A STUDY OF THE COMMUNITY-BASED MASTER’S PROGRAM IN NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN Students’ Experiences: “Like Setting up Camp” Condensed Version of the Final Report
David Friesen, PhD April 2011
Saskatchewan Instructional Development and Research Unit (SIDRU) Faculty of Education
A STUDY OF THE COMMUNITY-BASED MASTER’S PROGRAM IN NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN STUDENTS’ EXPERIENCES: “LIKE SETTING UP CAMP”
Condensed Version of the Final Report
for SASKATCHEWAN INSTRUCTIONAL DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH UNIT (SIDRU) FACULTY OF EDUCATION UNIVERSITY OF REGINA
by DAVID FRIESEN, PhD Professor Emeritus, University of Regina
TABLE OF CONTENTS Page Preface................................................................................................................................... 4 PART ONE: REPORTING ON THE STUDY ................................................................. 4 Background ............................................................................................................................ 4 The Northern Context and Need for Graduate Education ......................................... 4 Program Description and Research ........................................................................................ 5 Purposes of Program .................................................................................................. 5 Program Overview ..................................................................................................... 5 Defining Components ................................................................................................ 5 Overview of Research on the Program ...................................................................... 6 Student Satisfaction Survey Results ...................................................................................... 7 Demographic Information .......................................................................................... 7 Satisfaction with Program Components..................................................................... 8 Satisfaction with Program Outcomes ......................................................................... 8 Satisfaction with Quality of Teaching and Learning ................................................. 8 Graduate Student Experiences ............................................................................................... 9 Drawn to the Program ................................................................................................ 9 Experiencing Key Aspects of the Program .............................................................. 10 Impact: Personal and Professional Change, and Relationship to the Community .......................................................................................................... 24 Possibilities for Northern Graduate Education: Reflections ................................................ 38 Ripples of Hope ....................................................................................................... 38 Lighthouse for Change ............................................................................................. 39 Forward with the Past ............................................................................................. 39 PART TWO: ACTION RESEARCH PROJECTS ........................................................ 41 Theme One: Involving Parents and the Community in the School ..................................... 41 Brandy Catarat ......................................................................................................... 41 Melissa Cromarty ..................................................................................................... 42 Theme Two: Reaching Out to the Community .................................................................... 43 Loretta Ballantyne .................................................................................................... 43 Jackie Durocher........................................................................................................ 44 Arlene Hansen .......................................................................................................... 45 Theme Three: Teacher Development for the North ............................................................. 46 Deborah Gibson-Dingwall ....................................................................................... 46 Ronelda McCallum .................................................................................................. 47 2
Guy Penney .............................................................................................................. 48 Bonnie Werner ......................................................................................................... 49 Theme Four: Bringing Eldersâ€™ Knowledge to the School ................................................... 50 Leda Corrigal ........................................................................................................... 50 Lily McKay-Carriere................................................................................................ 51 Theme Five: Community-Oriented/Culturally Sensitive Teaching ..................................... 52 Gail Gardiner .......................................................................................................... 52 Doris Gunn .......................................................................................................... 53 Melva Herman ......................................................................................................... 54 Darren Linklater ....................................................................................................... 55 Grace McKenzie ...................................................................................................... 56 Pam Sanderson ......................................................................................................... 57 Rosalena Smith ........................................................................................................ 58 Theme Six: Advocating for Northern People ...................................................................... 59 Walter Smith ............................................................................................................ 59 Theme Seven: Exploring Teacher Aboriginal Identity ........................................................ 60 Cheryl Morin ............................................................................................................ 60 Theme Eight: Structuring Schooling for Success ................................................................ 61 Cheryl Herman ......................................................................................................... 61 Stephen King ............................................................................................................ 62 Pauline McKay ......................................................................................................... 63 Minnie McKenzie .................................................................................................... 64 APPENDIX: Program Template and Record of Courses ................................................... 65
First Print, May 2011
Preface This report documents the experiences of the graduates of the first university graduate program to be offered in Northern Saskatchewan. A cohort of 24 northern educators representing 9 communities took courses from July 2007 to June 2009, and all completed the program including a required action research project by May 2010. Through a partnership with the Northern Teacher Education Program (NORTEP), the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina delivered the program in La Ronge. Consisting of two parts, Part One of the report contains an overview of the program, findings from a student satisfaction survey, and results from interviews on how students experienced the program. Part Two contains the descriptions of the 24 action research projects and short biographies of the authors. The research on the program was carried out in Fall 2010 and Winter 2011. The more detailed Final Report (157 pp.) can be found online at http//www.sidru.ca. PART ONE: REPORTING ON THE STUDY Background The Northern Context and Need for Graduate Education Many studies have shown that education for Aboriginal people, especially in the North, has lagged far behind Canadian norms. High school graduation rates in the North are still well below provincial norms. As well, serious social issues plague northern communities affecting the education of northern children and youth. A long history of colonialism and its effects, along with geographic isolation, account for many of the challenges faced in the North today. The steady erosion of the languages and cultures of the North, life on the land, and Aboriginal identity has occurred after generations of domination by various non-Aboriginal institutions including schools, which were initially formed to help the plight of Aboriginal people. However, significant attention has been paid to northern education from the early 70â€™s when governments began to address the needs of the North in a more concerted way. As a result, new schools have been built, high school education offered in more communities, more culturally relevant curricula developed, and significant numbers of Aboriginal teachers prepared for teaching and administrative positions. NORTEP, established in 1976, is an example of a successful teacher education program that has literally reconfigured teaching staffs in northern schools to more closely reflect the proportion of Aboriginal people in the North. There are now significant numbers of Aboriginal educators, in both provincial and First Nation school systems who now want to pursue graduate education but find the university too distant and unfamiliar. Visionary northern educational leaders are needed who are in tune with the people, their cultures, and the land, and who understand the history of colonialism, as well as the possibilities for the future of the North. Graduate education offered in the North for northerners holds much promise in preparing such leaders.
Program Description and Research Purposes of Program The purposes of the program included the following: increasing the number of Aboriginal people in graduate studies in education by offering a program in a northern location; stimulating collaborative community development by addressing local issues; responding to the professional development needs of school divisions and other educational authorities; and producing a more strongly integrated program through course and project connections. Program Overview 30 credit hour program in Curriculum and Instruction consisting of â€˘ â€˘
8 courses (24 credit hours), and an action research project (6 credit hours) beginning with the first course and developed over the duration of the program.
