Part 1: Analysis of Context
1. What do we know about our learners?
AHP Matthew Elementary School opened in 1958 in a residential neighbourhood in central Surrey. It is currently a Tier 3 Inner-City school that is comprised of students representing culturally diverse backgrounds, varying needs and social-economic statuses. Five percent of our student population identifies as Aboriginal, and are supported by our Aboriginal Child and Youth Care Worker. The school hosts 353 students from Kindergarten through grade 7 in 16 divisions and 50 staff members. There is also have a full time Outreach Worker, and part-time Child Care worker who work with our students to develop positive habits and mindsets. A variety of sports and fine arts opportunities are available to the students throughout the year, as well as school-based club activities such as the Reading Link Challenge via the Library Commons, Blast, and Sticks and Stars.
Our guiding principles are aligned with the Core Competencies and are embedded into all aspects of school life. We believe all children have a right to learn in a safe and caring environment and that they feel socially and emotionally supported in their learning journey. At the core of this is the development of socially responsible behaviour, awareness, appreciation and understanding of their own and others identities and cultures. We believe that this knowledge will allow students to thrive as individuals, to understand and care about themselves and others, and to find and achieve their purpose in life.
2. What evidence supports what we know about our learners?
Our baseline was collected through student and staff surveys. Some of the notable results included:
- Indigenous learning was primarily being taught in specific grades, and was focussed on content rather than world-views and ways of knowing. Looking at the baseline data, it demonstrated that Indigenous content was focussed primarily in Grades 3 and 4. Students in these grades indicated they participated more frequently in lessons, discussions and activities than in the other grades, (78% in Grades 3-4, and only 32% in K-2, 5-7).
- 79% of Students demonstrated an interest in learning about Indigenous culture, and noted particular appreciation for Aboriginal art and crafts, as well as Indigenous iconography such as totem poles, and long houses.
- 70% of students were able to articulate the origins and purpose of Orange Shirt Day.
- A significant finding was that 76% of students did not understand or even recognize the First People’s Principles of Learning.
- 25% of students indicated they see Aboriginal representation (bulletin boards, displays, assemblies, lessons, activities) around the school on a regular basis (once per month or more.
“I would like to teach more aboriginal content but don’t feel I know enough to do it justice.”
“I need to learn more about First Nation’s in order to feel comfortable teaching it.”
“I think it is better when aboriginal content is taught by aboriginal people. I want to be respectful of that.”
“I love learning about the Coast Salish traditions.”
“I know that nature is really important to aboriginal people and that a lot of it is in their legends.”
“Orange shirt day is when I see a lot of aboriginal stuff around the school”
This data set led our inquiry team to begin researching ways to to make Indigenous ways of knowing more embedded, and authentic in order to broaden the scope of Indigenous learning at AHP Matthew.
Part 2: Focus and Planning
3. What focus emerges as a question to pursue?
How can we increase student knowledge, appreciation and understanding of indigenous content and ways of knowing (First Nations Principles of Learning)?
· How can we increase teacher comfort levels in teaching indigenous content and ways of knowing (First Nation’s Principles of Learning).
· How can we use outdoor learning to enhance student’s understanding First Nation’s Principles of learning?
· What can we do to ensure indigenous students to feel welcome, represented and connected to their school community? (Community building, connections, elders, consider limitations due to COVID)
· How can we use indigenous ways of knowing to improve student SEL? (Medicine Wheel)
4. What professional learning do we need?
Our Staff Inquiry team determined that we needed pursue research centred on examining existing practices that were effective in embedding Indigenous Principles of Learning . We
explored research that determined possible directions to improve our students’ experiences. We examined schools that had embedded Indigenous content in comprehensive, and authentic ways, to ensure a true understanding by our students.
We also needed to increase our team’s knowledge of Indigenous culture, content, and ways of knowing, in order to take on a leadership role with staff. This would be accomplished not only through academic research, but also through connecting with District leaders in the Aboriginal Education Department, Helping Teachers. as well as community elders. We will work collaboratively with school-based staff, including our ACYCW to curate and develop a plan for staff learning, which will impact student learning.
Our inquiry team will use the following professional resources to guide our work:
Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation by Jennifer Katz
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Working towards Decolonization, Indigeneity and Inter-culturalism
Learning and Teaching Together: Weaving Indigenous Ways of Knowing into Education by Michele Tanaka
The First Nations Principles of Learning by FNESC will guide our work to embed Indigenous content into our practice. We will endeavour to find ways to ensure that learning is reflexive, holistic, experiential, and connected as is outline in these fundamental Indigenous aspects that are central to learning.
