Perspectives on Belonging from Vancouver, B.C.

The Human Right Internet has been around and doing good work for some time.  Money is raised to fund projects by individuals and community social justice groups wanting to move the human rights agenda forward across Canada.  The geographical target shifts for the annual funding initiatives around Canada.  

Medicine Wheel teachings by Joyce Perrault for students, teachers, and parents.

In 2020, Ottawa and Toronto / Greater Toronto Area were the target locations for small grants.  Prior to that Winnipeg, and this past year, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.  Fighting Racism Through Human Rights is the focus area.  On the website, HRI.ca, you can check out the Canadian Human Rights Institutions Interactive Map that highlights the human rights institutions and activity across Canada.

A local HRI committee is formed and provides parameters and general themes for project submissions. Applications for small grants are varied. A local group is formulated to review submissions, and award up to $2,000.00 for community projects. The rainbow staircase in celebration of Pride Week and inclusiveness at Point Grey Secondary School welcomes all students as they use the east entrance. It is one example of a HRI funded project. Other projects include film productions, art displays and community actions.

Point Grey Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C.,
welcomes all to work, learn, and play.

The COVID pandemic has certainly posed challenges to doing this work.  Pulling focus groups together with the promise of lively conversation and good food was no longer an option.  ZOOM fatigue has been an issue, as all communications have moved online.  People have been too taxed for yet another online meeting.  There has also been a fair amount of trepidation around face to face interviews.  The availability of a vaccine is beginning to alleviate some of that stress.  

The emergence of the Black Lives Matter Movement posed new opportunities and new challenges. Many people have stepped up to engage more actively in human rights work. A plethora of material has been published and consumed by readers hungry to learn more. I have been able to develop an amazing lending library of titles that open up conversations, new thinking, and provide strategies for us to grapple with difficult content.

I am working with a small committee to make sense of how we are able to move forward with the work in a positive, proactive way and make the best use of our HRI small grant. Our initial goal was to develop a documentary that would provide a number of perspectives about race with the intent of facilitating conversation around the creation of welcoming spaces in schools, community groups, places of worship, and small businesses. Participants would reflect diversity but people who were white or white passing would be also be included. The philosophy is that inclusive environments require the personal investment, buy in, and voices of all of the people in society. Through empathy for other experiences and perspectives, we are able to move forward with shared understanding. We may not reach consensus on all issues but we can also compromise strive to meet all the needs of members in the group.

Immediately we encountered a number of challenges.  Hiring a videographer to interview and collate the material was problematic.   Hourly rates and requests for equipment made it uncertain to whether we could end up with a finished product before the money ran out. Following recommendations of the public health officer, considering comfort zone of interviewees, and understanding of the content was required to prepare the interviewees. Plus the prevalent American context was directing the conversation and people’s responses.  Through many discussions with others, we discovered  that the questions we initially formulated were directing the responses too much and resulting in less depth than desired.  

Our committee came to the conclusion that the conversation boils down to the conversation about the feelings of “belonging” and the feelings of “otherness”. Racism and anti-racism are part of that conversation. This made sense for the three of us. We are all educators and part of our life work has been to create inclusive classrooms so all students are ready and able to engage in learning. Sandy Murray has done this through her work as a music educator using song experience games and in her work at the University of the Fraser Valley with pre-service teachers. Susan Ruzic and I got to know each other through our engagement in human rights work that expanded beyond our classrooms. Creating inclusive spaces were part of her work in her elementary school classroom and in her work as The Social Justice representative at the British Columbia Teachers’ Association. It was also part of my work teaching Kindergarten to Grade 12, teaching adults in China and at Simon Fraser University, chairing the Multicultural and Anti-Racism Committee in SD #43 and doing field work as an Amnesty International member.

Susan and I have also had the experience of parenting our children in a multicultural context.   Both her biracial son and my children with German, Scottish and Irish ancestry, grew up with friend groups that were racially very diverse.  Knowing how to use chopsticks well was a badge of honour, as was being invited to participate in the cultural traditions of their friends.  I think back fondly of the Easter Sunday that my daughter, Larkyn, and her best friend, Jasmine, wore their South Asian suits to church.  Canada has welcomed immigrants and refugees for many years, and many families with diverse ethnicities and cultural traditions live, work, and play together.  We do not have gated communities or expectations of segregated living.  However the Truth and Reconciliation Commission exposed the efforts by the Canadian government to decimate the Indigenous population through residential schools and other mechanisms of structural racism.  It also increased the awareness and the scrutiny of how this has been applied to other racial groups.  

