What Did You Learn Today?

This question is generally reserved for children after a day of school during dinner time or en route to soccer practice or piano lessons.  I delighted to see this question posed for all to consider in the middle of summer.  I was on a quest to lay claim to the perfect log at Kits Beach.  My goal was to breathe in the sea air, photosynthesize and finish my most recent book, The Home for Unwanted Girls, by Joanna Goodman.  And I learned a lot about “The Great Darkness” and abuse of power of the Duplessis years in Quebec during the mid 20th century, the French-English divide, the human capacity for cruelty, resilience, and the significance of sharing a story in the process of healing.  And over dinner, I shared that learning with my husband, because it was engaging and interesting and reinforced with information checking via the internet.  Generally we want to share the things that interest us.

The most exciting part of current educational research has been the heightened awareness of the role of curiosity in our learning through out life.  The answer to the question will depend largely on what we’re choosing to fill our time with.  A trek to the Jericho Sailing Centre lends itself to all kinds of learning.  Why are there so many fearless bunnies there?  What are the conditions for a perfect paddle?  A detour from the bike ride through Tatlow Park begs the question – why was so much more water running through here when I was a kid?  Will the proposed restoration of the park change that?  An aborted trip to our family cabin in the Sierra Nevadas, creates an awareness of just how many fires are burning in Southern Oregon and California, and the health concerns around smoke inhalation.

As a school principal, of course I value learning at school.  However I think that we do not want to define learning as what happens exclusively in a specific building from 9 am to 3 pm on weekdays during the school year.  I am hoping that my students are having amazing learning experiences during the summer that are not strictly defined by what will get them better grades or make them more successful in their future careers.

I want them to take time to go outside and observe and ask questions.  I want them to hang out with their friends and relatives and laugh.   I want them to get lots of exercise and aspire to a high level of physical fitness and wellness.  I want them to take the risk to learn something new.  I want them to read lots of books and empathize with the characters, consider other realities, fact check on the internet and talk about them with friends and relatives.  Ultimately I want them to do what I’m doing.   Then I want them to come back to school with new ideas to share and a curious mind for continued learning in the school, outside in nature, and in the rest of the school community.

 

 

 

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An Inquiry into Communication in Schools

Summer relaxation mode is beginning to set in and reflection on the past school year spiral.  The things that brought joy.  The mountains surmounted.  The things you wish you could have a “do over.”  The things you want to aspire to this year.  Communicating effectively with each and every student and staff member and parent and community partner and colleague is a tall order but something I hope others will respond to with ideas.

Establishing a presence in the halls, in the traffic circle, on the playground and at school events communicates a sense that you care about the people in the school community.  Kids will most often readily respond to a smile or an inquiry.  When our school playground was condemned, kids wanted to discuss it on the playground.  There were a plethora of questions:  What were the unsafe parts?  Who decides what is unsafe?  When was it coming down?  Questions were followed with lots of ideas, suggestions and future plans for the new playground. More ideas followed about other things we could do on the school grounds while we were waiting.  I learned a lot during those conversations.

Some adults that are reluctant to make an appointment will have a conversation, ask a question or be encouraged to offer their ideas in a casual context.  This is also the time when they are most open about what they appreciate in the school, in the teachers and in me as a principal.  One parent shared that they could tell I really loved working with kids and appreciated that I made such an effort to get to know the students.   The Parent Advisory Committees (PAC) and parenting sessions can be an effective form of communication with parents but much of that depends on the perception of the role of the principal at the school and who shows up to participate.  I have found it very helpful to work collaboratively with the PAC executive.

The big teapot that I bought for my daughter and decided to keep in my office was a good choice.  Sitting around the big round table with students, staff, parents and colleagues often brought an ease to difficult conversations or sometimes a sense of calm to hectic days.  The poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here, by Joy Harjo inspired the blog post, Perhaps the World Starts Here, and another way to help students to self calm and then move on to problem solving.  It also inspire the Tea with the Principal on the first Friday of the month at 9:15 am for parents wanting to ask questions or discuss issues in education.  Sometimes the group was too large to sit around the table, or people wanted to walk and talk as we toured the school.  Sometimes one or two people would show up with a burning question and delighted to have a cuppa.  School Based Team meetings and Health and Safety Meetings take on a new tone with a cup of tea.   I hadn’t really made the connection to Servant Leadership, coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, until my chief engineer told me that no other principal had ever made her a cup of tea and gave me a heartfelt thank you.  Nanny Keenan and my mother would just call it “Good Manners”.  Next year, I’m hoping to incorporate focus groups that work to problem solve around specific issues.

