Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

5.8.1 Nested, interconnected learning systems

In exploring how the AES Network operates in Prince Rupert what becomes clear is how the Network is nested within and amongst pre-existing and parallel systems of support for teachers and district personnel involved in educating Prince Rupert youth. Inquiry is ubiquitous: there is a seamlessness to the ways in which the Network members work within existing district initiatives, and members are able to draw from and among different initiatives and resources to enable a rich and deep engagement in their classroom or school inquiries. This can be described clearly using the metaphor of the Network as “a flexible container, not a constrainer”. In other words, the Network serves as an enabling tool that can be drawn upon and used to advantage in all district level planning, resource development and/or program implementation.

Interviews with the District Principal of Aboriginal Education, Debbie Leighton-Stephens and the school Superintendent Lynn Hauptman, made clear that this commitment to nesting the AESN within the district infrastructure is a priority. For example, district funds are provided to AESN members to support their inquiry work both within their school and for travel to regional/provincial Network meetings. District meetings incorporate reporting from AESN leaders and members on a regular and ongoing basis. Discussions in this district among inquiry teams emphasize the interrelated nature of local and provincial programming initiatives (such as the Early Reader project or their POPS and PALS programs), as well as other partner groups (such as the LUCID program partnership with Simon Fraser University). There is also an important emphasis on leadership: Network leaders are publicly recognized as change agents within their district. As a result, one strong impact the Network is having is to create strong levels of coherence, coordination and purpose.

As earlier sections of this report documented, inquiry now informs many of the ways in which teachers and district leaders organize their other programs and professional learning initiatives. For example, the District Principal of Aboriginal Education described in some detail the ways in which inquiry is being used with Aboriginal Education support workers she supervises. Modeled after the AES Network , each individual support worker is being encouraged to take on his/her own inquiry as a part of the work they do in the schools in which they work. Each is encouraged to work with other members of their school—including the formal school leader or community members—to design and investigate inquiry questions. In other words, they form learning teams that amplify the effectiveness of the work they have been assigned to do as a part of their work supporting Aboriginal learners.

Inquiry is also a part of the language of the governance structures within the school district. Earlier the work of the Aboriginal Education Council and Committee was highlighted; here references to inquiry is focused at a strategic level, and is used to frame the ways in which this way of thinking should be used to consider how progress towards achieving the goals of their Aboriginal education initiatives can be both measured and reported publically. As the Superintendent stated, “the inquiry approach is more widely understood [in our district] including by the Board. They are very used to hearing about inquiries and how it raises achievement levels, particularly of our Aboriginal learners”. Inquiry, as stated by Debbie Leighton-Stephens, is simply “our way of being.”
This way of seeing and describing the work of their school district, as centered in student success, inquiry and learning for all, is clearly evidence of what is meant by a learning centered culture. As the literature review produced for this report emphasizes, this is an important enabling feature or characteristic of successful learning organizations. It also speaks to a significant impact of the AESN .