Our committee worked on creating broad questions around belonging that would help people tell their own stories.  Feedback has ranged from wanting questions that are more broad or more specific, more options and fewer options.  In the end, I distributed, microphones for phones, tripods, lighting equipment and the green screen and set people off to engage interested people in their circles in conversations.  Participants reflect the perspectives of a diverse range of Vancouverites who are interested in creating inclusive spaces where people could come together.  We also wanted it to stimulate discussion of how a sense of belonging is established , how people are made to feel like outsiders, and how we deal positively and proactively with inter-cultural communication, conflicts of opinion, and systemic racism. This could be within schools, community groups, places of worship, or in small business contexts. 

Our committee realized that we were going to need to reframe the way we did the work.  I took some online courses to help me with the technical aspects of the project and discovered that a documentary was too big a bite.  I have a lot to learn to accomplish that task. The problem of being a global thinker!  However we did come up with a plan to move forward largely thanks to Sol Kay and her documentary series www.youtube.com/c/INNERLIGHTJOURNEY.  Her interviews took place in a number of venues.  She interview me about mindfulness in my school garden.  She let me chose the topic and just let me talk.  Then she listened to all of the interviews and enlisted help to group them according to general themes. Follow the link above to see the results.  I thought it was brilliant.  I have assumed the role as our tech person and now have enough working knowledge of Keynote, iMovie, and the filming and sound requirements for us to move forward.  Special thanks to Shelly Saves the Day @shellysavesthe, Steve Dotto @dottotech, and my niece, Anna.  Rather than relying on a videographer, we invested the money in purchasing our own equipment with multiple microphones to plug into our phones and tripods to create content on the Inquire2Empower YouTube channel.

Beginning August 1st, one iMovie will be posted with one person’s story on the YouTube channel – Carrie Froese under the Perspectives on Belonging playlist. Topics addressed will include but are not limited to: What makes people feel like they belong? What makes people feel like an outsider? What role does racism play in the lives of Vancouverites? How do people engage in being an anti-racist? Follow the link https://youtu.be/SqI0zK-MlpY and start having your own conversations to create inclusive spaces and places and challenge systemic racism.

Writing Reflections #2- Writing Beyond Distraction

My very best time of day to write throughout my work life has been first thing in the morning.  I love to get up when no one else is up.  No distractions.  Me alone with my coffee, my journal, my computer, and my thoughts.  The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron has been very helpful in disciplining me to commit to three pages a day.  No need for grand inspiration or even threads to weave the ideas together.  I do not lack ideas.  Filling three pages of my thinking in my journal, which leans heavily to tangential considerations of life, is easy.  Blogs pick up and develop one of those considerations.

In my mind, I somehow have separated journaling and blogging, as not really being the work of a writer.  Of course, it is.  My writing has certainly improved over the course my writing years.  Yet, it is different.  There is usually a thought that I am exploring in relation to my work as an educators or parent or social justice advocate.  I want to extend my own thinking and communicate with the larger group.  It has been a huge asset in clarifying my own thinking and defining who I am as an educator.  Certainly it is the single best way I have discovered along the way to define my own narrative.  It has also had a huge role in growing my professional learning network on and offline.

My latest writing goal in my mind is the what I consider the purest form or writing.  The writing of a novel that grabs your attention, exposes you to a new perspectives, and leaves the reader in awe.  My biggest block is I don’t want to write a beach read, I want to write an Ahab’s Wife, or Pride and Prejudice, or Alice in Wonderland that leaves readers considering.  Wondering.  

I continue to have work and life commitments, but they leave enough time for me to develop myself as a writer.   Yet, with this aspiration, I have shut myself down.  The task seems too big.  Too intimidating.  And as the morning disappears, so does the quiet and options to pursue become boundless.  Yesterday, a friend referred to my place as “spotless”.  A landmark comment that my husband and I noted as a slipping of the tectonic plates of our life.  A cause for pause and celebration of this noteworthy event!  But somehow reflective of what I have been doing to avoid the more challenging task of writing.  

Thanks to the suggestion of Julia Denholm, another friend, I have been reading Anne Lamott’s book, Bird By Bird.  She has often been quoted for sharing her father’s words to her 10 year old brother who was struggling with a daunting school project on birds:  “Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.”  The book is worth a complete read.  It is funny and speaks to the importance of going through the process of writing the boring, the mundane, and the uninspired.  It also provides some solid suggestions to try.

