Spiraling Out – Building Connections in the Northwest Territories

By March 25, 2015AESN

Judy and Linda are currently in New Zealand, working with a number of school teams to implement the Spiral of Inquiry in their local settings (you can learn more about this work at this year’s NOII Symposium). In speaking with Judy this week, she aptly noted that the Network is ‘spiraling out’ – bringing the action research and experience from BC schools to others around the world, as well learning from different teaching and learning contexts on a global scale. This really adds so much to our collective experience.
The Networks have been ‘spiraling out’ for quite some time now.  Recently we shared how a school in Chile has been working the Spiral to increase reading joy and comprehension with their students. Now we’re happy to share that Chief Paul Niditchie School (CPNS) is the first from the Northwest Territories to join the AESN, led by Tara Zuk, who is now working at CPNS after having been an active Network member in Hartley Bay. 
Chief Paul Niditchie School is located in the small community of Tsiigehtchic, situated in the Arctic Circle just south of Inuvik, where the Arctic Red River meets the Mackenzie River. The community is accessible by ferry during the summer, ice bridge during the winter, and is then ‘cut off’ twice a year for the periods in between. The school has about 25 students ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 9, all of whom are Aboriginal, mostly Gwichya Gwich’in. Their sometimes isolated, small community makes for a unique learning environment.
The small staff at CNPS has chosen to actively engage with the Spiral this year, as their case study clearly outlines. Working through the scanning phase of the Spiral, the inquiry team – through observation and discussions with teachers, Elders, parents and students – determined the need to build resiliency and social emotional development among their community of learners. In focusing their inquiry, they are using the frame of the current health curriculum to address some key areas for skill building for their students, including being able to recognize abusive behaviour/language, building strong and healthy relationships, building skills to deal with conflict resolution and developing mindful leadership. 
It’s really worth reading through the school’s case study to see how layers of learning, and re-learning, and building partnerships with parents, Elders, local health care providers and government, have allowed the CNPS team to conscientiously develop strategies for taking action around their inquiry this year. As Tara states “our research is building upon skill-based education; teaching life-long skills that are transferable, developing emotional resilience, and creating mindful leaders and citizens.”

The process of inquiry, particularly in the beginning, and particularly in a new setting, takes patience and fortitude.  But the rewards of such effort – of being committed to continually ‘checking-in’ as a means of understanding the impact of actions taken and being open to change course when necessary – are well worth the extra investment.  This is demonstrated by what the CNPS team documents through the learning phase of the Spiral:

“We felt the teachers needed to better understand the experiences and expectations of the community – the history, culture, background, triumphs and traumas of the community build a strong picture….We felt strongly that teacher learning and understanding needed to bridge the gap – to directly match the needs of the students.” 
As such, one of the CNPS strategies was to create a student council – both to develop leadership skills as well as take a collaborate approach to goal setting around their inquiry. Their success around this was featured in their local newspaper. They will also develop resources for delivering an adaptation of the “Respect Yourself” curriculum, including teaching the Dene Kede in collaboration with Elders, and teaching the history of residential schools. They plan to develop an art club as a means of emotional therapy, and start incorporating more extra-curricular options after school for developing physical health and relaxation.
The CNPS team continues to learn through their action research, and incorporate new strategies as they move throughout the year.  As Tara puts so nicely “this is an ongoing process that will surely continue to spiral back upon itself, constantly raising new questions and approaches.”  Spiraling out, indeed.  

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