In all of the schools I have worked in, I make a concerted effort to direct people to the school website for information.  The Twitter feed brings kids with media release to the website to check out recent pictures of them involved in activities at the school.  Some parents will follow the school twitter feed to see pictures and read parenting articles or check out enrichment opportunities in the community.  Hopefully that also helps people to discover library links, information posted on the school calendar and current school news items.

The high cost of paper, photocopying costs and the fact that school newsletters rarely made it to me before events when my children were in school, make hardcopy newsletters my least favourite form of communication.  In my parent community, 99% of families have passed on multiple emails addresses to the school.  As a result, information items can be emailed directly to families.  The issue for some people with busy lives to read all of the email coming into their inboxes.  Although a hardcopy is available in the office, it is rarely picked up.  A few of my colleagues send weekly newsletters or APP reminders so that families come to expect them.  Next year I’m going to send out shorter items on a regular schedule so hopefully they will be anticipated and looked for.

Sometimes I think the problem with staff communication is overkill:

  • Daily reminders by the sign in
  • weekly updates via email
  • hardcopy of weekly updates for reference on the clipboard by the sign in
  • forwarded messages that are pertinent
  • forwarded information that has gone to parents
  • Monthly Staff Meetings, Monthly School Advisory Committee Meetings, Health and Safety Meetings, School Based Team Meetings, Inquiry Meetings …
  • School News on the website
  • Twitter feed on the website
  • Hallway conversations before, during and after school

This year I’m going to add one thing raised at my British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Short Course II at The University of British Columbia – Okanagan campus this July.  Stop. Take the time to get know your staff by meeting with each person individually.  It is my second year in the school and I’m hoping people will identify that I really do want to be helpful  I’m thinking the two questions will be:

  • How can I help you to do your job?
  • How can I support you with your professional learning?

When all is said and done, an open door policy is the best way to nurture fluid conversation.  There are two challenges.  One is that I am often not in my office.  The second challenge is that starting and completing a task, or the time for sustained problem solving, with frequent interruptions.  How many people close there doors and focus on the task at hand during school hours?

When all is said and done, a lot of channels of communication have been established.  Yet, still the quest for more.  Does anyone have any feedback about a channel of communication that has made all the difference?  I’m looking forward to new ideas or tried and true ideas 🙂

A New Age of Joy & Optimism for Indigenous Peoples in Canada

I love the picture of this little guy on the front page of The Vancouver Sun.  The sparkle in his eyes and the look on his face remind me so much of my son at that age.  With life comes the opportunity for grand adventure!  Joy is suppose to be part of every child’s life.  I hope that all things good unfold for this little man.  The title of the Vancouver Sun picture: “A New Age is At Hand”.  Colonialism did not work for the Indigenous people of Canada.  But there is hope and there is unprecedented optimism for the future.

A fierce pride in Canada’s accomplishments throughout its almost, 151 years of nationhood, is strong.  The is a realization that north of the 49th parallel existed for thousands of years prior to confederation.   The learning from the Indigenous people was invaluable.  Finally it is part of the national conversation.  Within the field of Education in British Columbia, there is a quest to embrace our history, even when it includes the shame of colonial structures and prejudice that allowed children to be separated from their parents and basic human rights to be ignored.

Summer solstice,  the longest day of the year, was chosen to be THE day to celebrate, recognize and honour the heritage, cultures and valuable contributions by the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada.  The Northwest Territories has celebrated this day as a statutory holiday since 2001 and The Yukon followed suit in 2017.  The day started with one of the teachers engaging me in a conversation of the use of “Indigenous” rather than “Aboriginal’ and the implications.  I had my phone out, googling, so we could determine why Metro Vancouver Celebrations were mostly using the word “Aboriginal” and “Indigenous” was being used on the national stage.   What was most respectful?  How do we explain the difference?  What I thought was indicative of this “new age” was  that it mattered.

One of our Grade 3 teachers, Janet Logie, is a committed student of history and volunteer at the Hastings Mills Museum at the Old Mill Park by Jericho Beach.  As a kid, my sister and my cousins, would regularly swing into the museum to check it out when we were at the park.  It still smells the same but the context has changed.  Amazingly intricate baskets and artifacts that were purchased as parts of private collections have been curated and recognized as significant parts of the history of Vancouver.  Recently there was a special event to publicly thank the Indigenous First Responders during the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886 who saved many lives.  Marissa Nahanee, of the Squamish Nation, performed the Paddle Song beside the replica of the historic “Tent City Hall” and volunteers served Indigenous herbal teas by Raven Hummingbird Teas in the museum. Our MP, Joyce Murray, brought formality, acknowledgment and thanks of the government.  It was a great event.  Our children are growing up with an appreciation of the contributions by the Indigenous community in our shared history when they go out to play.