Apparently, I have been a “real” writer for years.  Journals have capture my observations and perceptions of truth.  Blogs have served the purpose of short assignments.  Eavesdropping and index cards in Anne Lamott fashion, have captured glimpses into other possible truths and some great text.  The shift to writing fiction is significant and represents a foray Ito the unknown.  And yes, the day is gorgeous, the neighbourhood is waking up, and the options for a run, bike ride, another cup of coffee, are sometimes too enticing. I’m changing it up and exploring writing in the evening.  The vibe is pretty good.  Perhaps inspiration will feed the shift in my writing that I’m trying to accomplish.

Exploring writing in the evening

Writing Reflections #1 On Becoming a Writer

I am a person who writes. When I was young, I wrote in a diary. Seemly nothing to say, yet revealing the people that were important, the things that happened around me, and the power plays unfolding. As an adolescent and young adult, I wrote about the things that I could not say without getting in trouble from my father, step-mother and older sister, or making my mother cry. As a young adult, I wrote to make sense of the thoughts swirling around my head and to sharpen my words to fire as defensive missiles. As an adult, I wrote as an outlet to my frustrations and to clarify my thinking.

Writing before Kits wakes up

I was never comfortable sharing my ideas.  Attempts to write stories fell short of the stories I read.  I wanted profound.  I wanted thought provoking.  In university, my most inspired writing came in the wee hours of the morn when I was pulling an all nighter.  Raising little kids and working full time did not lend itself to that kind of writing or that kind of focus. 

My first public writing was inspired by a friend and colleague at the time, Meredyth Kezar.  She was an early adopter of blogging.  I expressed to her that I feared falling down the rabbit hole into another world that would consume me.  Yet, the initiative and opportune moment came when I was teaching in China after my mother’s death.  I wanted to step outside of the events and feelings threatening to overwhelm me. I started a travel blog.  My friend, mentor and writer of books, Jan Wells, kept it on her desktop and read it with the news in the morning.  Criticism from my stepmother indicated that even she read it.  People that I didn’t know read it.  I had something to say that was of interest.

With the move into management in another school district, I was at a loss without the support and inspiration from colleagues in the other two school districts I had left behind.  I maintained my practice of inquiry and the blog became a way of posing, then exploring those questions.  Hence Inquire2Empower was born.  A newfound friend and mentor in the VSB, Rosa Fazio, catapulted me into the world of social media, with an introduction to Twitter.  The blog and the Twitter account amplified my voice and allowed me to create a Professional Learning Community of like-minded people.  I penned my own narrative that opened up other opportunities related to my passions, literacy, social justice, SEL, and learning outdoors. 

I have now been provided with another opportunity.  Time and space to focus on my writing.  My father has also provided the cabin in the woods via the Irrevocable Trust that really turned out to be irrevocable.  Now what remains is for me to evolve as a writer.  I have internalized the value of Julia Cameron’s morning pages.  I am rereading Stephen King’s memoir On Writing.  The question for me is how to evolve to a writer of books that I’d want to read.  I have no shortage of ideas for murder-mysteries, professional handbooks, and fat, sad books.  What is next? How do I begin?

King, Stephen (2000).  On Writing.  A Memoir of the Craft.  Scribner.  New York. 

Cameron, Julia (2016).  The Artist’s Way.  A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  25th Anniversary Edition.  A TarcherPerigee Book,  New York. 

Gratitude at the Juncture

This is not just the end of the school year for me.  It is not just an end to packing up for the move to a new site during seismic mitigation of David Livingstone Elementary School.  It is not just the end of my tenure as principal of David Livingstone Elementary School.  It is not just the end of 15 months of the daunting task of keeping our school community safe during a global pandemic.  It is not just the end of my career in the public school system in the British Columbia, Canada School system.   It is a decision that there are new opportunities to capture my imagination and focus my energy.

Spectacular bouquet. So appreciated.

A cool breeze is signaling the end of a heat wave that had the capacity to close down our schools for the first time ever in my life – in the final week of school, no less.  Many of us have had our second vaccine or we’ve booked the appointment.  Masks are now optional and people on the street are smiling and once again chatting with one another.  The fear is beginning to dissipate.  People are beginning to exhale and look forward with hope.

The COVID 19 experience has shaken us to the core.  Some people have been overwhelmed by fear.  Some people have tapped the opportunity to settle old scores or to feed their egos or exercise their power.  Some people have been unkind and unreasonable. Has this been an illustration of the worst version of themselves?  Has it been the unveiled version of themselves? Will they rue the day that they exposed this aspect of their character, perhaps to themselves?  Only they really know. 

