Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

§ 9: Concluding observations for policy makers

9.0 Concluding observations for policy makers

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In this report we have used rich description and the narratives and voices of participants to tell at length the story of the AESN . We believe that policy makers will be able to realize the significance of the Network’s impact based on the scope and depth of information we have documented. However, in closing we want to make several points that we believe have important policy implications for how government might take steps to continue the excellent work that has been accomplished by the AESN members and leaders.

9.1 The need for consistent and ongoing support

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We know that governments are always stretched to find dollars to support the many initiatives they believe will make a difference for their citizens. However, we also note that the AESN has made excellent use of its limited dollars. Because of the very real and substantial impacts that the AESN model provides for teachers and inquiry teams in their schools, we believe this centralized level of support should be continued. From a systemic change perspective, the impact of this small investment is many times amplified as learning is shared across schools, districts, and among network members.

However, we have also observed how some districts have levered their own funds to help teacher inquiry. This is because, as this study makes abundantly clear, the goal of enhancing the success of Aboriginal students is a shared one, and the Network provides a model that supplements and extends the impact of districts’ work on this priority. We believe that this observation merits consideration: what ways might provincial policy makers encourage this kind of levering of additional resources? There are likely different models, but we believe that providing some regionally targeted support in addition to school inquiry grants might be a wise way of using limited resources.

We also want to emphasize that the work of Aboriginal educational leaders is having a significant impact on efforts to enhance Aboriginal student success in every region we undertook to study. Not only are they effecting change in the success of Aboriginal students, they are making important and significant inroads into shifting the thinking of non-Aboriginal leaders and teachers around the province. Their work is inspiring change on a transformative scale. Yet we also believe that this success is due to the commitment of the Network principals and the individual leaders who have responded to the call for working as partners in this morally centered work. The work of changing the practice of non-Aboriginal teachers requires significant effort, and we saw that the most effective of these efforts involved deeply engaging non-Aboriginal teachers and leaders in experiences that involved working with and within their local Aboriginal communities. It also involved doing important work at deconstructing the colonial mindsets that are naturalized within the current mainstream educational system. Engaging in this work must be much more systematized if we are to effect the instruction of the largely white, middle class teaching force, but we believe, on the basis of this study and our analysis, that it needs to be under the guidance and tutelage of Aboriginal leaders already working within the BC school system. We think of this as an investment in our future as an inclusive, respectful and successful nation.

Finally, we now have a strong baseline of data to show how the AESN has transformed many districts and schools; to illustrate its continued effectiveness funds could also be set aside to regularly report on the impacts of the Network. This might be built into annual reporting mechanisms but we believe another larger scale assessment of impact should be completed within the next three years.

9.2 Final words

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It seems fitting to end our report with a story, one that might serve as a metaphor for what the AESN and its partners seek to accomplish.

Eber Hampton is an Aboriginal educator and former University President who has devoted much of his career to thinking about and promoting what it means to reform education in Canada in ways that include and honour wise ways of knowing and being in the world. He tells a story in a 1995 publication where he meets an older white man in a grocery store who asks him if “he has some time”. Assuming he wants help carrying groceries, Hampton agrees, only to be confronted by the man who walks towards him with an empty cardboard box. They explore the box together, eventually discovering “You and I together can see six sides of this box”. Hampton writes:

Standing on the earth with an old white man I began to understand. I had thought he wanted me to carry his groceries but instead he gave me something that carries me, protects me and comforts me… I am often so close that I can only see one side. Rarely am I able to step back and see one or two other sides but it takes many of us to see more than that. As in all conversations, it is the difference in our knowledge and language that makes the conversation difficult and worthwhile. It is this common earth that we stand on that makes communication possible. Standing on the earth with the smell of spring in the air, may we accept each other’s right to live, to define, to think, and to speak. (1995, p. 41-42).