Monthly Archives: September 2012

Reflections on Sept 2012….

A whole month has gone by since we started the 2012-13 school year! I now know the names of all staff members. My next big challenge is to learn the names of the 200 children in the school. If I was in the classroom, I would already know about 120 names, but it is a bit more difficult when one is not directly connected to a group of children on a regular basis. I hope my upcoming visits to classrooms will allow me to match names to faces.

What stands out for me for September 2012? The SEAS (Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards) afternoon festival was a highlight as the entire community was invited and many staff members from BBCS were in attendance doing diverse activities from cutting and placing salmon on barbeque sticks to judging the entries for the recipe contest. Yours Truly won 4th or 5th place for my Chunky Smoked Salmon and Artichoke Dip☺ Elders were there to enjoy a lunch and to visit while the children, school staff, and community members engaged with diverse activities. Being so close to such pristine wilderness and opportunities to engage as stewards is exciting. Several classes visited the salmon hatchery to learn about the salmon life cycle. Despite the rain, the last group of high school students were eager to take a short hike to a lake not far from the hatchery.

The Heiltsuk Language Pro d Day was a successful day of powerful learning. Teachers went out into the outdoors on one of the most beautiful days of late summer to gather ancient medicines. Others engaged in a series of events to learn about how to integrate SEAS (Supporting Emerging Aboriginal Stewards) with classroom curricula. Others stayed behind to look at local Heiltsuk resources to support classroom curricula. In all, it was a highly successful day. I am looking forward to seeing what this will look like in classrooms as I make my weekly visits to classrooms and how this emerges in the year plans that teachers will be submitting tomorrow.

As an instructional leader, I visited several classrooms to get a sense of the tone of teaching and learning in the school and intend this week to spend more time in classrooms to observe student learning. How students respond to the teaching and learning tasks in classrooms with is an area of high interest for me. This week, I will focus on the following:

• Are students given opportunities to collaborate with each other?
• How much one-to one do they have with the teacher? With the TA?
• Are students engaging in diverse types of tasks? What does this look like?
• Do students appear to be “on task”?
• Are students encouraged to use creativity to represent their learning?
• What kind of feedback are students receiving?

ASCD has a great summary of Powerful Learning by Ron Brant. I have gone back to it a few times as it is so succinct and so important. Here is a snippet of the article:

In general, we can say that people learn well under the following conditions:

What They Learn- How They Learn – Where They Learn
. What they learn is personally meaningful.
. What they learn is challenging and they accept the challenge.
. What they learn is appropriate for their developmental level.
. They can learn in their own way, have choices, and feel in control.
. They use what they already know as they construct new knowledge.
. They have opportunities for social interaction.
. They get helpful feedback.
. They acquire and use strategies.
. They experience a positive emotional climate.
. The environment supports the intended learning.

Although I missed it as one administrator had to stay back at the school, the elementary students participated in the Terry Fox run on Friday afternoon. It couldn’t have been a better day! Look at the excitement of the grade 5 teacher and her group of students as they headed out!  Next year though we need to send out a notice to drivers to please ensure student safety by allowing them to own the road for this important fundraising event.  Staff did a great job of raising awareness of who Terry Fox was and why his legacy is so important.

Open House was a roaring success! Many parents, grandparents, and students showed up to meet the teacher, to eat some snacks, and to fill out our homework survey. The results will be compiled and shared with the staff at our next whole school meeting. I haven’t checked with everyone but in one class, all buyt one parent showed up. The teacher was certain it was because the child had been sick for several days leading up to the evening and wasn’t well enough to attend. I loved the scavenger hunt where students had to find every staff person and do a personal introduction in order to get a check mark. It was a great way to meet students that I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of meeting.

Over the course of the month, I became aware that at least one teacher was struggling with students either losing and/or not doing homework. My curiosity was piqued. How important is it for students to be given homework? What constitutes worthwhile homework? Should homework be for students who simply need more time to finish an assignment? Should it be to practice and reinforce a skill? Should it be to consolidate learning? At what age or grade level should homework be given? Cathy Vatterott  author of “Rethinking Homework” is featured in an interview with ASCD staff writer. She recommends that schools develop some guidelines to ensure that the homework assigned has the potential to support and reinforce learning that is taking place in the classroom. For our school,

  • What does a good homework task look like?
  • How do we differentiate homework tasks
  • How do we use homework – for grading or for checking for understanding?
  • How do we as a school support homework? A homework club?