The focus on the herbs grown and used by the Indigenous people has been a focus for Grade 2 teacher, Joan Phoenix.  Our PAC (Parent Advisory Committee) supported her financially in designing and planting a butterfly garden that would attract the butterflies once the primary children had observed the life cycle indoors and freed them into their natural habitat.  One of her parent volunteers, Sara Baren, teaches Urban Forestry at UBC.  She enlisted the help of Emily Tu, newly accepted to do a MA in Landscape Architecture, to work on the project.

They were instrumental in helping Ms. Phoenix to plant indigenous plants that would serve this purpose.  The Grade twos used books and iPads to research the traditional uses of the plants by the Musqueam and that are now widely available in grocery stores.

Our Grade 5 teacher, Melody Ludski, is currently doing her graduate work while teaching full time.  She has extensive background knowledge on Indigenous ways on knowing, as well as incredible sensitivity to the protocols required because we work, learn and play on the unceded lands of the Musqueam people.  To celebrate National Indigenous Day, Ms. Ludski booked accomplished Pow Wow dancer Shyama Priya, who has Cree roots on her mothers side.  She was taught by Coast Salish pow wow dancer, Curtis Joe.  She took the time to share the story of creating her regalia and engaged kids and teachers in dancing that reflected amazing skill and athleticism.  I was fortunate to go to a few pow wows with my friend, Latash Nahanee, many years ago and join in the dancing during the grand procession.  The only word for the heartbeat of the drum and the communal participation – Joy!  You could see it on Shyama Priya’s face and those of the children.

The Garden Committee, headed up by Grade 1 teacher, Kate Foreman, for many years has been planning an outdoor learning space.  Two portables were removed from our school site this year and the perfect opportunity presented itself.  Many teachers were very inspired by the idea of a circle with twelve large rocks for seating an entire class.  The size of the rocks and the placement to reflect true north, south, east and west were carefully planned and facilitated.  As a history major, I loved the possibility of reflecting Indigenous Culture as an early instigator of a democratic system.  Everyone has a voice in the talking circle and respect for divergent opinions is a basic tenet.   The Vancouver Board of Education was gifted a Musqueam word by Shane Point:  Nə́c̓aʔmat ct  It means ‘we are one’.  Our Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Circle will be a talking circle for problem solving, a listening circle to teach empathy, a way to incorporate medicine wheel teachings and understanding of the circle or life and the seasons and relationships with ourselves, others and Mother Earth.

The work of Laura Tait has been inspirational in helping our staff “to push the paddle deeper” in our School Growth Plan.  We will be developing and progressing through our own adapted version on the rubric based on her Aboriginal Understandings Learning Progression from SD68 Aboriginal Education.  I am so excited that another inspirational colleague, Joyce Perrault, will be helping us to navigate the path.  With her drum and her newly published book, All Creation Represented, we will be exploring the Medicine Wheel from an Ojibwe perspective  while sitting in our Nə́c̓aʔmat ct Circle.  The book states that it’s a child’s guide to the Medicine Wheel but with all I’m learning, the next hardcover, coffee table edition will be marketed to adults.  The book provides insight into relationships with ourselves, each other and Mother Earth.  I am feeling joyful and optimistic too.   We are heading out on a promising journey with optimism and joy and determination that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  will be respected in this chapter of Canadian history.

Note:  The phonetic pronunciation of nə́c̓aʔmat ct  is knot-sa-mots.

The Power Relax

I’m a school principal in the last weeks of school before summer holidays. Stress is a fact of life. The days are high octane with not a moment to spare between the demands for immediate problem solving and the call of the “things to do”  list. I can’t help but to reflect on lofty goals of balance and prioritizing “me time” written after summer holidays and again at New Years. The goals that emerge after a break when anything seems possible.

My coping strategy recently has been to sneak in physical outlets to “burn off steam” as part of the ultimate oxymoron, the “power relax”. I’m fortunate to be able to bike to work. The hill up to Queen Mary Elementary was my nemesis as I walked to school from Jericho Beach as a little girl. It proves to play the same roll in my life as I bike to work from Kits Beach. I still find no joy in the hill. It remains something to be conquered. Arriving at the top, a small victory.  Yes, even joy.  I have also discovered the merits of the driving range and how the length of my drives correlates with the degree of angst I’m feeling.  It also brings a degree of satisfaction.