In the midst of – yes, I’m going to use the word again – UNPRECEDENTED – stress, many people have stepped up to show the very best version of themselves.  Kindness and tenacity prevailed.  When smacked down with new demands and fears on top of old ones, many have stood up straight, shoulders back, problem solved and did what was required.

The most prevalent feeling that I have today is one of gratitude.  We made it through the school year, without locusts or flooding, until the end of the year.  In the final weeks of school, I personally witnessed so much appreciation, love, and the ability to laugh in the midst of what felt like a black comedy of the absurd at times.  Although rigorous safety protocols were not always welcomed, we managed to get through the year with only two exposures.  No school spread.   Teachers pivoted to online learning overnight despite varying degrees of comfort with technology. 

In the face of all that was thrown at us as educators, students were cared for with love, concern, and efforts to take care of their mental health and continued learning opportunities.  In turn they provided us with the delight in being together and a fresh perspective on resilience and adaptability.  And I was sent off to retirement with a plethora of treats, flowers, celebratory beverages, chocolate, and good wishes.  Colleagues even came together in shifts on the hottest day of the year, with sweat running down our backs in an unconditioned space to toast retirees.  And the party and the planning for future endeavours continues.  But first, I have slept more in the last few days than in any given week of school over the past 15 months.  And I am grateful.

Good-bye to the 2020-2021 School Year

What a year!

I had scheduled our last assembly of the year on the All Students @Livingstone TEAM to stay in keeping with our COVID cohorts that are still in place until the end on the year. For the first time in my experience, school is not in session due to the heat wave. I just can’t believe it! What a year. Looks like students will be participating in the assembly from home with a challenge to write, draw, or film their own goodbye to the 2020-2021 school year.

We are starting to emerge into a world where COVID does not control all our decisions. 

After 15 months of fear, nervousness, caution, cohorts, masks, closed drinking fountains, online meetings, and daily health screenings, we’ve learned some things. 

Rigorous safety procedures have been a drag, but they have kept us safe.  Although sometimes it’s hard to get up in the morning, we now appreciate that we LOVE school.  We’d rather be at school than self-isolating at home.  We’d rather have face to face lessons than online meetings.  We rather have the freedom to choose where we go on the playground rather than be limited to one area.  We love to play with lots of people and have the freedom to make new friends during one recess and one lunch time. 

We can resume our more familiar school life as people get their vaccinations and the threat of COVID is reduced.  Next year everyone will be back at school full time and the things we like will be back in place.  I was delighted to be able to assign students to the four buses that will be transporting students from Livingstone to South Hill next year, with their siblings.  Good riddance to cohorts!

There are some take aways from COVID that are worth holding onto.  Daily health checks are a great idea and there will even be a website and APPS for the iPhone, iPad, and android devices to remind people who are sick to stay home.  Students and adults learned how to avoid touching our faces with germy hands.  We’ve learned to wash our hands thoroughly and often.  We had an obvious decrease in colds and the flu this year.  We also learned to be flexible and appreciate that we can do things differently and still have fun.  We learned that small kindnesses and gratitude make all the difference, particularly during times of stress.  We learned that everyone deals with stress in different ways and that we all must continue to develop our tools and strategies to manage.  We learned that giving the people credit for good intentions helps us to adopt another perspective.  We learned that learning outdoors is great if you are dressed appropriately, problematic if you are not.  

I am happy to say goodbye to 15 months of COVID, but I am not happy to be saying goodbye to you.  You are a great group of people who have shown resilience, kindness, flexibility, humour, and incredible learning in the midst of a global pandemic.  You rock.  I’ll miss you.  I’ll be back to visit.  I can’t wait to return to a seismically upgraded David Livingstone complete with an elevator and a ramp to the gym to welcome all students, staff, and families no matter how they travel.  Take good care, my friends 

School Leaders Who Blog

School Leaders Who Blog

As a blogging principal, I was honoured to be featured in the June 2021 issue of the BCPVPA Principl(ed) journal.  It is interesting to read about the many reasons that school leaders choose to blog and the things that they capitalize on.  It is also interesting to ponder the responses that come into play in the decision to make our thinking transparent as leaders.  Blogging has been important pathway for me to develop my reflective practice and to create my own narrative as a school leader.

