Keep Going for Equity and Justice

Creating a space where each member of a community not only feels welcome but valued and respected is a gargantuan challenge.  I have been welcomed into spaces where there are is an unwritten code, or set of expectations, that you must identify and comply with if you do not want to fall into disfavour and subsequently have the welcome withdrawn.  All too often the rules are apparent after the fact.  Or perhaps, they are never are discerned.  Job places, schools, places of worship, and community gathering spots face the same challenge of how to create spaces where people with diverse cultures, belief systems, family structures and appearance can come together in a context where everyone feels valued and in the words of Marlo Thomas – free to be. 

I have lost heart that any set of rules will provide all the answers. The Declaration of Human Right and Freedoms was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 and enshrined the rights and freedoms of all human beings. Subsequent human and civil rights law have codified many of these basic rights. We have had time for full implementation. And yet, in wealthy countries the #MeToo #BlackLivesMatter #IndigenousLivesMatter echo the cries of people waiting for even basic rights to be extended to them. The citing or rules, finger pointing, and defining the work that others need to do, breeds anger and resentment rather than a collective, coordinated effort to do better.

If we are going to make a difference in the quest to create respectful spaces, we are going to need to capture the imaginations of the people within organizations whether it’s a workplace, school, club or social organization.  Co-existing in a space does not generate a welcoming or generous climate.  We need curiosity and empathy.  The kind of curiosity that inspires us to want to get to know each other, the patience to listen to someone’s story and the development of empathy.

The best place to start teaching this process is in schools, where we already have students brimming with curiosity, not afraid to ask questions, and ready to dive into the learning.  I have been inspired by Patrick Stewart’s reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and Michelle Obama’s story time online.  As part of the process of building community in our school, I decided to put a weekly story on YouTube for my school.  For my first book, I chose Fauja Singh Keeps on Going to dovetail with our recent learning about Diwali. 

I gathered the book, my tripod, my iPhone, and headed off to read the book to a Grade 5 class.  After I discovered there was too much noise and the student response to the book, I headed off to read to the Grade 3 class I was covering.   It is a newly published book by Simran Singh with illustrations by Baljinder Kaur that bring additional insight into Sikh culture.  Fauja Singh is 108 years old and will live on in my heart.  He experiences physical adversity, racism, loss, and becomes the first 100-year-old person to finish a marathon.  Fauja demonstrates resilience, perseverance and grace in moving forward to become an inspiration for all of us.  Before I went off to read with students, I called one of the parents in my school community to make sure I was pronouncing Fauja’s name correctly.  Turns out Bindy interviewed Fauja when she was doing the research for her doctoral degree and was able to provide a great personal story to bring additional insight to our students.    

My 15-minute YouTube time limit for Ms. Froese Reads, didn’t allow for me to include the fascinating conversation with students.  All of us immediately made the connections with Terry Fox, the Canadian hero who demonstrated the same kind of perseverance and integrity as Fauja.  The image of Canadians running beside Fauja was reminiscent of people running beside Terry to encourage him along his route and it made us proud as Canadians.  The racist treatment of Fauja in New York post 9/11 was a focus of both conversations.  A Grade 5 girl with white skin spoke of her embarrassment about people being racist, even though she wasn’t there.  A Grade 3 boy with brown skin gave an impassioned and well-informed speech about how Donald Trump and how his racist beliefs are taking the United States in the wrong direction.  These kids heard Fauja’s story.  They understand fairness.  They empathize.  They were inspired by Fauja’s mother ‘s message that “Today is a chance to do your best.”  How do we inspired everyone to take a step back and proceed with kindness on a path to equity and justice?

We are at another junction in history where people are pausing to consider our direction.   Certainly, it will take a willingness to listen more and to broaden our perspectives if that is to be a path towards equity and justice.  The route of how to get to a more social just society is widely disputed.  I still hold tight to the  principles laid out in the United Nations Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  I believe the process of continuing to articulate those principles in a Children’s Charter, an Indigenous Charter, and a Canadian Charter were important to further strengthen these basic rights and freedoms.  I will continue to live them and to teach them.  I believe in laws and their fair application to provide justice.  I also believe in mandatory training to outline expectations in the workplace and in public institutions.  Yet, they are not enough. 

How do we inspire curiosity and a desire to do better?  How do we break down the hierarchical and social structures that inhibit people from sharing their stories with the people in their schools, jobs, places of worship, and the cities we live in?  And how do we inspire people to want to empathize?  How do we encourage people to give each other the benefit of the doubt and not immediately assume the worst intention?  Any environment that creates a fear of making mistakes, is destined to become entrenched in camps.  Silence follows fear.  Growth requires a collaborative effort to understand. Authors like Margaret Atwood, Wab Kinew and Yaa Gyasi have the ability to shift perspectives within a few hundred pages.  Children are responsive to well written books with diverse perspectives, particularly when followed with engaging discussion.  Sitting face to face in a room and learning about someone’s journey is magic.  As a member, then community fieldworker for Amnesty International, I had the opportunity to listen to the stories or many people who had been imprisoned and tortured for their religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, political belief or relationship to someone else being persecuted and intimidated.  They were stories or hope, survival and gratitude.  They were inspirational and strengthened my resolve to work for social justice.   During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, hearts were broken listening to traumatic stories of residential school survivors  and family breakdown of our Indigenous people.  It brought a part of Canadian history, omitted in textbooks, to the forefront of our collective consciousness as a country.  Anyone involved in the process has a greater level of empathy and understanding of the complexity and importance of the path to reconciliation with our Indigenous people. Like Fauja Singh, we need to keep going until basic rights and freedoms are part of the lived experience of all people and we don’t even have to ask – Do you feel valued?  It will be a given.