Program schedule (see details in Appendix A) Summer 07 Fall 07 Winter 08 Spring 08 Summer 08 Fall 08 Winter 09 Spring-Summer-Fall 09 Winter-Spring 10
1 course and 1 course equivalent for project work (3 weeks) 1 course (4 weekends) 1 online course 1 long weekend symposium/online blended course 2 courses (3 weeks face-to-face) 1 course (4 weekends) 1 online course work on project 1 course equivalent for completion of project
Defining Components Northern location and partnership. NORTEP provided a contact person, local administrative assistance, marketing, access to local resources, and classroom support. NORTEP partnered with SIDRU in organizing and delivering a celebration event for the graduates held May 29, 2010. Cohort structure. The program was designed with the intent that the group of students accepted into the program would progress through the courses together. It was assumed that a community of learners and leaders would develop and maintain professional networks that would last beyond completion of the program. Action research project. A 6-credit hour action research project was included in the program to integrate the coursework into the study of an aspect of professional practice that was concerned with a community-related issue. The project was introduced at the beginning of 5
the program and the students worked on it throughout the program. The final project was presented to an appropriate audience in the community. Alternate course delivery. Courses were delivered in novel ways to accomplish the stated purposes of the program and accommodate northern students. These included weekend format for fall courses, summer institute for summer courses, online format for winter courses, and presentation of final project to an appropriate audience. Student sponsorship. The higher cost of the program necessitated by the distance was paid for by several sponsoring agencies. Northern Lights School Division sponsored 15 of the 24 students, all employees with the division, while a number of First Nations sponsored seven students, all employees with them. A large corporation sponsored one of their employees while one student paid her own way. Program themes and technology integration. A number of program themes shaped the program including community connections, SchoolPLUS, Aboriginal education, and technology integration. Because technology infrastructure came to Northern Saskatchewan much later than in the rest of the province, the students entering the program had sufficiently less capacity with technology than their southern counterparts. Therefore, the program was deliberately designed with a technology component consisting of social network discussion forums, as well as two online courses. Advisor support and instructor selection. A faculty member functioned as the Program Coordinator each semester to provide continuity in the program. The duties of the Coordinator included the following: providing liaison with the course instructors; visiting the site once each semester to assess student progress on project work; providing ongoing communication with students in the program to provide learner support for projects; and engaging in problem solving with students. All of the instructors except one were regular faculty members with the Faculty of Education; they all had PhDs and had an interest in this program. Overview of Research on the Program The research was undertaken to determine the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Community-Based Masterâ€™s Program by determining the following: student satisfaction with various aspects of the program; the impact of the program on personal and professional change, as well as on the community; and the meaningfulness of the program themes, including technology on program participantsâ€™ learning and professional practice. An interpretive qualitative methodology was employed using interview methods. The research had a strongly grounded theory focus in order to produce theorizing about the experiences of the participants in the program. A survey questionnaire was distributed to quantitatively determine the degree of satisfaction with various components of the program, outcomes of the program, and with the teaching and learning experienced in the program. Interview and survey data were examined and codes developed inductively to identify common themes. 6
The final action research projects completed by the graduates were also summarized to show the variety of topics selected, the formation of community connections, and evidence of program themes. This summary report contains a short description of each project. The original summaries can be found in the Final Report. This research was guided by the usual principles of research such as anonymity, confidentiality, and the right to withdraw as expressed in the application to the Research Ethics Board at the University of Regina. As well, the research honoured principles of decolonizing research by soliciting approval of the agencies sponsoring students into the program. This is the first study on the program since its completion. The first study was carried out shortly after the students completed Year 1 of the program. A report was prepared and presented to the stakeholders in Year 2 of the program and the results were used to make changes to the program as it unfolded. This report does not include any of those earlier findings. Student Satisfaction Survey Results Demographic Information Of the 24 members of the cohort, 23 returned the survey on student satisfaction with various aspects of the program. There were 19 women and 4 men representing a total of 9 northern communities in the east (2), central (4) and west (3) regions participating in the survey. At the time of this survey, 14 worked in the provincial education system, 6 worked in a First Nation education system, and 3 worked in other settings. In terms of role, 10 were teachers, 8 were administrators, 4 were consultants in a school system, and 1 worked outside of the field of education. As for identity, 10 were status First Nation (8 Cree, 2 Dene), 7 were MĂŠtis, and 6 were non-Aboriginal. The range educational work experience was 2 to 30 years, with the following distribution:
Years of work experience 2-5 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-25 26-30
Number of participants 3 3 3 7 5 2
Satisfaction with Program Components The ratings (1-10) are given for each component (10 is highest level of satisfaction). The chart below shows the ratings given by the respondents to the program. Program Components Northern course delivery location NORTEP partnership Cohort structure Action research project Course delivery format Student sponsorship Program themes Community connections Aboriginality SchoolPLUS Technology integration Advisor Report Instructors selected Timeframe for completion
10 17 15 18 11 13 22
8/9 3 8 4 11 10 1
7 or less 3 0 1 1 0 0
20 20 15 11 16 20 15
2 2 5 9 6 3 4
1 1 3 3 1 0 4
10 13 12 13 17 19
8/9 10 10 7 5 3
7 or less 0 1 1 1 1
13 10 15 14 14
5 10 8 7 8
5 3 0 2 1
8/9 12 13 8 8 11 9 8 4 4
7 or less 1 3 2 2 2 2 0 2 1
Satisfaction with Program Outcomes Program Outcomes Established a community of learners Prepared you to use action research Built on your own knowledge Built personal confidence to learn Valued your Aboriginality or nonAboriginality Enhanced your use of technology Built leadership capacity Improved your professional practice Created stronger community connections Prepared your for new roles in education
Satisfaction with the Quality of Teaching and Learning Quality of Teaching and Learning Instruction Feedback from instructors Feedback from AR project Relevance of Assignments Evaluation of courses (grading) Assistance with the AR project Interest of instructors Knowledge of instructors Appropriate content
10 10 7 13 13 10 12 15 17 18 8
Graduate Student Experiences From the distant past to the present, the northern practice of Aboriginal families coming together for summer camp has played an important role in northern Aboriginal cultural life. Over time, the practice of gathering together has changed; however, a number of participants in this study could identify with the graduate student experience being likened to the traditional summer camp, based on their own experiences and understanding of this practice. In the following sections, the image of summer camp is the lens used to discuss the graduates’ experiences of the program. Drawn to the Program There are a number of reasons why the people in this study decided to enter the Community-Based Master’s Program. However, rather than forming an hierarchical list, the reasons constitute a constellation of reasons that drew these educators to the program. These include the program offered in the North; the focus of the program on northern education; the familiarity of NORTEP; the opportunity to make a difference for the children and youth and their communities; the financial support by employers; the possibility of opening up new roles in education; the furtherance of their knowledge; and the opportunity to be a part of a program that promised to extend NORTEP’s role into graduate education. No one mentioned going into the program for monetary reasons due to salary reclassification. Many of the students mentioned that if the program had not been offered in the North, they would not have attended university in the South. Although there was mention of the convenience of location, a number of students had to drive a considerable distance to attend classes. Some students were actually closer to the University of Saskatchewan or to a similar community-based program offered in Meadow Lake. The most important reason for taking the program as part of the NORTEP cohort expressed by many of the graduates, was that the program promised to focus on northern education, and that the others applying to the program were from the North. For the graduates who had done their undergraduate work at NORTEP, the master’s program already seemed familiar even before the program began. One grad commented that “I am a NORTEP grad. I knew the support the students had…. And I figured this program would give me a lot of support where I needed it, and it was with northern people as well.” In the interviews, there was a strong sense that a group of northern educators taking the master’s degree in the North could have a significant impact on northern education. One participant expressed this sentiment in terms of developing a vision for community building. Along the line of taking the program for others rather than for oneself, a graduate said, “It wasn’t just for me; it’s to give back to the community.” Another stated that “my kids were my motivation, also the youth in my community.” “I want them to see me as a role model.” The program was perceived as encouraging the connection of their knowledge to the needs of their community:
But for me, the community-based program was a northern setting, and being able to relate and use my background as a research foundation was what attracted me. It attracted me, and the setting, and looking, scrutinizing your community and what your community needed. There is no doubt that a common experience of living in the North, similar experiences as northern educators, along with the recruitment presentations that took place in the North combined to motivate these educators to apply for a program that was more predictable, meaningful, and convenient. Completing a master’s degree also gave the graduates other opportunities, a sentiment echoed by many of the graduates. For one of the teachers, this included getting out of a very stressful teaching situation. For others, the program promised revitalization of their teaching as reflected in this comment: “I felt I needed to do something else, something new, something that could rejuvenate [my] teaching. It’s only been 5 years I had taught and I was already bored with that kind of teaching.” Just like summer camp, the students had a variety of reasons for coming into the program, but they seemed to have a general idea of what it would be like because of the association of the program with NORTEP, which was familiar to all of them. They also knew that the cohort would be made up of fellow northerners with similar educational, life, and teaching experiences. Few had any intention of ever attending a southern university. All in all, these northerners felt drawn to the program. Experiencing Key Aspects of the Program Several of the students commented that the kind of learning experienced “on the land” was similar to the learning process experienced during the Community-Based Master’s Program. Gathering together as families, sharing through stories, and learning by doing at summer camp have their parallels in the master’s program. The following five themes, elaborated on in the interviews, organize these camp-like learning experiences of members of the cohort. A Professional Learning Community: “An extended family.” Summer camp was generally a time of harmony and social interaction. So, too, the program was experienced as a time of connecting with other northern educators, who together felt a “sense of family…an extended family” in the cohort. The grads shared the observation that, “Everyone was an expert in something; I learned from the experts….[it was] always ok to get help.” They recognized that through sharing personal knowledge and wisdom, a network of professionals was being created that “had something in common, teaching in northern communities.” Most of the grads claimed that personal and social aspects of their lives, in addition to the academic, were supported by the others. Several personal and family crises occurred during the 3 years, and the support provided by the group had a strong impact on those coping with the situation. In a couple of cases, the support of the group helped
