Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Creating Welcoming School Communities in Nanaimo

John Barsby Community School in Nanaimo has been involved with the AESN for a number of years.  They have been committed to the goals laid out in their Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement, so as part of their AESN inquiry last school year, they wanted to address a number of key questions:
Spirit: How do we ensure Aboriginal learners are successful through the full effort of SD 68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith and Aboriginal communities in supporting the Enhancement Agreement?

Body: How do we enhance all students’ and all adults’ understanding of Aboriginal history, perspectives, and people respecting that there is a contemporary context?

Emotion: How do we enhance Aboriginal students’ sense of belonging within schools and their belief that they can be successful in SD 68 while at the same time enhancing the belief of the system that Aboriginal students can be more successful?

After engaging in the ‘scanning’ phase of the inquiry cycle – addressing what is really going on for learners, not just from the perspective of professionals but from student and family perspectives as well – they recognized that students, parents and staff had mentioned that they wished to see a higher and more visible presence of the Aboriginal connections in the school, specifically at the entrance to the school to make visitors more welcome.  This was echoed by the local Snuneymuxw community education representatives, who noted that sometimes parents felt anxious approaching the school on their own.

After surveying the school population about the proposed project, and recognizing that one third of the population are of Aboriginal heritage from diverse communities including Snuneymuxw, the Metis, and communities from all over BC and the north, a group of students and artist mentors were supported to paint the large concrete pillars outside the school.  Once painted, these pillars would serve as Welcome Poles representing the broad range of Aboriginal students’ backgrounds. 

By the end of the 2012 – 2013 school year, two of the four Welcome Poles had been completed, and were unveiled on the last day of school.  Since then, two more poles featuring Aboriginal student designs have been completed, and the school celebrated with a formal blessing ceremony this past December.

As with any inquiry project, the Barsby team noted rich and valuable learning points from engaging in the process, both how the school was excelling in recognizing Aboriginal heritage and community, as well as identifying misunderstandings and misrepresentations that they could then address as they progressed through their learning.  We encourage you to read their full case study of the experience to learn more.  Congratulations to the inquiry team at John Barsby Secondary School for being committed to enhancing the learning of all students in your community.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

SAVE THE DATE! NOII Symposium May 2 - 3, 2014

We are very excited to announce the details for this year's NOII SYMPOSIUM, being held on May 2 & 3 at the Hilton Vancouver Airport.

The theme for this year's event is Stories of Change: Pictures of Possibility, featuring innovative leadership in education in BC and beyond. Click here to download the flyer or see below for more detail, including the list of featured speakers and how to register and book accommodations.

Space is limited so please REGISTER EARLY and share the flyer with your networks.  Looking forward to seeing you there!

Upcoming NOII Lower Mainland Meetings

Please save the dates below for the upcoming NOII Extended Lower Mainland Network Meeting and Celebration. RSVP to Donna Weaving at

Extended Lower Mainland Network Meeting
Date:        Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Time:        4:00 – 6:00 pm
Location: Delta Manor Education Centre - Brainstorm Room
                  4750 57th Street, Delta (Ladner)

Extended Lower Mainland Network “Celebration”
Date:        Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Time:        4:00 – 6:00 pm
Location: Sea Island School
                  1891 Wellington Crescent, Richmond (near the airport)
                  (access Wellington Crescent off of Miller Road)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Building Quality and Equity in BC Schools

Just this past December, Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert were keynote speakers (along with Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves and Tim Oates) at the SSAT National Conference 2013 in Manchester, UK.   The topic for the conference was “Redesigning Schooling,” with Judy and Linda igniting discussions around building leadership and school-to-school networks through inquiry.  They were also able to highlight the innovative learning happening across BC schools and beyond.

Specifically, their keynote discussion (see the videos below) focuses on Developing a Collaborative, Inquiry Profession Focused on Equity & Quality.  You will hear in the video that Linda opens the talk by presenting the concept that all learners should be able to benefit from access to high quality, equitable education that offers the potential for choice and options upon graduation.

In thinking this way, they consider how to remain “intelligently accountable” for ensuring this high quality in education, and they work towards developing a new metrics, framed around 6 key concepts, for working towards this type of innovative leadership in education.  The framework provides a way of working through these big ideas in a very accessible and practical way, and certainly highlights the innovative educational leadership already at work in BC.

Click on the videos below to hear more.  You can also visit the conference website to access their presentation slides and hear other discussions.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Honouring Student Transitions in Richmond

Back in September we wrote about the Truth and Reconciliation events in Vancouver and how one Network school engaged in the events as a means of deepening and extending the knowledge of their learners.  These events also inspired Network leader Andrea Davidson and several of the teaching teams she works with in Richmond (SD #38). 