The role of the principal, particularly in the days of COVID, is threatened to be taken over by the overwhelming amounts of managerial tasks.  Although I agree that school leaders need have well developed management skills, this was not what drove my decision to become a school principal.  My strong belief is that educational change requires instructional leaders.  Instructional leaders need to be knowledgeable and current.  Being current requires strong support for the management work and a strong emphasis on the development of instructional leaders who are clear about moving their school communities forward to support, challenge and keep our students safe. 

Instructional leadership is a process, not a finite destination.  The OECD principles for educational change have continued to be solid goal posts, but the path we navigate is continually changing.  Although social emotional learning has been a part of many school plans for many years, COVID created more immediacy in focusing our attention on what our students require to be able to learn.  George Floyd’s death and the discovery on the remains of Indigenous students at a Kamloops residential school provided a powerful catalyst for creating systemic change in our schools and in our communities.  Tremendous work has been done by principals and vice principals that are aware of the issues and how to navigate a pathway forward. 

This does not happen in a void.  We encourage our students and our staff to actively engage in inquiry and take risks in their learning.  We encourage bold questions and predictions.  We also teach them to take a step back, reflect on their conclusions, and change their mind.  In his book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant eloquently creates a case for thinking in scientist mode so that we can remain flexible in our thinking.  This person is actively open minded and searching for reasons why we might be wrong, not for reasons why we must be right.  Revising our views based on what we learn and changing minds are considered to be acts of intellectual integrity.  Blogging allows me to step beyond my Things To Do list and assume the stance of a scientist.  

I have been cautioned and questioned about the wisdom of stating my ideas publicly.  Adam Grant describes the person who adopts the “politician” stance and acquiesces to the group in a bid for popularity at all costs.  As school leaders, our decisions cannot always appease the group.  Sometimes we are called upon to make difficult decisions that are unpopular.  Our role requires we have reflected on the issue and have develop a strong rationale for why the decision serves the greater good in our school community.  That takes time, reflection, a professional learning community to help you navigate the terrain and support from upper management. 

I feel fortunate in many ways this year.  I have colleagues and district staff on speed dial to discuss issues, problem solve and possible pathways forward.  Julie Pearce, my Director of Instruction, has the background knowledge and wisdom from years of experience to pose questions to extend my thinking and the will to support her principals.  And I have my practice of inquiry and reflection to define and redefine who I am as a school leader and what matters most.  Articulating who we are as school leaders and a willingness to rethink our positions in the face of new information are practices that are integral to establishing ourselves as leaders in the educational community.  Blogging is one pathway.

Grand, Adam (2021).  THINK AGAIN.  The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  New York, Viking.

Principl(ed) Vol.2, Issue 3 – June 2021 – The Journal of the BC Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association, “Leaders Who Blog”.

To Livingstone Grade 7’s as Your World Expands

Grade 7 Leaving in Hollywood Style

In June 2020, we tried to replicate the Grad Ceremony in an online meeting. This year we tried to create a celebration for our Grade 7 students that would capture their interest and excitement. This was my farewell speech to our David Livingstone Elementary Grade 7 students as their principal.

Students, teachers and our online viewers, welcome to Hollywood North!

You are leaving the smaller pond our elementary school and swimming into the much larger pond of secondary school.  However you are taking with you the background experience unlike anyone who has come before you.  Last year, Grade 7’s left under the haze of COVID starting in March 2020 but a year filled with fairly typical Grade 7 experiences until that point in time.  You are leaving with the previously undefined experience of fear, caution, lockdowns, expanded online learning, physical distancing, masks, cohorts, restrictions, air high fives and air hugs.  Previously uncharted terrain for your typical Grade 7 student.

As people are being vaccinated and cases of COVID lessen, there is less focus on fear and apprehension.  There is more focus on looking forward.  People are already writing books about what it has been like to live through a modern day pandemic.  But what is most significant is that YOU can write that book.  All of your experiences and the feelings could fill many volumes.  Of the 36 students leaving Grade 7, there are 36 versions of that book.  Each version carries its own truth.

I’m currently reading a book called Think Again by Adam Grant.  The subtitle – The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.  What is most intriguing about the book, is the fact that it isn’t the smartest people who are most able to cope with adversity or change.  It is the people who are able to rethink the situation and pursue a different pathway.

Mike Lazaridis dreamed up the idea for the Blackberry as a wireless communication device for sending and receiving emails.  In middle school, he made local news for building a solar panel at the science fair and won an award for reading every science book in the public library.  In his eight grade yearbook, there is a cartoon of Mike as a mad scientist, with bolts of lightning shooting out of his head.  By 2008, his Blackberry company was worth $70 billion dollars.  By 2014, the market share had plummeted to less than 1% of smart phone users in the US.  What happened? 