At the Open House, parents were invited to fill in a homework survey in order for us to determine parental and grandparental views on homework.  I will address this a little more when I compile parent responses with the hope that we as a staff and community can have a good discussion about this.  Perhaps we can come up with some guidelines that will meet the needs of staff, students, and community members.

Last Wednesday school was dismissed at lunch and we held a full afternoon meeting to discuss events and topics that impact teaching and learning in our school. It also featured a presentation from two people who work with the UBC e mentoring initiative. Nahannee Gillett and Anette Kinley presented to the grade 10, 11, and 12 students with a goal to help us address a goal of encouraging grade 12 graduates to attend post secondary school. The concept was warmly received by staff, students, and parents. We look forward to the impact this initiative will have on helping students make the transition to post secondary school. E mentoring has a facebook group if this interests you. Please note that UBC e mentoring was selected as a winner in the 
a winner in the Inspiring Approaches to First Nations, Métis and Inuit Learning competitionLogo for the eMentoring project

Off to check out the grad fundraiser at the gym. Until next time…

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It has been a whirlwind of activity at BBCS!  Being in a K-12 school makes for a dynamic place! Unlike public school, supervision is a given here.  Everyone has two spots on the weekly rotation, which will be finalized once new staff members are in place. No one is exempt from supervision – not even admin.  Parents and grandparents are at school on a regular basis to drop off and pick up children.  Lunch is an hour-long event because everyone goes home and the school is closed during that time.

Getting to know the “culture” of the school and the people who make it what it is has also been a focus over the past two weeks. Who does what and what traditions contribute to the tone of BBCS are slowing being revealed to me. By culture, I am referring to two areas of focus. One is how the Heiltsuk culture is being integrated with classroom curricula and the other is the tone of teaching and learning in classrooms and indeed throughout the building. These are two areas that are high on my curiosity agenda over the next while…. Another area, which began with the short course for principals this summer, is a focus on a goal for every eight year old at BBCS.


Meeting with elementary teachers to establish a plan for engaging with each other in professional learning communities has been a thread over the first two weeks.  Considering our greatest areas of need and the intention of the mission statement are areas of discussion to reflect upon as teachers meet with their respective team members: primary and intermediate. Setting norms that will allow for full and respectful collaboration with each other is integral to effective working groups where no one person is in charge, but group processes may allow for each team member to contribute equally.

Norms for working together as a collaborative group are important.  This is one sample that was crafted by one PLC groups in another location – not BBCS.

Professional Learning Community (PLC) Rubric

PLCs are a powerful form of job-embedded Professional Development and continuous improvement model.They have been defined as “a shared vision for running a school in which everyone can make a contribution, and staff are encouraged to collectively undertake activities and reflection in order to constantly  improve their students’ performance.” “To create a professional learning community, focus on learning rather than on teaching, work collaboratively, and hold yourself accountable for results.” (DuFour) There are many core characteristics of PLCs including collective team work in which leadership and responsibility for student learning are extensively shared, a focus on reflective inquiry, emphasis on improving student learning, shared values and norms, and development of common practices and feedback.  Dufour & Eaker (1998) and Levine & Shapiro (2004)

Instructions:  To evaluate the effectiveness of your PLC implementation, highlight the statements that reflect current practice.  At regular intervals, repeat the process to gauge progress towards sustaining.

Three Big Ideas of PLC

1. Focus on student learning

2. Collaboration between group members

3. Results.

  • What do we want each student to learn?
  • How will we know when each student has learned it?
  • How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty in learning?

When teachers work in teams engaging in an ongoing cycle of questions that promote deep team learning, the result may lead to higher levels of student engagement and ultimately student achievement.

Graduation Rates at BBCS

Something that may be of interest to schools and districts who are trying to improve the overall graduation rate for Aboriginal learners is that the graduation rate at BBCS is about 95%.  The grad class for 2012 stands at 20. Right now they are working with a graduation coordinator (teacher) to plan a university and college fieldtrip and they are raising funds to have a community wide graduation celebration in June.  Graduation is a givenJ Going on to post-secondary school is something that requires some attention so it is one teacher’s job to organize that and a career fair as a way to feature the important transition to post secondary school.  I will write more about this at another time.