5. What is our plan?
We knew from examining our learners, that they live in a densely urban area, and many do not have access to outdoor experiences. We also found that Indigenous learning was only being taught in specific grades, and was focussed on content rather than world-views and ways of knowing. After conducting our initial research, and many passionate discussions, we determined that the path forward would include two essential elements. We would build an outdoor classroom space centred on the First Nations Principles of Learning, as well as develop an accompanying curriculum that focused on Indigenous content as well as Aboriginal ways of knowing, (experiential, hands-on, place-based, oral, storytelling, inter-generational). Our application was approved, and construction of our classroom began. During this time, we continued researching authentic teaching resources to ensure Indigenous voices were represented. We also worked collaboratively with the Aboriginal Education Department Helping Teachers to curate and develop place-based Indigenous curriculum. We then shared out our learning by hosting a Professional Development Day.
Part 3: Reflect, Adjust, Celebrate
6. How will we know our plan is making a difference? (evidence / success criteria)
Students are now regularly participating in Indigenous traditions within this space including sharing circles, and connecting SEL practices to the Medicine Wheel through meditation, and self-regulation strategies. Our outdoor classroom is booked out daily, and students are developing a solid understanding of, and appreciation for, Indigenous knowledge, perspectives and experiences at all grade levels. We collected new data through student and staff surveys administered through Microsoft Teams.
Data collected through staff and student surveys indicated initial success.
Some highlights of teacher surveys:
- Teachers indicated that they did integrate Indigenous content and perspectives very frequently into their programs: 23% once a week or more, 72% at least once per month). This showed a significant improvement from the previous data, where the majority of teachers (65%) indicated they only taught Indigenous. content a couple of times a year. So, this something we feel very proud about.
- Teachers indicated that they would like to see continued or improved focus in some areas, to improve their comfort levels with the content such as more representation around the school (31%), and inviting in more community members and elders in to share knowledge (50%)
- How can we increase teacher comfort levels in teaching indigenous content and ways of knowing (First Nation’s Principles of Learning)? 56% would like more Professional Development Days, 44% would like more resources, 40% inviting Aboriginal Helping Teachers into school, 44% regular collaboration time
- 67% ofTeachers indicated that they felt more comfortable integrating Indigenous curriculum, and also 72% noted that being outdoors was a more authentic way to experience Indigenous knowledge.
- Indigenous content was being taught in all grades more frequently, and not only concentrated in the middle grades as baseline data had communicated. (85% in Grades 3-4, and 65% in K-2, and 5-7). That is an increase of 33%.
“I feel more comfortable teaching Indigenous perspectives now that we have more resources.”
“The professional development day was a good start for me to learn more about Aboriginal ways of knowing and The First Nation’s Principles of Learning. I would like more days like this.”
“the outdoor classroom is a perfect way for my students to learn about The First Nation’s Principles of Learning. They love being outside and getting more connected to nature. ”
- 89% of students felt that learning about Indigenous principles was very important
- 92% of students were able to explain the purpose and origin of Orange Shirt Day
- Students expressed interest in continuing to pursue Indigenous learning in the following ways: 65% more art, dance, and cultural activities, 72% more outdoor learning experiences, 69% inviting elders into the classroom
- 52% indicated that they learned about Indigenous content once per week or more, 68% indicated once per month or more. This shows that students exposure to Aboriginal content has improved.
- There was a 31% increase in students who were able to recognize the First Nation’s Principles of Learning from the baseline data.
” I have learned a lot about Aboriginals and what they believe in. They love nature and so do I.”
“The Medicine Wheel is about balance and connections between everything. Aboriginals believe in that.”
” I like going outside to learn. It makes me happy.”
“I know that Indigenous people like to be outside and they like animals too like me. ”
” We have done a lot of sharing circles to talk about how we feel.”
7. Based on the evidence, does our inquiry require adjustment?
As the first stage in our initiative was just recently completed, our initial scans reflect a positive shift in our student learning outcomes.
Our next steps are to be responsive to the data we have observed.
Students indicated that they were most interested in inviting community elders to to our school to learn more about Indigenous world-views and culture.
This was also echoed by data from staff members which indicated they would like:
- more exposure to specific lessons linking our outdoor spaces to Indigenous teachings, (74% of teachers requested this).
- Elders and District staff would also be able to assist in this regard. We will be reaching out to the local Katzie and Kwantlen Nations to strengthen our connections with local Indigenous people.
- Look for ways to create a school-wide focus on Indigenous learning around selected themes from First People’s Principles of Learning. (73%).
We have also considered widening our growth plan to include Diversity, Equity and inclusion. Indigenous world-perspectives would be a piece of the larger inquiry.