Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

An Impact Assessment of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN)

1.4.1 Network structure

The structure of the AESN is modeled on its successful predecessor, the NOII . Understanding this structure is also important to analyzing the extent of its impact. The Network’s central purpose is to shift teacher and/or Network members’ thinking from that of teaching and learning in order to sort learners (assessment to compare and rank students) to that of a learning centered system (Kaser & Halbert, 2009). The critical tool for shifting thinking is the emphasis on inquiry mindedness and how this enables deeper learning for students; an important parallel focus is that of the teacher as a learning professional. As Lieberman and Miller (2004) suggest: “An inquiry stance is far different from a solution stance. It requires that one ask questions of one’s practice rather than look for answers. It places contextual data collection and analysis rather than generalized solutions as the center of improvement efforts” (p. 41).

The Network design is centrally focused on how to engage teachers in moving from solutions towards asking questions informed by their local context and the needs of their learners. It is a team based approach; the Network structure requires members to work with others in their school, including their school principal or vice-principal, in structuring an inquiry question for a year-long effort to improve the success of their students. Ongoing meetings and discussions with colleagues/partners in the inquiry are encouraged; formal meetings are built into the model (2-3 per year) and at least one regional meeting of inquiry teams from a particular geographical zone is held where investigations can be shared – referred to as a “showcase” where individual teams share their questions and approaches to their inquiry and findings. One large provincial meeting is also scheduled in May of each year in Vancouver. Here again, individual teams selected to represent the diversity of inquiries around the province are invited to share their work and participate in seminars/discussions about current research from exemplary educational scholars. Finally, each team must write up a summary of their case which is submitted to the NOII principals for inclusion on the website and accessible to other Network members to use as a resource for future/current inquiry work. At the end of this process, each team is awarded a small grant; originally these grants were $1000.00 but due to funding have been reduced first to $500.00, and in 2012-13 schools will receive $250.00. Schools use such funds to purchase resources, fund release time, or attend professional conferences.

The AESN follows the process of the NOII to a significant degree, in terms of the structure as described above. One difference however, is the requirement for teachers to access and use their local Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement as the source for its inquiry and investigation of student learning. In other words, while the NOII requires teachers and their inquiry teams to investigate their teaching practice in a range of topics and curricular areas, the AESN structure and investigation model is designed to focus teacher attention on the performance and success of Aboriginal students. In this way it frames the investigation towards a particular outcome.