Less effort requires a bigger time investment for the “power relax” . 9 holes of golf by yourself or 18 holes with a friend. A 90 minute salt float at HÄLSA spa. Two yoga classes in one day. Or if you’re lucky, a sunny day at the beach after writing school goals on how to support students in learning strategies to self calm. I’m pausing to breath mindfully😉  I’m open to other suggestions…

Weaving Together the Stories of Reconciliation

Latash Maurice Nahanee performed his first national premiere on Thursday night as part of the cast of Weaving Reconciliation – Our Way.  It is presented not only as a play, but also as a cultural encounter, written by Renae Morriseau, Rosemary Georgeson and Savannah Walling with contributions from the cast, knowledge keepers and partnering communities.  I was honoured to be a witness to the stories that unfolded.  The pre-show weaving demonstration, a metaphor for the play, was the focus in the middle of the circle when you enter the room, which later becomes the stage.  The stories of the struggles of one Indigenous family unfolds in the centre of the circle.  They are supported by four relations, arranged like compass points around the stage, from the past, the present and the future.  Their voices have an ethereal quality and speak to their friends and relatives, ready to support the tormented soul of the characters that weave in and out of the spotlight.  Just when the pain and tragedy of the story became too overwhelming, in enters the Trickster, Sam Bob, with his hopeful, young sidekick.  This character has a big physical presence with a lightness of spirit and sharp wit which mirrors the comedic element in Shakespeare’s tragedies.

The sharing of the stories, intertwined with other stories, intertwined with past injustices, intertwined with other injustices, give light to the complexities of the process of reconciliation with Indigenous families.  The struggle and the promise of moving forward is a testimony to the resilience of Indigenous people emerging beyond the constricting yoke of residential schools, systemic racism, dislocation from support structures and pain.  Part of the hope felt at the end of the play comes from the characters moving forward towards reconciliation with family, with history and with a stronger voice to recapture the power over their own lives.

The power of good theatre is the capacity to draw us into the story and help us to empathize with the characters.  Watching the play, I believed that each story represented the lived experience of each actor.  Their intensity of emotion was palpable.  The story of the experience of Indigenous people in Canada belongs to them and their story of reconciliation belongs to them.  How that story intertwines with our individual story and our colonial past is defined by us.  Latash has been a mentor and a friend in helping me on my own personal path towards understanding and reconciliation.  We met “many moons ago” when we were both working in Coquitlam.  Latash was an Aboriginal support worker and I was a teacher at a middle school.  Some of our shared students were some of the most vulnerable in the district.  Latash was masterful at stepping back from judgement and accepting where these kids were and providing much needed support.  He helped me to begin to understand the complexity of supporting these young people as they tried to forage a new path that was far beyond the scope of learning to read.

Latash invited me to be the sponsor teacher in a cultural exchange program with indigenous students in the Coquitlam School District and indigenous students who belonged to a Friendship Centre in Ottawa.  These students came bubbling with enthusiasm to seek out understanding of their cultural roots.  Students spent time as a large group in both Vancouver and Ottawa.  It opened up new world of experiences, cultural learning, and access to history not included in my classes at elementary school, secondary school or university.  As the sponsor teacher, I was in charge of expectations for behaviour, timelines and safety.  This was my first glimpse into the challenges that come with the role of principal.  It was also my first understanding of my role as the “one outside” who carries a completely different frame of reference and experience within Canada.

Latash, helped me to grapple with the notion that my path towards reconciliation was my own.  Learning the history was not enough.   Looking to the indigenous community to reconcile on their own was not a viable option.  Feeling guilty wasn’t the point.  The discovery that residential schools existed in Canada, let alone in my lifetime was as much of a shock as the dawning realization that Canada was not the champion of the Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedoms that I had believed.  The initial defensive move was the desire to distance myself from any responsibility and create a rationale for unacceptable decisions.  The dawning realization was that the decisions made and perpetuated throughout our history could only have been motivated by a belief in cultural supremacy and monetary gain.

Our challenge is to decide to open our minds and hearts to the stories and weave a new chapter that is based on a reconciliation of the past, and lay a new foundation based on  respect for basic human rights and freedoms.   It is to ask questions.  How does one woman decide hitchhiking is her only option and no one ever sees or hears from her again or knows what happened to her?  How does that happen once, let alone hundreds of times?   Why do indigenous people struggle to graduate?  Represent such a high number of the prison population?  Suffer from high rates of addiction?  As Latash aptly describes, Canada for indigenous people “is like the albatross that was hung around the neck of the Ancient Mariner.”  Resilience will be the story of the Indigenous people in reconciling within their families, communities and Canada.  The story of the reconciliation of “a settler” such as myself, is still to be written.  It will be a journey and it will be woven with a myriad of other stories.  It will be a story of hope and of justice.