It is evident that the Heiltsuk language is a high priority as each student receives a half hour of instruction every day from a highly committed staff of fluent and emergent speakers and some trainees. The highly successful professional development day on Friday reveals the level of commitment of BBCS in integrating our collective knowledge and awareness of Heiltsuk culture with mainstream curricula. Teachers were engaged in learning about ancient Heiltsuk medicines and resources to support this integration with mainstream curricula and they worked together to find ways to bring the learning in the classrooms to the outside where nature in all its wonderment thrives. I am looking forward to some specific feedback on the day as staff fills in the survey monkey request.


The wise words of Max Van Manen come to mind for me as I ponder my focus for my visitations to classrooms for this week – one of my tasks is to visit each class for a few minutes each week to provide instructional support.  As a starting point, I have looked to the work a researcher whose work is not referred to as much as it has been in the past, but its validity rings as true today as it did when I first read his work in 1990. Van Manen’s exploration of pedagogical sensitivity has always intrigued me:  I plan to take everything in with this mindset:

“In everyday life in classrooms, the thousand and one things that teachers do, say, or do-not-do, all have practical pedagogical significance”

How often do we consider why we do what we do and what impact those thousand and one things have on the tone of teaching and learning in our classrooms and on individual student learning.  Here’s what I would ponder:

  • How and what atmosphere is created by the many (seemingly innocuous) things that teachers and students do?
  • How do I adjust my tone of voice in different situations and in different circumstances?
  • How do I encourage the children? Respond to individual learners?
  • How are my students responding to what I bring to the teaching and learning environment?

I have a lot to learn as a new staff member and I look forward to learning more about the factors that contribute to the tone of teaching and learning at BBCS. I am looking forward to my week of visiting classes:)

Out of interest, check out Principal Carrie Burton at Bear Creek Elementary School in Surrey BC: Making Learning Visible

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The Excitement at BBCS!

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New Teacher Orientation and Getting Ready for a New Year at BBCS!

As I was reviewing some documents in preparation for the new school year, it occurred to me that a couple of our new teachers may have never been to a First Nations community especially one that is accessible only by  ferry or plane travel. And now, they are settled in and ready to teach our children.  An Information handbook for Teachers New to First Nations Schools provides some very helpful information for new and for veteran teachers. Author Barbara Kavanagh provides a thorough overview of the rewards and challenges of working in a First Nations school. She points out the importance of learning about the history and current reality of the community in order to gain an    informed appreciation of the   history of the Heiltsuk and also to recognize opportunities for making curricular connections between BC Ministry of Ed PLOs and local culture.

As important is the need to reach out to parents and the community as much as possible. Phone calls home to introduce yourself to parents can go a long ways toward establishing a respectful working relationship. Elina Agular’s short article is a worthwhile read to understand the power of a positive phone call to parents early in the school year. Being proactive helps to build relationships especially when there may be a need to address challenges in the future.

As part of the new teacher orientation, a group of teachers went on a boat ride to explore and enjoy the pristine area and to view some important historical artifacts of the Heiltsuk culture 

As a follow up to that, the Heiltsuk Cultural Education Centre offers itself as a resource. As in any new cultural context, learning about and valuing the history and traditions is integral to creating meaningful learning connections for students. Our first professional development day will provide important opportunities to begin the journey of gaining an informed awareness of what resources are available. More information on that will be forthcoming.

Teachers had a chance to go ashore to have a close look at some ancient artifacts of Heiltsuk culture and to look at what the Great Bear Rainforest has to offer. 

The Heiltsuk are one of 196 distinct diverse First Nation communities. What each community has in common is the desire for the children to meet with success in classrooms. Fostering a supportive and welcoming environment where children will feel secure, safe, and supported is something that staff must plan for and strive toward. Ensuring that their heritage and culture is reflected in their classroom curricula will help students to understand and feel positive about being who they are.  Attending the first pro d day will be a step in creating awareness and understanding.

An ideal teaching and learning setting has as its foundation, the development of relationships that nurture the learner and the community of learners in classrooms. Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Learners is a lengthy but worthwhile document to peruse. Also, have a look at a youtube video where Aboriginal role models discuss an important theme:  “Now is the Time”. Ambassadors like Wab Kinew bring the global Aboriginal world into your classroom so that students may see glimpses of what they “can be” if they have a goal to aspire toward. If you watch the video long enough, Wab Kinew talks about the value of education and why studying math is important. He is young, edgy, and educated and can provide important insights to new and even veteran teachers.

On one of my evening walks, I observed a young man so engaged with his task that he was oblivious to the world around him. This morning, I saw the gillnetters fishing  in the early morning fog. There is lots to see in and around the village, so please take the time to explore the community to get to know where things are and who the people are.

Have a great week!

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