individuals continue on in the program. There was also a sense that to quit, as a result of personal difficulties, would be to let the group down. The notion of community of learners resonated with the graduates. During the interviews, words such as collaboration, sharing, dialogue, learning from one another, and problem solving, were frequently used: But as far as the community of learners, yes, because whenever you happen to bump into someone from the cohort no matter where you work you immediately talk about what you were doing and how it was going, and you were supportive of one another. You were finding out how they were approaching their project, how they were doing in the class…there was a lot of collaboration with each other—a lot of dialogue. An administrator compared the cohort of 24 northern educators to a Professional Learning Community (PLC), a structure being strongly promoted by the school division as a means to foster collaboration: I would have to say our group of 24 was one big Professional Learning Community. We all learned something from each other, whether we were learning about one’s culture, one’s community, one’s background or learning about what that person’s interest is in terms of pursuing their action research project, or just learning about what it is they do on a daily basis. The action research project, as well as the individual course group assignments brought individuals together to share their insights and questions which nurtured this learning community. Participants noted that instructors placed students in different groups throughout the courses to foster interaction. As well, a web-based discussion forum, developed at the start of the program, was embraced by the participants as a forum for discussion to continue beyond the class. Even after the program ended, most of the grads continued activity on social network sites with other program grads. The program appears to have recovered a traditional way of learning for these northern educators that had been displaced by formal schooling in the North. By structuring class sessions to focus on the sharing of student knowledge, the program deviated from the conventional transmission model. As well, the action research projects provided an opportunity to learn outside of the school classroom. This way of learning valued their cultural and community knowledge and even their Aboriginal language when it was appropriate. One graduate told a story of driving home from class and becoming overwhelmed by emotion as memories from her past, triggered by the day’s class discussions, came to mind. The memories were of her grandparents and their struggle to provide food for their family by preparing furs for the fur traders. For her, the community of learners was a place of trust so that these stories could be shared in safety. The community of learners experience also entailed students developing relationships across racial lines. Aboriginal students, the majority in the program, appreciated how the nonAboriginal students opened up to their culture and perspectives: 11
And you could tell which ones had no Aboriginal background per se, even though they grew up in an Aboriginal community, working in an Aboriginal community. You saw that they did not have that knowledge or that history they needed to help the Aboriginal student. And so when I finally saw, when we were sitting in small groups talking, when they had that aha moment —"Oh, I finally understand! I finally understand what you’re talking about.”—it was so good to see that non-Aboriginal person understands, finally understands you. A key to learning, often referred to by these educators, was in seeing issues from the perspectives of others: And when you have five different people from different backgrounds and different careers sitting in a circle, you get to hear all their stories. And everybody always shared their personal life or their career to what was being discussed or what was written about in an article or about a topic. So, a lot of brainstorming, a lot of ideas being circulated, and when you have those discussions, you know when you go back to your workplace…you know that there's other people that can help. That they have, maybe they have a different way and it's okay if we use a different method to accomplish that task. The grads often mentioned their NORTEP undergraduate education as being the kind of experience that best matched their time in the Community-Based Master’s Program: Well, I think that that sense of community with the class, and those connections that we made, were important. We had that kind of like a family kind of thing going there, and the help that we got, too, throughout the program is what really helped as well; that we kind of got to know everyone at a personal level, like yourself, and all the instructors…I think it was pretty much set up kind of the way NORTEP is set up, and NORTEP also has that same kind of like a glue that holds everything together, and that whole sense of family creates that. The cohort model of learning taking place in the North was considered by all of the graduates as critical to the success of the program. The bonds within this “family” became stronger as the program progressed due to the sharing of knowledge embedded in northern Aboriginal context and experience. Opposing points of view were shared more easily in this familiar environment. The sense of community experienced had its roots in the traditional practices of families getting together to tell stories and to support one another and, therefore, held a familiarity for these Aboriginal and northern graduate students. As well as the cohort model structure to promote learning, the learning content and process were equally important to the students. They appreciated the dialogical approach used in all of their courses where ideas, theories, and frameworks presented in class were always the fodder for application to northern and local issues. Different perspectives, arising from a rich array of experiences in a variety of contexts, helped the students achieve deeper understandings of new ideas and their potential to inform their educational practices. For these students, the notion of an extended family best represents their experience of a learning community. 12
The place of the action research project and learning: “Validating your practice— what you're doing and who you are.” The graduates attributed significant changes in their professional practices to the action research project. The action research project became the focal point of the journey through the program for the graduate students, much like sharing life on the land being the focal point of the summer camp right from the start: “The project started with the first day of the program.” Another stated that the “classes all equally connected…they were all perfectly woven into the program.” Also noting the integration of project and courses, a student commented on the project’s uniqueness: The project built something. The classes all led into it, but the project built something that was unique to you—even though your papers might be different in the class, the project was definitely unique to you and the community that you were working within. Engaging in action research also gave the students a different view of learning. Although the grads “knew that learning took place in partnership,” they didn’t really experience what that looked like until they became involved in their action research project. The project demanded involvement: “I had to get involved with the people.” “Previous university education was memorize and regurgitate.” Learning took place through action and interaction in the local community: “It changed my learning because I was able to actually do some things and test that learning.” One of the First Nation educators compared learning through action research to the way Aboriginal people learn through observation and action commenting that “Everything we learn we have to practice right away. That's the only way you can learn to do things.” Two aspects of this new view of learning that came out over and over in the interviews were reflection and working together. So that aspect [reflection] is what I think was the biggest change in my learning. And I was at that point starting to feel quite isolated at times because we were so busy. And people sort of had their own areas whereas when you got together with the cohort, we had a focus that was professional development and improving our learning—our own learning processes as well as our own teaching. Action research provided these educators with a reflective way of thinking, “thinking why something doesn’t work” by providing a “framework and a structure…very focused.” As one grad put it, “I enjoyed that focused reflection on my work and relating it to the work of others.” For one of the administrators, like so many others, the action research brought her into closer contact with community agencies: During my action research I did some projects where I phoned the president of the Métis local. I phoned the Friendship Center and I said, “You know, I want to do this program at the school. It’s something that we can all be involved in.” It taught me how to build partnerships. Action research provided the process to help this educator work through her beliefs about connecting to the parents in the home: 13
You have to work through your philosophy. You have to work through a lot of your own experiences and work with people that would benefit from that….it engaged me…It was kind of like a hands-on project. It made you understand. It made you understand what these people are going through. You saw them in their homes; you saw them in a different context. For another graduate, a teacher educator, action research helped her affirm her beliefs about a more inquiry and constructivist orientation to teaching: And the action research aspect of it—one of the things I probably was very comfortable with it, because of the process we use here at NORTEP. And the whole aspect, too, for me of constructivism and having researched that earlier when I started to get into the 4th-year class and seeing that the action research took the inquiry approach, which supports the constructivist views. Using action research to solve problems has become an important part of many of the graduates’ practice since completing the program. The survey results, too, suggest that since 22 respondents rated their preparation to use action research as 8 or higher, that they are well prepared to use this approach in their practice. A number of graduates indicated that their action research project was now being used by others. One grad commented that he was now on a committee whose work related to his project topic. He commented on the value of completing the project “but I got to extend it a little further by being part of that committee.” The projects have also had an impact on teaching practices. Because of the inquiry nature of her action research project, one teacher instituted project-based learning with her own students. Another claimed that what she had learned about how the Dene traditionally taught their children “has colored all my thinking now.” Besides influencing classroom practices, in many cases the projects also had a strong impact on the community involved in their research. But I think if done properly and done well to involve community, it has an everlasting impact with the school and the community involved. You're giving people an opportunity to discuss amongst themselves. You're giving people an opportunity to see how this fits into their realm of education and into the realm of everyday life. And knowing that especially when the project is closely connected to the hearts of the people in the community and to the hearts of people who have been working in those areas such as language, such as youth empowerment, such as involving elders, and such as land-based activities. Several students were surprised that they could write their action research reports in a first person narrative. This student realized that this was an effective way to tell about his experiences with the project:
I think it allowed me to write it in a way that was more conversational which I liked. You know, that kind of blew me away when we were asked to sort of tell stories a lot. I had never thought that that would be a way of writing that was considered scholarly and I enjoyed that, to be able to tell stories, connect to stories and then connect that to research and then actual action research. In conversations with colleagues in their home workplaces, a couple of the graduates reacted to the notion that doing an action research project was an easier way to do a master’s degree. They reiterated that expectations on them were high because the project involved their community and “that it had validation.” As one grad put it: “some thought it’s just you and your ideas…[but] this was read by other people…it’s not dumbed down or watered down.” It also took self-discipline to complete. There were a few other students who said they would have been more comfortable writing a long academic paper, but after completing the project thought that it was more worthwhile. Doing a project also fostered accountability: With the project I was able to impact my students learning as well because they really liked what I did in my class with my action research. I enjoyed my action research because I could see how that actually worked in my class instead of just writing theories about it…there was a larger degree of accountability as a result of it for sure. Because you knew that in the end that was your crowning achievement and you had to show the steps along the way. The 24 summaries of the action research projects, presented in the Final Report, often end with the graduate’s reflections on action research. They clearly show the value of action research as a practical form of professional development that also impacts the community in which it is enacted. It is more than “book knowledge,” engaging the learner in active learning in a familiar context. In this sense, action research resonated with Aboriginal and northern students, for whom traditional learning is more about listening and doing, than applying expert theories. From the extensive engagement with the action research project, the graduates also learned much about themselves. The summaries presented in the Final Report demonstrate many new self-understandings that emerged for these northern educators over the course of the project work. It was noted, too, that the integration of the action research project with the rest of the program was the “glue” in making the program both meaningful and relevant. Having to take action meant that the program had a built in accountability measure that both motivated the students and provided the material for dialogue in their classes. The interview and questionnaire data along with the action research reports provide solid evidence that action research provided a format for effective professional learning that had an “Aboriginal feel” to it.
