No, the title is not a joke. MANY years ago, my principal walked into my office, with coffee in hand, and deposited a relatively small pile of report cards on the desk of his beleaguered VP during report card time. Stressed parents. Stressed teachers. Stressed Admin staff. Stress kids. Hundreds of report cards to read, give feedback, and sign. Yet with a smile on his face, a coffee in hand and the lion’s share of the report cards, off he went to his office. Being that beleaguered VP, I set to work to return the report cards with suggestions on post it notes, or signature and appreciative comments on a thank you notes back to teachers ASAP so we could all “get on with it”. I feverishly finished and went to announce victory to my principal and thank him for the taking the biggest pile to review and sign. There he was sitting with the student photo book from the school photographer in hand, the class lists in front of him, reading report cards – still with a smile on his face. “Hey, listen to this…”
It was at that point, I learned about how to read report cards. It was not an addition to my already heavy workload but the real work – getting to know the kids better so I could support their learning. It has now become for me, what it is for parents – additional insight into what they already know about the child and his/her/their learning. Sitting down with the photo book allows me to match the name with the child, if I haven’t already done so. It makes me smile. It gives me a new piece of the puzzle or confirms my suspicions. Classroom visits and meetings with parents and teachers, give me some insight into the individual children. Interaction on the playground gives me another perspective. Teachers provide another. Student voice in the report card provides yet another.
With the roll out of new curriculum in British Columbia, there has been a new spotlight on student understanding of his/her/their learning. Student voice in report cards has been included in many well written report cards over the years. However, with the new curriculum in British Columbia, student voice has become a focus. Our very own, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, of Spirals of Inquiry fame, have given us the structure to facilitate this within our own learning and classroom instruction:
What are you learning and why is it important?
How is it going?
As students experience answering these questions, and posing them on their own, student voice finds its way into assessment and reporting practices. This is where the true joy emerges for me as a reader of report cards. There is incredible promise when students are empowered to take control of their own learning. The ability to identify learning strengths, areas that require more repetition and practice, and strategies for further learning, the ceiling is removed from what our children are able to achieve. It develops the metacognitive skills required for children to think about their own thinking and learning, then develop a plan to move forward.
I’m hoping the practice of paying students for being good at something at report card time is replaced with good conversations about celebration of successes, as well as plans for future efforts. As a little girl, my daughter swam with the Coquitlam Sharks and was repeatedly disqualified (DQ’d) at swim meets during the dreaded butterfly stroke. So much that we regularly went to the DQ to eat ice cream and shake it off after swim meets. The first meet that Larkyn wasn’t DQ’d, our family went crazy. We hooted. We hollered. We hugged. We cheered with enthusiasm and apparently volume! The dad beside me leaned in and said, “You know your kid didn’t win, right?” However, Larkyn conquering the “butterfly stroke” was the biggest win of our swim club experience and is entrenched in family lore. My hope is that is what report card time can be just like that for all families. Reading strength-based report cards that are honest about achievement, clear about areas requiring more focused attention and delineate a plan to move forward, give me hope. It is possible for report cards to bring joy. These are the opportunities to create enduring family stories.
Orange shirt day is officially marked on September 30each year, as that was the time of year Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to attend residential schools in Canada. Orange shirt day is not a day about guilt for actions of other Canadians in days gone by. It is about being part of a story. Our story as Canadians. A story in which 150,000 Indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities and put in residential schools because the differences in culture and language were not understood or appreciated or tolerated. A story where 10,000 years of experience living off the land was not understood as a learning opportunity. A story that started in 1831 with the first residential school and continues today. Because although the last residential school was finally closed in 1996, the trauma of generations of residential schools has left a trail of shame, sadness, and racism.
