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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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.


Shining A Light on Reading

Continue reading “Shining A Light on Reading”

#WelcomeSyrianRefugees

imageOn December 10th, 2015, Tecumseh Elementary School paused to celebrate Human Rights Day and to consider the plight of Syrian refugees.  If you had a chance to read the Welcoming Syrian Refugees blog (Dec. 2015), you will remember that Marion Collins was reading Hannah’s Suitcase with her students and we had the idea to create peace art with the old wooden suitcase that my paternal Grandmother brought to Canada in 1947 to start a new chapter of life with her four young children.   With the help of the grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase has become an inspiration for representing ideas through art, reading, writing, listening, speaking and caring.

One side of the suitcase is decorated with messages of welcome to the Syrian refugees. The other sides are decorated with Jackson Pollock inspired art by Grade 3 students. Each colour represents each individual in Canada with all of our similarities and differences.  The finished masterpiece is the representation of all of us coming together to create something beautiful.  Tanya Conley’s students also made flags of the countries of origin of Tecumseh students and of the suitcase.  A local artist, Larkyn Froese, came into help the Grade 3’s with applying the flags on the project.  Grade 6 students wrote messages of welcome on fabric squares and sewed them on items of clothing to be displayed coming out of the suitcase.

The artwork became a catalyst for more questions and an inspiration for the reading and writing of Tecumseh students.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (The British Columbia chapter of the International Literacy Association –ILA), Ms. Collins continued to expand the project to include a literacy component with the entire school.   The experience of leaving home and family behind is a difficult experience as an immigrant and as a refugee. Many of the parents in our school community have given up good jobs in their home country and work hard, often with more than one job, to provide better opportunities for their children in Canada.  Ms. Collins spearheaded a writing project with intermediate students to interview their parents and discover family stories of hardship and triumph.  Several albums have been filled with the interviews and photographs for display with the suitcase.

This same family history vein was pursued by Ms. Conley’s HumanEYES art based initiative that celebrates the diverse life experiences of young people throughout the Vancouver, Coast Salish ancestral lands.  This project documented inter-generational and inter-cultural storytelling and celebrates the importance of family and maintaining cultural roots.  The project culminated with an intergenerational cookbook filled with recipes, art and family photographs of her 4th graders that has been included in the suitcase as well.

Ms. Collins, her enthusiasm and the desire of staff to get involved resulted in almost all of the classrooms in the school taking part in the project.  Several classes stopped to consider the notion of taking flight in war-torn areas with very few belongings.  They learned many refugees leave home with a house key in the hope their home will survive the war or as a memory of what was.  Several intermediate classes of students designed hamsa handsan old and still popular amulet for magical protection from the envious or evil eye in many Middle East and North African cultures.  They created keychains with the hasma hand, a key and a fimo sculpture of what they pack if they needed to leave home in a hurry.  Primary students wrote and drew about what they would bring and have created albums of their ideas for inclusion in the suitcase as well.

The #WelcomeSyrianRefugees project was first featured at the United Way luncheon for Syrian Refugees that was hosted at Tecumseh Elementary school this Spring.  The most common reaction from the adults viewing the project has been tears.  In the barrage of negatives on mainstream media and social media, there is comfort that Canadian children are welcoming their Syrian children with open arms.  There is also the hope that there are many Canadian adults who are doing exactly the same thing.

Note:  The title #WelcomeSyrianRefugees came from the Twitter handle of the same name that expresses messages of welcome not just to Syrian refugees.  This project will be on display at the Vancouver School Board during July and August 2016.  Our goal is for it to be displayed at a variety of venues as a way to warmly welcome refugees as they begin a new chapter of their lives in Canada.

 

Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine

imageInvestigating Our Practice Conference in the Faculty of Education on Saturday, May 14th.  The day was filled with poster presentations, talks and interactive experiences by undergraduates, grad students, faculty and alumni.  It was particularly exciting to see the level of engagement of the student giving up their very sunny Vancouver Saturday to consider a range of ideas and questions.  For those of you who are not Vancouverites, when the sun comes out in full glory, we go outside – never quite certain how long it will be around.