Aboriginal and northern perspectives as the context for learning: “There is such a thing as an Aboriginal point of view.” There is no doubt for these graduates that the program was framed in Aboriginal and northern perspectives. This was achieved primarily through a course delivery design with the action research project as the focus. The projects, rooted in the northern communities, exposed Aboriginal knowledge in every class and discussion. As one grad put it, “the experts were already there in the group.” In other words, the orientation of the program came from the northern students themselves. Instructors attempted to link course content to the students’ projects by providing ideas and theories to help them look at their work differently. As well, every course engaged the students in small group discussions that drew out the students’ diverse knowledge and experience. There was overwhelming recognition by Aboriginal students that the program “honored our knowledge” and validated their identity. Several grads mentioned that they did not experience the anger that sometimes accompanies discussion of difficult topics such as racism, residential schools, and colonialism. A comment by one of the grads was shared by a number of others: “This group was way beyond that; they were in a ‘going to conquer the future’ but ‘not forget the past’ mentality.” Others suggested that the shock of these topics from other educational experiences had worn off and they were now comfortable with these topics, but also interested in moving on to positive action. Although students on the west side of the North could have applied for the program in Meadow Lake, one of the Aboriginal students from that area said that she “wouldn’t have got the same value out of it…the North…we’re not close to ML only geographically.” She thought that whether Aboriginal or not, “all experienced the long travel…the common experiences, northern lifestyle, the weather, it impacts daily life…the whole northern communal life and friendliness…the openness and sharing continued in the class.” Several students noted that they felt comfortable using their Aboriginal language as necessary when conversing in small group discussions. It was often suggested that the NORTEP environment gave them permission to do that. Students also appreciated the mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educators in the program. Commenting on non-Aboriginals, one student observed that it is “good to have a mix because there are people who come to the North to make it their home,” and that this gave “wide perspectives in the cohort” and “varying experiences” as well as “people who have experienced colonialism first hand.” Reflecting the view of many of the other Aboriginal students in the program, one of the students suggested that it was valuable to have the cohort made up of both Aboriginal and nonAboriginal students: I like the fact there was a mix. And that's because I think it's extremely important that aboriginality be celebrated and be embraced and all of these things, but I think what's more important is that we work together to make sure that aboriginal education can be what it can be.
When one of the Aboriginal students was asked why the non-Aboriginal students felt comfortable in the Aboriginal dominated cohort, he replied, “Because I think they worked with the First Nations people…they knew our issues really well, and I think that’s what made them comfortable.” He, then, gave examples of the connections the non-Aboriginal educators had made with the Aboriginal educators. It is evident from the interviews that the program had an impact on the minority nonAboriginal group of educators, too. For some, being able to see issues from an Aboriginal point of view was seen as beneficial. One student provided an example: Well, I think because we were collaborating and learning together. I mean, people were one and the same. We were working together—common interests. I think that being part of a program with the number of aboriginal students in it that I'm definitely going to see projects and thinking that comes from an aboriginal point of view. Discussion outside of class with an Aboriginal colleague, who became a sounding board for one of the non-Aboriginal students, helped her better understand the colonialism that has taken place in the North: We came to start to discuss an awful lot of things…that sometimes I didn't think about it, which is what we tend to do. And then eventually you move into it…I understand that yes, there are privileges that I had, and it doesn't make me a bad person or anything like this. One of the non-Aboriginal graduates suggested that the predominance of Aboriginal students made a positive difference for him. When asked about what kind of a difference the program would have had if the Aboriginal students had been in the minority, here responded: “I think you would have seen more of the traditional university environment.” He suggested that it would have been more competitive, and went on to explain: And I think that’s one thing that the aboriginals do and some of the class had on us that a lot of us had come from the non-aboriginal culture didn’t have and I, you know, I don’t know if they realize it or not but their spirit of community and helping each other and the greater good I really think that’s where it came from because it was a cultural element that they brought in and their way of doing things. One grad mentioned that he “came in to the program already proud of who I am, I didn’t need the program to do that. In fact, he felt that he learned more about “the other side” including using reading and writing skills more effectively. His advice is that Aboriginal people should accept that they are a minority: “Accept it and use it as your strength.” In several interviews, these northern educators also mentioned a new respect for northern communities brought about by the sharing of experiences in group discussions: We are living in a time where we are so devalued as people or as northerners that you know, the world needs to know that we are just like everybody else in some senses. And in other cases we are very different. And I really felt good knowing that there is 17
such strength in [name of community] and such strength in [two other communities] and you know, it was like an army of silent, well, not silent, I would say, like an army of I guess learners who really valued where they come from. For the Aboriginal students, the validation of Aboriginal identity was a common refrain in the interviews. Aboriginal knowledge was regularly shared in class group discussions, partly as a result of action research topics involving that knowledge. Because of varying perspectives, elaboration on this knowledge occurred and, in time, students became very comfortable sharing even in the presence of the non-Aboriginal students. The non-Aboriginal students were most impressed with how much they learned from their fellow Aboriginal peers. Locating the program at the NORTEP center in La Ronge, also gave the CommunityBased Master’s Program a stamp of Aboriginality. Many in the cohort did their undergraduate work at NORTEP and appreciated the Aboriginal orientation of that program. The Northern location of the program, ensuring exclusively northerner participation, also validated northern language and culture, along with a new appreciation of northern communities. Learning to use technology: “I think I made the transition to technology.” Technology was an important part of the design of the program to prepare the students for the two winter courses, which were offered online in order to eliminate winter travel. As well, the use of WebCT, including a discussion forum to link students when back in their home communities, was built into the program to support a strong learning community. Students in the program exhibited a wide range of computer skills. A few neophytes were barely able to do more than turn the computer on, while a few were proficient users frequented social networks for personal and professional use. Technology learning in the program occurred in the northern context where the infrastructure had been developed later than in the South, giving people less experience and more problematic connectivity depending on the location, as well as fewer support services. All of these factors created greater barriers to learning technology than would normally be experienced in the South. Most everyone interviewed admitted their use of technology had vastly improved while in the program. Technology was introduced as it was needed over the course of the program and students “felt very safe and supportive” and “could learn from what other people were doing.” The grads made frequent reference to now using the internet, WebCT, and social sites in their work, like the teacher, for example, who uses technology “to contact authors of books. A common sentiment, in the words of a teacher was that technology had “opened up the world” to her and her students. A number of the students in the cohort had difficulty adapting to technology particularly when taking the two online courses: And when we first started doing the online classes, I was very uncomfortable online. I didn’t feel there was the interaction at first, between the professor and myself or the other students. I was really uncomfortable, but I kind of looked at it like a distant education modular thing, and then once I got my head into that state of mind, then it was okay. And then the next one we took was great because you could actually see your 18
instructor through Skype, and then there was no problem at all. I think I made the transition to technology. Coming into the program, she claims she was a novice in the area of IT, that is, she could use the computer for word processing, could email but couldn’t attach documents, and was reluctant to use a cell phone. She states: “I was always worried that I was going to wreck something.” After graduating her IT use has expanded exponentially. But I learned so much and it’s so amazing. There’s a huge amount of free resources out there for kids with special needs – everybody. It’s amazing. And I’m not afraid to try and use it anymore, and now I have a SmartBoard and laptops and digital video cameras and cameras and scanners. I even use a software program that’s a picture-symbol program that you can get images offline for the kids so that they can have a communication system that they can read. One of the graduates expressed a new respect for the technological knowledge today’s students possess: The master’s program has taught us that maybe, hey, we’re not the high mighty people that we think we are as teachers; that we should be able to learn from other people, from the students. And you know, just thinking about that, I thought, “The teachers could really learn a lot about technology if they would just let the kids take the lead.” Members of the cohort generally enjoyed communicating with one another and sharing ideas through the WebCT discussion forum once back in their home communities. One grad said, “You could read their papers and you shared. We did that with the literacy [course]. We had a Wiki space and we put our essays in there.” There were a lot of examples given of changed practices in classrooms as a result of the technology component of the program. Specifically mentioned was the use of digital photos in primary classrooms. At the other end of the educational spectrum, a teacher educator in the cohort found other uses for technology with her students: I could see the potential that it had for teaching in the classroom –for preserving and recording knowledge that could be shared with other people – for actually respecting oral tradition because it could be recorded, and I knew that that was really important especially with my students. And so that was one of the things. I took it into the classroom. We managed to get our own cameras. An administrator who was a novice with technology built a school website utilizing IT skills developed in the program: And I’ve even went to building, getting a website built for our school. More like parent communication so putting that out there as well as another way of communicating with parents and it was just something I sat down and did one night.
