The Indigenous Voice

I grew up living, learning and playing in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.  I saw Indigenous people but I did not hear their voices.  In school we learned about a culture that was part of our past.  Not our present. Definitely not our future.  Yesterday on National Indigenous Peoples Day, the first day of summer on June 21, 2019, that had changed.  And to quote an expert on joy, Chief Dan George, ”And my heart soars”.

Raising of Indigenous poles at the VSB – proud moment in our quest for human rights in Canada

In the Summer 2019 edition of the Montecristo magazine, Robert Davidson talks about when he erected a totem in Masset in 1969.  It was the first one that had been raised since the 1880’s.  “…it opened the door for the elders to pass the incredible knowledge that was muted…Before the totem pole was raised we had no idea of their knowledge.  I had no idea that art was so important.”  I think Vancouver educators are hopeful that the poles raised at the VSB this week to advance reconciliation with Indigenous people and celebrated on National Indigenous Peoples Day with 1000 plus people to bear witness to the event, will be part of many positive and productive learning conversations.  I am deeply grateful that Akemi Eddy took her Grade 1 students to see the carvers in process and brought back wood shavings. Angie Goetz was able to support students in transforming the shavings into their own beautiful art.  Akemi also took three of our students with Indigenous heritage down to the VSB ceremony with our ever-supportive PAC parent, Kathleen Leung- Delorme.  These students were able to bear witness to the smudge at the beginning of the day in the presence of Judy Wilson-Raybould and Joyce Perrault.

I was fortunate to meet Joyce Perrault when I was the vice-principal at Norma Rose Point K-8 school in Vancouver.  It was one of the many schools that she was working as an Indigenous Education Enhancement Worker.  Not only was she able to establish a strong rapport with students in the relatively short weekly assignment at the school, but she was a sweet and gentle soul with a plethora of ideas to empower Indigenous students in finding their own voices, and to support non-Indigenous students in applying Indigenous teachings to explore their own pathways.  The hallway displays were inspired, interactive and collaborative ventures created with the Indigenous students she was working with.  She had put together a flipbook of the Medicine Wheel Teachings from her Anishinaabe/ Ojibwe heritage that she had implemented with students over the years.  She was looking for a publisher.  I had no doubt it would be published.  She thought the publisher would use her text and drawings.  I thought that the publisher would use the text and assign an artist to market it as a hardcopy version that could be used in libraries and on coffee tables, as well as a soft cover for use by individual kids.

The publisher smart enough to pick up the book was Peppermint Toast Publishing.  It is a small publisher in New Westminster that publishes one book per year.  They made a wise choice.  Joyce Perrault’s first book, All Creation Represented:  A Child’s Guide to the Medicine Wheel, was published in 2017 with Terra Mar’s amazing illustrations.  The Vancouver School Board alone has purchased 250 copies.  Her second publication is in process to support educators in teaching Indigenous ways of knowing through Medicine Wheel teachings.

This year, as principal of University Hill Elementary School, I did not have the number of Indigenous students, to warrant the assignment of an Indigenous Education Enhancement worker. However in Vancouver, it is mandatory for all public schools to have an Indigenous goal to support the quest to decolonize education. At University Hill Elementary, our Indigenous goal is: To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students in an authentic way.

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Learning to Powwow dance with Shyama Priya

Our teachers took on this goal with enthusiasm.  When I arrived at the school, Melody Ludski, had already taken the lead in having a spindal whorl commissioned by Musqueam carver, Richard Campbell.  He came to unveil his amazing carving with his daughter shortly after the Truth and Reconciliation walk in 2017.  I was talking about how impressed I had been with the fluency of the young woman speaking Musqueam on the stage at the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Walk, only to discover that she was Richard Campbell’s daughter.  And she was standing in front of me.  Bonus! We had amazing teaching that day and our students were able to hear the welcome in the Musqueam language from Richard’s daughter, Vanessa Campbell .  Richard Campbell also shared the process of his carving, from the inspiration in the selection of wood to the finished product.  He also shared that he was a survivor of the residential school system.  Students, educators and parents in the audience witnessed first-hand the pain of the experience and the incredible support in the father-daughter relationship.

