Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

7.4.4 Case 4

For one Network leader, the attempts to disrupt deficit thinking about Aboriginal peoples prompted her to pursue an inquiry that reached beyond the school walls:

“For me personally, I have a strong sense of wanting our society to acknowledge what has happened in the past, and that has created what we see now, we’ve ignored it as a nation. And we haven’t done anyone a service by ignoring Aboriginal issues. I see this as giving us potential to be so much better as a society, it’s not just about schools, it’s about strengthening our connections with community, with Aboriginal people who live beside us and it’s starting to change my life as a person, not just in the work world. It gives me more confidence as an educator, more confidence to speak to parents and parents feeling more confident to reach out and advocate for their kids because we have stronger relationships. We’re paying attention, we’re noticing and we’re trying to value people for who they are and what they bring to the table rather than thinking about kids as having deficits, communities as having deficits. I hear more positive language now like ‘that mom loves her kids and she wants them to do well…how can we help those kids and their families be successful in this world?”

Her inquiry question was focused on working with Aboriginal moms as part of her job involved work in community literacy. She wanted them to come to Strong Start for the benefit of their children, but they weren’t coming. She recognized that she couldn’t just burst into these women’s homes as a district representative and implore them to come to the program; she needed to build a relationship of trust with them before she could convince them of the benefits of Strong Start. It started with going for coffee and segued into creating a learning community with Aboriginal mothers who were looking to get involved in something they were interested in. In making connections to what the community valued, and with the desires of the Aboriginal mothers at the forefront, the group began making memory books, scrapbooks and crafts. Child minders were provided so that the moms could work. Over time, the moms started to use the group as a physically safe place where they could be away from alcohol and drugs. Outreach included providing food for every meeting, which took place at the local food bank – a trusted space amongst the Aboriginal women. The local Reserve allowed the group the use of its van to pick up mothers – it was driven by one of the mothers, a Band Counselor who stayed with the group for meetings and took part in activities but who also shared her wisdom with the group. She was able to offer advice on how to reach out to some Aboriginal mothers – just listen, just ask. Three years into the project, the relationships were sturdy enough to prompt the AESN member to ask whether any of the mothers would be interested in coming into the school to participate in a volunteer reading coaching program. Four mothers were paired with kids in the school and worked with the students, coaching them on their reading. While the logistics of arranging and executing the program proved difficult in some instances, the payoff was worth the investment: the mothers who had participated shared their goals for the reading program, their hopes for the children they had worked with and the pride they felt in having participated. The offshoot of this particular inquiry was that the Aboriginal mothers indicated their interest in pursuing their own educational interests. As the AESN member noted:

“They are now talking future, so we’re holding a fundraiser to try to raise money to support the career and educational aspirations of these moms. Those moms now are more confident in talking to the schools. We’ve decided to strengthen our relationship with another mom, she has six kids, three of whom are in school, one has developmental difficulties and we couldn’t get him to school. The mom designed a plan where his cousin would ride the bus with him, she would get him a Leap Pad because he loved technology and they arranged a pediatric support visit and we got him to school! I think without that group we got going we would not be having these conversations, they’d still be on the defensive, we’d still be at the blame stage and because we had that focus of looking at strengths, things are starting to change for kids in a direct way.”

In many ways, this particular story reflects all of the characteristics of both a transformative/inquiry mindset and the features of inquiry itself. This AESN member recognized within herself the role of change agent and ally and worked with the community to effect positive outcomes for not only Aboriginal students, but for their families as well. The opportunities created through outreach resulted in empowering Aboriginal women to recognize their potential and their strengths; they became partners in the learning process for themselves and their children.