She also appreciated having to take one of the courses online and plans to pursue an arts degree by taking online courses, something she said “I wouldn’t be scared to try now.” Even though the graduate students recognized the increased benefits from technology in their practice, they realized that it doesn’t replace face-to-face interaction. And there was no general consensus on how technology should be placed in the program. Although some students wished there had been an introductory technology course early on in the program, others thought that it was “better to mix technology…as needed…one type of technology at a time.” Students definitely identified significant knowledge and skill development in the area of technology that have enhanced their professional practice. Several students mentioned that they are now considered the technology expert in their schools and are often called upon to assist with troubleshooting when something goes wrong. Just like the collaborative learning that goes on at summer camp, these students learned to use technology from one another throughout the program. Curriculum and structure of the program: “Just like I’m weaving a blanket--it all comes together.” Curriculum: Combining expert and northern knowledge. The students recognized that the curriculum was a combination of expert knowledge in the course content, delivered by southern instructors, and collective northern Aboriginal knowledge brought to class by these northern educators. They also perceived that the program was structured to allow these two sets of knowledge to interact through dialogue that occurred in group discussions, and also in the process of carrying out the action research project. This teacher expressed her experiences in the program as follows: “Just like I’m weaving a blanket—it all comes together—that’s the image I keep seeing in my head…no part was separate from each other, they were all woven together.” Another student viewed the curriculum as “this process of sharing knowledge and gaining knowledge from others.” Another, when asked what themes should stay in the program, suggested that the program be seen as a journey: I would give them that same metaphor, the yellow brick road [action research textbook]. They are starting out in steps, finishing the masterpiece. They are starting out in steps to get somewhere, going somewhere, because that’s how it was. I remember the first month, the first week when we were there. This is the first step of an incrementally larger place where you’re going, and getting the project itself done. Students generally appreciated the broader foundational and contextual look at education that would be expected of a graduate program, and yet the emphasis on Aboriginal pedagogy “and how different our schools are from down South and how can we as teachers put that into play.” There were concepts such as colonialism that surfaced in several courses that had an impact on the students: “The huge affects of colonialism…having that awareness has helped understand some of the issues we face and where people are coming from.”
Broader frameworks such as SchoolPLUS served to inform their practice: Like I hadn’t even heard about SchoolPLUS [before]. And then all of a sudden, looking at that major work…and how you could involve your community more. That whole big document, I still have it. Like with the administration, this is what I should do. I should involve the interagency. Get their support, and tell them what my plans are and the whole idea of school planning. I saw that as the way to involve people. The curriculum of the program was seen as empowering by a number of the graduates as reflected in this comment: It was going there —you're learning about yourself. You're learning with others. You're healing with others—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal…it's essentially looking in many ways at injustice, and then taking that, and then looking at ways of well decolonizing the curriculum. Action research was central to the curriculum. A project-based master’s, as opposed to a course-based route, was well received. It was the glue that held the coursework together: I think anybody could take a course. It will be like taking some St. John ambulance training. You could go there. Take like eight hours, whatever, and you get your certificate. Big deal. But this way, you were always forced to think about your paper, your paper, your paper, developing that. The emphasis in the program curriculum on connecting schools to the community was not lost on these students. This theme permeated the coursework and all of the instructors had an interest in developing it through various theoretical lenses. Culture of the program. The graduates claimed that the focus on unity permeated the program and helped create a strong community of learners. This comment represents the sentiment of many in the program: “I think the focus on unity, how we create unity through community-based…. having that as kind of the general theme, I felt was what brought us together as people.” Referring to the culture of the program, a student compared the graduate program to her own undergraduate experience at NORTEP: “It was the same feeling as when I was at NORTEP; it was very friendly.” Another student talked about the meaningfulness of the program for her: And I think the value that I really found was learning that what I knew intrinsically has value in the real world. What I believed to be true for myself always, was accepted somewhere in the real world in terms of my culture, in terms of what my upbringing was like, culturally, traditionally because in the city, I didn’t really see the value of living off the land because I was never taught that in class or in school. Learning and pedagogy. The students appreciated that their knowledge was valued in the learning process. Echoing the sentiments of many of the students, learning, according to 21
one teacher, involved “the focus of using our abilities, and not focusing on what we need but what we already have in our cultures and in the people that we are.” Another put it this way: We always built on what we already knew and I know with 15 years as a kindergarten teacher you always build on where you’re at and what you know and that was one good thing, too, about the master’s program. We built on what we already knew… And to me learning makes sense that way, when you can make connections, when you can connect it to your career, your life, you have to make that connection with students and that’s what this program did with us. The reflective component of the program was definitely recognized by the graduates as instrumental to their learning. One of the grads commented on this aspect: So, of course…you’re reflecting on all these things, which you never do when you’re working. You never have that opportunity where you actually could go, like, into a camp like we were in La Ronge. It was a time to reflect, to think about the differences we made, and I think all the different projects came out of that —the success stories that we had. We were putting them together finally, and it wasn’t like the experience that I had when I first went to university. In terms of the process of learning, this student recognizes that the program structured support and yet independence. The content was there, and the support was in the content of the classes, but we were given the opportunity for independence with support, I guess is the way I'd look at it. And we were definitely encouraged to look at our questions and inquiry. I mean, that was the approach and was very evident. And at first that was hard. The graduates appreciated the variety of instructional approaches used by the instructors. Individual and group presentations took place in many of the courses. Although quite common in graduate programs, what came across over and over was the emotional investment that took place in the presentations. Interviewees noted that this activity involved much more than simply transmitting information. A number of the grads told stories around their presentations and these always contained an emotional side. It turned out that the class presenters on a number of occasions required emotional support from their colleagues due to some difficulty going on in their lives at the time. Learning that engaged the Aboriginal students had this emotional element. Active learning was central to the pedagogy of the instructors. Every instructor who came set us up for success in varied ways like learning about curricula and sharing that information through drama—through writing, through PowerPoint presentations. And to learn that emotions are so closely connected to what people are learning and what you're teaching. The instructors in the program were, for the most part, highly rated by the students, as indicated in the results of the questionnaire.
Administration and organization. A number of administrative factors were mentioned as contributing to the success of the program such as selection and coordination: I do think that there was some real thought put into the selection. I think part of it was the fact that we are northerners and I don't like to be cliché about it, but there is an attitude of doing things when you get together and you have a purpose of just doing things together and finding a way to problem solve. I think the fact that the program was coordinated—we had the support from university and from you. You came in with an expectation that this was going to work, whether or not you really felt that all the time, I don't know, but that's what was projected to us. It’s going to work. One of the administrators in the program talked about the importance of the advisor to the program: I cannot—I’ve said this a number of times, but I can’t emphasize it enough, the importance of the fact that you were there as the overseer of the program monitoring the day-to-day sort of thing. I guess that gave us peace of mind—all of us, I’m sure…I think all of us felt that we could deal with the bigger things because you were taking care of all the little things. Hardships. Getting through the program was difficult for some of the grads. These individuals talked about the hardships of taking the program and identified various supports that helped them. One student claimed that the program took quite a toll on her. With a young family, she had to do the work late at night: “There were times when I didn’t get to bed until 3:00 a.m. and then had to get up to work at 7:00 a.m.” A special educator referred to the notion of balance as a theme she saw running through the program that helped her overcome the hardships of the program: Balance was important, because I remember you even saying, in the first class that we had, “It’ll be really important that you learn how to balance your life and keep yourself well.” I recall that very clearly, and I thought, “Okay, I can do this.” Making sense of students’ experiences of the program. The five components of how students experienced the program, together, form a picture of what the program meant to these northern educators. That picture reveals an innovative program that diverged significantly from graduate programs in the South. It capitalized on the students’ Aboriginal and northern culture and knowledge, on their experience as educators, and on their collective commitment to make their northern communities better places. Students experienced the program in ways that were more Aboriginal-like and northern-like, in terms of relationships, learning, and program environment, than would have been possible in the South. First, relationships were valued as a key element in the learning process; in fact, relationships were seen as an integral part of learning in a way more commensurate with Aboriginal culture. The cohort model facilitated the building of relationships over time 23
