Three caring educators at Woodlands Secondary School in School District #68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith set out to examine some big school challenges through their inquiry focus this year. Bonnie Bill, Connie MacArthur and Theresa Watson, after examining their school community of learners (specifically Aboriginal adolescent girls), recognized the need to address grades 8-12 girls’ self-esteem and self-image. Specifically, they inquired about the following question: “Will having a ‘Girlz’tuff group at Woodlands Secondary School enhance adolescent girls’ sense of belonging by promoting positive self-image, positive self-talk and positive self-care?”
The idea to design and facilitate the ‘Girlz’tuff group was based on the school inquiry team members’ observations that a number girls at Woodlands Secondary seemed uncertain in themselves, lacked confidence and self-esteem, as well as the tools to make healthy decisions when faced with personal and social challenges. Conversations with students also brought forth confessions of online bullying, dealing with rude and racist behavior from peers, and the perception of needing to act and look a certain way to be accepted by others. Thus, the ‘Girlz’tuff group was formed – a safe space where Woodlands Secondary female students were invited to explore and question ideas around healthy relationships/boundaries, media impact on self-image and negative self-talk. Inquiry team members Bonnie Bill and Connie MacArthur both became certified trainers in the Girl Power Facilitator Training Program, part of West Coast Empowerment Training, and facilitated the ‘Girlz’tuff group using Aboriginal concepts, tools and teachings. The group gathered formally for 12 sessions between November and May, as well as informally through circle chats. They examined Aboriginal history and stories, and worked to develop cultural understanding through sincere dialogues and applicable activities.
The ‘Girlz’tuff group is making a difference for girls at Woodlands Secondary, as was shared through both student and teacher testimonials. ‘Girlz’tuff group participants reported that being a part of the group during this school year helped them learn about their culture, about strength, trust, hope and acceptance, and about building a strong sense of self. When asked what message they would like to give to teachers, one participant responded “please don’t just give us a piece of paper and tell us to do it. Get to know us and touch our hearts. Then we really learn.” What a poignant observation by this student, and an important reflection to come out of this inquiry project. When we think about ‘living inquiry’ in our teaching practice and everyday lives, this is a message that we’re sure will resonate with the Network community.
We’ll be posting more Network stories throughout the coming months. You can also see what other Network schools addressed through their inquires in 2012-2013 by checking out NOII and AESN inquiry questions here.