School Name: Walnut Park Elementary
School District: SD#54 Bulkley Valley
Inquiry Team Members: Nicole Davey: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tisha Witt: email@example.com, Stephanie Grice: 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): Not applicable
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Indigenous pedagogy, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? In what way will creating an intentional focus on Indigenous learning and our Indigenous students impact students’ sense of belonging and student success?
Scanning: During our scanning process, we noticed that a significantly larger number of Indigenous students were represented on our vulnerability indexes. In fact, over 60% were struggling in one or more areas. We believe that keeping the needs of our Indigenous learners in mind when we plan as a school and in classrooms will benefit all students, academically and social-emotionally. Our literacy data along with our student learning survey responses gave us key information about how our Indigenous students were doing at our school. While many students felt cared for, many couldn’t name two or more adults who felt they would be a success in life. In addition, our Indigenous students were over-represented in “not yet meeting” for our literacy assessments.
Focus: In April of 2018 our district held its first Indigenous Symposium. The key note speakers told their stories about growing up as an Indigenous student. Themes of racism, isolation and the power of relationships permeated throughout. As a staff, we were inspired to look more closely as what we were doing for our Indigenous students. We wanted to increase their sense of belonging and improve their achievement.
Hunch: Sense of belonging and literacy have been part of our school goal for the last two years. As a school, we were engaged in many activities and initiatives to address our goals; however, we had never had an explicit Indigenous focus. We never asked the question “How are our Indigenous students doing?” As a result, we wanted to look at our school goals through an Indigenous lens. We wondered how this focus would impact our Indigenous learners.
New Professional Learning: We relied on the resource “The Six Cedars” and the expertise of our District Resource Teacher for Aboriginal Education. We had many sessions that allowed us to learn about Indigenous ways of learning and as a school co-planned and co-taught lessons using “The Six Cedars” focusing on using spirit animals to teach the core competencies. We also relied on our Indigenous support staff, local elders and community members. We provided opportunities for staff to engage in learning as a staff, but also in same grade groups and as individuals. They had choice in what they wanted to learn and how they wanted to implement this learning into their class. Admin also provided release time for staff to collaborate.
Taking Action: As a way to have an explicit focus on our Indigenous students and on Indigenous learning, three key ideas emerged:
1.building and strengthening relationships
2. integrating authentic Indigenous content into curriculum
3. making culture visible throughout our school
At the beginning of the year, we decided to organize our school into “learning pods” to develop a closer sense of community. Learning pods were comprised of three or four classes with three or four lead teachers. Throughout the year the learning pods worked together co-planning and co-teaching lessons using “The Six Cedars” as a guide. Each teacher got to know each student; as a result, each student had three or four caring adults in their circle of support.
Teachers collaborated with Jana Fox, our District Resource Teacher of Aboriginal Education ; for example, a team of grade 5 teachers and Jana engaged in a year long inquiry looking at how to deepen student understanding of Indigenous governance. They met throughout the year creating a series of lessons which culminated in a learning feast in Witset. Our early primary learning pod also worked with Jana, focusing on the spirit animal of bear who teaches us about respect and caring for others. They also participated in a “Little Bear” celebration.
As a way to meet specific student needs, we started the “Tuesday Project”. We were worried about some of our intermediate students who were disconnected and disengaged from school. Many of these students were Indigenous. The intention of the Tuesday Project was to create a small group setting where a a caring adult would take them out into the community to connect them to experiences and activities they wanted to do. It was personalized and and student centered. Two groups (one boy and one girl) of 5 or 6 students, met for half a day, once a week, for 6-7 weeks. They worked on a variety of skills (i.e. conflict resolution, stress/ anxiety relief, physical fitness, arts and crafts) in addition to building positive peer relationships and forming a close bond with a caring adult.
As a school, we continued to highlight and celebrate Indigenous culture throughout the school. This included expanding the use of our Indigenous mascot, the wolf, and using it now on our letterhead, website, jerseys and trophies, as well as expanding the visibility of Indigenous art and artifacts throughout the school. We are very proud of our year end assembly which moved away from traditional awards (i.e. academic, athletic) to using the core competencies to celebrate learning. We have used an Indigenous lens, and our awards are more inclusive and diverse and are named after spirit animals (raven, bear, salmon, orca, lynx, wolf, beaver). We also wanted to honour each grade seven student and celebrate them as individuals. We created a slideshow that showcased a strength or skill for each student. We invited them to cross our stage with “dignity, purpose and options”, shaking the hand of each teacher and receiving a wolf paw pin (the wolf is our Indigenous mascot) as a token of appreciation and remembrance.
Checking: Using the same data measures (literacy assessments and student learning surveys), our Indigenous students have all made significant gains. Most noticeably, there was a significant increase in our Indigenous students being able to name 2 or more adults who feel they will be a success in life.
For the Tuesday project, the students involved were all considered vulnerable in some way; as a result, we wanted more specific evidence in order to understand the impact of this program on students’ sense of belonging and achievement. Students were interviewed after their participation in The Tuesday Project. Thirty students in grades 4-7 were involved. Twenty-Six completed the surveys.
• 90% of students identified that two or more adults who believed in them and thought they would be successful (higher than our learning survey average). Stephanie Grice (the SEA who lead the project) was identified as one of these people.
• 90% of students felt that this project allowed them to connect not only to another adult but to their peers, something many of them struggled with in the past.
• 100% of students became more engaged in school because of their involvement with the Tuesday group. Allowing for choice, connecting with the community and doing hands on activities increased student engagement (findings we will share with the staff).
• 80% of students engaged in activities they previously had not been exposed to.
• 100% would like to be part of the Tuesday Project again
• The Tuesday Project helped me learn about how to keep myself fit and healthy.
• The Tuesday Project teaches kids how to socialize and make new friends.
• Even though we have breaks at school for friends, the Tuesday Project brings people together
• I liked the yoga – it helped calm me down
• The Tuesday Project was the only thing I liked at school this year.
• I was able to learn something we don’t learn in school
• I loved that we went off of school grounds. There are lots of places where we can learn.
• I don’t like school – I like hands on learning.
Reflections/Advice: While we are moving in the right direction, I feel that our work is just beginning. It is important that when you are trying to make changes, that you are intentional with your goals and plans of action, and give time and space for professional learning. It is a focus during staff meetings and professional development sessions. Admin provided release time for staff to collaborate. We need to continue to make this a priority, part of our school goal. Teachers are all in different places, but we are all in the canoe paddling together. We are still not confident in our own knowledge of Indigenous learning and need to continue to rely on our team of Indigenous Education staff, elders and community members. We still don’t do this enough. Our goal next year is to build the capacity of our Aboriginal Support Workers and remove some of the barriers preventing teachers from accessing cultural opportunities in their classes.