through the camp-like experience with social interaction after class hours and later, through online contact with one another once back in their home communities. Students helped one another through significant personal challenges. Instructors of the various courses created the venue for ongoing dialogue around topics related to students’ interests using various theoretical lenses. The unity of the group eclipsed the differences in perspectives and beliefs that inevitably emerged even within this relatively homogeneous northern group. Second, a learning model employing active learning through action research, as well as ongoing small group dialogue and presentations to their peers, appealed to the students as more Aboriginal-like than the common transmission approach of most graduate programs. Since instructors were selected who were interested in Aboriginal and northern education, their pedagogy was characterized by a culturally sensitive thoughtfulness and tactfulness. Using course theories and ideas as lenses to look at northern issues enabled deeper learning to occur. For example, in this cohort, the theory of colonization generated many divergent examples that were based in each student’s experience and reality. Being able then to take this new knowledge and understanding into their practice through the action research project provided deeper understanding of their practice, their context, and even themselves as educators. Class presentations, were often mentioned in the interviews as particularly effective for the students’ learning. Evident in the interviews that relate to doing presentations, students specifically noted that this approach engaged them emotionally, as well as cognitively. The presentations also, often, had an Aboriginal focus due to their personalized nature. In this way, the presentations served to strengthen Aboriginal and northern identity in the cohort. The role played by NORTEP cannot be overemphasized. It provided a safe environment for the sharing of Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives with each other including non-Aboriginal educators. Although it played a relatively minor role by providing classroom space, as well as accommodation from time to time, more importantly it embedded the master’s program in a familiar northern educational context. With the majority of the students having completed their BEd at NORTEP in the past, and with the other northern educators being familiar with this well known institution, the cohort developed an affinity for the master’s program as “one of theirs.” Delivering the program out of NORTEP was another way that Aboriginal and northern identity was valued and affirmed by the program. Participating in a community of learners, exploring Aboriginal and northern perspectives, doing action research projects, and experimenting with technology for learning, all within a curriculum shaped for them, had a strong impact on these northern educators. The following section elaborates on the impact on them personally, professionally, and in terms of their relationship to the community. Impact: Personal and Professional Change, and Relationship to the Community Personal change: “I am the change I wished to see.” Increased confidence. The most common term used by the graduates to describe the impact of the program on them personally was “confidence.” They identified the following 24
five specific sources for new-found confidence: believing in themselves; acquiring new skills and knowledge; success with their action research project; completion of the master’s program; and validation of their Aboriginal/northern identity and knowledge. A common experience, especially for those students raised in the North, was the diminishment of confidence through past school experiences. For many in the program, even though they have become teachers, there was still a lingering self-doubt that remained because of negative past experiences with schooling. However, their new-found confidence nurtured by the program has enabled them to take on new challenges in their schools and home communities. One of these new challenges, cited by these educators, was doing presentations to others. The coursework in the program required a number of individual and group presentations to the class that the graduates claimed prepared them for presentations back home and even at conferences. One of the graduates was invited to do a presentation at a conference in Hawaii and was very pleased with the outcome. She attributes her increased confidence to the program: [The program] had a lot to do with creating my confidence, like the awareness that I’m in control of everything that I know and also, I am in control of whether or not I want to share it. And I guess, the master’s program was a venue for me to share what I know, but also, for me to practice. A non-Aboriginal student saw herself as being more confident when talking about difficult issues due to her personal growth in the program: I feel that I can talk better about the issues of residential schools and about issues that have to do with White relations as well. I feel I can talk quite openly about that and look at myself more critically, but not get as – sometimes I used to think, "Well – but I didn't do that." It was more the defense aspect of it. I don't think about the defense aspect anymore. One of the administrators talked about the impact of the program on her beliefs about herself. She attributed a strengthened confidence in herself to her instructors in the program who she felt believed in her and the others: And it took a while. It took until that fall for me to realize one of the main things that I learned, and I said it at grad, was I learned to believe in myself. I’ve always had people that believed in me…I know that a lot of thought was put into who was going to teach these classes and what classes we were taking, but they believed in us. They believed that we could do it. Another grad commented on breaking through self-imposed barriers to become more confident: Personally, I feel like the boundaries I imposed on my self have either been broadened, they have been pushed back, or in places they disintegrated, meaning, my confidence 25
has really improved or increased. I’ve started to do things that internally I would talk myself out of, like sharing my Master’s project. Stronger identity: “I think I like me better now than what I was before.” For some, the experience of looking back on their lives during the program had a profound impact on their identity. One of the grads recalled the assignment in one of the courses that helped her appreciate her heritage: And I had to go back and rediscover myself. So rediscovering who you are, finding out who you truly are, where you come from, and why you do the things you do the way you do them was truly very, very empowering, finding out how I modeled myself through my dad and my grandfather. Because they were true environmentalists. They were the connection to the land, and that’s what I am. I connect with the land. Through the assignments in courses involving exploring her biography, she also experienced a new self-acceptance for her use of English. And because I was writing about my language, and learning English as a second language--I had to really go back and really think about how I was immersed in Cree, and how I learned English. And how I'm still learning English. And also with my English, it doesn't matter how I pronounce words now. Before, I was self conscious about how I presented in English. And I didn't, every time I made a mistake, I was--It bothered me, yeah, but now, it doesn't. Like, I can speak anyway I want as long as I get the message across. Reconnecting in a new way to the North, to family, and to others, was also a part of personal change in the form of stronger identity development for these northern educators: “It's made me feel better about being a northerner—reflecting on the North. I've always had a very strong feeling for the North, but I feel even more connected to it after having done the project.” Pride as an Aboriginal person increased for many in the program. Aboriginal spirituality, “the belief that we can help one another,” was experienced. Over and over participants claimed that their Aboriginality was valued in the program. A non-Aboriginal graduate with many years of northern teaching experience talked about experiencing a sense of belonging, being accepted as a northerner, from being in the program: It was probably one of the first times in the North that I felt like I belonged, that it gave me a sense of that the knowledge that I gathered over the previous 20 years was actually valid and worthwhile rather than it being the knowledge of somebody from Edmonton coming into Northern [Saskatchewan]. Enhanced skills, knowledge, and understanding. For some students, seeing improvement in their reading and writing was a sign of personal change, as one grad put it, “the ability to use the English language better in this society.” Several students expressed the conviction that their use of English had improved over the course of the program:
I still use the work that I wrote: Blueberry pie and dandelion crowns. I read it and still, I didn’t think I’d be able to write that. And then I read it and I still broke down, because it’s a little bit of when I was growing up, and it’s only three-quarters of a page. I mean, every part of what my expectations were, in terms of becoming a better listener, a reader, a writer, more confidence—I mean, all that… I can share my work now. For a graduate who was not directly involved in education, the primary impact, personally, was the development of information skills, that is, “being able to look up information” and to then use the information to accomplish a task, a skill that has produced increased confidence in him and his employer. Gaining new knowledge and understanding in the program was seen to be transformative by the students. This student appreciated a new understanding of colonialism and the forgiveness needed that she sees in traditional knowledge: “I heard [about] colonialism but I’ve never really understood what it was, and then going through the program I understood what it was. So my main focus now is to decolonize what’s been going on here.” A non-Aboriginal graduate thought that the program helped him see the North and Aboriginal people in a new informed way. He recognized that he had changed as a result of these new perspectives: The thing that, for me, stands out is my appreciation of what’s happened to aboriginal people in Canada. My understanding of the problem is so much better informed now. My understanding of colonialism, like, I had always thought of colonialism as something of yesterday, that we were past that. I hadn’t understood it as a problem of the present and that realization—I even wrote it in, I think, one of my journal entries for you—that the realization that I was a colonizer and that happened for me really quickly and it was, like, that realization that maybe the problem isn’t in the community. Maybe the problem’s in those of us who are supposed to serve the community and to understand…I went into it looking for answers to change people. I came out of it changed. The inclusion in the program of a variety of appropriate theoretical lenses enabled many of the graduates to look at issues differently: You looked at things with a different lens. That’s how transformative it was, because now, because you always looked at things with your own lens, and when you look at it from a different perspective, you’ve got a different understanding, a different knowledge gained, I guess, that you see. Improved health and relationships. Personal change was also expressed in terms of becoming healthier. A grad claimed, “I got healthier…even spiritually, physically and emotionally.” She attributes the time allotted in the program for self-reflection as leading to better personal health. Similar comments include: “I learned to look more critically at myself” in a variety of areas such as parenting; “Much more reflective”; “more curious and spending more and more time on professional reading.” 27
Personal change was also described in terms of healing when revisiting early memories during various course activities. A number of grads became more engaged in sorting out personal issues in their lives over the course of the program: Well, personally, it’s made me grow more as an individual, and if I wasn’t mature before, I certainly feel that I am now… when I took my BEd, when I was done, kind of left the books and thought, “Okay, I’m not going do this anymore. I’m done reading this kind of stuff.” The only reading I did after that was for my work. And then after I took the master’s program—and during—I made a lot of changes in myself, like to help myself, because there were some internal issues that needed to be resolved there. Establishing networks and building stronger relationship with other professionals during the program was recognized as a marker of personal growth: Having shared with and gaining knowledge with many of the others I've become part of a network…people who work in education in the North.…being in the master's program certainly give me that opportunity personally and professionally to grow, but doing it in a setting where there was so many other northerners and learning with them and from them in that context. During their action research projects, several teachers in the program started inviting elders into their classrooms to develop stronger relationships with the community. This particular teacher talked about gaining respect for elders and also about developing a greater sensitivity to people living in poverty: The other thing I saw—that personally that I came out with was total respect for elders…I had started inviting them into my classroom for storytelling and I saw there was such a disconnect between the kids and the elders. So in trying to develop those relationships and those connections, I developed an overwhelming respect for elders….The other thing I developed was a real tremendous understanding of people who live in poverty. I never saw that before. I always just saw myself. Me, my kids, my home. When asked how the program had contributed to those changes, she identified the Circle of Courage teachings that were presented in several of the courses. Empowerment and Transformation. The terms empowerment and transformation were used by many of the graduates in the interviews to capture the personal impact of the program on them. This teacher suggests that being empowered by new knowledge is reflected in her life becoming richer in meaning: “That master's program empowered us…. I guess knowledge is power, and it helped all of us look at where—just where we were and how we got to be where we are—and to give life that much of a richer meaning.” Another grad talked about how the program empowered her to get through a number of very difficult personal struggles she faced while taking the master’s program:
