Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

5.8.5 Perseverance and grit

An important context that readers should understand is that this learning centered, inquiry based culture was constructed upon a pre-existing commitment and long history of being concerned with Aboriginal student success. One Network leader, in reflecting back over her career in the district, described what she understood as a 20 plus year history of working on effecting change to benefit Aboriginal learners in the school district. She described the district culture as “appreciative… This region is our home. We offer hospitality and show genuine interest in one another… We want to take care of each other. We are relationally situated and motivated.”

The work has taken perseverance and time. But it has also taken grit. It hasn’t been easy work; the historical racism and framing of Aboriginal peoples as deficit, needing rescue or as dependent peoples relying on government handouts has been a dominant discourse in this region of the province that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders in the district have had to address on an ongoing basis. Teachers were not cognizant of settler biases or the marginalizing impact of traditional Western schooling practices and so district leaders have had to struggle with how to make visible the biases that were naturalized in discourses and approaches to education, among them, beliefs about how to deliver Aboriginal education—in discrete, pull out programs rather than systemic approaches that would benefit all learners. The education system remains a colonial artifact that continues to shape its operation and discourses. Throughout the interviews and focus groups, there was an implicit recognition among the AESN members in Prince Rupert that this must change if success for Aboriginal students is to be achieved. There is also a well-articulated acknowledgement that culturally responsive teaching practice is the means through which all student learning can be enhanced.

One should not conclude that it is solely the AES Network that has achieved this goal; there are a series of interrelated factors that have accelerated an interest in the Network in this school district that have been nurtured and supported through the work of district and community leaders. The Network’s priority and focus on Aboriginal ways of knowing has built upon the emerging local and political contexts in which changes to public discourse are occurring. Events such as the Federal government’s public apology for residential schooling and increased funding for Aboriginal education are also critical events that have added momentum to support this culture of change. Yet it is the voices of lead teachers, Aboriginal community members and district personnel in Prince Rupert who have created the conditions necessary to support and nurture this shift within the public schooling system in this region of the province. Together they have built powerful connections between local Aboriginal education programming and enriched the services they offer to all students, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.

The AES Network has, however, also created a persistent culture in which change to teacher practice—with a shift to learning centered thinking—can effect change in particular local contexts. Building from these micro investigations, the Network has created new ways of thinking about and conceptualizing the ways in which deeper teacher learning is supported. Changing the everyday practices of teachers is a critical component of systemic change. A review of the Prince Rupert school district illustrates how ongoing, coordinated, and nested forms of inquiry can alter practices in both micro (classroom and school) and macro (district) settings. Such work has led to enhanced learning and success for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in this district.