Walnut Park Elementary SD#54 Bulkley Valley

School Name: Walnut Park Elementary

School District: SD#54 Bulkley Valley

Inquiry Team Members:Michelle Sasvari: msasvari@sd54.bc.ca
Mary Neto: mary.neto@sd54.bc.ca
Jana Fox: jfox@sd54.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: msasvari@sd54.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: AESN (focus on Indigenous learners or Indigenous understandings)

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

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Social Studies

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

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Integrating the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning, primarily through the lens of Witsuwit’en culture, to develop community and a sense of belonging.

Scanning: The four questions were asked to a cross section of students one-on-one. Stronger academic students who present as having a strong sense of self and who easily interact with many others were able to answer the questions more easily than those who struggle academically or have social difficulties. One student’s response was particularly noted. Even though a previous teacher had spoke of believing in the child, the child did not believe the teacher was sincere. Through various class activities, it was also noted that many students seemed unwilling to engage in partner work with students outside of their friendship group. Indicators were facial expressions, eye rolling, body language, and comments.

Focus: We thought it was important to focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning because of what we were seeing in students. A greater understanding and compassion for self and others is an important part of developing community and a sense of belonging. Developing an understanding that every step, whisper, and action is tied into others… that we are apart, yet together in all things.

Hunch: We had a hunch that focusing on the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning, primarily through the lens of Witsuwit’en culture, would develop community and a sense of belonging. We believe that developing compassionate understanding and acceptance for cultural variance is an essential part of students being able to know themselves in a way that respects the interconnectedness of all.

New Professional Learning: We accessed Witsuwit’en elders and resources through our school ASSET worker as well as our District Teacher for Culture and Curriculum. I looked at other inquiries with similar goals or processes and researched readings on how students develop a sense of belonging as well as a sense of belonging for Aboriginal learners.
Some interesting and Relevant Readings
*Creating Belonging for Aboriginal Learners in Elementary Schools
*A Narrative Inquiry into Aboriginal Youth and Families’ Experiences of Belonging as Interwoven with Identity Making

Taking Action: Intergenerational roles, family, community, and connectedness are part of the First Peoples Principles of Learning. To reflect these ideas, we invited families to join us before the Christmas concert for tea. We had a good turn out and parents commented how much they enjoyed and appreciated it. In March, we had a pizza night. Many families attended again and expressed appreciation for the opportunity to come together at school.
We had Witsuwit’en guests come each term. Our topics were storytelling, language games, art, trapping, plant uses, and Witsuwit’en connections to nature. Our guests’ stories were interwoven with a theme of respect.
First term, I used as many Witsuwit’en words and phrases in our class as possible. The students were keen and we were on a role. We still use Witsuwit’en words, but not as often as before.
Our District Teacher for Culture and Curriculum came to our class to share First Peoples perspectives in Science on several occasions. Our Asset worker and I planned weekly teachings and sharings through most of the year. Sometimes it was to have a Witsuwit’en perspective as we unravelled Social Studies and Science topics and sometimes it was specific to Witsuwit’en ways. We sometimes postponed plans so we could be responsive to our learners’ needs; this often involved the sharing of teaching stories by our ASSET worker. I feel having our ASSET worker be part of our community on a regular basis in a reflexive and reflective role helped created a sense of community and connectedness for our students.

Checking: I surveyed students in December and again in May. Students were asked “Who would you be willing to work with?” Each student was given a class list to highlight names. Students’ privacy was ensured through alternate seating choices or privacy screens. Most students expanded the number of students they are willing to work with and the majority of students received more checks indicating that others are willing to work with them. Although some students are still not comfortable working with many others, there was a positive shift in the classroom level of acceptance to work with classmates. Overall within the class, there is more positive body language and significantly fewer negative comments.
I recently asked all my students the Four Key Questions That Matter. They recorded their responses privately. Most students were able to answer all questions. As a follow up, I had individual discussions with a few of the students who felt they did not belong or sort of belonged. Two students seemed to be having a hard day overall. Another student said he did not feel like he belonged because he often did not really want to do school work… it was different than going to somewhere like the bike park.

Reflections/Advice: Involving food and informal gatherings was very positive. Something to be continued. I connected with parents who do not often come to the school to see if there was anything I could do to facilitate their participation in our gatherings. For one family, it was needing transportation; our ASSET worker helped me resolve this so the family was able to participate in our next gathering. Some parents still seem reluctant and uncomfortable. It is my goal to create more opportunities for informal connections which hopefully convey acceptance and welcoming to all. Generally, students whose parents are not frequently at school seemed to have an increased sense of pride and pleasure when sharing this big part of their life with their parent.
After scanning and reflection, I have also decided to focus on continuing the conversation with students… not just once or twice formally, but ask them to help create a means to check in with how we are doing. What does belonging mean to you? What can we do to help others feel included and cared about? How and how often should we check in to see our progress in this area? I will also continue to poll my students on where they would like to go next with their Witsuwit’en learning.
Our Witsuwit’en elders, knowledge keepers, and other Wituwit’en guests helped bring understanding to students in an engaging way. I will continue to use these resourceful people. I hope to collaborate more with our school ASSET worker as well.
Advice? Use food (it does not have to be costly) as a means of bringing people together and connect early and often with parents.

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