It gave me real stability in my own personal life. It gave me a sense of independence and the courage to move forward no matter what I was dealing with in my life, and to say oh well, I’ll keep going…So it made me a very, very strong human being. I became really resilient to whatever happens. Transformation was often expressed as the ability to reflect on and analyze their practice, a noticeable change brought about by the program. Transformation was also expressed as the ability to look at teaching with different lenses: “I certainly look at curriculum with different eyes now.” This teacher mentioned that while working on a curriculum committee, she recognized that children’s strengths were not being taken into account in the discussions and she was able to do something about this. She attributes this new way of looking to “reflection back to your practice” that was brought about by the action research project. Others recognized transformation of their practice by their students’ response to their teaching. One of the teachers now sees that “there's more involvement with the students – them taking more of a leadership role – them taking more responsibility.” Often the notion of personal transformation was expressed by both teachers and administrators as feeling more confident to initiate change in the school as a result of new ideas from the program. This administrator suggests that his leadership has been transformed and is being taken more seriously by others in the school: I would like to think that I’m better because of the things that I’ve learned, and definitely I think being an administrator now, I don’t know, I just feel very empowered…Like people think of you as a leader more than they ever did, so transformative in that way. Leadership development. For many, opportunities to provide leadership in their professional setting came as a result of a personal change in their leadership abilities during the program. Leadership was often experienced when called upon to do presentations or take on new roles. Leadership also manifested itself in a willingness to try new things such as the principal who found herself more willing to do away with an antiquated suspension policy that ran against her beliefs about helping students stay in school. The graduates generally thought that the program helped to develop both educational and community leadership for the North. A wonderful image is described by an administrator in her paper—throwing a stone into the water to cause a ripple effect far beyond that first splash—to illustrate how people can exercise leadership by influencing when one is able and when it is needed. She used this image to capture the influence of her project on her school and community. Many of the graduates, including non-administrators, now find themselves involved in enhanced roles that demand a higher level of leadership than previously experienced. Their heightened confidence enables them to tackle new tasks. For example, a number of graduates reported being called upon to speak and present to various audiences, a task that formerly was difficult for them. They agreed that they are now perceived as leaders to a greater extent than before. “Before this I would have said ‘oh, no, I could never do this.’ I have my master’s for 29
heaven’s sake so I can do it.” Several teachers and administrators talked specifically about presentations that they now are giving. I feel like I’m in leadership, because I’m able to speak more. I am able to have that confidence and what-not, whereas before I was more of a listener. So whether you do it at a community meeting or a group setting, smaller group setting, I think that’s leadership and that’s what I’m able to do now. Other teachers talked about their new roles: A curriculum consultant claimed that: “professionally, too, I have more confidence in the curriculum writing that I do.” Another grad thought that the program prepared her to consider other educational roles such as “superintendent, consulting, any of those things. So it transformed me into opening my goals, opening my horizons. I can think of other things.” For a number of teachers, they felt colleagues now perceived them as leaders because of changes in their practice: Professionally, though, people here are interested now. They are interested in learning about what my presentation was. They are interested in learning how to make a power point presentation. They are interested in more work online and I don’t see myself professionally as an IT person, but I have skills that I can share, so more people are asking and more people are curious and more people are saying, I can see that you have done very well. I want to do very well also. Another teacher recognized her leadership role because others were showing new interest to her approach to teaching in the functional integrated program: Well, as a professional, Saskatchewan Community Association for Community Living Division is using my program as a model in Saskatchewan now, so they use the type of program that I’ve put together for the functional integrated program, and they come to me for ideas and different ways to approach various situations for kids throughout Saskatchewan. In terms of the Curriculum and Instruction focus of the program, as opposed to an Educational Administration focus, an administrator commented that “it's good for people to go through a program for curriculum and instruction—gives you a much broader range rather than focusing right on just administration.” Several grads specifically mentioned that this focus was not considered as detrimental to the development of leadership in the program because “the action research aspect of it had you actually do the leadership and become a leader in order to work with people. And to learn the skills that a leader has to have.” Acknowledging that the program did not have a specific leadership course, one of the administrators in the program suggested that he learned a lot about leadership from the instructors as well as the other students: “I think we learned lots about leadership from the folks that you chose to deliver the courses, to the folks that were in the program. The fact that, like I say, we were a family…We were a community of learners.” 30
Professional change: “Picking up a moccasin that you'd been wearing for a long time and maybe creating a new vamp.” Rejuvenation: New purpose, opportunities and practices. Students reported experiencing a narrowing of the gap between beliefs and practice. This teacher comments that: I am no longer a walking contradiction. I believe the things that are happening here is what I believe. And to get that support from my coworkers, they see the impact, the things that I do in the classroom, plus the other programs that the girls are involved in, how they’re all interconnected and how we’re going for that same [goal]. Another teacher described her new sense of purpose in terms of seeing her work of the last five years from a new perspective: Before, I never knew how to look at—like when I was feeling overwhelmed or, like I wanted things to happen in big ways, and I still want things to happen in big ways, but I have the ability to break it down into smaller pieces. Before, it would just be one great big, huge, overwhelming chunk. And I can see progress better than I could before. For some, the program enabled them to pursue a personal dream that involved taking on a new professional role. One grad said, “Never in a million years did I think I’d be the principal.” And another grad, a new community council consultant, talked about how she was prepared for her new role by the program: [The program] really educated me in the community school philosophy. I’m very well trained in that whole area. It’s very easy for me to look at attendance problems and say oh, we can improve that using this area of community schools….So in every area of education I’m connected to community schools. A new school division core curriculum consultant claimed that the program helped to prepare her for a new role: “everything that I did in the graduate studies fed right into preparing me for this particular job that I’m in…the courses fit me perfectly because this is what I’m doing now…. it opened up the door.” Another administrator attributes her new role involving applying for grants directly to the master’s program experience: If I didn’t take this master’s program I wouldn’t be sitting here writing my third grant proposal, grant applications. Which is absolutely nothing for me. The research—I know how to get the latest information. I know how to collect the data that they need now. Her new administrative practice of sharing leadership with the staff has also been influenced by what she experienced in the program. She claimed that:
As the principal I don’t see myself as the boss and you do as I say and these are my rules and this is how we’re going to do this. We work together—we find personal strengths in everybody and build on them. And that’s what we learned through the program. Other administrators also talked about becoming more collaborative in leadership. For example, one administrator said he now deals with difficult behaviour in the school in a more reflective and collaborative way by involving the staff. Teachers too talked about rejuvenation of their practice through exposure to a host of different teaching strategies for “purposeful teaching.” One claimed, “I can think of different examples where I took that the very next day and used it in my classroom and it was amazing. So what I was always looking for was better ways to teach.” A special educator in the cohort wanted to see if multiple intelligence theory coupled with learning style theory would work with her students. Adopting a more holistic form of teaching, she was satisfied with the response from her students: I thought, well, using the two approaches in combination, and looking at the emotional state of the children, and watching how they were in that type of situation, compared to a sit-down at your desk and learn through that approach, they’d do better—and it worked, and it was nice for them. One of the teachers in the cohort had found teaching somewhat boring after five or so years. He found that the program rejuvenated him and attributed that to trying new approaches in his classroom that he was exposed to in the program: It was just monotonous, almost, like the repetition. And then when I started taking that program and reading the new materials and stuff, on what teaching can do, it opened my eyes…you know, I was like, I’ve been sleeping, I think, in the past five years. And then I opened my eyes and it rejuvenated me. It was like a fresh breath of air. Technology in particular has become a greater part of the professional practice of the grads. Improved networking occurred through the development of new relationships in the program and learning new methods of technology for communication. Generally, the grads realized a higher level of competency and purpose in the use of technology. An administrator commented that he found the internet useful in helping teachers. He also mentioned how his horizons have been broadened by the many professional electronic contacts he has made: Yeah, I think the technology, for me, was the most important part of broadening my horizons because, you know, like, there’s all this talk about PLCs [Professional Learning Communities]. I tell people that Twitter’s my PLC. I have gone to Twitter and asked questions when I’ve wanted information on something. I’ve gotten some answers through Twitter. I’ve been pointed in directions through Twitter. I’ve come across blogs.