My advice.  Go see the play.  It’s in Vancouver for another three days, then off to Pentiction, Toronto and Winnipeg.  It may make you cry.   It will make you think.   It will make you hopeful.  And surprisingly, it will make you laugh.

The Magnitude of Motherhood

                                                              Artwork by Grade 1 Student

Mother’s Day weekend, always turns my attention to my mother and how I mother, and Charles Dickens1: “It was the best of times,  it was the worst of times, …”  The only thing more joyous or tough than being a kid, is being the kid’s mother.  There is a magnitude to the task of mothering.  Grand success is celebrated.  Mistakes will echo for a lifetime.  Frequently the definitions of both differ widely, depending on the person making the judgment.

One Mother’s Day, my five-year-old and his three-year-old sister arrived at my bedroom door carefully negotiating the ultimate treat, “breakfast in bed”.  My husband was away on business but proudly, the tray was placed on my lap with the folded napkin, handmade cards, juice and their favorite breakfast.

My daughter, Larkyn: “I wanted milk on the Cheerios.”

My son, Tyler: “I told Larkyn, it was just too big a risk.  The juice was enough.”

As mothers, the question is always:  What is too big a risk?  The quest to protect is hardwired with hormones and magnified with adoration of the tiny addition to our world.  My younger brother was killed in a car accident less than a year before our precious boy child was born.  En route home from the hospital with our son, I was overwhelmed with the task of protecting my baby.  The fear of the worst case scenario was palpable.  I wanted to protect every aspect of his life.

As a pre-schooler, Tyler was looking up at me with adoring eyes while we were reading Franklin in the Dark2.

“You’re not afraid of anything, are you Mommy?” Then after a brief pause, he continued with a quizzical brow. “Except underground parking lots.  You’re really afraid of underground parking lots.”

The conversation continued that although I was afraid of underground parking lots, I still went in them.  It was okay to be afraid, but if you never did anything that was a bit scary, life would be boring and you would never learn new things. The trick deciding what risks were worth it and taking precautions.

My father and step-mother were extremely fearful.  My father went through the war in Germany as a child, became a neurosurgeon and regularly dealt with serious head trauma.  My step-mother loved her routine and feared lots of things like dust, water and snakes.  One summer at our cabin, the wind came up while we were fishing and I couldn’t get the motor started.  My step-mother was terrified and I used every ounce of my ten-year-old muscle mass to row us to the safety of the dock.  Worst case scenario, we would have landed on the other side of the lake or on the rocks in the creek.  Life was filled with danger and the possibility of embarrassing yourself.  I was terrified to make mistakes.  That was one reason, I chose to live in British Columbia with my mother.

My mother was also fearful, but my Auntie Myrna was her counter balance.  She was my mother’s older sister and could make the rules.  As a little girl at the beach, Stanley Park and Tatlow Park, where my Grandpa was a caretaker after retirement, I remember her lifting me up big trees and rocks so I could climb up to where the big kids were.  My Auntie Myrna believed I could handle the risk and so I did.  My temperament and my need to keep up with my older sister, cousins, and kids in the neighbourhood meant I grew familiar with accepting a challenge.

My boy cousins on my Dad’s side were always filled with ideas that took me to risky places when we visited our grandparents in Abbotsford or camped as adults in Osoyoos.  My boy cousins could get me to try new things, break rules, and play hard.  Even as an adult, I would rise to the challenge.  One cousin managed to get me to swim across Osoyoos Lake to the American border and back.  Yet pride did not always require accomplishment.  My boy cousins still do a good imitation of me trying to say “One more time” with a mouth full of water as I tried repetitively to get up on one water ski.  I never did get up on one ski, but the story is told with admiration at how long and hard I tried.

As a mother, the challenge is to encourage our kids to try new things and support them for trying even in the face of disappointment.  The first time my daughter didn’t get, yet another DQ (disqualification), for her butterfly stroke at a swim competition, our family was wildly crazy with excitement and cheers.  The father beside me asked if I realized my kid didn’t win.  Just depends on your definition of what counts as a win.

It is heartbreaking to see our children experience injuries, failure or disappointment or sadness.  It is hard to teach them to accept an outcome they didn’t expect, to be hurt or to recognize their own mistakes without blame.  We can’t navigate the pathway for our children.  We can help them to take risks to learn new things and meet new people, problem solve when things don’t go as anticipated and accept responsibility for mistakes.  Resilience is required to find joy in life despite disappointment.