Indigenous Experience is Canadian History – Remember on Sept. 30th

Orange shirt day is officially marked on September 30 each year, as that was the time of year Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to attend residential schools in Canada.  Orange shirt day is not a day about guilt for actions of other Canadians in days gone by.  It is about being part of a story.  Our story as Canadians.  A story in which 150,000 Indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities and put in residential schools because the differences in culture and language were not understood or appreciated or tolerated.  A story where 10,000 years of experience living off the land was not understood as a learning opportunity.  A story that started in 1831 with the first residential school and continues today.  Because although the last residential school was finally closed in 1996, the trauma of generations of residential schools has left a trail of shame, sadness, and racism.

One of the best things for us as a country has been the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada.  From 2007 – 2015, as the commission traveled throughout Canada, the stories of residential schools became common knowledge.  In many cases for the first time, Indigenous people were able to tell their stories and have people believe they were telling the truth.  We learned of the harsh, punitive conditions in which children were not allowed to speak their own language or practice their cultural traditions.  Six thousand children never returned home due to inadequate food, health and sanitary conditions.  Stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are all too common.  The trauma has crept through generations.  And yet the beacon of hope is that the truth has been told and heard.  And now the work of reconciliation has a chance of success.  We have the opportunity to forge a vision of a future in which Canadians value differences as opportunities for learning, ask questions, problem solve and recognize that every person matters.

Indigenous elders teach respect of the sacredness and importance of clean water.  Autumn Peltier from the Anishinabek First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario learned this as a young child.  These teachings have allowed this 15 year old girl to clearly articulate the need for clean water to the United Nations and at hundreds of events around the world.  She speaks and people listen.  Her question, “All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water.  Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?”  I am certain she will be included in the next edition of Wab Kinew’s book about Indigenous heroes!  Our country is better with her voice.

 

The Vancouver School District has identified an Indigenous Goal for all of our public schools:  To increase knowledge, acceptance,  empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions,  cultures and contributions among all students

At David Livingstone Elementary, we will be exploring the Indigenous Principles of Learning incorporated in the new curriculum in British Columbia and exploring Indigenous ways of knowing.  Our starting points will be in the school community garden.  It will be a place to learn about indigenous plants and how they were used by local Indigenous groups as food and as medicine.  We’ll also be exploring many of the legends  that are based on different aspects of nature.  We have lots to learn and we’re ready to begin.

Welcome to Our School

We are proud of our school and happy to welcome visitors into the conversation about learning.

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As a member of the VSB, I would like to acknowledge that we live, work and play on the unceded and traditional territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh) andsḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) Coast Salish peoples.

We are delighted to be able to show you around and encourage you to ask lots of questions.  The following challenges are to help you engage with our students and staff and understand some of the priorities at our school.  The staff and students touring you around the school will be able to give you some understanding of the history, our peer helpers program, Indigenous ways of knowing and breaking down the barrier between learning outdoors and learning indoors.

Challenge 1 – Look for evidence of the 7 principles during your observation.  It may be helpful to use the 7 Principles of Learning Chart.

The OECD has pointed out that the rapid advances in ICT have resulted in a global shift to economies based on knowledge, and an emphasis on the skills required to thrive in them.  At the same time empirical research on how people learn, how the mind and brain develop, how interests form, and how people differ has expanded the sciences of learning.  The result is that the educational community is now “rethinking what is taught, how it is taught and how learning is assessed”.

The OECD’s work on innovative learning environments was led by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides. Their 2010 report “The Nature of Learning”  identified seven principles of learning:

  1. Learners at the centre
  2. The social nature of learning
  3. Emotions are central to learning
  4. Recognizing individual differences
  5. Stretching all students
  6. Assessment for learning
  7. Building horizontal connections

Challenge 2 – Engage in a conversation surrounding the Spirals questions. 

The Spirals of Inquiry by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser lists three questions that will find helpful in engaging with students and staff.  Students are encouraged to look closely, notice details and ask questions to encourage learning in all aspects of their lives.  Many staff are involved in inquiry projects to explore their professional questions.  Vice principals and principals in the VSB are using these questions to guide their professional growth plans.

  • What are you learning and why is it important?
  • How is it going with your learning?
  • What are your next steps?