In 2010, when one of Mike’s colleagues pitched the idea of sending encrypted messages. He passed.  What’s App saw the potential of text messaging to the tune of $19 billion dollars.  When the idea of typing on a glass screen rather than on the tiny keyboard emerged with thumbs.  He laughed.  Steve Jobs saw the potential.  Apple was off and running.  Clearly Mike Lazaridis was a smart guy.  He just couldn’t rethink or adopt another perspective.  He couldn’t unlearn what he already knew. 

Adam Grant talks about four approaches to the way people think and live their lives: 

  1. The first type of person digs in their heels and argues their point of view is right.  They ever question their ideas.  This type of person takes offence at other perspectives or anyone questioning their conclusions.
  2. The second type of person completely focuses is on proving others wrong.  This person focuses on discrediting rather than discovering.
  3. The third type of person will appease the audience at any cost.  This is the politician in the group.  Popularity rather than accuracy dictates their views. 
  4. The final type of person assumes scientist mode.   This person is actively open minded;  searching for reasons why we might be wrong;  not for reasons why we must be right.  Revising views is based on what is learned. Changing minds are acts of intellectual integrity for a person in scientist mode.

Intellectual curiosity and openness to new discoveries.  This is the skill set you’ve been taught since kindergarten.   This goes hand in hand with curriculum in British Columbia. All those inquiry studies.  All those questions to pursue.  All that predicting and testing hypotheses.

The COVID pandemic has certainly thrust you into the full understanding of uncertainty.  Yet, you are equipped to not only handle it but to pursue your very own version of truth.  I look forward to reading about it.  Or perhaps watching it on a screen in Hollywood, California. With that,  I wish you all of the very best as you swim off into your next pond. 

Reading Recovery Revisited

Intensive daily intervention creates readers.

This week I had the pleasure of meeting with my resource teacher and Reading Recovery teacher, Sonia Pietzsch, to review the results of the Reading Recovery intervention with our Grade 1 students.  The Vancouver School Board is one of the 64 school districts in Canada participating in this reading intervention.   David Livingstone Elementary staff support this reading intervention in our school and benefit from being part of the early intervention program in the VSB.

Marie Clay was the literacy educator from New Zealand whose work with Maori children spearheaded the Reading Recovery movement that took hold in Canada in the 1970’s.  Her work made it explicit that short term, intensive early intervention by trained literacy educators for students in Grade 1 who struggle:  

1.  reduced achievement gaps

2.  reduced the need for long-term remedial classes.

This has been substantiated with research many times over.  Reading Recovery Programs are now in Canadian, New Zealand, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with affiliations also in the Caymen Islands, Ireland, and Malta.  The Canadian Institute of Reading Recovery has been collecting data in Canada since 1995-1996 with results from over 200,000 students.  The report notes that 100% of students in Reading Recovery make progress in the development of a literacy processing system with two positive outcomes:

  1. Participating Grade 1 students make accelerated progress and are able to benefit from classroom instruction without the need for further individual support or,
  2. Participants are identified early in school years as needing long-term or specialist support.

As anticipated, Sonia Pietzsch, reported back the results consistent with national findings for our Grade 1 students participating in Reading Recovery.  She, however, noted an additional positive outcome:

“These kids see themselves as readers and writers.  They see themselves as capable learners. With 12 – 20 weeks of individual, daily targeted instruction, we have been able to change the trajectory and student perceptions of self.” 

In the complexity of the COVID school experiences since March 2019, the good news stories matter.  Reading Recovery is certainly a good news story.  The Vancouver School Board has included another dimension to the early literacy work in the work.  This includes small group, guided reading with Kindergarten to Grade 3 students.  It also includes the tracking of our Reading Recovery students all through their primary years (K-Grade 3). Livingstone parents have also helped consolidate emerging literacy skills with PAC funds to ensure classroom libraries and levelled books to facilitate regular home reading programmes. 

Thank you, Marie Clay.  Thank you, Vancouver School Board.

Thank you, Sonia Pietzsch. 

Thank you, Livingstone staff and PAC.

Listen to the Stories

We Remember: Honouring the 215 children found in mass grave at largest school in Canadian Residential System

The policy of removing children from their homes to distance them from their families and their cultures was not the idea of one person with enough power to make it happen.  Europeans came to North American and encountered the unfamiliar.  They learned how to survive, navigate the land, extract resources, and benefit from alliances with Indigenous people before making the decision to obliterate Indigenous cultures.  It was not about moral high ground and improving the lives of the children.  It was about access to land, resources, and creating a malleable population.  The residential system was in existence for well over 100 years and many successive generations lived the trauma generation after generation.