In particular, Andrea was intrigued by the Aboriginal tradition of blanketing ceremonies at times of transition in life, and how this tradition might be engaged with the Richmond school community.  A blanket ceremony seemed a great way to address their inquiry question focused on transitions for their Aboriginal students and linked to the Enhancement Agreement goals of making transitions between levels of education easier and more meaningful for Aboriginal students :

“How do we best support the transition from elementary to secondary school for our Aboriginal students in such a way that they are connected to their educational experiences, and can see a purpose for their current school experiences, thus gaining clarity about their future beyond graduation?”

Thus, the first Grade 8 Transitions Ceremony and Dinner was born, taking place on November 4th at Brighouse Learning Centre in Richmond.  The event was attended by most of the self-identified Grade 8 First Nations students in the Richmond School District, as well as district administrative and counseling teams, educators, administrators, parents and siblings. 

Elder “Uncle” Shane Pointe from the Musqueam community graciously led the ceremony, blessing the Grade 8 students’ transition from being children to young adults. As one attendee noted about the ceremony:

“Mr. Pointe chanted to clear the area of negative thoughts, prepared the area with positive energy, placed cedar boughs on the floors for the students to stand on to honour them, and helped families drape beautiful wool blankets (that they were able to keep) around students to honour them in their new roles... He let them know that the school communities along with their families were there to support them, where and how to look for help and continued to remind them how special they are and proud they should feel of their heritage and themselves as they move forward.”

What a wonderful way to honour and celebrate students as they move from elementary to secondary school, and to help ensure that they feel supported through this transition and beyond.  Andrea noted that this was also a wonderful opportunity for the school community to connect with families in a meaningful way, developing a rich support system for students, particularly in times of struggle or when facing obstacles at school, at home, or in the community.

And we know that this is crucial for student well-being.  We know that Network schools learn much during the ‘scanning’ phase of developing their inquiry focus by asking the question: “Can every learner name at least two adults in the school building who believe he or she will be a success in life?” This ceremony not only addresses this question through indigenous ways of knowing, but it makes sure that students are overtly aware of the support system available to them as they migrate through secondary school and beyond.

As we move through the inquiry cycle it is important to continue to ask “What is going on for our learners? How do we know? Why does this matter?”  By developing a close relationship with learners right from the outset, these questions (and answers) may become easier to address.

Andrea notes that Richmond will be engaging in the blanketing ceremony again in June, on a larger scale, in recognizing and acknowledging the Grade 7s and 12s in their achievements, and helping them prepare for their next transitions in life. What an impactful way to celebrate and honour students. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Celebrating the AESN

We’re kicking off 2014 by reflecting on the innovative learning and teaching that has taken place through the work of the schools and districts involved in the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN).  

Since 2009 the AESN leaders have been supporting the improvement of outcomes for Aboriginal learners and increasing the knowledge and understanding of all learners connected to indigenous ways of knowing through the Network. 

The grants available to schools involved in the AESN are an important form of recognition to the school teams that commit to attending meetings, developing a focus for their inquiry, following the spiral of inquiry in deepening their learning, sharing their findings at regional sessions and completing a case study for broader distribution and sharing.  Regardless of the size of the grant, research indicates that providing small recognition grants directly to the school is very important in building lasting commitment and in making their work public.

Due to the generous support of the Irving K Barber Centre at UBC, the Vancouver Foundation, and the BC Ministry of Education, the focus of school level inquiries has expanded in 2013-2014 to include an emphasis on transitions for Aboriginal learners and engaging learners in pursuing more personalized and focused inquiries into Aboriginal history, culture and traditions.  This is in addition to schools that are connecting their inquiries directly to the goals of the local Enhancement Agreement.

This school year, in addition to the 63 schools that have submitted inquiries connected to the enhancement agreement, another 42 schools are engaged in inquiries focused on improving transitions for Aboriginal learners.  For instance, Britannia Secondary in Vancouver is focusing on facilitating positive academic goal setting and achievement for Aboriginal students transitioning from elementary to high school.  Bayview Elementary in Delta is exploring how best to support students and families with all the steps and procedures that are necessary to make the transition from high school to post-secondary institutions and the work place.  

A natural extension of teachers becoming involved in inquiry is for them to seek ways to provide greater opportunities for their learners to take control of their own learning through disciplined inquiry. To that end, 28 schools are involved in student-level inquiry this year, including Randerson Ridge Elementary in Nanaimo, engaging their learners in exploring the historical elements of Aboriginal civilization and analyzing how present day issues and challenges have evolved over time. 

We want to thank everyone involved – funders, students, educators, Network leaders, parents, Elders and more – not only for helping to effect change in the success of Aboriginal students, but as the Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners report points out, in “making important and significant inroads into shifting the thinking of non-Aboriginal leaders and teachers around the province.”