School Name: Smithers Secondary School
School District: SD#54 Bulkley Valley
Inquiry Team Members: Brad Lytle – firstname.lastname@example.org
Katherine Brach – email@example.com
Julie Krall – 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
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Differentiated instruction, Experiential learning, Flexible learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning, Transitions
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Build relationships with students who are vulnerable.
Scanning: Our scanning process began in May and June 2020. We met with grade 7 teams from all of the elementary schools in the district and noticed that there were many students in our incoming grade 8 class that are interested in the outdoors and have positive leadership qualities. We also noticed that grade 7 teachers identified many students that struggled with transitions and executive functioning skills. In addition, some of the learners we discussed at our transition meetings had a high number of absences in grade 7. Many teachers expressed concerns that learners would struggle if they had many classroom teachers and different peer groups throughout the day. Many learners also expressed concerns about not feeling connected to the high school and overwhelmed with the significant amount of change from their elementary schools.
Focus: We recognized the importance of strong connections and relationships between students and staff and the success of learners in secondary school. We hoped that learners would feel supported, understood and connected by working together in a core class with one classroom and one special education assistant. Our hope is that their grade 8 year will be a strong foundation for their high school experience. We hoped that they would attend for their entire grade 8 year and would feel confident entering grade 9 classes. We also hoped that the design of the class would allow for a flexible learning environment where students could explore topics of personal interest inside the classroom and on the land. As a result of this class design, we hoped that learners would feel successful in a structured and well supported classroom and that they could continue to grow their knowledge of our territory and the importance of being in nature. We hoped that learners would take ownership of their learning and would identify the universal and targeted supports that matched their learning styles and preferences.
Hunch: In a typical grade 8 year, students would work with several different teachers and would have a different peer group in each class. Although we try to support students across multiple environments, we were concerned that different routines, expectations, universal supports (including access to technology) and instructional styles would make it difficult for students to navigate through their school day. In addition, many of our learners are active and are skilled in ways that are not always recognized within the walls of a classroom. We were concerned that students may not have opportunities to develop and to explore their unique skill sets and strengths. We were also concerned about the pace of instruction and that students may struggle to stay organized and to keep up with the work / learning in many different environments.
New Professional Learning: To support the learning of our colleagues, we participated in many opportunities for professional dialogue. We implemented a team approach to inquiry learning and executive functioning skills. We participated in learning sessions about competency-based instruction with Leyton Schnellert. We also had the opportunity for cultural professional development by working with a local artist to learn about carving. We learned a lot about the importance of experiential learning and differentiated instruction by making a commitment to be outdoors and to be on the land.
Taking Action: One key strategy was setting dates for outdoor learning activities well in advance. We booked a bus, and if needed, booked spaces so that there was always an activity to plan and prepare for each week; this way, we were able to make arrangements for additional staff members to attend field trips and to gather required supplies in advance. These actions removed barriers and helped make sure that on the land learning and experiential learning remained a focus for this class. Another key strategy that was effective for this class, was identifying activities, such as gymnastics, that students could attend in small groups. These small group outings provided time for fun and also for students who were not connecting with staff in the larger group, to get to know key adults in the building, such as their principal and counsellor.
Checking: One of the results that we are proud of, is the consistent attendance of most of the students in the class. Most of the students in the class said that they feel ready to enter grade 9 classes. We also noticed that most students were able to identify their learning strengths and an area for further focus. Many students were able to identify and to request supports that they feel will make a positive difference for them in grade 9.
Reflections/Advice: We learned that a positive relationship with key adults in the school (classroom teacher, SEA, principal, counsellor) helped students to feel connected and safe in a new school environment.
We are continuing to respond to our students’ strengths and stretches by taking what we have learned, to take apart typical structures and to create unique learning environments for students in grades 9-12. We are changing our school learner support model and providing the option for students to work with one teacher for their core academic classes. We are creating a holistic and integrated class, based on this grade 8 class model, that students in grade 9-12 can elect to take.
We also recognized the positive outcomes for a strength-based approach for many of our learners and would encourage other schools to explore ways to adjust students’ and teachers’ school schedules to provide more opportunities for learners to be in nature.