One of the best things for us as a country has been the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. From 2007 – 2015, as the commission traveled throughout Canada, the stories of residential schools became common knowledge. In many cases for the first time, Indigenous people were able to tell their stories and have people believe they were telling the truth. We learned of the harsh, punitive conditions in which children were not allowed to speak their own language or practice their cultural traditions. Six thousand children never returned home due to inadequate food, health and sanitary conditions. Stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are all too common. The trauma has crept through generations. And yet the beacon of hope is that the truth has been told and heard. And now the work of reconciliation has a chance of success. We have the opportunity to forge a vision of a future in which Canadians value differences as opportunities for learning, ask questions, problem solve and recognize that every person matters.
Indigenous elders teach respect of the sacredness and importance of clean water. Autumn Peltier from the Anishinabek First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario learned this as a young child. These teachings have allowed this 15 year old girl to clearly articulate the need for clean water to the United Nations and at hundreds of events around the world. She speaks and people listen. Her question, “All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water. Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?” I am certain she will be included in the next edition of Wab Kinew’s book about Indigenous heroes! Our country is better with her voice.
The Vancouver School District has identified an Indigenous Goal for all of our public schools: To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students
At David Livingstone Elementary, we will be exploring the Indigenous Principles of Learning incorporated in the new curriculum in British Columbia and exploring Indigenous ways of knowing. Our starting points will be in the school community garden. It will be a place to learn about indigenous plants and how they were used by local Indigenous groups as food and as medicine. We’ll also be exploring many of the legends that are based on different aspects of nature. We have lots to learn and we’re ready to begin.
Educational change is an exciting topic with he promise of many pro-active, positive changes in educational systems around the world. I am working with secondary teachers at Royal Bridge Education Group in Coquitlam today. We will be engaging in learning about educational change and responding to the ideas using strategies and tools to engage learners in other contexts. I will be encouraging participants to set up a Twitter Account and respond to the ideas and the strategies and tools on a Twitterchat @CarrieFroese #edchat #edchange #bcedchat with a corresponding A(nswer)1 if a Q(uestion)1 is asked. It would be great if interested blog readers also participated.
I will be providing front-end loading about educational change, in both global and British Columbia contexts.
Enter provide your feedback in our TwitterChat @CarrieFroese #edchange #edchat
In our discussions of educational change, I will be focusing on the following thinkers and content from a number of sources. The following links provide some extension materials to supplement materials presented in class and to provoke deep thinking.
Inquire2Empower The Indigenous Voice carriefroese.wordpress.com
John Hattie and Helen Timperley
Making learning visible with John Hattie – Know Thy Impact
The Research of John Hattie
In 2009 Professor John Hattie published Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. This groundbreaking book synthesized the findings from 800 meta-analysis of 50,000 research studies involving more than 150 million students and it built a story about the power of teachers and of feedback, and constructed a model of learning and understanding by pointing out what works best in improving student learning outcomes.
Since then, John Hattie has continued to collect and aggregate meta-analyses to the Visible Learning database. His latest dataset synthesizes more than 1,600 meta-analyses of more than 95,000 studies involving more than 300 million students. This is the world’s largest evidence base into what works best in schools to improve learning.
The Power of Feedback – A PowToon explaining the ideas of John Hattie and Helen Timperley with respect to providing feedback to learners.
David Istance /The OECD – The 7 Principles of Learning
OECD – Centre for Educational Research and Innovation – The Nature of Learning (2010) – Using Research to Inspire Practice, Edited by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides / Practitioner’s Guide (2012)
A variety of strategies, processes and tools will be used to prompt learner engagement with the materials and support collaborative practices in class. They may include the following. We will be discussing the possible teaching applications for these strategies, tools, and processes. All ideas are welcomed @CarrieFroese #edchat #edchange
My mantra as an Elementary School Principal in British Columbia, Canada is “Everyone’s Invited to the Party”. We register the students who live in the defined school catchment or there is space in the school to allow for a cross boundary permit. There is no requisite testing or evaluation of “fit” in the school community. As a student of history, I ascribe firmly to the notion that the state of democracy in a country can be judged by the state of the public-school system. In British Columbia, we are in good shape. Our curriculum is progressive and focused on student learning. We do well on international testing of student achievement and have been acknowledged for the strength of the system. That doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement, particularly when it comes to students who enter the public system with social and/or learning differences.
Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were matriarchs who held their families together. They both experienced a considerable amount of adversity in their lives and it made them resilient and appreciative of family bonds. They actively stayed in touch with each of their four children, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They shared family news and ritual gatherings helped all of us step past petty grievances and hurt feelings with laughter and shared memories. Newcomers to the family were welcomed with open arms and celebrated. My grand-mothers thought less of themselves and more of the family members they sought to embrace. They provided the ultimate example of inclusion.
With the deaths of my grandmothers, the bonds loosened and the context of family changed. This change seems to be reflected in society generally. A huge focus on the individual and their losses, happiness, divorces, and boundaries has weakened the concept of family. Bullying by exclusion takes root in this context. The concept of family and the requirements to maintain inclusion in the life and fabric of family changes to one of judgment, preference or arbitrary measures in all too many cases.
There is no doubt that setting boundaries in cases of abuse are required for the safety of individuals involved. However, all relationships are hard because people are not perfect, have expectations, and they keep changing. We can learn about the importance of investing in these relationships from our grandmothers. Blood connections are not required. An investment in time, effort and empathy is required. We are included in the family because we fit into the web or relationships through blood or affiliation. Our shared experiences are instrumental in defining who we are. Strong families create spaces for all members to be loved and celebrated. There is also scaffolding to navigate through difficult situations so that the family is able to remain intact. The longevity of the relationship brings depth because of the shared experiences.
In his book my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry (2015), Fredrik Backman does a masterful job of illustrating the insecurity of 7- almost 8- year old Elsa in finding her place in her two new families, after the divorce of her parents. Her father’s wife has two of her own children and her concern is that she upsets the family dynamic, as she has read on the internet, so they don’t want her around. Her mother and her step-father are going to have a new baby and her concern is that they will love the new baby more because he belongs to both of them. Fortunately, in this case, both parents and their partners are very focused on the child’s needs and respecting the other parent. They fully invest in including Elsa in both of the families she belongs too. In this situation, everyone wins.
On Twitter this week, @MrsHankinsClass was sharing how her students said “Welcome to the family” when the new student said “Hi”. This is a concept of family in the very best of ways. Day One that new student knew he was welcome and he was in a safe place therefore in a position to start learning. There is an expectation that differences will exist, problems will be encountered and there will be a will a respectful problem-solving process. This is what inclusion is supposed to look like. You walk into a classroom where it is just fine to be yourself. Perfection is neither expected nor required. In the midst of challenges and poor choices, the expectation is that you calm down, then problem solve and then repair relationships. Tomorrow is always another opportunity to be your best self. Growth is the valued currency.
I’m excited about the beginning of a new school year and it isn’t restricted to the new post it note colours and shapes and the smell of new notebooks. I’m in a new school and there is another opportunity to work with a new staff to welcome our students to a school where they want to come each day. Fredrik Backman defines the most important human right as the right to be different. Yes, everyone is invited to the party!
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”.
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.
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.
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.
We are proud of our school and happy to welcome visitors into the conversation about learning.
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.
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 byHanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning” identified seven principles of learning:
Learners at the centre
The social nature of learning
Emotions are central to learning
Recognizing individual differences
Stretching all students
Assessment for learning
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:
Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
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.
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)
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
The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
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.
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
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.
I recently read a publication in the NY Times Sunday Review called My Kid’s First Lesson in Realpolitik. Annie Pfeifer is a parent bemoaning the need for our children to stand up to bullies. There is recognition of the fact that “helicopter parents” swoop in with speed and vehemence to deal with any conflict, big or small, that his / her child may encounter. The alternative presented is to let kids fight it out, like on the playgrounds in Switzerland, so they learn how to deal with conflict. It is my position that both of these options fail to provide our children with the confidence or skills to deal with conflict. Our kids need educators and families to work together to provide the guidance and mentoring to teach kids how to resolve conflict.