Many of our teachers have been engaged in personal, professional development around Indigenous teachings via VSB supported inquiry studies, school based professional development, book clubs and university coursework.  Our students have been the winners.  Delta authored materials published by Strong Nation Publishing have been implemented by primary teachers to teach core competencies. Ideas have been implemented from Jennifer Katz book, Ensouling Our Schools – A Universally designed framework for mental health, well-being, and reconciliation.

Staff got together to plan an outdoor learning space once the portables were removed from our site.  A large circle of twelve large rocks that were big enough to seat 30 students were installed to facilitate outdoor learning.  Some teachers wanted twelve rocks to teach time.  Many agreed one needed to be placed to indicate true north and all of the compass directions.  Some of us were excited with the possibilities for use as a talking / listening circle, as practiced in many of our classrooms, as well as integration of other Indigenous teachings.  The Musqueam have gifted the VSB with the word, Nə́ caʔmat ct, which means “We Are One”, as part of our move towards reconciliation.  I personally love thinking about it that way and calling it that as a way of honouring that our school is on Musqueam ancestral lands and demonstrating our openness to learning.

The intermediate curriculum benfited with the success of The Human Rights Internet Grant (www.hri.ca) for $1900.00 to implement new curriculum with Grade 4/5 students with a human rights lens on our Indigenous people.  Students learned about the United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms which was adopted by Canada in 1959 and the implications of these rights for our Indigenous people.   It allowed us to show honour and respect by inviting Indigenous speakers to share Indigenous teachings with our students.  Intermediate students had inspirational drumming and storytelling sessions with Alec Dan and teachings about indigenous plants by Martin Sparrow in the Pacific Spirit Park.  This Human Rights Internet Grant also enabled UHill Elementary students to share their outdoor learning with students from Norma Rose Point during the Wild About Vancouver Celebration in April.  It also allowed us to invite Indigenous speakers to share their teachings with the entire school including: Debra Sparrow to talk about the replica of one of the MOA (Museum of Anthropology) weavings by her and her sister Robyn Sparrow that we recently purchased and display in our foyer; Shyama Priya to share her Powwow dancing, including participatory opportunities for our students; Martin Sparrow doing the Indigenous Acknowledgement and sharing his teachings at the 2nd Annual University Hill Elementary Multi-cultural Fair; Martin Sparrow sharing bannock and salmon pate at our Earth Day BBQ.  Joyce Perrault was also willing and able to request some of her teaching time allotment to come and share her book with our Grade 3 students and her process of writing it with our aspiring UHill Elementary authors.

Joyce Perrault in conversation with Vincente Regis about Indigenous teachings.

Vincente Regis, a new PAC member, came forward with an idea for a school community Arts Festival at a PAC Meeting this Spring.  He spoke passionately about the Arts Festivals he had implemented in Brazil as an educator.  With enthusiastic support from PAC, we  started meeting shortly after the PAC meeting to begin the planning for the first UHill Elementary Arts Festival.  He very much wanted it to unfold before the end of the school year while momentum was high.  When we decided on the date when we weren’t building the playground, and when I could access staging and tables for the event, Vincente immediately understood the significance of the Arts Festival taking place on Indigenous Peoples Day and the opportunity to honour the Indigenous voice and the contribution to Indigenous people in all aspects of the arts.  He promptly began planning to incorporate an Indigenous song from Brazil with our students.  I went to work to find an Indigenous artist willing and available to open with the Indigenous acknowledgement and put a spotlight on the Indigenous contribution in the arts.

The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association (BCLCILA) is currently going through a period of revitalization and relocation to Vancouver, British Columbia.  Due to the BCLCILA  / International Literacy Association membership of two UHill Elementary staff members and the support of BCLCILA, we were able to invite Joyce Perrault to not only facilitate an after-school session with educators in May, but also participate in the school community event on Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, 2019 from 3:30 – 6:30 pm.  She graciously accepted even though her morning started with her participation in the VSB ceremony to honour the raising of the 13-metre pole carved by James Harry of the Squamish Nation, and his father Xwalack-tun, a master carver with 50 years’ experience, as well as the male and female welcome poles by Musqueam carvers, William Dan and his family and his siblings Chrystal and Chris Sparrow.  Big day!