Challenge 3:  Note the development of core competencies in the classroom.The New Curriculum:  You will note that competencies and concept-based curriculum are intertwined with learning standards in B.C.’s New Curriculum. Core Competencies have become the focus of learning and they use content to develop the three main areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Creative and Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Personal and Social skills

Challenge 4:  Find examples of Student Voice and Competency Based Assessment The new curriculum has shifted the focus from summative assessment to formative assessment.  Students are encouraged to identify their starting point and formulate a plan for growth.  The focus has shifted from a deficit model to “I Can” statements.  Students are invited to be active participants in determining how they learn and planning for growth in skills, strategies, and collaborative practices.

Challenge 5:  The Canadian Experience – Note examples in the school of how students are being introduced to the role of Indigenous populations played in the development of Canada and our perceptions of Canadian identity.

Wab Kinew, hip hop artist, author, broadcaster, politician, Ojibwe activist, and leader of the NDP Party in Manitoba, has said “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand what they share unites them and what is different about them needs to be respected.”  Authentic reconciliation happens when people develop relationships with one another.

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Challenge 5:  Identify several different types of learning spaces and the types of competencies being developed in those spaces. 

We have several options for student learning at UHill Elementary School.  Supervision is required in all spaces.  Classroom teachers work with SSA’s (Education Assistants), Resource teachers, the principal and students to explore possibilities to maximize student learning in a variety of spaces and places.

  • The Classroom – indoor and outdoor spaces
  • Outside Learning Spaces
    • The Readers Writing Garden (outside)
    • The We Are One Rock Circle (outside)
    • The Soccer Fields or basketball court (outside)
    • The Buddy Bench (outside)
    • Sidewalk games
  • Resource Rooms
  • The Gym
  • Collaboration Spaces outside classrooms
    • Foyer in the main entrance
    • The Starry Night Room / Room painted yellow
    • The Garden Room – currently the in residence program, Project Chef, is in this room
    • The Main Foyer
    • Library
    • The Learning Lab / Maker Space Room
    • Gym
  • Active Learning Room (ALR) / room painted white
    • Ready Bodies Learning Minds
    • Peer helpers Program, a Grade 5 Leadership Program, at 11:45 am facilitated by The Community School Team
  • Places to Self Calm, work quietly independently, with a partner or small group
    • Peace Pod / room painted blue and decorated with saris
    • The Think Space – in the Office area

Challenge 6:  Breaking Down the Barriers:  Identify examples where learning outdoors is brought into the classroom and where indoor learning is brought outdoors.

The places where we live and grow impact our experiences and our perceptions.  Living in a temperate rainforest, attending school in the Pacific Spirit Park, and walking down to Acadia Beach impacts the knowledge our students are developing but also how they self regulate.

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I am a big fan of Twitter to keep parents informed about what is happening at the school by posting updates and pertinent information @UHillElementary and to further my own professional learning @CarrieFroese

We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Ms. Carrie Froese @CFroese

Principal University Hill Elementary School

Vancouver School Board, British Columbia, Canada

Inquire2Empower Blog carriefroese.wordpress.com

Learning from Wab Kinew

I’m getting ready for Wab Kinew’s visit organized by Vancouver Kidsbooks this Wednesday.  I finally read his book The Reason You Walk (2017 edition) from the stack beside my bed.  This book brings to life the negative impact of residential schools on the parenting of the children who attended. It is a very personal story of Wab’s relationship with a father suffering from his years in residential school.  I will never understand what overtakes people that allow themselves to treat human beings with such cruelty, let alone the most vulnerable. Repeatedly.  This is one of the dark stains on Canada’s reputation as a country that champions human rights.

Many of us have witnessed the apology for residential schools to Indigenous People in Canada by Stephen Harper when he was Prime Minister in 2008. The question that lingered was “What now?”  Certainly the first step was acknowledging what had happened and why it happened.  The attempt to “Kill the Indian in the Child” can only be understood in the context of cultural genocide.  As a country, we have a long way to come back from decisions that were made in our infancy as a country but sustained for way too many years after.

Wab Kinew has written a book that is truly a book about acknowledging what has happened but also moving beyond the atrocity of residential schools.   Wab Kinew (pg 211) tells us: “Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different about them needs to be respected.” That is an achievable goal to strive towards. And I am inspired.

The title of the book, The reason you walk or “Ningosha anishaa wenjii-bimoseyan” comes from the lyrics of an Anishinaabe travelling song. Wab Kinew’s dad, Ndedeiban, passed on the teaching to him: The words are interpreted as a direct message from the Creator aka God (The Reason You Walk, pg. 252):

  • “I am the reason you walk. I created you so that you might walk on this earth.
  • I am the reason you walk. I gave you motivation so you would continue to walk even when the path became difficult, even seemingly impossible.
  • I am the reason you walk. I animate you with that driving force called love, which compelled you to help others who had forgotten they were brothers and sisters to take steps back toward one another.
  • And, now my son, as that journey comes to an end, I am the reason you walk, for I am calling you home. Walk to me on that everlasting road.”

This book is as much about a father-son relationship as it is about larger political issues. It helped me to better understand my own mother’s long lingering journey towards death. And the all too soon deaths of my aunt and brother.  This book is testament to the fact that different faith traditions can speak universal truths that cross religion denominations.  As human beings, we are all on the same journey of joys, defeats, celebrations and sorrows.  The end goal is to allow people to define their own journey and support each other along the way.