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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Holiday Reading Extravaganza

The holiday season invites a celebration.  Just before holidays, Grade 3 – 7 students at Tecumseh headed to the gym for the 3rd Reading Extravaganza of the year.  Kids were excited and clutching books in their hands.  Some of the books were from classroom collections.  Some were from the library.  Some books were from home and being brought to trade for some new books to add to personal libraries at home.  The common element was that all of the kids were VERY excited about going to the gym to read for an hour.  It begs the question, what are the things that have allowed the act of reading to generate such excitement?  There is no real magic in creating readers.

  1.  Create opportunities for positive memories of reading.
  2. Teach the skills for children to decode and understand text.
  3. Provide access to engaging fiction and non-fiction text to pique interest.

Students come to school with a variety of experiences with text.  Fortunately sharing stories with children has become a regular part of primary classrooms and many intermediate classrooms.  It has become a way to get to know students  and stimulate curiosity, as well as to teach reading comprehension skills.  In many schools such as ours, we have programs such as One To One Readers, which allow children to develop emergent skills and relationships with volunteers who are there because they love books and the kids they are working with.  Reading becomes an enjoyable venture where you can learn about things or characters that you care about and share a laugh or two.

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Children are also encouraged to read throughout the school for a variety of purposes and in a variety of spaces.  The lawn chairs by the Christmas tree were much sought after this season as a place to read.  At the Reading Extravaganza, gymnastics and yoga mats were pulled out and all children carefully removed their shoes before getting cozy on the mats. Benches pulled into shapes, lawn chairs and blankets were equally captivating spaces to read.

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With 350 students reading in a gym, it may surprise you that students actually engaged in reading.  We did have some conversation about what reading behaviours look like.  There was some good discussion around the differences of what people want when they read.  The desire to share a good part or laugh out loud, means that the environment is not going to be silent.  However we also discussed how we could be respectful to those readers not wanting to be interrupted.

The trade a book opportunity happened first with students surrendering the books they wanted to trade for popsicle sticks and then trading in their popsicle books for new books. Some children brought books to give away too.  I was also giving away many of the bookmarks and freebies from conferences and much of my classroom collection due to my impending move to another school.  Students demonstrating the reading behaviours we discussed were given popsicle sticks by the adults in the room to go pick a book or other reading item.   Most of our students have learned to self select books that interest them, but the students shopping for selections helped each other with favorite picks.  In some cases, students were choosing books they wanted to give to siblings or cousins or friends for Christmas.img_0319

As a reader and an educator, my heart warms to see kids engaged and enjoying reading. Give them books and opportunities to read and they will come and have fun!

 

 

Shining A Light on Reading

Continue reading “Shining A Light on Reading”

Deborah Hodge Talks the Craft of Writing


There is nothing like the visit from a REAL author to bring to life the point that authors are real people, writing about their experiences or imaginings.  We are thrilled to welcome Deborah Hodge to speak to the Vancouver School Board.  Deborah Hodge will be joining administrators, librarians and two students from 55 Vancouver elementary schools at Shaughnessy Elementary School on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.

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Each year the Vancouver Elementary Principals and Vice Principals host an author to celebrated reading and writing with elementary students and educators.  Phyllis Simon of Vancouver Kidsbooks, is one of our keen supporters.  She selects a collection of some of the most wonderful picture books that have been recently published for the selection committee to peruse.  Of course, I love this committee and always manage to find birthday picks for my friends, family and my own collection.  It is also a source of inspiration for possibilities in the school.   From our shortlist of books, we then contact the authors to determine their availability during Canadian Children’s Book Week:  May 7 – May 14th, 2016 to share their book .

For 2016, we have selected a new publication by Deborah Hodge.  This author was born in Saskatchewan but lucky for us, she lives in Vancouver.  Deborah Hodge has written over 25 books for children, many of which provide a plethora of information about nature and history.  Her picture book , West Coast Wild – A Nature Alphabet, has been purchased for all of the elementary libraries in the district by the administrator’s association.   Several schools in the Vancouver School District participated in Wild About Vancouver Festival this year and interest in learning in the outdoor classroom is growing.  The First People’s Principles of Learning have also been highlighted in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia and have opened our eyes to the experiential and reflective learning of Indigenous People who have lived and learned in British Columbia for thousands of years.   Both of these factors, along with the engaging text and illustrations make this book a perfect choice.

