Monday, January 28, 2013

Start Somewhere and Move Forward: Learning about First Nations

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to a group of six First Nations educators who work in various districts around the province, with the Ministry of Education, and at the VIU.  They were speaking to a group of teachers involved in the Provincial Reading Project “Changing Results for Young Readers”.  The question they were addressing was “Many of us are wanting to make our classrooms, schools, and districts more inviting to our Aboriginal students.  We want to make our teaching more relevant and connected to their lives.  But … we really don’t know what to do.  Can you help us?”  Some of us in our project “Through a Different Lens” have been asking this very question.  We are losing too many of our Aboriginal students from our schools.  We are trying to make a difference but there are big gaps in our knowledge – and many of us don’t know what to do.

Here are 8 things they talked about:

1.  Acknowledge traditional territory around the province.  Put up a map of BC that shows the territories and have students in the classroom talk about the territory they were born in, the territory they currently live in, and any other territories they have lived in.  Imagine if all of our students knew even that much.  The Ministry of Education has a poster map that can be ordered on line.  I have just ordered 15 copies for any teachers in the project who would like to have one in their classroom.  (Suggestion:  Ask someone from your local First Nation Community, or one of our Aboriginal Support Teachers how to do a proper acknowledgement of the local territory.  For an example see SD61 website, or an example on the Changing Results for Young Readers website – see “resources” and then “Indigenous Principles of Learning”.)

2.  Love Reading:  Read texts as an adult.  Read them to learn.  Have book clubs so that more educators begin to understand the issues, thoughts, feelings… become more aware.  Here are a few texts you might begin with:
            - The truth about Stories – Thomas King
            - Three Day Road – Joseph Boyden
            - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
            - Smoke Signals – Screenplay / film:  Sherman Alexie
            - Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese  

3.  Model Reading using Picture Books with First Nations texts.  Use First Nations text for reading strategies and think alouds in class.  See FNESC k-3 and K-7 for authentic First People’s texts.

4.  Watch 8th Fire.  It is said that it takes 7 generations to heal from trauma.  8th Fire is a four part series produced by CBC.  It “is a provocative, high-energy journey through Aboriginal country showing you why we need to fix Canada’s 500 year-old relationship with Indigenous peoples; a relationship mired in colonialism, conflict and denial.” The four episodes are called:  Indigenous in the City; It’s Time!; Whose Land is It Anyway?; At the Crossroads.  It is being aired on Sunday mornings at 11:00, and began on January 13.  For more information google “8th Fire”.  (This originally aired in 2011; all 4 episodes are available on line).

5.  Strong Nations ( is a website that you can go to find resources.  Terry Mack, who began Strong Nations, vetos Aboriginal resources so that people who go to the website will know which materials are good resources for teachers and classrooms.  There are resources for young children, teens and adults.  It is a great website.

6.  Bring Aboriginal people into your classroom.  Many schools are now asking elders to be present in their schools.  Invite people in.  (Check with your local community or member of the district Aboriginal staff for guest speaker protocol.)

7.  Build relationships with Aboriginal students and families.  Building relationships with our students and families is a given.  We know how important this is.  But these women went on to suggest that you build relationships with Aboriginal people who you can ask questions to, who can help you understand. 

8.  Learn about First Nations. Learn more through the organization called “FNESC” 

Start somewhere and move forward:
The Time is Now

Thanks to Anne Tenning and Dustin Hyde for reading this blog and giving feedback.  More to come! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013


There is a lot of research that tells us that every child needs an adult in their school that cares about them.  Dr. Brokenleg talks about the need to belong as the greatest need for all of us, students need adults that help them belong, and need to be surrounded and supported by schools and students that respect and care for them.  Dr. Gordon Neufeld talks about attachment and how kids need to feel that their teacher is there for them.  We know this, but it has always been a struggle in school to build a relationship with every student who comes through the door.

One of the most interesting things we found in the data in this project from the 2011-12 year was that students who were in classes where the teachers were working hard to provide choice, look at the students strengths, support them, and teach in more interactive ways - felt cared about.  When we looked at the surveys both pre- and post-, we noted a big change in the number of students who felt they had a positive relationship with their teacher.  In the pre-survey, 107 of the 561 students disagreed or strongly disagreed that they had a good relationship with their teacher.  That is 19%.  Nineteen percent of the students said they did not have a good relationship with their teacher.  In the post-survey only 34 students said they did not have a good relationship (6%).  That is a big difference.  

There were a number of things the teachers did explicitly to build relationships, especially with their students at risk.
•  Some used the "2 x 10" strategy, where the teacher spends 2 minutes of uninterrupted class time with a student they were concerned about for 10 consecutive classes.  "I felt like I had to earn her trust, so I spent time early in the term trying to connect with her.  I tried the 2 x 10 strategy, which I felt was very effective.  I took extra time with her when she asked for help.  As a result she seemed to ask for help more often and responded positively when it was provided."  (gr 12)
• Some teachers greeted the student each day and talked informally with them.  "When he first came into the classroom he had his head down, his hat down, and a big cloud around him.  When I would say hello in the morning he would just nod and go to the back of the class with his buddies, or he would proceed to swear, fight with his friends... in a joking way but still be quite aggressive... Over the course of the first month, I did the meet and greet, and every day when he walked in the classroom I would say "hello, how are you?" and ask him one or two things about his day.  And it started off with grunts and groans and very little acknowledgement.  By the end of September, he would at least say 'Hello'.  In October I learned a strategy called "2 x 10" where you spend 2 minutes 10 consecutive classes... I think that was a bit of a turning point.  ... He started to put his head up, started to smile a bit more... and was becoming more engaged."  (gr. 10)
Some teachers found out what the students passion / interest was and then went out of their way to learn about it so they could converse about it, and in some cases bring it into the course material.  Sometimes it was an interest like "zoombies" or a computer games.  In one case it was the teacher taking an interest in the students stories of her culture.  The student felt listened to and acknowledged by the teacher.

These were some of the explicit efforts on the part of the teacher to get to know their student and help them feel part of the classroom culture.  However, other factors seemed to come forward in both teacher and student comments.  Positive relationships seemed to grow out building a culture where strengths were honoured and choice was given.  Teachers and students were regularly having discussions about work ... ways to differentiate, ideas on how to represent their knowledge, how much was needed to show their understanding.  Some students felt better about school, their classroom community and their teacher when they were seen as having something to offer to others - their artistic talent, their verbal abilities, their interests in technology, acting skills, or their abilities to be creative. Some students began to take risks because the teacher was building safe conditions in the classroom.