Laura Tait, respected Indigenous educator, and current Assistant Superintendent at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools (SD 68) has been cited to have said “If you want to know about Indigenous culture, make an Indigenous friend.”  That has been the basis of trying to provide opportunities for developing community with our Indigenous neighbours.  I have now participated with Joyce as she has engaged in learning conversations with students, educators, and parents.  Her pride in her Ojibwe / Metis heritage has remained constant.  Her voice has grown along with the number of people wanting to hear her story …”And my heart soars.” And more importantly, so does hers.  Our path to reconciliation needs to include more of these spaces for the development of Indigenous voice and friendships.

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What is Powerful Professional Development?

I have a passion for learning.  I was a curious kid.  A risk taker. A reader.  As a beginning teacher, my learning was fueled by the plethora of professional development opportunities to learn that were available in the system, including district and school based professional development.  The British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) provides a structure and funding for vibrant, Professional Specialist Associations to organize groups of like-minded teachers into Local Specialist Associations.  I jumped in feet first and became actively involved as participant and executive member of The Primary Teachers’ Association.  My first principal invited me to attend my first meeting of The International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association).  I would go on to become the president of the local chapter, The B.C.Literacy Council, and then provincial coordinator.  Human Rights Education.  Special Education.  English Language Learning.  Outdoor Learning.  I had a wide range of interests and the encouragement from colleagues and administration.

There is no shortage of professional development opportunities for curious educators.  In fact, the big question, is how do we take the front-end loading and personal passions and incorporate the ideas into educational practices that support our students in their learning?  The focus on “Make and Take” or “ideas to try tomorrow”, were often novel but not necessarily transformative in my practice.

I was fortunate to cross paths with Maureen Dockendorf.   After 5 years of teaching in Abbotsford,  I began teaching in Coquitlam.  I promptly signed up to participate in a Teacher Inquiry group led by Maureen Dockendorf.  We defined areas of interest.  Clarified our question.  Came up with a plan to work with our students and colleagues to find possibilities and sometimes, answers.   Reported out on the learning to keep us accountable for doing the work and integrating other sources or learning.  The added bonus was it was fun.  It involved collaborating with colleagues.  It caused us to carefully considering the questions and responses of our students.  It led to reflection of who we were as educators in the class and how we were meeting the needs of our students.  It allowed us to go deeper in our learning.

The work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert has been instrumental in the inquiry process becoming an influential force in the learning of educators and students in British Columbia.  The Spiral of Inquiry they developed has been instrumental in shifting the way we think about learning.

  • What am I learning and why is it important?
  • How is my learning going?
  • What am I going to do next?

Professional development expectations have shifted.  The merits of a powerful speaker conveying ideas based on solid research and practices continues to be inspirational.  The New and Aspiring Leaders Program designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education is masterful at bringing together inspirational speakers and facilitating with educators from all over the world.  Collaborative structures were built into the program to facilitate the sharing of ideas with educational leaders from all over the world.  Educators were astounded by the implementation of Universal Design in education for all students in Canada.

A number of strategies have become common place to facilitate conversation about the ideas.  Think Pair Share, sitting in table groups, focus questions, and mixer activities have become common strategies to encourage even diverse audiences to talk about the ideas being presented by the speaker.

Social media has become a tool to present, learn and engage with colleagues about ideas online.  I have seen this as a way to get people in the same room to engage with each other and the speaker.  Twitter has become my newspaper and educational magazine.  On a daily basis I will read articles, blogs and magazine stories that are recommended by the people I follow.