Upon her graduation from Queen’s University, Larkyn thanked me for never saying a degree in philosophy was a waste of time because she’d never get a job.  When pushed by a CBC reporter at The Quarry House Restaurant one Mother’s Day about what he loved about his mother, Tyler replied: “She has always supported me in whatever I wanted to do.”  The biggest gratitude I have for my mom is that she always believed in me, even when I didn’t.  Apparently, our task as mothers is encouraging our children in the challenges they choose, celebrating victories, supporting them as they cope with adversity, and believing in them.

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  1. Charles Dickens (1859). A Tale of Two Cities.
  2. Paulette Bourgeois (1986). Franklin in the Dark.

Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Transforming our Relationships

I believe in Aboriginal Enhancement agreements.  For some, they represent a token of political correctness which can be limited to lip service.  For others they focus our attention on something that matters not only in terms of facilitating basic human rights, but developing a culture of kindness and respect that we as Canadians have built our identity on.

John Hattie points to a large body of research that informs us that the largest predictor of health, wealth and happiness is not grades achieved by students, but the number of years spent in school.  Low graduation rates of indigenous students have meant that part of our job as educators is to create a learning environment in which all students find something to stay for.  Obviously we want this for all of our students.

Daniel Wood wrote an article in the travel section of The Vancouver Sun newspaper (Apr.28, 2018) on Easter Island:  “And once the last tree was chopped down, there was no wood to make a boat and leave.”  The habitat once plentiful with fish, birds, palm trees and fertile lands was left an archeological site on grassland.  Like those who inhabited and devastated Easter Island thousands of years ago, we too have much to learn.   The FNESC materials give us with tools and insight into how we can draft meaningful goals to incorporate indigenous ways of knowing into our curriculum.

What is frequently lacking is a clearly articulated learning intention so we can determine if we are making an impact.  From this intentional stance, we are able to devise a plan that serves the needs of all of the students in our care:

  1.  To create a culture of kindness and respect.  For our indigenous students, it means listening to the stories and rather than rewriting history.  It means finding a way to move forward together.
  2.  To create a learning environment where students are engaged in learning.
    • How can we support students in their ability to self regulate so they can learn?
    • How do we incorporate student choice and provide clarity and high expectations into our learning contexts?
  3.  To incorporate indigenous ways of knowing into our lives.
    • What does it look like when we understand the First Peoples Principles of Learning and incorporate them into our lives and stories?

In response to stereotypes of indigenous culture that have pervaded our culture, and appropriation of cultural items to gain profit, we are left unsure of truly what is respectful.  Anthropologist, Aaron Glass states in his interview with Heather Ramsey of The Tyee ( March  2011):  “Totem poles, he says, have been added to the stereotype of the North American Indian, along with the teepee, the tomahawk and the feathered headdress.”  If we are earnest in our intention, this fact makes us wary when we see these images and concerned that we may be perceived as a part of the system that perpetuates negative stereotypes and gets in the way of developing respectful relationships.

The Tomahawk Barbecue was the first drive-in restaurant in Vancouver started by Chick Chamberlain in 1926 just off Marine Drive.  Chick learned to cook in the early 20’s when he opened a small coffee shop in a cabins to rent business with his brother.  The drive-in part of the restaurant wasn’t a huge success because of the dust from the unpaved roads.  It did evolve as a community hang-out.  One of the patrons of the restaurant mounted a big tomahawk over the door and the name stuck.  It managed to stay open through the “Dirty Thirties” largely because Chick would accept payment in curios, hand made pots, drums, cooking utensils, large and small totem poles, masks and other beautifully carved objects from those who couldn’t afford the food.  He started to purchase indigenous art long before it was recognized as valuable.  “Tomahawk’s famous hamburgers are named after some of the Indian chiefs Chick had known over the years, as a sort of memorial to his friends: Skookum Chief, Chief Capilano, Chief Raven, Chief Dominic Charlie, and Chief August Jack.”  Chuck Chamberlain is Chick’s son and has maintained his father’s legacy.  Chuck was happy to share stories of the his Dad, his restaurant, and his friends over the years when I came for breakfast on a rainy Saturday morning.  A painting of Chief Simon Baker graces the wall when you enter.  Chuck is proud of this friendship and was honoured to be a pall bearer at Chief Baker’s funeral.

