Silverthorne Elementary School SD#54 Bulkley Valley

By September 17, 20192018-2019 Case Study

School Name: Silverthorne Elementary School

School District: SD#54 Bulkley Valley

Inquiry Team and all school staff

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Indigenous pedagogy

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Will weaving Witsuwi’ten Traditional Ecological Knowledge school-wide throughout the year increase indigenous students’ achievement?

Scanning: As a staff, we debriefed our goal and strategies from last year and saw that the environment of our whole school had been positively impacted by increasing our understanding and explorations of Witsuwit’en culture. The staff and students all embraced the learning in many ways and as a result we saw improved relationships with many of our Indigenous students and families. All of the teachers reported in their case studies that they had formed a close and trusting relationship with their case study student through culture. While debriefing our student survey and interview data from last year, we noticed that many of our students said that they continue to want more opportunities to learn about aboriginal culture, and in a more hands-on, active manner. The interviews and survey results showed that our students felt secure in the school, and that they valued learning about Witsuwit’en culture and wanted to learn more. The interviews and case studies also showed that the students could name several adults who cared about them and what those people did that allowed the students to know that. Our interviews also showed that although the students are enjoying school, they are still not taking full ownership of their learning and of how they learn best. This knowledge will help us to set our school goal in September.

Focus: We focused on this area because our Indigenous students were not doing as well academically as our overall population. Many of the students also had poor attendance, and negative attitudes toward learning. We were hoping that by increasing our school-wide emphasis on recognizing and celebrating Witsuwit’en culture, our Indigenous students would have increased feelings of pride, acceptance and belonging which would lead to stronger relationships and an increased ownership of their learning.

Hunch: Increasing our school-wide emphasis on recognizing and celebrating Witsuwit’en culture will increase aboriginal students’ feelings of pride, acceptance and belonging which are necessary components of academic success. We recognized that nearly half of our students are Indigenous and that the school was not embracing this and was not leading learning in this area. As many of our students are in care, we also wanted to provide those students a way to connect with their new surrounding through an identifiable means to them. Although our students are all living off-reserve and are from different nations, the Witsuwit’en culture present in our school allows for a way to connect when they come to our school.

New Professional Learning: We explored the Truth and Reconciliation documents and resources. We learned how to drum and sing a Tlingit song. We continued to learn about Witsuwit’en TEK from resources such as the Witsuwit’en textbook and local elders and cultural advisors. We learned new Witsuwit’en language from Doris our language teacher.

Taking Action: Partnership with Wild BC and an increase in time spent outdoors on the land.
•Bear awareness sessions
• Drumming for all interested students – K-7 – we also had celebrations of drumming where all of our different groups including staff performed.
• Staff drumming group – we learned and practiced a Tlingit song and presented it to the students at an assembly.
• School-Wide project – A ‘wave of nature’ that reflects the stories about TEK in our area. Each project will connect to the core competencies and be derived from sketch notes. This project is now a wooden mural that spans the entire front fence of our school and culminates all of the learning we did this year.
• Witsuwit’en Guest speakers on topics related to the land and stories of the land.
• School-wide, year-long framework of Witsuwit’en Traditional Ecological knowledge.
• All Clans drumming song for the whole school to perform at the beginning of assemblies. (Mel Basil)
• Each teacher planned learning and activities that stem from our framework and include outdoor experiences on the land, writing, reading, mathematics, Calls to Action, stories and hands-on learning.
• TEK specific Witsuwit’en language with Auntie Doris for each season introduced to the school and practiced at weekly assemblies
• School-wide TEK day in fall, winter and spring.
• Orange Shirt Day – Assembly and Cree Dancer Kelsy Abram.

Checking: Each teacher chose an at-risk student in their class as a case study. The teachers tracked what TEK methods and interventions were used in the class and with that student, and tracked their growth in reading and writing. The case studies show that the students had stronger connections to their classrooms, their learning and to the school. They all showed improvement with their reading and writing from the beginning to the end of the school year.
We also had an increase in involvement from the overall school population in drumming. Our final interviews of the year showed that we are making progress with having our students more strongly connected to the school and to the adults and many students even articulated that the culture of the school is why they come to school and that it is important for everyone.

Reflections/Advice: We learned that staff need to be willing to take risks to learn and incorporate Witsuwit’en culture throughout our school. Staff are modelling taking risks such as learning to drum and perform, embracing difficult topics through the Calls to Action and we are all showing that we value learning about Witsuwit’en culture. We are spending much more time outdoors on the land which is benefitting all of the students and staff in the school. Our advice would be to work together and learn from each other whenever possible to help scaffold the changes that some staff find intimidating. For example, some of our teachers were nervous about taking their classes outdoors, so we talked about what needed to happen to have a safe and positive learning experience outside, and then a more experienced teacher who was feeling comfortable learning out on the land would invite the other class to join them. Through these partnerships, new staff leaders came to be, and they are now able to help our new teachers on staff. We are building capacity in this area by working as a team.

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