I had the pleasure of presenting The Outdoor Classroom:  Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine with Claire Rushton, Alli Tufaro and Ali Nasato.        We were pulled together by a common interest in the opportunity provided by outdoor learning.  This one interest was able to pull together so many elements that have been embraced as key ideas in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia, such as:

  • The social emotional benefits of engaging with nature
  • The natural way in which we can engage students in practicing and understanding the First Nations Principles of Learning, including:
    • experiential learning
    • patience and time required for learning
    • exploring one’s identity
    • everyone and everything has a story
    • history matters
    • there are consequences to our actions
  • Ways to engage students in cross curricular learning opportunities
  • Connecting classroom lessons to the larger world
  • Using resources in the classroom to answer our questions about observations made outdoors
  • Reporting back about the things we care about to authentic audiences

Of course, the list goes on.  Another interesting aspect of our collaborative group was the power of inquiry in developing our professional practice as educators throughout different stages of our careers.  Both student teachers have found a way to focus their  professional learning throughout the practicum experience.  Claire Rushton, as the coordinator of the Social Emotional Learning cohort has used the outdoors to bring  Richard Louv’s work to life and introduce the power of “nature … as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life..” by integrating the experiences in nature to frame discussions of social – emotional learning. I have engaged in a personal inquiry of how to use iPad APPS  (photos, Drawing Pad, Book Creator, Twitter) as a way to access information, document and share outdoor learning.  I’ve also been able to support the staff I interact with on a regular basis in their own inquiries.  Inquiry, as framed by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in Spirals of Inquiry, has provided a framework for beginning teachers as well as a school administrator and university instructor.  The learning has fuelled more questions and future inquiries.

 

I very much hope our collaboration continues…perhaps after the frenetic pace of the end of practicum, final observations and reports and end of year demands and celebrations!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

   Welcoming Syrian Refugees

 

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I love December 10th. On that day in 1948, many nations came together to sign The United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. It is an annual reminder of the acknowledgement that human rights exist, despite what we read in the newspaper, see in the media, and witness all too often in daily interactions. It is also another reminder to have the conversation with our schools about human rights.

The quality of the conversation ranges from surface to particularly moving depending on the year, the person negotiating it and the students.  This year has been magic.  One of the teachers was reading Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, about the Holocaust with her 6th Grade students.  I was reading Playing War by Kathy Beckwith , to explore why war isn’t a  fun game for students coming from war torn countries with 3rd grade students.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children, the conversation morphed into a project to welcome Syrian refugees.

I went down to the storage locker to pull out my Christmas decorations and an old suitcase that Ms. Collins and her 6th graders could use to decorate with images and hold all our messages to welcome the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  The suitcase holding some of my most precious and breakable Christmas decorations caused me to pause.  My paternal grandmother had gotten the suitcase on a trip to Russia.  She used it to take flight several times with her four young children away from the front line of war in Germany during WWII. Her brother sponsored her and her two sisters and all of their children to come to Canada in 1947. Margriet’s suitcase took her on to the Voldendam to travel to Canada and start a new life.

I am an administrator in a school where many families have made sacrifices to come to Canada with the promise of starting a better life.  At the Winter Potluck dinner, messages of support and advice were written to the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  Ms. Collin’s Grade 6 students have been at a booth to tell people about the Syrian refugees and encourage them to write messages to add to the others in the suitcase.  Mable Elmore, our MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, has come to talk to students about her job and work with refugees.  Yesterday Ms. Collins, on the busiest shopping day of the year, with her daughter in tow, arrived at a community forum to discuss how to support the Syrian refugees that may be arriving in our area.  The conversation deepens, the project expands and the possibility for learning and caring expands exponentially.