The story that was most powerful was the story of the Wild Man of the Woods Mask used in the Squamish ceremony of boys moving into manhood.  When the mask is needed for a ceremony, it is taken down from the special resting spot in the restaurant, and once it’s purpose is fulfilled, it is returned to a place where it rests with the spirits of the ancestors.  This is so different than the experience of another friend of mine who is a member of the Squamish Nation.  He took a special basket made by his grandmother to the Museum of Anthropology with an inquiry about how best to preserve it.  The Museum of Anthropology explained they could help.  When my friend and his family returned to request it for use in a special ceremony, they were denied access.  Two similar scenarios with the biggest difference being the respect demonstrated and the dynamic of power and control.

I remember going to the Tomahawk Restaurant for breakfast as a very little girl, one weekend when my aunt and my Mom ventured over the Lion’s Gate Bridge to go to Capilano Canyon with my sister and cousins.  My husband remembers not being able to finish the Skookum Chief burger, nicknamed The Hulk burger, when he was a little boy.  Yet, I paused to return because of the name – Tomahawk.  As a student of history and an educator wanting to rectify past wrongs, I had many questions.  Was it respectful?  Was it appropriate?  Was it a remnant of past uninformed representations of indigenous culture?  Tomahawks were from the prairies, weren’t they?   It wasn’t until I did some internet research, listened to an interview and did some the reading, that I gave myself permission to return for a visit and a questions to ask.  And yes, I was dying to see the art.  While I was there, chatting with Chuck, I kept thinking of the First Peoples Principle of Learning:  Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story.  Listening to the stories always needs to proceed formulating the judgement.  What I heard on Sunday, was pride in respectful relationships and families that have become intertwined over many years.

Recently I cited Byrd Baylor’s book, Everybody Needs a Rock in reference to an Indigenous sharing circle of large boulders that we are installing in our playground.  The intention is to help students understand the very beginnings of the concept of democracy in giving everyone a voice.  One of my respected colleagues, questioned my reference to a non-indigenous author.  Again I did some internet research to discover that she has maternal Native American decent but grew up in a largely non-indigenous culture.  However I went back to the First Peoples Principle of Learnings:  Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).   Ultimately, isn’t our intention for all people to embrace these principles because it represents universal learning that matters.  And isn’t it our intention for all people to share the stories that come to form their understandings.

Anthropologist, Aaron Glass also stated in his interview with Heather Ramsey of The Tyee (March  2011):  “What we argue in the book is that the totem pole has been a constantly evolving form, so there was never a moment when “it” almost died. It kept changing, migrating, transforming. This is not a story of death and rebirth it is a story of continual transformation.”  As with the totem pole, the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people will continue to evolve and transform as we open ourselves to new learning.  Hopefully this time we get it right, and that relationship will be based on respect, honesty, shared power, and a willingness to be open to learning from each other.

Perhaps the World Starts Here

In her poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here , Joy Harjo does a marvelous job of capturing the power of community in negotiating the lessons life and death around a kitchen table.  It was the first thing that came to mind the other day.   A warring group of 10 year old boys were sent to The Office.  Friends.  Enemies.  Frenemies with the balance tipping to enemies on this particular occasion.  Betrayal.  Unkindness.  Hurt feelings.  Exclusion.  Anger.  Sadness.  Hopelessness.  Frustration.  Despair.  Indignation.  All palpable in the room.

All of the boys were separated and directed to use the calm down strategy that works for them so he could move from the reactionary mode to a problem solving mode.   On this particular day, time was not particularly helpful.  The external appearance of calm was stitched together by the moral indignation of the crimes of the “other”.   All four boys were ready to erupt at the smallest provocation.

The  boys came into my office so I could help mediate the talk that was doing nothing but adding fuel to the many fires.   When they had a seat at the table, I realized that I hadn’t cleared the teacups from my peer leadership meeting with my Community School Team partners.

I explained, “Sorry, I haven’t cleaned up from my last meeting.  Let me get that out of your way.”

The response, “Oh, that’s not for me?  I’d like a cup of tea.  It’s a thing to calm down. ”

“Hmm.  Well, there still is some in the pot. I could get you some” was my response.  Fortunately I had decided to keep the tea set I bought for my daughter with the large  teapot.

The first thing the boys were able to agree on was that they all wanted tea.  With sugar.  Apparently lots of sugar.  The shift of attention to tea was like shifting tectonic plates.  Before long, feelings were bared.  Frustrations were vented.  Tears were shed.   Plans were made.  Heartfelt apologies were expressed.   The balance had shifted to friends who were still somewhat annoyed with each other.

