School Name: WL Seaton Secondary School
School District: SD#22 Vernon
Inquiry Team Members:Paul Boyd: firstname.lastname@example.org, Yvonne Fiala: email@example.com, Bernedette Louis: firstname.lastname@example.org, Lori Phillip: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: AESN Transitions (focus on Indigenous learner transitions)
Grade Levels: Secondary (8-12)
Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Arts Education, Career Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing, Mathematics / Numeracy, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies
Focus Addressed: Aboriginal understandings (for example, Traditional Knowledge, oral history, reconciliation), Community-based learning, Differentiated instruction, Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Flexible learning, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Indigenous pedagogy, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning, Transitions
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? The creation of a multi grade First Nations Academy for First Nations students only, allowing a safe environment for students to explore and understand their own history.
Scanning: The creation of the First Nations Academy this year was the direct result of the relationships we have been building with students for the last several years. When we began the study our first hunch was that students need to feel connected and cared for and that they need to have their basic needs met before they are able to learn. I don’t think any of us were surprised that this hunch was true, but the power and depth of what may seem slightly trivial was very powerful. From the beginning students talked about the needs of their classmates, not just First Nations students and the various issues that get in the way of learning: no food, “couch surfing,” having to work, addictions to name a few. When asking students if they could name 2 more adults at Seaton that believed in them, there was never any hesitation. It was always interesting to ask that question and the responses were quick, genuine and often high lighted relationships that we never would have guessed. The importance and power of taking the time to listen to students and to demonstrate to them that they have been heard is so very crucial. As we have been moving towards integrating First Nations content into our courses there has been a level of discomfort from many of our First Nations students – when First Nations issues are discussed in a class they often feel put on the spot as their non-First Nations classmates and teachers can look to them expecting them to have some answer or input. Many First Nations students do not know that much about their own history, but are eager to learn. What is the next step was rather obvious for us when a group of First Nations students came and requested the creation of an Academy that would allow them to explore their own history and culture. No hunch, just do it!
Focus: Simply because the kids asked. The power of that request coming from students who were no empowered enough to advocate for their own learning. wow.
We hoped that some of those students that had been less engaged in regular classes would open up more and engage in the learning process with more vigor. That students in the academy would learn about their history, culture and language and become more confident in who they are.
Hunch: Discussing First Nations issues in a classroom is always tricky with First Nations students in the class. If I make eye contact will they feel singled out? If I don’t will they be ignored? Have the First Nations students in my class been impacted directly by whatever issue it is we are discussing – am I opening a wound? These are the thoughts of a teacher that has the best of intentions and can still get it wrong. Non-First Nations students may not have the best filters and just blurt out whatever thoughts they are having – not even directed at a particular student, but incredibly insensitive to other students in the room. It cannot be comfortable for First Nations students when situations like this arise. It doesn’t matter how skillfully a teacher deals with the situation, the uncomfortable feeling is still going to remain.
New Professional Learning: The professional learning really focused on getting to know the kids, and sharing that knowledge, when appropriate with colleagues. Explaining why a student has difficulty focusing in a specific class goes a long way to building understanding, compassion and flexibility.
The resources were people – including a Aboriginal Support Worker as part of our weekly School Base Team meetings were students are having difficulties are discussed.
Taking Action: Unfortunately, the Academy was only run the first semester, students that were in the academy have returned to regular classes with mixed results, for a few attendance and their marks have slipped significantly. We are hoping to expand the academy next year as well as add specific math support.
We have put in a proposal advocating for the creation of a First Nations Counselor that would work with all the schools and help First Nations students pull together information and funding for post-secondary studies.
Checking: It is hard not to get frustrated when focusing on specific results. We tracked attendance and grades before, during and after students were in the academy and clearly the best results were when the students were in the Academy. The frustration is expanding this into a year long program and convincing others of the value and necessity! We have not formally asked the four questions of the students again, but spending time with them, talking to them when they are hanging out in the welcome room, the overall growth is very clear, as is the depth of their contentedness.
Reflections/Advice: Taking the time to truly listen, to show that you have heard and taking action to support students desires is very powerful. Even if they First Nations Academy had not worked out so well, the greater learning of self-advocacy would still have been tremendous.
Being ready to learn – making sure students are as at ease as possible. We have to remember that for many school is far down the list of important things they have to deal with on a specific day. Don’t demand the history project when the student slept on someone’s couch and had no breakfast that morning.
The power of feeling connected cannot be emphasized enough. Most of our students are connected in multiple ways, band, choir, drama, sports teams, leadership, etc.