School Name: Royal Heights Elementary
School District: SD#36 Surrey
Inquiry Team Members: Johnny Zvi: firstname.lastname@example.org
Melissa Cho: email@example.com
Vanessa Sauer: 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, Language Arts – Writing, Physical & Health Education
Focus Addressed: Community-based learning, Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Flexible learning, Growth mindset, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus was on honouring the Land and nature through place-based and experiential learning.
Scanning: Following the FPPL and employing cognitive tools of Imaginative Ecological Education encouraged our learners and all of us to open our hearts to new experiences. Their deep connection to the Land and Place they are working with, and on, allowed us all to develop a deep sense of care and respect. We observed that our classroom community enjoyed being outside and gardening, and we knew that we wanted to take it to a deeper level so that they would value having the opportunity to help and take care of the land. We also observed that many students were more interested in video games and technology used indoors than connecting with the Land, and this helped guide our focus.
Focus: We hope to foster a deeper and more meaningful understanding of Indigenous Peoples to whom this Land belongs, in order to help reconcile with the Land and her People.
The impact of this work was far larger than we could have imagined. The learners and I embraced and engaged with the teachings in many ways. As their teachers, we learned that these opportunities supported the FPPL, in which education should support the well-being of the self, the community and land. This lesson allowed my learners and I to continue to grow an appreciative respect for this Place and all that it provides us. Doing this work allowed me to see the importance of guiding learners rather than telling. Students were able to come to their own conclusions and make informed decisions organically, based on their own judgements and evidence that they brought forward. This process occurred naturally, as they continued to learn more about invasive species.
From our own lived experience from doing our Masters of Education in Nature-Based and Place-Conscious Learning practices, we began to understand the value and importance of honouring the land as the first step toward reconciliation with the land and her people, and we knew that we wanted to bring these experiences to our students. On Mondays we sing “The Four Directions Song”, and on Fridays we sing “The Heartbeat Song”. Both songs and the making of the drum had been gifted to us through Lekeyten, a generous teacher from Kwantlen Nation. The students understand the importance of Drum amongst many Coast Salish Peoples and demonstrate a great appreciation toward our drum which was made from cow hide. This work is important and energizing. We understand Drum is ‘sacred’, and the songs we sing are ‘medicine’. Our gatherings with Cedar naturally began to extend, and this time and Place became a safe space for us to try new things.
Hunch: We had some hunches about our own practices. Did we take them outdoors enough? Were we willing to take risks in our teaching practices and try knew things? How could they possibly be meaningfully connected to Land when most of our learning was being held inside the physical walls of our classroom. We believed we needed to create authentic routines and experiences that were honouring Indigenous ways of learning.
New Professional Learning: We borrowed books from ARC about Cedar and Indigenous teachings, and students began to volunteer to teach the group about Cedar from the resources provided. We learned about the uses of Cedar and a process called “Cedar Brushing” — involving thinking about different ways to show gratitude before harvesting cedar. In our classroom, we hung a Cedar bough above the door as a reminder to practice making choices which kept our classroom positive — cleansing any negative thoughts, feelings or behaviours. Other times, during our Cedar visits, we kept intentionally unstructured. Some students simply explained what they saw and their thought process about something they wondered about. The deepest moments of inquiry were those times that we simply wondered and imagined about what was here in this Place long ago.
We shared our new learnings with staff in the staff room and at staff meetings, in order to keep the conversation going and alive in order to inspire others on staff.
Taking Action: A significant component to building a strong community is creating a routine and practicing it together. As a place-based school, our goal was to find ways to connect not only with each other, but with Place. At Royal Heights we have a motto which states, “reaching great heights by honouring deep roots”. It just so happens that we have two beautiful Red Cedars in separate locations on our school grounds, with visible roots reaching high to the sky — a perfect vantage point for several birds. With each Cedar on opposing sides of the school, students often wonder about the relationship between the two trees, wondering for instance if the two trees could communicate. Different students were drawn to the different trees, feeling more connected to a specific Cedar for their own special reasons. For us, these two Cedars evoked strong emotions and challenged our imaginations. Our two living and breathing Cedars provided experiences full of different opportunities for all students.
Following the big idea of the Four Rs (Respect, Responsibility, Relevance and Reciprocity), this special circle time allows us to practice protocols that we have learned from Indigenous Elders. We create our own expectations and build on the foundational knowledge we hold with gratitude. Firstly, we always ensure that Cedar is included in our circle. This small gesture brings the Cedar to life for many students. Cedar teaches us to be more mindful of those non-human entities around us, even in urban settings. We gather, rain or shine, to do our morning work of honouring Place. We always begin with a land acknowledgement and provide opportunities for our students to lead. Following the land acknowledgements, we sing a song together to the beat of a sacred drum. The songs and the drum offer opportunities for students, such as learning how to carry the drum to Cedar with respect and following a previously learned protocol of warming the drum before we sing. We also had students wanting to begin the song for the whole group and through these small gestures, we noticed many students taking responsibility and gaining a great deal of confidence.
Checking: Every Monday and Friday morning at 9:00 am, Divisions 6 and 7 gather in a circle to honour the land beneath our feet, our Place which holds us up and our ancestors, those who were here before us. Our goal for integrating this routine into our weekly schedule is to continue with our outdoor commitment to learning with nature as co-teacher. Our gatherings were meant to begin and end our week with a sense of strong heart and mind, feeling connected to each other and connected to our Place. These two Cedars which we have learned to refer to as “Trees of Life”, have guided our learning, and our morning gatherings have had significant and authentic impacts for both students and teachers.
Students also served the Land by participating several times in the removal of an invasive species. The moments they spent together removing the invasive species is not about being praised for their hard work, but rather the feeling of community and sense of Place.
We were satisfied with the outcomes of our new ways of learning with our students. The students demonstrated a deeper, richer connection to Land and see her as a priority. Our teaching has evolved and we look forward to exploring new depths next school year.
Reflections/Advice: The main thing we all learned is that it is important to try and not be scared of making mistakes. We recognize that we are coming into this with the best of intentions of honouring and respecting Indigenous Principles and ways of being, and it is up to us as teachers to pass on this information to our students and colleagues in a respectful and honouring way. We realized that we must try and we cannot shy away because we may make a mistake.
We plan on continuing to learn and grow alongside our community, and hope to continue to build deeper connections and understanding with the Land and her People.