Playgrounds serve to be a microcosm of the world where our kids learn important lessons. They are filled with students who are human. Perfection may not be possible but the aspiration to create a peaceful playground is paramount. We want our future generation to accept that everyone is invited to the party and we all need to learn to co-exist peacefully to create a better reality. A playground is a relatively small fishbowl and a good place to learn about kindness, acceptance, tolerance and to develop problem solving skills.
Peaceful playground require:
sharing space, equipment and friends
an ability to express feelings, while considering other people’s feelings
an ability to understand when you need to self calm and practice those skills
problem solving skills
ability to follow safety rules and game rules
Of course the list could go on. We have a number of programs and theories to help us navigate this course. School Codes of Conduct are mandatory in schools in British Columbia and are widely published on school websites. Articles and tweets about the topic of self regulation has become common. @Stuart Shanker has committed to tweeting a daily quote #SelfReg to encourage us to pursue and gain a greater understanding of root causes of our feelings and how to deal with them. .
I particularly like The Zones of Regulation program developed by Leah Kuypers, to teach kids that feeling emotions is never a bad thing but we require strategies to deal with them in ways that keep others and ourselves safe. If you are very angry and in the “Red Zone”, your job is to self calm before you try to problem solve. Kids are fascinated to learn that “yoga” or slow breathing actually causes your brain to calm your body. Science at work!
The Peaceful Playgrounds Program is another program that I really like. Basic messages are framed in a way for kids to easily remember and apply on the playground. It also includes a plethora of ideas of things to keep kids active and problem solving on the playground. Problem solving strategies that you probably remember from your own childhood.
Rock, Papers, Scissors ( Yes, you commit on 3 – agreed upon rule! ) In several of my other schools, this was know as Ching, Chang, Push, apparently a well established strategy in China too!
War Toys To Peace Art is a group established to fund art projects by peace loving groups of children. The Friendship Bench is one way for kids to find their way into playground activity if they need some additional support. A bench is designated as a space for kids to demonstrate kindness by inviting kids looking for a friend looking for someone to play with. Programs like Jump Rope for Heart give kids a focus and the equipment to get involved in healthy playground activity.
Kids are human and sometimes they will need help resolving conflicts face to face AFTER they have calmed down. When kids don’t make good choices, they need the opportunity to own them. Kids need to be able to express how they are feeling and what they didn’t like in face to face conversations. They also need to learn to listen to other opinions, how the choices he / she made impacted the other person and to develop strategies for how to repair relationships. They also need to learn to move forward after they have dealt with the problem. Adults are there to support kids in dealing with the problems. The goal is for kids to develop the skills to problem solve and the confidence that they can. Adults are involved in the process to ensure that name calling and bullying (physical and emotional ) do not become an accepted norm.
“I Believe in You!” This is the mantra of my daughter. To my chagrin in secondary school, she joined the Cheer Squad at Charles Best Secondary School. I saw the objectification of women. She saw the comradarie of the cheer squad and the physical challenge. It has served her well. She bought into the importance of encouragement. As a tiny little girl who only wanted to be with her Mommy, she experienced the encouragement to go out into the world on her own. In Kindergarten, her teacher nicknamed her Sparky because she brought palpable, positive energy into the classroom every morning. As a competitive soccer player in school, she witnessed the power of encouragement to impact her performance. In cheer, she learned why cheerleading came into being.
I worked very hard to interest Larkyn in attending UBC for selfish reasons of my own. Her quest for adventure and independence, took her off to Queen’s University. She made a group of friends that negotiated the ups and downs of university life. Visiting her and her housemates was always refreshing. The young women who she pulled close to her, were people who demonstrated the same encouraging way of being. “I believe in you” was often uttered as a young woman with the unbrushed hair in a sock bun emerged from her room with a scowl on her face to take on some assignment or test or interaction that she was not feeling particularly good about. In this case, “I believe in you” was not a statement assuming success would be the end product. It was a recognition that her friend was doing something hard. It was a promise that at the end of the day, success or failure, you were still someone who mattered.
