School Name: Wellington Secondary School
School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith
Inquiry Team Members: Dawn Holdom: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Dang: email@example.com
Jaime Stephens: firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Davidson: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: Andrea.Davidson@sd68.bc.ca
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Language Arts – Oral Language, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Indigenous understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus is on how Indigenous understandings can better provide students with opportunities to further their connection to each other and to the land, as well as their sense of place within the community.
Scanning: Wellington Secondary has a very intentional focus on fostering a strong sense of belonging and connectedness. The teaching and support staff are very attuned to the importance of building strong, positive relationships (teacher-student relationships and student-student relationships) in order to maximize each student’s willingness to take risks in a safe place in order to learn and grow. The teaching and support staff honour the importance of emotions and social connections in the learning environment. Our focus for the year was grounded in the FPPOL that learning is reflective, reflexive, experiential and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place). With this in mind, we wanted to collect student voices to see if what we value in a healthy learning environment is reflected in students’ perceptions of their experiences in the school.
In our scanning process in the 2019/20 school year, we saw what we believed to be the majority of our students connected to the school community and to each other. However, we wanted to dig deeper and know more by identifying where we can improve what we do, to better meet the social-emotional and educational needs of all of our students. As a starting place for gathering data for this school year, we conducted an on-line survey for our grade 8 and 9 students to gather student voices around their sense of belonging in the school and their connectedness to their community and to each other. We were set to conduct a student survey toward the end of last school year, but then COVID shut us down. We were set to conduct the survey earlier in this school year, but our first exposure event led to a decrease in attendance. When we were in the best place to conduct the survey in a year shared with a pandemic, we did so, which was in January 2021.
The survey included questions about sense of belonging, positive connections to adults, healthy connections to peers, and levels of engagement in learning. We learned from the survey that students generally feel safe and connected at Wellington, but conducting the survey in a pandemic year did not give us a fully accurate picture. While we suspected that there are some students who do not feel connected to school or to their peers, the survey gave us hard data on this reality. We also surveyed the parent/guardian/caregiver community, and their responses were very closely aligned with the students’ responses.
Focus: We selected an emphasis on belonging and connection because we believe that students will find greater success and enjoyment in school when they have a strong sense of belonging and connectedness. We also chose this area for our focus because we have acknowledged as a staff that we have room to grow when it comes to integrating Indigenous ways of knowing and doing. There is a natural and powerful way to connect experiential, place-based learning with Indigenous pedagogy and community building. We also know that mental wellness is connected to a strong sense of belonging and connectedness. Wellington staff promote opportunities for belonging and connectedness, and it is a strong part of our school’s culture.
From the survey, we learned that students are missing active learning, amplified considerably during the pandemic, whether that is through extra-curricular sports and clubs or through experiential learning and group-related activities. As part of ongoing development of an outdoor education program at Wellington, we looked for ways to connect Indigenous pedagogy with place-based learning. Through our Learning Leader Team, we identified a need to foster strong and positive social connections amongst our Grade 8s especially, as part of their transition into the high school setting. As such, we added a rotation in the Grade 8 program where every student is introduced to Healthy Living and Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Doing. This rotation is being introduced in the upcoming school year.
Hunch: Wellington Secondary prides itself on being a caring learning community. There is acknowledgement that teaching practices at Wellington have followed a traditional trajectory. The staff are open to learning and growing; there is a willingness to always look for ways to explore new ways of doing things. With this in mind, the question was asked if we are successful in making the connections we hope for our students. We have more than a hunch that there are students who do not feel connected and we want to find ways to reach them. We have more than a hunch that embedding Indigenous pedagogy paired with place-based, land-based learning will help to build those connections. We have more than a hunch that continuing to focus on healthy peer-to-peer relationships and adult-to-student relationships will increase student satisfaction and success.
New Professional Learning: We have had the opportunity to dive into some pretty powerful professional learning this year. Ensouling Our Schools, Street Data, We are Crew, and Dive Into Inquiry are all resources that were distributed amongst our Learning Leaders. The district arranged for on-line sessions with Trevor McKenzie, Shane Safir and Jennifer Katz, all of which were powerful and added to our foundation of good work. We continued to have discussions around trauma-informed practice and we began the ongoing, and sometimes difficult, discussions around systemic racism. We responded to the world and local events with some time for reflecting on our personal and professional circumstances. What we began this year will continue into next year and beyond. The pandemic impacted our ability to accomplish what we set out to do and we are committed to taking this forward with energy and intention in the next school year.
Taking Action: The survey was one way we took action, although we do not feel we captured a fulsome picture of how students truly feel. Conducting a survey part way through a pandemic year with so many restrictions on what would be “normal” was not the best decision. Using ideas from Street Data by Shane Safir, we will collect authentic student voices in the upcoming school year.
In addition to the survey, field studies to local places that were complemented by Indigenous oral histories connected our students to the land in a more meaningful way. The district has resident Elders, and every Friday we had Uncle George join our classes via Teams to share local oral histories and narratives. Our Climate Action Club established a food forest with local plants and trees and connected the learning to Indigenous knowledge. Our English Department Learning Leader and our Teacher-Librarian culled the collection and replaced outdated materials with culturally diverse and appropriate resources.
We really feel that this year was a year to scan and try, with the upcoming school year being one where we will be able to make an even greater difference.
- We are expanding our Outdoor Education Program for next year, with a seamless integration of Indigenous understandings embedded into the learning.
- With the quarter system, we immediately noticed that students who had some aspect of physical education as part of their day were better able to regulate and learn.
- With the cohort model, we found that our junior students, who spent all day together all year in the same group, may not have fully developed their social skills for a secondary setting.
- We will be very intentional with building community and empathy with our incoming Grade 8s next year. We are bringing back our Wildcat Camp which was sidelined by COVID, with an emphasis on building connections with adults and peers within the first two weeks of school.
- We will be gathering student voices again this upcoming year, using Street Data as a guide, so that we can expand the ways we are fostering a healthy school community.
- We will learn and grow in the area of seamless integration of Indigenous understandings in order to address systemic racism, increase compassion and empathy, and build a strong and healthy learning community that is connected to this beautiful place.
Reflections/Advice: This has been a challenging year, for everyone. What we found this year is that so many seeds were planted, literally and figuratively, and we are ready to launch into next year with a whole lot of energy and enthusiasm.
We will document our ongoing learning journey in a year ahead that is filled with hope and optimism. We look forward to sharing our story with you at this time next year.