Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

7.1.4 Catalyst for change

Another theme identified in our review of the data collected was how the Network served as a catalyst for change. Earlier discussions about how the Network enables the sharing across and between school districts and how such sharing scales up change initiatives is one part of this conversation. So too are the comments shared earlier about how the Network enabled risk taking because it provided support to teachers who were interested in pursuing personal passions for effecting change for aboriginal learners. In what other ways does the Network structure act as a catalyst for change? One aspect of AESN activity we heard both members and school principals discuss is the pressure to respond because of the ways in which the Network provides a more public profile of its members and the work they are doing. For example, one Network member from an interior school district described how the Network inspired him into thinking more deeply about his own teaching and how to work with Aboriginal learners in his mathematics class. Working with both another teacher and the aboriginal support worker in his school, he re-designed a series of math problems to more directly show how mathematical concepts (such as surface area or fractions) could inform and be used to access local Aboriginal cultural knowledge. He spoke about the ways in which his learning had been developed as a result of his participation in the Network, much like other AESN participants described in this report. But he also emphasized that involvement in the Network can act as a form of positive peer pressure:

“When you are in the Network with people who are passionate about what they do, they really ‘up’ your game. So I need to respond in kind: it forces you to be a better teacher. It brings you up to the next level… to crank it up a notch. If you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you stand out like a sore thumb. I’m competitive, and I take this as a positive thing. The Network has forced me to do more with what I’ve learned. I’ve presented at the BC association of math teachers. And at UBC with a conference of aboriginal educators. It’s given me permission to blow my own horn, people need to know about it. But I have also sweat buckets before presenting in front of people.”

So his engagement in the AESN was driven not just by his own desire to learn and enhance the learning of his students, but as a result of his own desire to be measured as a ‘good’ and ‘successful’ teacher like his similarly minded peers.

We heard a similar thread from a school principal, who expressed some concern for teachers who are busy and may feel too overwhelmed to become part of a Network question, particularly when they are confronted with many other competing demands. For example this individual said:

“The Network gives focus and accountability, but it also puts pressure on teachers. Some teachers say I can’t do it this year, even if they are already doing inquiry in their classes… We shouldn’t do good work just because of the Network; we need to do it in a way that makes more sense for us… They all want to do a better job, but its still pressure.”

The Network is a voluntary model so there clearly is no requirement for any teacher to participate. But it appears from a reading of this principal’s comments that the work of the Network is sometimes understood as an “add on” to the regular work of teachers. The value and benefit of the work is still acknowledged, but there is a belief that the Network adds to workload, and is an external stressor rather than an enabling process through which one’s work as a teacher benefits.