The discovery of 215 children in a mass, unmarked grave was shocking but it was not a surprise.  Indigenous people have shared stories about their missing children since the inception of the residential system.  Their friends have known the truth for many decades.  For others, we may not have been taught about the policy to “remove the Indian from the child” and the use of the residential system to do so, when we were being educated in schools prior to 2010.  However, it is not possible for Canadians to have missed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that criss-crossed Canada for six years.  It is not possible to pretend that we did not know this happened. 

The Commission heard more than 6,000 stories from witnesses, most of whom survived the  experience of living in the schools as students.  There was wide media coverage, marches, ceremonies, healing circles, people acting as supports to traumatized Indigenous people reliving the experience.  Enduring art installations of wooden tiles were created by children in the school system demonstrating their understanding of this time when children were forcibly removed from their families.

“Children were abused, physically and sexually, and they died in the schools in numbers that would not have been tolerated in any school system anywhere in the country, or in the world.”

Honorable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair

Dr. Marie Wilson, Commissioner

Chief Wilton Littlechild, Commissioner

June 2, 2015

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

The Commission named it – Cultural genocide – and offered 94 recommendations for governments, churches, public institutions, and non-Indigenous Canadians to move from apology to meaningful reconciliation. 

I was very aware of this dark part of our history but I was somewhat of a loss for navigating the path to support Indigenous families and students in the wake of discovering the 215 children in Kamloops.  The image that came to my mind with the discovery of the children in a mass grave was the Holocaust.  We understand this to be a  time in which we knew people were treated with cruelty and disrespect that did not even acknowledge their humanity.  As a mother, I cannot even imagine having to live through this experience.

This is not solely an Indigenous tragedy.  It is a Canadian tragedy and a Canadian failure.  Just as Germans were well aware of Hitler’s politics, the persecution of the Jews, and their disappearance, the anti-semitism paved the way for it to happen.  People saw and treated other people like they were less than human.   Canadians voted for leaders who perpetuated residential schools for over 100 years.  Clearly, we need leaders with the moral and ethical integrity to take on difficult issues like systemic racism in a deep and meaningful way.  We have all experienced leaders only concerned with their personal advancement.  That is not what we need now. 

The people providing the leadership in the discovery of the 215 lost children, are the people suffering the most.  Not suffering a new loss but acknowledging the unthinkable.  Anyone who has lost a beloved person in their life, knows that grief does not disappear with time.  We are more able to live with it beside us, and some days it is more palpable than others.  The loss and pain exists close to the surface.

Kukpi7 Chief Rosanne Casimir spoke with such poise and grace to the press about her heart being completely broken, wanting nothing less than respect and honour for the 215 children discovered, and the end of the racism that negatively impacts Indigenous people today. 

Monique Gray Smith @ltldrum made a video to help adults have difficult conversations with students about residential schools. Jo Chrona @luudisk talks about her place between sadness and anger and the importance for us to turn towards the pain, assume the responsibility to continue learning, and engage in a collective response.  These are the people who are able to provide the stories that we most need to hear.  Listening to the stories is the beginning.  The stories provide us with guidance for how me move forward to end personal and systemic racism, and create the expectation that our Indigenous people deserve the respect and honour we expect for all families in Canada. 

Equity in Action

Racism and anti-racism has been more part of the educational conversation this year, than at any time during my time as an educator. Early on in my career, I joined Amnesty International. Participation in community groups, and Amnesty events and actions were the source of much of my learning about white privilege and the inequity of basic human rights throughout the world. I championed Human Rights Day on Dec. 10th and taught students and community members about the International Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. As a teacher in Coquitlam, I became the chair of the Coquitlam Teachers’ Association Multicultural and Anti-Racism Committee. I coordinated the CODE (Canadian Organization for Development in Education) Project Love in the district. Students wrote letters and packaged school supplies to send off to students in countries needing this support for young learners. My foundational belief was that teaching and learning about other cultures and human rights was to key to ending racism. Well, looking around today, it is fairly evident that learning about other cultures does not equate to valuing or respecting people with other ways of being.