I had an adoring mother who believed I was wonderful and always assumed success in my ventures. My steadfast determination assured a fair record of successes. However failure meant not only failing at an intended task, but also disappointing her. It is something to this day that I experience. Missing the mark and disappointing the people who really want my success, results in the heavy heart times two. Perhaps this is residual from being a little girl with blonde ringlets and an over reliance on pleasing. I do find the “I believe in you”, received and delivered with a smile, has a more positive impact. It’s like being sent off with a hug of reassurance. It doesn’t presume an outcome, just the encouragement to “Go for it” and acknowledgement that you’re taking a risk that is hard.
In Grade 3 due to a significant family upheaval, I ended up in a new school after the beginning of the school year. Peer groups were already established and I was doing poorly on daily timed math drills. My Mom suggested I talk to the teacher about what I could do to improve. The teacher told me not to worry about it, I was in the average range. My take away was that she didn’t believe in me and my belief in me faltered. It took me until my statistics class in Graduate School to discover I didn’t actually suck at Math. We have huge power as educators to deflate or inspire.
“I believe in you” is a message that inspires people or at least may help them lighten up. It isn’t the belief that success is imminent. It isn’t the belief that failure is an opportunity to teach you an important life lesson. It’s the statement, “You’re on my team!” and the commitment to cheer for you no matter what! Unconditional cheering. Not a bad way to go out into the world and make our mark. It is a message that I aspire to communicate to my staff, students, friends and family on a regular basis.
For obvious reasons, I am thinking a lot about mothering today. Mother’s Day tends to do that. I was fortunate to have a mother whom I adored and provided an amazing model of steadfast love, tenacity and optimism that I have carried with me into my adult life. I have also had many other woman who have mothered me, including my step-mother, my grandmothers, special aunts, special friends and mothers of my best friends. They listened to my stories and told me theirs, gave me advice, sometimes solicited and sometimes not so much. They put on the kettle to solve the problems of the world or drove directly to Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavours. Yet, what they all had in common was that we laughed together, talked and played a lot. Conversations and learning were not planned events but came out of hours and hours of time spent together.
When my own kids were very young and I was frustrated in the midst of a messy house in the suburbs, surrounded by laundry, I made my best mothering decision. The sunshine beaconed but I was nowhere near finishing any of the housework or laundry. I knew at that moment that I needed to choose. I was going to clean the house and finish the laundry or we were going to the park. Going to the ski hill, going hiking or biking, going to the beach, going to the park, going to the library or going in the hot tub won. The house was messier than aspired for, but I heard the stories my kids were willing to share, fed their interests, laughed and got regular doses of joy. On the downward slopes on the parenting roller coaster, they provided the promise of better days to come.
I remember reading once that regardless of teacher training methods experienced, teachers often taught in ways that were most familiar to them. For me the biggest influences on me as a teacher, were the women who mothered me. Beach time and double solitaire with my Mom. My Auntie Myrna and her “What’s your story, Morning Glory?” Knitting, crafting and collecting stuff with Nanny Keenan. Endless games of Yahtzee and Parcheesi with Grandma Derksen. Playing cops and robbers with my step mother in the convertible en route to Mayfair Market and annual trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and the mall. Swimming up and down the pool with Mrs. Patrick debating anything and everything. These were woman who liked to spend time with me, laughed freely and played with me. What I brought with me into the classroom was a healthy appreciation of how I learned in environments where I was free to laugh and play with ideas and take more than one kick at the can to get it right. They also taught me the importance of seizing the opportunity as it presented itself. I feel so very grateful to the women who have mothered me. They have helped me to learn the most important things I needed to do as a parent and as a teacher.