Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

5.8.2 Partnerships with community

Another important observation about how the AESN operates in Prince Rupert is how it encourages collaborative practices with members of its wider community, particularly Aboriginal communities. This work was well underway in Prince Rupert prior to the start of the AES Network , as the description of the Aboriginal Education Partnership Agreement makes clear. Community leaders are regularly and routinely involved with the planning, monitoring and assessment of Aboriginal education activities. The work of inquiry teams however, has helped highlight a shift in how teachers can engage local community members, Elders and others, in their learning plans in order to highlight how educative partnerships nurture and grow the scope of talents and successes of their Aboriginal student population. This work centers on a strength based approach, while also emphasizing the holistic ways in which Aboriginal ways of learning/knowing can be represented as part of the school experience. In other words, the school classroom and the work of the teacher now share the responsibility for creating success for all learners. The work of the Hartley Bay School inquiry team is an exemplar of this approach. Hartley Bay is a very small school of approximately 25 learners, approximately 90 miles south of Prince Rupert that is only accessible by boat or float plane.

The inquiry question at this school sought to ask “When using traditional First Nations methods of teaching and learning, will providing opportunities for students to teach their skills to others have a positive academic, social and personal impact upon achievement levels?” As part of this inquiry, teachers and students alike focused on traditional Ts’msyen teaching methods including observing, imitating, mastering and teaching. As the case study produced by this inquiry team summarized, the students “internalized success criteria and were able to connect their learning to real life situations”. Formative assessment strategies, coaching, metacognitive and self-regulated learning strategies, and experiential, place based learning were emphasized throughout.

The Hartley Bay inquiry relied extensively on the engagement and involvement of local Elders and community members. Students were immersed in opportunities to learn traditional practices and then share them with their younger peers. As the result of this work, student engagement among the Elementary/Junior secondary school was enhanced; the Hartley Bay inquiry team traced improvements both in school attendance and late arrivals. Students were reported to express higher degrees of satisfaction and interest in school experiences because of the connections made to their local culture and histories.

During the collection of data for this study, many references were made to how this team of teachers has shared their inquiry and experiences with many other teachers in regional and provincial AESN seminars and showcases. And while the importance of teacher learning and efforts at enhancing student engagement were not underestimated, it was the engagement with First Nations community members, the learning of local protocols, and making a commitment to Aboriginal ways of knowing and being that became of greatest interest to the other teachers who participated in their presentations. The creation of an Aboriginal Role model program was a core component of their approach. And as is evidenced by the number of times this inquiry project has been cited by teachers from around the province (including interviewees from Arrow Lakes, Nanaimo, and Vanderhoof) this inquiry has become a primary means through which non-Aboriginal teachers have learned about how to approach and engage First Nations community members in their own inquiries. These models and exemplars of place based and community engaged learning which are prominent in Prince Rupert are now being used in other school districts around the province. This speaks to another impact of the AES Network : its work amplifies that of exemplary teaching professionals and effectively operates a mechanism which scales up the implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices while simultaneously shifting conversations from deficit to strength based models.