Multiculturalism was supposed to represent a different paradigm than the “American melting pot”.  Yet, in both Canada and the United States, racism has continued to play out.  An openness to learning about other cultures can create the conditions for equity for all people despite perceived differences, but it is not a guarantee it will.  COVID has created the circumstances for all of us to come face to face with the magnitude of the problem.  Limitations on our activities ensured that many of us were riveted to the tv to witness the horror of the end of George Floyd’s life.  The words “I can’t breathe” make the racism in mainstream society palpable. 

COVID or perhaps the post Trump era has also created circumstances where the worst version of too many people have emerged.  These people are emboldened to say and act in ways that would not have been tolerated in recent history.  Overt acts of racism are reported regularly, and hate proliferates social media.  However, there is a will of people not previously involved in social justice issues to ask questions and go after finding answers.  Books, online courses, and discussion groups have popped up – all focussing on race and anti-racism.  Institutions are becoming more aware of the need for them to be involved in a solution. 

My learning journey continues but I have heard all of the advice provided throughout these different contexts to be quiet and listen, to share my ideas, to be pro-active, to check my white privilege, to own my responsibility for the problem, identify my biases, to do more, to follow the lead of people of colour, to find affinity with those who look like me…  I believe that every piece of advice provided comes with quest to make our world a more just and equitable place.  Yet, like any other scenario, there is no magic answer to create the ills of the world.  To be a part of the solution to racism and create a more equitable world, commit to taking action.  This is not a passive process.  We will need build capacity in ourselves, our colleagues, our neighbours, if our institutions are to move forward with much needed change.

The past year, I have made the following things part of my learning journey.

  1. Continue to celebrate other cultures and ways of life with families through Children’s Literature.  Explore differences and common experiences that make us human.

I believe that we have moved beyond the need for a shelf of “Multicultural Books” in every school library.  Children need to see themselves represented throughout our library collections and inquiry studies.  Educators need professional development and recommendations to support book buying that help children in understanding that they do not walk alone.  There are others with similar lives and experiences, and experience interesting opportunities.

As president of the BCLCILA – British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association / ReadingBC @BCLiteracyCoun1 , I spearheaded a project to create a booklist of titles to support children in their social emotional learning, which includes seeing themselves represented in text.  Many of those tests, I read on my Ms. Froese Reads You Tube channel to create community in my school.

“By valuing their culture and identity, we give students the power to see themselves in their learning.”

                                                                                                            Chaunte Garrett

2. Engage widely in reading and writing about issues of race, anti-racism, and equity in order to be exposed to the pertinent issues, vocabulary, and understanding of issues of race, anti-racism, and equity. 

There is no one book to read to inform understanding or action.  Read widely to formulate your own ideas.  I have enough titles now that I am able to lend out to support others in their learning.  I Included the titles on Goodreads to open conversations and sharing with my online reading community.

Writing about your reading supports connections between all of the material you are reading.  Blogging helps me to further clarify my thinking. 

3.  Participate in professional development and discussion groups focusing on issues of race, anti-racism, and equity.  Look for techniques and tools to reduce bias and measures to determine more equitable outcomes for students.

Notice what it feels like when you are listened to, when your ideas are valued, and when you feel like you belong in the conversation.

Notice what it feels like when you hear information that you do not believe to be true, when someone makes assumptions about you, or when you feel silenced or dismissed. 

4. Find your own affinity group to engage in conversation to keep learning and fine tuning your ideas. 

Do not let anyone make decisions for you about where you belong.  Find someone or some people who you trust to have conversations about sensitive issues or ask questions.

5. Reach out to include people with different experiences or ideas to participate in conversations.

I submitted a proposal to the Human Rights Internet ( @HRI ) with a small group of social justice advocates in fall.  The purpose was to produce a documentary to facilitate conversations between people wanting to make their groups, workplace or organizations more welcoming and diverse.  We wanted to pose questions and include the perspectives of a diverse range of people in Vancouver, British Columbia with different experiences, ethnicities, and perspectives.  It seemed so much more straightforward when we started, but what a learning experience.   Formulating questions to tease out responses without directing answers took months!

The documentary will be a project over a longer period of time.  However, the open-ended questions that we have refined and the voices of people we are interviewing are fascinating.  The plan has evolved to release the unedited “voices” on You Tube each week and open up the participation in the project.  This way we are not tailoring the message to an agenda but allowing the voices to peak for themselves.

6.  Keep your eyes and mind open as to how you can support other people in their learning journey or join them to support yours.  The learning evolves as we evolve.

“We can’t teach what we don’t know, and we can’t lead where we won’t go.”

Malcolm X        

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