I also participate in twitter chats, some regularly scheduled like @BCedchat on Sunday nights at 7 pm PST, other slow chats over the course of a month, like @perfinker.  I share out things I’m excited about and sometimes plan to meet face to face with online , like annual Edvents facilitated by @Edvent247

I have been asked how I have the “extra” time to blog.  For me, writing is my effort to make sense of the ideas percolating in my mind.  Having worked as a faculty associate at Simon Fraser University, I developed a strong appreciation of sitting with ideas over a period of time before making a judgement.  It was not learning that came easily to me.  One of my colleagues in Coquitlam nicknamed me the Tasmanian Devil back in my SD#43 days.  Reflection takes time.  If I can reflect before formulating and articulating an idea in writing, then I am in a much better place to engage in a discussion.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural year of Short Course II offered by the British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Association.  The design of Short Course II  for experienced principals and vice principals incorporated the three elements I believe are required to exist in an infinite loop for professional development to be powerful enough to implement personal and systemic change.  The elements continue on throughout a lifetime, although not necessarily in the same order.

  1. Inspiring big ideas to consider
  2. Opportunities for meaningful collaboration with peers to occur
  3. Time to reflect on the ideas

Leading, learning and innovation was the focus of the four day summit offered by BCPVPA at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C.  The input was inspirational on so many levels.

  1. The Indigenous people in the area, welcomed us to the land and shared their teachings.
  2. David Istance not only presented but engaged with each of the groups. As many of you will already know, he was one of the authors of the OECD 7 Principles of Education that have been the catalyst of educational change around the globe.
  3. British born, Amelia Pederson, presented the doctoral work she is doing at Harvard and actively engaged with the group, table groups and individuals throughout the week.
  4. David Weiss, President and CEO of Weiss International, gave us his perspective from working with organizational consultants who lead innovative consulting and training projects.
  5. Innovative business owners in Kelowna welcomed our BCPVPA groups into their companies and engaged in conversations about their inspiration, their process of developing their innovative idea, the skill set required of their employees and their goals moving forward.

Opportunities were structured for collaboration with colleagues throughout the province over the course of the four day program and throughout the year.

  1. A facilitator was assigned to each group and welcomed us into our table group and posed discussion questions and processes to keep us on track.
  2. We sat in the same daily table group and had the opportunity to get to know each other and engage with the ideas and questions together.
  3. We also had the opportunity to meet with other people with similar interests to develop our own inquiries to focus our work throughout the year. I was able to connect both professionally and personally with colleagues from Delta and Richmond to tease out my ideas.
  4. Informal opportunities to collaborate were part of the program, such as the wine and cheese at a local winery and the Open Deck time on the roof of FreshGrade.
  5. Online opportunities were provided to meet with our table groups over the course of the year.

By the time I had finished Short Course II, I had defined the first of my professional growth goals.  This is a management requirement for principals and vice principals in the Vancouver School Board in in British Columbia.  However for me defining an inquiry goal has always been part of grounding me in my practice.  Doing it prior to the start of the next school year allowed me to reflect on the previous year, consider new learning and thoughtfully plan my year so I could act deliberately rather than reactively.  During Short Course II, we agreed to meet with other SCII participants and participate online with our table groups.  It being the inaugural year, the anticipated challenges with technology presented themselves.  However it provides a pathway forward to continue to engage with colleagues over time.  The more we got to know each other, the better the conversation.  The inspiration, the collaboration and grappling with the ideas over time, provided an amazing model for powerful professional development.

Welcome to Our School

We are proud of our school and happy to welcome visitors into the conversation about learning.

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As a member of the VSB, I would like to acknowledge that we live, work and play on the unceded and traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh) andsḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Coast Salish peoples.

We are delighted to be able to show you around and encourage you to ask lots of questions.  The following challenges are to help you engage with our students and staff and understand some of the priorities at our school.  The staff and students touring you around the school will be able to give you some understanding of the history, our peer helpers program, Indigenous ways of knowing and breaking down the barrier between learning outdoors and learning indoors.

Challenge 1 – Look for evidence of the 7 principles during your observation.  It may be helpful to use the 7 Principles of Learning Chart.

The OECD has pointed out that the rapid advances in ICT have resulted in a global shift to economies based on knowledge, and an emphasis on the skills required to thrive in them.  At the same time empirical research on how people learn, how the mind and brain develop, how interests form, and how people differ has expanded the sciences of learning.  The result is that the educational community is now “rethinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed”.