My thoughts wandered to my maternal grandmother, Nanny Keenan.  The rule in the family was, when you walked in the door to visit, you kissed Nanny hello and then put on the kettle for tea before you took off your coat.  All of the news, joys and struggles of life were wrestled with, cried over, or laughed about over a cup of tea.   In her poem, Joy Harjo writes of the kitchen table:  “It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.”  Perhaps the same is true in part on the playground, in the classroom, or in the principal’s office over a cup of tea, on a good day!

Incorporating Understanding of Residential Schools into Canadian History

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The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre was officially opened at UBC on April 9th, 2018.  As the University Hill Elementary School community works, learns and plays on unceded Musqueam lands, we very much wanted to share our acknowledgement and respect.  Ms. Melody Ludski, one of our teachers who is actively engaged in learning about  Indigenous Education and ways of knowing, also wanted explore ways to include the stories of our collective Canadian history to create a future vision of who we want to be in the world. We were so appreciative that she represented us at this event, and that our librarian, Mr. Jorden Covert, streamed the event into the library so students and teachers could also participate.

Indigenous expressions of culture were banned by Canadian law from 1885 to 1951.  However from 1951 until quite recently, Canadian Education systems have been largely silent on presenting an accurate rendition the decisions and implications of our history on our indigenous people and the subsequent attitudes we embraced.  In his speech, University of British Columbia President Santa Ono  quite articulately expressed the work of Aaron Lazare, Emeritus Chancellor, Dean and professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in his speech at the opening ceremony:   “First, people are not guilty for actions in which they did not participate. But just as people take pride in things for which they had no responsibility (such as famous ancestors, national championships of their sports teams and great accomplishments of their nation), so too must these people accept the shame (but not guilt) of their family, their athletic teams and their nations.”

The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008) protects the right of children to know their culture and language:

Article 15

  1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and the diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
  2. States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.

“Fully implementing this national education framework will take many years, but will ensure that Aboriginal children and youth see themselves and their cultures, languages, and histories respectfully reflected in the classroom.  Non-Aboriginal learners will benefit, as well.  Taught in this way, all students, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, gain historical knowledge while also developing respect and empathy for each other.  Both elements will be vital in supporting reconciliation in the coming years.”

“Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future”

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, July 2015, p. 240

The Vancouver School Board has signed it’s second Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, which is dated June 2016 to June 2021.  Many Vancouver Schools are able to directly impact their indigenous students and have a lot to learn from their indigenous families.  All VSB schools are required by the school district to also focus on developing inclusive aspects of our culture and community:

Vancouver School Board District Goal #3 :  To increase knowledge, awareness, appreciation of, and respect for Aboriginal histories, traditions, cultures and contributions by all students through eliminating institutional, cultural and individual racism within the Vancouver school district learning communities

It is an expectation that Vancouver Schools are actively engaged in making our schools more inclusive places.  It is our job as educators to inform ourselves with the background knowledge that was likely omitted from our own school experiences.  It is also our responsibility to be open to opportunities that present learning that just might take us outside of our comfort zone. After all we ask kids to do that all the time.

 

Note:  For more information read Aaron Lazare ‘s book, On Apology,

Who are “Breakaway Learners”?

Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.

Subject line in my overly full email inbox reads:  A seemingly out of the blue email from a children’ book author based in US and living at UBC
The text:   Long story short, I am a visiting scholar at UBC through March 5th and passed your school many times.  I write children’s books — which I have read to thousands of children of all ages and stages (ideal range is 2nd — 5th grades)… Seeing and being in schools and working with children of all ages and stages is what I do — and having been a university president and senior advisor to the US Department of Education, I am ever of the view that the most important education is that which occurs early…  And, for the record, I attach a photo of myself and a short bio so you can see I am legit.  

My Response:   Is there a cost attached to this great offer?

The beginning of another beautiful relationship that started online!  Karen Gross did come to University Hill Elementary School to share her stories with our students.  She captivated both teachers and students alike.  She was aware of our outdoor school and environmental focus and arrived with her newest children’s book, Lady Lucy’s Dragon Quest, a story about droughts and saving land and crops with a strong female protagonist with a collaborative approach to problem solving.  Our Korean students were thrilled that Korean students were the illustrators, who are now in college and who continue to illustrate.
2.  plasticity references the permanent change that occurs in the institution itself in response to required changes
3.  pivoting right references supporting students in their ability to make short and long term decisions that will bring abut the most favourable outcome
4.  reciprocity  that extends beyond student willingness to share ideas and commit to agreements with staff listening and responding, to institutions being responsive to the ideas and needs of their changing populations
5.  belief in self by teachers and institutions stepping away from a deficit model of education to one that builds on strengths