Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Transforming our Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 Habits +1 to Empower

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Betty Boult was the keeper of the knowledge when it came to Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I first started teaching in Abbotsford.  She had done the facilitators training and she facilitated with flair.  We had animated discussions and were committed to engaging with the ideas and doing the work to complete the workbook meticulously.  I can still play out some conversations that resonated and remember my queries around some of the habits.  Those were the days when “sharpening the saw” was just a part of daily life and took much less deliberate effort.   Saying “no” was not yet part of my repertoire and everything was a priority.   These were the days before children and my husband was working just as hard to start his business.  The advantage of professional development in Abbotsford was that it was a small enough district that we all did pro-d together.  Therefore, the things we learned and ideas we were thinking about, were discussed in the staffroom, as staff socials and the ideas frequently referenced.  I think in this way, many of the ideas were incorporated into who I was.

I recently finished reading Stephen Covey’s (2008)  The Leader in Me:  How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time.  In this book, the learning is focused on children in K-5, middle and secondary schools, in the United States (the main focus), Singapore, Canada and Japan.  The power is that it that the ideas are introduced and developed with entire school populations.  Students are taught public speaking and acknowledged for their strengths and encouraged to assume responsibility for leadership tasks within the school.

I remember shortly after my Covey training, I was asked to do the goodbye tribute to my mentor, Joan Fuller, at her retirement function.  Public speaking had never been in my comfort zone.  Memories of tomato seeds bouncing out of my hand during my 9th grade oral report haunted me.  Boring topic.  Questionable choice to be holding the smallest of all seeds for an oral report in front of the class.  Terrifying teacher who was known to roll her eyes. Nothing good came out of it and I carried a lingering fear of public speaking.  However, I loved Joan and had a vested interest in making her retirement special.  I was terrified.  I was over prepared and tripped over my words.  I was glued to my cue cards.  My vocal chords constricted.  My legs shook.  I blushed.  And yet, I lived through it.  Everyone clapped and smiled.  Joan was delighted and cried.  And there were no tomato seeds.  I drank the Kool-Aid and was excessively proactive and had a passion for professional development.  I found myself more and more speaking in front of audiences,  in both my professional life and involvement in personal passions.  Yes, I was one of the lives that was changed because I had come to understand I had something worthwhile to say.

Covey is frequently referenced but I wonder how many people really understand the ideas and have integrated them into their lives and then regularly revisited.  There is a tremendous amount to be learned that directly correlates with empowering, not only adults but children too.

For those of you who need a quick recap of the habits:

  • Habit 1:  Be Proactive
    • Take initiative
  • Habit 2:  Begin with the End in Mind
    • Set goals
  • Habit 3:  Put First Things First
    • Prioritize and only do the most important things
  • Habit 4:  Think Win-Win
    • Getting what you want while considering others
  • Habit 5:  Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  • Habit 6:  Synergize
    • work well with others to accomplish a task
  • Habit 7:  Sharpen the Saw
    • Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep
  • Habit 8 (added in 2004):  Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Theirs –
    • Identify gifts.  Optimize them.  Develop them.

Peaceful Playgrounds

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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:

  • kindness
  • communication skills
  • compassion
  • empathy
  • inclusivity
  • compromise
  • 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.

  • Talk
  • Walk
  • 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

“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.