The OECD’s work on innovative learning environments was led by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning”  identified seven principles of learning:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are central to learning
  4. Recognizing individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections

Challenge 2 – Engage in a conversation surrounding the Spirals questions. 

The Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser lists three questions that will find helpful in engaging with students and staff.  Students are encouraged to look closely, notice details and ask questions to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives.  Many staff are involved in inquiry projects to explore their professional questions.  Vice principals and principals in the VSB are using these questions to guide their professional growth plans.

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

Challenge 3:  Note the development of core competencies in the classroom.The New Curriculum:  You will note that competencies and concept-based curriculum are intertwined with learning standards in B.C.’s New Curriculum. Core Competencies have become the focus of learning and they use content to develop the three main areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Personal and Social skills

Challenge 4:  Find examples of Student Voice and Competency Based Assessment The new curriculum has shifted the focus from summative assessment to formative assessment.  Students are encouraged to identify their starting point and formulate a plan for growth.  The focus has shifted from a deficit model to “I Can” statements.  Students are invited to be active participants in determining how they learn and planning for growth in skills, strategies, and collaborative practices.

Challenge 5:  The Canadian Experience – Note examples in the school of how students are being introduced to the role of Indigenous populations played in the development of Canada and our perceptions of Canadian identity.

Wab Kinew, hip hop artist, author, broadcaster, politician, Ojibwe activist, and leader of the NDP Party in Manitoba, has said “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected.”  Authentic reconciliation happens when people develop relationships with one another.

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Challenge 5:  Identify several different types of learning spaces and the types of competencies being developed in those spaces. 

We have several options for student learning at UHill Elementary School.  Supervision is required in all spaces.  Classroom teachers work with SSA’s (Education Assistants), Resource teachers, the principal and students to explore possibilities to maximize student learning in a variety of spaces and places.

  • The Classroom – indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Outside Learning Spaces
    • The Readers Writing Garden (outside)
    • The We Are One Rock Circle (outside)
    • The Soccer Fields or basketball court (outside)
    • The Buddy Bench (outside)
    • Sidewalk games
  • Resource Rooms
  • The Gym
  • Collaboration Spaces outside classrooms
    • Foyer in the main entrance
    • The Starry Night Room / Room painted yellow
    • The Garden Room – currently the in residence program, Project Chef, is in this room
    • The Main Foyer
    • Library
    • The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
    • Gym
  • Active Learning Room (ALR) / room painted white
    • Ready Bodies Learning Minds
    • Peer helpers Program, a Grade 5 Leadership Program, at 11:45 am facilitated by The Community School Team
  • Places to Self Calm, work quietly independently, with a partner or small group
    • Peace Pod / room painted blue and decorated with saris
    • The Think Space – in the Office area

Challenge 6:  Breaking Down the Barriers:  Identify examples where learning outdoors is brought into the classroom and where indoor learning is brought outdoors.

The places where we live and grow impact our experiences and our perceptions.  Living in a temperate rainforest, attending school in the Pacific Spirit Park, and walking down to Acadia Beach impacts the knowledge our students are developing but also how they self regulate.

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I am a big fan of Twitter to keep parents informed about what is happening at the school by posting updates and pertinent information @UHillElementary and to further my own professional learning @CarrieFroese

We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Ms. Carrie Froese @CFroese

Principal University Hill Elementary School

Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada

Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com

Learning from Wab Kinew

I’m getting ready for Wab Kinew’s visit organized by Vancouver Kidsbooks this Wednesday.  I finally read his book The Reason You Walk (2017 edition) from the stack beside my bed.  This book brings to life the negative impact of residential schools on the parenting of the children who attended. It is a very personal story of Wab’s relationship with a father suffering from his years in residential school.  I will never understand what overtakes people that allow themselves to treat human beings with such cruelty, let alone the most vulnerable. Repeatedly.  This is one of the dark stains on Canada’s reputation as a country that champions human rights.

Many of us have witnessed the apology for residential schools to Indigenous People in Canada by Stephen Harper when he was Prime Minister in 2008. The question that lingered was “What now?”  Certainly the first step was acknowledging what had happened and why it happened.  The attempt to “Kill the Indian in the Child” can only be understood in the context of cultural genocide.  As a country, we have a long way to come back from decisions that were made in our infancy as a country but sustained for way too many years after.