Students throughout the district are excited about the chance to meet Deborah Hodge and have their questions answered.    Grade 3 students at Tecumseh have been writing alphabet books about topics they have been researching.  Maria got new glasses this year and has taken off with her writing.  She is wondering if Deborah Hodge saw all of the animals she wrote about in her book or if she did an internet search to find the animal that matched the letter she needed.  Victoria is writing an ABC book about the aquarium and is wondering how the author got so many good ideas for her book. Hopefully they will find their answers on Wednesday.

Special Thanks to  Vancouver Administrators for funding this project,  committee members – Maureen McDonnell and Maria Donovan, as well as staff at Shaughnessy Elementary School for hosting this event.

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Community of Literacy Educators

The BC Literacy Council of the International Reading Association (BCLCIRA), commonly known as ReadingBC, has long been committed to improving student engagement in books and proficiency in literacy.  Members read journals such as The Reading Teacher, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, attend conferences and get together to discuss things they have tried in their classrooms and communities and the things they’d like to try.  Coming together with people with like minds is an energizing experience and lends itself to reflecting on practices that are tried and true and substantiated with research in the field.  Members have readily embraced  The International Literacy Association’s quest to start a worldwide Literacy Movement.

image For the 2015-2016 year, Reading BC (BCLCIRA) is trying to broaden participation and the diversity of ways that literacy leaders in British Columbia can engage with other literacy educators both in person and online.

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While it is increasingly difficult to organize and facilitate larger scale meetings due to high costs and increasing demands on our time, the ReadingBC executive committee has come up with some exciting opportunities to develop a variety of possibilities to engage in professional development and engage in community focused projects to advocate for literacy.

  • Join a ReadingBC Book Club.  Choose one of the books selected by members.  Form a book club with peers.
  • Participate in the discussion about a Book Club selection with colleagues via a TWITTERCHAT.
  • Read Spirals of Inquiry (Judy Halbert & Linda Kaser) and decide on an inquiry question to pursue with a group of colleagues.
  • Form a ReadingBC Community action focus to encourage children to engage in literacy activities or educate parents.
  • Form a Literacy Committee if you have a well established group wanting to commit to regular professional development and advocacy in your area.

Check out the link below for ideas BCLCILA Projects.final (3) copy and opportunities to join the International Literacy Association .  If you are a member of the International Literacy Association and live in British Columbia, you currently have a free membership to the provincial chapter, BCLCIRA / ReadingBC.  We have designated funding to help members get started from a grant from the Lower Mainland Council of The International Association (LOMCIRA), a local chapter before it went into dormancy.  Please check out the opportunities and send applications for funding or questions to the provincial coordinator at carriefroese@gmail.com or any of the other contacts on the website.

Hopefully this will forge some of the connections to continue building a community of literacy learners in British Columbia, and perhaps beyond.

Raising a Reader

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I love this time of year when the Vancouver Sun Newspaper “Raise a Reader Campaign” guarantees that you can pick up the newspaper and participate in a very public celebration of parents, teachers, sports stars and children in the pursuit of reading. I love that on one Wednesday morning, it is possible for people in Vancouver to come together and raise $21,000 to support literacy programs in B.C.  It is a commendable yearly campaign but what captures my full attention are the stories.   I was thrilled when the hard work of the staff of Pacific Immigrant Resource Services (PIRS) was featured for The Vancouver Sun for the work they do with our preschoolers and caregivers in our school community on Friday mornings at Tecumseh Elementary School.  I thought the Man in the Moon Program was inspiring and loved reading about Moa and her Dad’s quest to become a storyteller.  I was encouraged to learn about programs like Books, Bags and Babies offered by the Downtown Eastside’s YWCA Crabtree Corner and Carla Mann’s efforts to engage her kids in reading books.  As an educator, I know these adults and children are on a path to cementing relationships and developing reading habits that will help them as they progress through all aspects of school life.

 

As a parent, it also is a time that makes me nostalgic about the time raising my own children and the significance of reading in our lives. Excuse my indulgence as I share some of my significant “reading moments” with my children.  Tyler was still in preschool and we were reading Franklin in the Dark by Paulette Bourgeois.  This was one of his beloved and battered rereads about his friend, Franklin the turtle. Tyler looked up from the book and said, “But Mommy, you’re not afraid of anything. (Big smile. Pause. Quizzical brow) Except for underground parking lots. You are VERY afraid of underground parking lots.” There was no conversation about why. It was just a stated truth. The conversation that ensued was about what makes people afraid and what makes them stop being afraid and what they do if they don’t stop being afraid.  Another conversation about life that flowed naturally in the course of reading together and learning about each other.

