Smithers Secondary School SD#54 Bulkley Valley

School Name: Smithers Secondary School

School District: SD#54 Bulkley Valley

Inquiry Team Members:Jaksun Grice:
Cindy Miller:
Teresa Monkman:
Shirley White:
Inderjit Grewal:
Anne-Marie Findlay:
Trina Zubek:
Jody Garcia:
Jana Fox:

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: AESN Transitions (focus on Indigenous learner transitions)

Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)

Curricular Area(s): Not applicable

Focus Addressed: First Peoples Principles of Learning, Growth mindset, Transitions

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Co-developing a framework to nurture the identity, confidence, and sense of belonging of Indigenous students, as well as to establish and strengthen relationships between all members of the SSS community.

Scanning: From the previous year’s inquiry, we found that many Indigenous students did not feel a sense of belonging at Smithers Secondary School. They also were unable to articulate or were reluctant to embrace their identities. Many students did not feel confident in their skills and capabilities to engage academically in school. We also learned that Indigenous students at SSS valued the authentic relationships and connections the adults in the building established with them.

Focus: The SSS inquiry team chose to focus on establishing and fostering relationships with students. By strengthening students’ sense of belonging, we hope to improve Indigenous student identity and build confidence so that students develop positive, growth mindsets.

Hunch: The student conversations and focus groups revealed that the school needs to continue building and strengthening its inclusive community and culture so all students feel welcome and safe. By co-developing with students, staff and community members a process for all students to explore their identities and sense of belonging, we anticipate a growth in developing an inclusive and equitable school community.

New Professional Learning: During the previous year’s inquiry, we were struck by the learning from Fryberg, Covarrubias, and Burack (2013) in their article, “Cultural models of education and academic performance for Native American and European American students”. The article describes many Indigenous cultures as having an interdependent representation of the self, the view of the self as fundamentally connected to others and to the surrounding context. “In classrooms that foster interdependent representations of self, learning occurs primarily in interactions with others. In these contexts, perceived social support, mentorship, maintaining strong connections to the community, and trusting relationships with teachers positively impact persistence and academic achievement” (p. 442).

We also studied Catherine McGregor’s model of “A Learner Centered Transition Strategy Framework” based on the results of AESN transition inquiries. The ‘being’, ‘belonging’, and ‘becoming’ components are areas we considered in our inquiry work thus far. We wanted to build on these ideas to help us focus on the transitions of the whole student rather than just the academic student.

We learned about the Learning Journey framework developed by a secondary school in Fort St. John, BC. We liked the idea of having a visual that encourages students, staff and community to collaboratively engage in goal setting, transitions planning, and identity exploration. We decided to borrow ideas from the framework to use in our own setting.

Taking Action: We continued our conversations with individual students, but focused on larger group meetings. The Indigenous students who participated in these gatherings became the Student Focus Group. These meetings gave us the opportunity to ask the four key questions for learners, and provided us with direction for how to move forward as a school and inquiry team.

We took steps to co-develop the SSS Learning Journey that would emphasize the articulation and reflection of students’ sense of being and belonging as SSS. We have plans to add “becoming” in the next step. The inquiry team thought a Learning Journey would benefit students in how their cultural and academic self and sense of belonging influences their learning. The document could be a record of their goals and perspectives throughout their time at SSS and we anticipate it would guide the students, as well as their teachers and care takers, to transition successfully in their secondary journey and on to their post-secondary endeavors.

We met with the student focus group several times to share our progress and to gather feedback on the Learning Journey. We also shared our rationale and received feedback from the SSS staff and the district Aboriginal Education Council.

The Being and Belonging pieces of the Learning Journey were completed in April. The inquiry team developed an activity for grade 8 students to complete the Learning Journey with their classroom teacher and two supporting teachers. The Being component encourages students to explore their identity from a cultural and academic perspective, while prompting thinking toward future goals and dreams. The students responded very well to this part of the Learning Journey and were open to sharing their thoughts. The second component focused on Belonging, having students explore experiences that inhibit and promote a sense of belonging as well as having them think about if and how adults believe they can be successful in life. This part was not well-received as the students had difficulty engaging with the process, except for those who had a voice in the document’s development (in the student focus group meetings).

The next steps in action are to re-evaluate the Belonging piece of the Learning Journey to get more engagement from students and staff. We will also develop the Becoming section that will focus on developing the student’s plan to achieve academic and personal goals.

Checking: The inquiry team members have developed very strong and meaningful relationships with several Indigenous students through one-to-one conversations and in some focus group meetings. In these conversations, the students are willing to answer the four questions and are beginning to provide deeper insights into their learning progress and goals. We have seen how these relationships and mentorship roles can help students navigate their social and academic lives, transitioning successfully to their next learning stage. However, our inquiry team is made up of a few educators from a larger staff that are experiencing these wonderful connections and positive outcomes. We realize that the structure of having a few staff members (our inquiry team) intentionally establish trusting relationships and debrief weekly on the process is not a sustainable action to meet the needs of all students and create significant change in school-wide Aboriginal transitions. We are seeking to find more effective strategies to encourage and support all staff to meaningfully establish and maintain trusting relationships with all students.

We hope the Learning Journey will be a vehicle for all students and staff to make meaningful connections. We found that the student focus group was invested in the development of the Learning Journey and, as a result, those students were more engaged in the process of completing it. The larger student body of grade 8s that had no connection to the Learning Journey were less engaged with it. The inquiry team plans to modify the Learning Journey handout/lesson in order to have students and staff take more ownership and be part of the journey.

The inquiry team is hoping to develop a way to have students and staff move to toward an interdependent school culture where we are all responsible for the well-being of ourselves and each other. We are considering some ideas for how to begin and nurture cross-grade relationships. We are looking to borrow ideas such as daily morning meetings to strengthen student and staff relationships.

Reflections/Advice: Our most valuable piece of learning may have been discovering how hugely important the sense of belonging is to the Aboriginal students. Students that were connecting directly with an adult and students that felt they had support in their classrooms, including peers that were their ‘friends’, were much more likely to be attending school and moving forward with their classes. We plan to continue making strong connections.

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