Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

7.8 Size and geographic location

As we near the end of our analysis, we want to discuss one additional matter that does not emerge directly from the data we’ve collected for this study, but instead represents an observation about the impact and scope of the AESN in effecting change in the BC educational landscape. We looked carefully at our participant list to see if we could determine the extent to which our study represented the diversity and sizes of the school districts across BC . As a part of our study we met with teachers and leaders from: Nanaimo, Sooke, Comox/Courtney, Prince Rupert, Smithers, Prince George, Vanderhoof, Kitimat, Ft. St. James, Fort Fraser, Ashcroft, Nakusp, New Denver, and Hartley Bay. As is evident from this list, the school districts and regions on this list are generally small and more rural and remote. Prince George is the more obvious outlier in this group as it is a larger, more urban region. However, we wondered the extent to which our observations should be framed through the lens of district size.

As our data shows, many individuals credit the Network for providing them with the tools and strategies for effecting changes in their teaching practice. One of the ways this was frequently expressed was in conversations that described the limitations of working in more remote or rural parts of the province. For example, in both of the case studies of school districts (Arrow Lakes and Prince Rupert) district leaders and teachers alike spoke to the lack of access they had to professional development opportunities, or how long distances over diverse geographical terrains often make travel and connecting with other teachers difficult. They sometimes spoke with envy of the availability of resources ‘down the coast’. Despite these stated drawbacks however, what we saw was an expression of the saying “Necessity is the mother of invention”: in other words, teachers, leaders and community members alike did what needed to be done in order to find a way to make things work despite obstacles. And there was certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that this effort paid off in big ways as they have accomplished much over the years they have been involved in the Network, even if this involves working in more isolation or depending on less frequent visits to external professional learning opportunities. Districts also fill the gap as best they can by providing forms of financial support: we heard about teachers carpooling to make travel dollars stretch farther, or how a principal would provide internal support to assist with travel and/or professional development plans. We saw much creativity as individuals struggled to use what resources and strengths they had and put them to good use. And we saw how these districts embraced the AESN model deeply into their existing structures and processes, making a much more seamless and integrated delivery system devoted to improving Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal student learning. These districts also took great advantage of the supports offered by the AESN principals, Drs. Halbert and Kaser. They visited these districts frequently over the years of their involvement as a way of providing on site professional support.

Could it be that smaller districts more avidly embrace the Network because of their size and perceived lack of resources? While we cannot be certain this is the case, we believe this observation warrants additional investigation. If this is true then it may be that the Network principals and its Network leaders should redouble their efforts to effecting changes in districts that are described as more rural and remote as the bulk of BC school districts fall into this category. We believe that any subsequent investigations into the effects and impact of the Network might want to target what we would call “mid sized” school districts—Nanaimo might be a good example of this category—to see how well a larger, more resourced district supports the work of the Network. It would also be useful to see how larger school districts – such as Surrey, Vancouver, or Victoria – use and/or promote Network activities in their districts. This would enable its principals to make informed decisions about how to continue to grow and support the AESN , and consider the extent to which its model might require modifications or enhancements.