachers already supported and cared for our diverse student population. The conversation allowed me to highlight the goals of the agreement, especially the opportunity for students with Aboriginal ancestry to have greater holistic success, and how the role could further bridge our school community with the work and presence of our district’s Aboriginal Success team.
After some conversation, staff was positive and welcoming of the role, but the conversation about the role sparked more reflective questions, such as: what is the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement? who is our Aboriginal Success Teacher? I thought it was Terry, but sometimes I see Sonja? Can they help with weaving in Indigenous ways of knowing into the curriculum? Amongst our large school, 16 divisions and over 400 students, I shared at a staff meeting the online link to the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement and the work being done around the district, highlighted in the “Bannock and Jam” video. I also directed teachers to our District’s Aboriginal Education Teacher Consultants and the Pro-D they offer, and clarified that the k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher role was intended to support students not curriculum implementation. It was apparent that enthusiasm and curiosity was piqued amongst staff, and it was exciting to witness that many were seeking opportunities to deepen their pedagogy towards Indigenous worldviews and the Enhancement Agreement, so much so, that we have decided upon this area as our school’s professional development focus for the next school year.
Due to the growing connections I established with my seven students, I developed open collaborative relationships with their classroom teachers. It was exciting to hear how the student’s connections and learning with the Aboriginal success teacher was playing out in their classrooms. I communicated these authentic connections to their Aboriginal Success teacher, so that we could further support and develop the students’ interests. For example, one classroom teacher shared that their older intermediate student reflected: “This year I learned to love being outside. It’s my happy, calm, peaceful place. I know plant names and I’m learning more about my environment. I learned to be outside with Sonja. It is pure awesomeness! This learning experience has helped me learn more about myself when it comes to my personal social competency and that I can be mindful outside.” Another classroom teacher let me know that her student was “really into plants for some reason.” I advised her that her student was spending time with Sonja identifying plants around our schoolyard. I provided the student and the teacher with related texts and the student led a personal inquiry with a group of friends into Indigenous plants. She also guided her class on an Indigenous plants walking tour. This was phenomenal, as this student was embracing a leadership role, one that was new for her. Furthermore, I connected this student with our school librarian, and now she and her group of friends are publishing a book for our school titled, “Nature-ology.” Other students expressed to me their ideas about attending Aboriginal Success field trips without their friends or peers, and with the classroom teacher and the support worker, we encouraged them to try new experiences outside of their comfort zone. The reflection was that they were glad they did! It has been a privilege to witness these students connecting their time with the Aboriginal Success teachers and who they are, and finding space and voice in their classrooms and growing sense of self.
In this role, I have also helped some of my most vulnerable students. When one student underwent medical hardship, I was able to communicate this to the Aboriginal Success teacher and she was able to inform the family and school community of resources that family could access. The student was also comforted and cared for by all of the school community with her transition back to school. Moreover, the Aboriginal Success teacher was able to attend a school community fundraiser for our student, providing for a regular presence in the lives of our students. Advising the Aboriginal Success teacher of our school calendar and special events also helped in the common goal of supporting our learners.
Since parents of the students of Aboriginal ancestry were also notified of this role via a letter, the parents of the children have also been coming by and making connections with me by sharing family stories and history about ancestral lineage, celebrating the growth of their child, as well as voicing concerns. I listen, and when required, respectfully direct to them to the Aboriginal Success teacher, administrator or school community member who can support them. One parent of a student, even mentioned the role of the k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher during a PAC meeting, having PAC advise our schools’ administration that if any support is ever needed in anyway to further the goals of the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement that the school has their full support.
It is an honour to be a k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher. I happily and passionately care for the seven students at my school. I look forward to supporting and encouraging them throughout their elementary school journey, and hopefully well into high school and beyond. One student has her favourite teacher leaving our school for an opportunity abroad. Already, this student has made plans to visit me next year and we can email her teacher. I am also grateful for the reflexive guidance and support I receive from the Aboriginal Education Department, as I collaboratively work for the success of our young learners.
From our Aboriginal Success Worker:
k̓ʷəməyɬəm is a word that means to raise a child; however that is the best translation we can do in English as it has a much deeper meaning of how someone takes the role of parent to look after a child when needed. In this case, we asked teachers to become this type of person for the student while they are at school. We have seen this from our volunteers this year as they have gone above and beyond to “raise the students” in the best way they know how. One teacher helped two students transition from her school to another, and has cultivated a good relationship with the student she has left at her school. The other teacher has done her best to learn as much as she can about the local First Nation and First Nation Worldviews to prepare herself for this role.
From our Aboriginal Success Teacher:
Having a teacher advocate at a specific school site was beneficial for students in a number of ways. The ‘raise a child’ teacher at my school was able to communicate with the students on a daily/weekly basis and be an ally in the school. The ‘raise a child’ teacher reminded students about upcoming opportunities such as field trips, touched base with parents and followed up with the Success Teacher on current/ongoing areas of concern (e.g. academic, attendance, health, family, etc). As a result of this, one student extended her learning on our plant walks into a small group “naturology” project (a plant book including research and found plant materials from the school site). This project was encouraged and facilitated by the ‘raise a child’ teacher who was able to attend one of our walks, was herself participating in a grant project in the area, and was able to share resource with the students who were interested in learning more. The ‘raise a child’ teacher was also helpful in terms of scheduling student-time with the Aboriginal Success Teacher, notifying potential conflicts, etc. The ‘raise a child’ position would be especially beneficial at a school site with a large number of students with Aboriginal ancestry and/or a location with vulnerable/“at-risk” students.
Reflections/Advice: From this inquiry, we learned that k̓ʷəməyɬəm is a collective endeavour with great potential to do good work. It was a pleasure and an honour to work together for students with Aboriginal ancestry, and their families in our school district. As a professional inquiry team, we found support in one another–learning from one another, sharing our challenges and celebrating our successes. Because this was so new for us, we were pleased and surprised by what unfolded in our professional inquiry. In both schools, we saw the awareness about our Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement grow, and we took more intentional action to work toward the goals. We saw an honouring of Indigenous knowledge and we saw students make valuable connections to people in their schools. Together, as an Aboriginal Success Team and k̓ʷəməyɬəm teachers, we feel that our actions made a difference in the lives of our Aboriginal students.
In terms of advice for other schools with a similar interest, our k̓ʷəməyɬəm teachers were quite unanimous about the need for release time, which unfortunately was in short supply due to the lack of TTOC’s.
From k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher,
A challenge for this role was finding the release time to introduce myself to the students and spend some communal time with Sonja so we could build a supportive community. My administrator was happy to cover my class, but official release time could be helpful. The letters outlining the role by Leanne McColl were also helpful for parents and staff, as well as our meetings, as the role required reflective and reflexive practice.
From a k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher,
One of the biggest challenges experienced by the k̓ʷəməyɬəm teacher was finding time to connect with and work directly with students. Release time during the school day would be helpful and would provide greater opportunities to further develop relationships and support the children.
Moving forward, we would like to expand the k̓ʷəməyɬəm model to more schools, keeping in mind that release time would be very valuable to k̓ʷəməyɬəm teachers, and we would also like to provide some pro-d to teachers willing to take on this role in their schools.