Wab Kinew has written a book that is truly a book about acknowledging what has happened but also moving beyond the atrocity of residential schools.   Wab Kinew (pg 211) tells us: “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different about them needs to be respected.” That is an achievable goal to strive towards. And I am inspired.

The title of the book, The reason you walk or “Ningosha anishaa wenjii-bimoseyan” comes from the lyrics of an Anishinaabe travelling song. Wab Kinew’s dad, Ndedeiban, passed on the teaching to him: The words are interpreted as a direct message from the Creator aka God (The Reason You Walk, pg. 252):

  • “I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk on this earth.
  • I am the reason you walk. I gave you motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.
  • I am the reason you walk. I animate you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back toward one another.
  • And, now my son, as that journey comes to an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk to me on that everlasting road.”

This book is as much about a father-son relationship as it is about larger political issues. It helped me to better understand my own mother’s long lingering journey towards death. And the all too soon deaths of my aunt and brother.  This book is testament to the fact that different faith traditions can speak universal truths that cross religion denominations.  As human beings, we are all on the same journey of joys, defeats, celebrations and sorrows.  The end goal is to allow people to define their own journey and support each other along the way.

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.

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.

Discussing U.S. Election Results with Children

When my son was young, Bart Simpson hit the air waves.  I hated how the characters on the show talked and how they disrespected each other.  It incensed me to the point that I refused to let my son watch it, despite a considerable amount of begging.  The conversation ended briefly.  I soon discovered that he would go to his friend Dennis’ house to watch the show.  It wasn’t until that point that I agreed to watch the show with him.  It opened the conversation.   We would discuss what he found funny and what offended me.  Although he still preferred to watch it at Dennis’ house without my commentary, at least he understood my perspective about the importance of respectful interaction.

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The election of Donald Trump to the position of President Elect of the United States has stopped many conversations.  Coming from a Canadian stance, it is largely incomprehensible how someone who has overtly disrespected and discredited woman, Latinos, Muslims, Immigrants and the LGBTQ community could be selected for public office, in part by the people he targeted.    I needed to step away from being personally offended by his hateful rhetoric, in order to come to the conclusion that this was not just a win for misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and a fixation on the gun culture.  This was a democratic election and the leader was chosen by the 55.6% of the population who opted to exercise their democratic right to vote.


It has pushed the need to ask questions about what is happening south of the border that has created the palpable anger and commanding voice for change?  What is a “protest vote”?  What is the “status quo” that has created such a reaction?  Who voted for Trump?  Did gender play a part in preventing the election of a woman?  How did the close alignment with bankers and sizeable payouts to prevent bank failure impact public opinion?  How much impact would Bernie Sanders have been able to make on what happened in a Clinton government?  What was the impact of the votes garnered by Jill Stein and Gary Johnson?   The list goes on.

As a vice principal in a school, I spend a large chunk of my time engaging in conversations about respectful interactions.  The rules of the game in school are intended to prepare them for life.

  • Tell the truth.
  • Tell the other person your thoughts in a respectful way.
  • Take responsibility for your behaviour.
  • Empathize with the other person you are in conflict with.
  • Don’t make yourself feel big by intimidating others with words, physical proximity or force.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to third graders at Tecumseh thanking them for their work to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada earlier this year.  In the letter he told them that their voices and what they do matter right now.   I believe our children internalize these messages that their voices matter, just like they internalize the rules of respectful engagement when they live it.  My hope is that our children fully participate in the democratic process by voting and holding elected officials accountable for their conduct, actions and decisions.  My dream is for them to assume roles and responsibilities in the future where they are able to conduct themselves with integrity, intelligence and kindness to create a world based on respect for peace and justice.

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Superheroes Champion Syrian Refugees via CBC Podcast

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1947 This suitcase carried belongings of mother and her four young children to Canada to start a new chapter of life

It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015.  Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis.  Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety.  They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.

This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.

Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board.  Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts.  Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home.  They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style.  Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.