The next ” reading moment” was on parent teacher night. My husband was doing a contract out of town and I picked the kids up late from daycare. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to put my babies to bed!  The kids, not so much.  They were in the midst of action drama play and busy karate kicking the air dangerously close to one another,  just beyond my sight line.  My daughter, Larkyn, apparently jumped back to avoid contact. She caught the corner of the wall with the back of her head.  As the blood was gushing with the intensity that comes with a head wound, Tyler ran for her shoes and I grabbed a dish towel, my purse and Junie B. Jones by Barabara Park.  We had experienced the Emergency room before.  Tyler was racked with guilt and went in my purse to retrieve the Junie B. Jones book as soon as we were waiting in Emerg.   Normally not a big fan of oral reading, he didn’t stop reading to his sister until the doctor entered the room.    Once the stitching was over, Larkyn with her frightened eyes and little, white face looks at Tyler and says, “Keep reading”.  Larkyn needed a dose of the fearless and the irreverent Junie B. and she negotiated through the crisis with hero.

Then the Harry Potter era begins with new releases, costumes, the late night “party” during the long line-ups in the local Chapters and the family reading events. By this time, the kids were old enough to read on their own, but the choice was for me to read with practiced intervals by the kids and occasionally Dad. Larkyn was particularly masterful at English accents from retelling taped versions of Sherlock Holmes stories en route home from Los Angeles one summer.  From this one series, we discussed pretty much every major life event we could encounter – life, death, sorrow, betrayal, fear, friendship, romance…  I think back fondly to skiing up Grouse Mountain on a Sunday afternoon and the kids deciding that we should just go home and read Harry Potter and drink hot chocolate. It wasn’t until the last book of the series that we didn’t have the time or patience for a read aloud.  We had a lottery to decide who got to read the book first. I infuriated both kids by reading all night so I didn’t have to wait my turn. Yes, all of us LOVED the books and the kids even committed to take turns carrying the latest hardcover edition when we travelled.  By the time the final movie came out, the kids were old enough to visit a pub after the movie.  The characters, the challenges, the responses, the discussions and the quotes were all part of growing up and family history.

My inclination is to continue to share more of these reading stories.  My point is that in none of these cases were we practicing reading.  Starting before pre-school, reading books was part of family life.  It was hypothesizing about favorite characters;  Connections with our own lives;  Empathizing with people who were very similar or very different from us;  Encountering new experiences or adventures or tragedies.  Reading as a child is much like the experience of reading as an adult.   We become more proficient readers with better vocabularies throughout our reading lives.  Researchers have told us for years that the best way to develop reading skills is by reading.  I certainly am in favour of students developing reading proficiency.  I strongly believe that this needs to happen as children are reading, as opposed to “practicing” for a time when they will be reading in the future.  My hope is that all children will have positive experiences and conversations that make them feel good when they curl up with a good book, which leads to another book, and another…

“Norman, Speak!”

  Caroline Adderson welcomed student representatives from all of the elementary schools in the VSB to a celebration of literacy along with their librarians and principals or vice-principals.  “Norman Speaks” was the book selected by the Vancouver Elementary Principals Vice Principals Association (VEPVPA).   Each year the VEPVPA “Celebrating Literacy Committee ” selects a book.   The Association invites the author to share the story with students and then puts the autographed book into the one hundred VSB elementary school libraries in Vancouver.  “Norman Speak” was selected for the storytelling and the illustrations in the picture book, as well as the story itself.   Caroline Adderson fascinated both groups with the story of the dog who inspired the story, a real dog that really only understood Chinese.  The book explores the assumptions that young and old people make when someone does not speak the language.  Something wise to be talking about in a city like Vancouver, where so many people speak English as a second or third or fourth language.  Caroline was an amazing presenter – a prolific author with teaching experience!  She had us all engaged in grappling with the task of trying to speak another language.  She also shared a video clip with the illustrator, Qin Leng, discussing how she approached doing the illustrations.   The students were amazed to learn that the authors and illustrators don’t usually meet until after the drawings are done, if ever.

Ben reports that the highlight of the event was having books and pieces of paper signed by the author.   More than one students reported that the dog shaped chocolate was the best part.   The was truly a wonderful illustration of how books can help us to adopt another perspective and delight in the experience.


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