1.4 What is the AESN?
The Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN ) was originally launched in 2009. The AES Network was an outgrowth of the well-established Network of Performance-Based Schools (NPBS ) launched in 1999, recently renamed the Network of Inquiry and Innovation (NOII ). The NOII currently operates in 16 regional networks across BC that are supported by approximately 50 volunteer leaders and its two lead facilitators, Drs. Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser.
The idea of creating the AESN as a parallel network structure came from the BC Ministry of Education Aboriginal Education Branch; the goal was to involve teachers, principals and Network leaders in a Network structure that specifically focused on Aboriginal student achievement. The principals of the NOII , Drs. Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, were enthusiastic proponents of the idea, given that they had always promoted Aboriginal ways of knowing as a core “big idea” that helps teachers develop equitable, quality learning strategies that promoted the goal of enhancing student success for all students.
Like its original counterpart, the goal of the AESN is to work with educators around the province to focus teachers and school leaders on the specific goal of enhancing student success; specifically, the success of Aboriginal students. It also utilized the highly successful structure of the NOII , with one important addition: rather than focusing on specific curricular performance standards, it invited participants to focus on the local Aboriginal Enhancement Agreements that were in place for each school district in the province.
The network idea was launched in the spring of 2009 immediately following the annual Network Seminar (May, 2009). At this seminar Debbie Leighton-Stephens, a well known Aboriginal educator from Prince Rupert, provided a keynote lecture that highlighted the ways in which non-Aboriginal teachers might develop stronger ties with local bands/First Nations as a necessary first step in developing deepened relationships between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal communities that would form a foundation for creating a different approach to working with Aboriginal students. Network participants were also invited to explore the foundational principles of Aboriginal learning and pedagogy, such as:
- Learning ultimately supports the well being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits and the ancestors.
- Learning is holistic, reflexive, experiential and relational – focusing on connectedness, or reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place.
- Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions.
- Learning involves generational roles and responsibilities.
- Learning recognizes the role of Indigenous knowledge.
- Learning is embedded in memory, history and story.
- Learning involves patience and time.
- Learning requires exploration of one’s identity.
- Learning involves recognizing that some knowledge is sacred and only shared with permission and/or in certain situations (BC Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 11).
From this point, active Network members were encouraged to consider how they might incorporate these principles/approaches into their specific NOII inquiries; several schools who were experienced in network inquiry and had served as catalysts for action within their school jurisdictions were contacted and asked to consider how they might take a lead role in this initial launch of the AESN . In its initial year, a total of 50 schools were involved in network questions specifically focused on Aboriginal student success. By the 2012-2013 school year, a total of 75 schools have documented inquiries as a part of the AESN .