Since enrolling in the program, he communicates more by email with his staff than in the past, and as well, uses other internet approaches such as wikis with them: We’re connected and we work together. We’re in the same community and we still get online with each other, too, so—and little messages, speeds communications…And so I’ve turned to e-mail and I send out a weekly e-mail with, you know, reminders of things coming up, things that need to be done and links to things that I’m being made aware of that are professional development. Thinking differently and seeing the bigger picture. Many of the students talked about thinking differently about professional matters, which they attributed to their experiences in the program. As shown earlier, many talked about becoming more reflective about their practice. This graduate, however, shared that her thinking about education has become more critical: I’ve become a much, much deeper thinker, I’ll tell you that. Some people don’t really appreciate that about me now—especially friends, right, because now I’m overanalyzing everything. Yeah, I really—you know, maybe if I was a thinker before the program, now I’m a really deep thinker. And it made me, you know, really think about like—to talk a little bit about my professional life, like it made me think more about the educational system, and to look at it sometimes maybe a little bit critically. Because when I go to visit the schools I see the kinds of things that are going on there, not only positive things, but negative things as well that are happening in the school as an institution. The graduates also reported that during the program they became more interested in the broader context of education, “knowing the why and the wherefore” of practice. They enjoyed exposure to the “broad theories of education and perspectives of education.” One of the grads looked at the issue of context in terms of “the political arena of education,” in order to realize that “I can make a difference by educating people about how to accept people for their abilities, and drive in that way to improve education, especially in the special needs area.” A less experienced teacher, who admitted rigidly following the prescribed curriculum and textbooks when entering the program, commented that she became more interested in the students “and that made a big difference in the learning of the kids.” A vice-principal also experienced a deeper interest in the children with problems: I just don’t see that negative behavior. I see how I can help those behaviors. Know what I mean? Like how can I say something to help this kid. I’m more calm now… I’m more open now because of the circle, where they belong. I want to know what this kid is missing. Like, I’m trying to see the whole child. I wonder what this child needs, or is missing today. Change in relating to the community: “Like tilling a new garden.” New possibilities for relating to the community. In the interviews, there were many comments expressing a deeper appreciation by these educators for their communities. A number of them suggested now having a bigger picture of interagency possibilities in the 33
community, and for doing things differently than in the past. Speaking in her new role as a community developer, an administrator claimed that the program, especially the action research project, “helped me to help other people” through school/community council development. For one teacher, this stronger community connection has led to a “better understanding of how and why I do things in the classroom.” The bottom line for the grads is expressed in this claim often heard during the interviews: “We want to make our communities better places.” The graduates suggested that this change can be accomplished by the school playing a stronger role in the community breaking the isolation of schools so common in the past. It wasn’t uncommon to hear in the interviews that connecting to the community was a new experience for educators. One of the graduates, expressed this new experience “like tilling a new garden” because of all the new possibilities that emerged from her action research project. The 24 projects demonstrate the many ways that schools can be more closely linked to the community. A number of the projects built stronger bridges to Elders using them as a source of knowledge by inviting them into the school and classrooms. Some projects strengthened relationships between schools and parents. Other projects involved community organizations in the school. Each of the graduates experienced a new orientation towards the community through the interaction that emerged from the action research project. Ground breakers and role models. Several grads noted that their communities see them as groundbreakers and role models for not only children and youth, but for adults as well. “I think I’m the only one from my community with a master’s degree,” said one teacher. She noted that since completing the program, other teachers also want to take graduate education. One of the graduates who has taken on a new role working with student teachers claimed he is able to be a role model to his students because of his master’s experience. Specifically, when working with them on their writing, he is able to explain to them his master’s experience and the many revisions he undertook to finish his project: “So I find there’s lots of things within the program itself that I find myself being able to relate to them and being able to share with those people as well.” The obstacles faced in the program by this teacher were kept in perspective by continuously remembering the special role the first master’s students play for northern young people: Well, because we were a special bunch. You know, like when you’re brought together with this program, and the reason why nobody quit is because we had a responsibility to one another, to the program, to make it a success. So this would not be a one-time thing. So you want to make sure that no matter what happens in your life, whether it’s a death, whatever, H1N1, like I had last year, that was not going to block because we were going to finish… We had to finish so we could set up this road for others that will come, and I’m hoping for a doctorate someday for these younger people. This is the road for the future.
This graduate sees the value of northern-based education programs and their effect on communities: I talk to people and they comment about the fact that 10 years ago, 20 years ago, if you looked, in your own community even, you were lucky if you could find an undergraduate. And now we’ve got whole communities of people, like sometimes five people in the community with a master’s. And so in terms of that, I think it has had an impact in that way, and my hope really is that by doing this kind of thing, that we’ll open other people’s hearts and minds to the prospects of a higher education. This awareness that the students in the program were working towards their master’s degree, not just for themselves, but for their community, appears to have given the accomplishment greater value and purpose. More attuned to community involvement in the school. Some of the grads reported that community participants in their action research study are now involved in the school to a greater extent. This grad describes how she increased parental involvement in the school: [We] created a parent support group, as well as we had a parent conference where people came in and they talked about ways to help their children. Well, we had both schools, the staff from both schools, so from the both schools the staff is about 120. And then we had about 30 parents. So there were workshops being given on how to work with a teacher, and the teacher how to work with the parents. A special educator who forged stronger connections to the community with her project saw the positive effects on students and parents from the community work placements: “it works and parents are happier, kids are happier… they’re a bigger part of the community.” She commented that parents don’t talk now about taking their special needs children to the South for education. A number of the action research projects report that the authors formed broader networks with individuals and organizations in the community who have become useful resources in the school. Some of the grads talked about how the program more strongly oriented them towards the community. This grad saw the program as better equipping her to continue her role on town council: The difference I see is being able to offer more. I know with being on town council, one of the things, and I learned it through my program, is if you don’t have a vision, if you don’t know where you want to go, how are you going get there… this is how I see working with people, how I see working with kids. And then, of course, with the community. That textbook by Bopp and Bopp [on sustainable communities]--I’ve taken that to many council meetings now and we’ve talked about community building.
Working in the field of Cree immersion, this grad revealed that working with the community as a team, as stressed in the master’s program, is more effective in developing a program for a First Nation: You can't only have teachers, or you can't only have one group of people to try to start a new program. You need to work with a community of people. And when we worked as representing consultants or curriculum developers or teachers and administrator and parents and elders, then you have a cohesive group to work with that will support the program initiatives. And I learned to do that by writing action research--by involving [the others], because I was so used to trying to do things in isolation by myself and it didn't always work. An administrator talked about being more involved in outreach to the community by offering online courses, an approach he studied in his action research project: And we have adults out there who want to upgrade who can no longer register in school and they’re coming to us looking for answers. And so now I’ve put it in our community school budget. I tell adults who come here looking to take an online course, “And the school will cover your registration.” So it’s not even a charge to them. So – and that’s something that came out of the community-based master’s. He also talked about ways he now communicates with the community: I have also looked at how I communicate with the community so I set up a Facebook account last year. We’ve got all this stuff that we want the community to know about and how do we communicate it? We go on the radio. That’s another thing I did. I took on the radio show. I decided that people should hear from the principal. So I’m on air once a week with a radio show. I get it recorded. It’s on our website so my mother listen’s to it in BC. A special educator who used community placements for her students for a number of years, saw the impact of a renewed emphasis on these placements in her action research project: When I started the Master’s program, I didn’t think it was that important. Well, I didn’t realize how important it was. I didn’t feel that it was direct enough education or instruction, like direct enough instruction… that it would be too vague for them. The students themselves wouldn’t pick anything up from it, and really, what was the sense in the community, but now I’ve found that there’s a huge sense of need for it, because the kids understand what they’re doing and they’re becoming really involved in their life skills, and they know what they’re doing. They’ve learned many things that I couldn’t have taught them in a classroom, and the community members are seeing how important and valued they are as members of our community… The kids feel very confident and their emotional states are much more stable.
An administrator stated in the interview that the program made her connect to the community beyond her classroom walls. Before the program she noted that “I tried to do it within my own classroom.” Now she claims that people from the community are beginning to perceive the school as more community-minded since doing her action research project: “And they’re coming from the community working with us in the school so they can see that we’re not just for inside here but for the whole community.” Making sense of the impact of the program on the graduates. As noted earlier in the survey results, the level of satisfaction for program components, outcomes, and teaching and learning, was extremely high. The interviews concerning program impact help to flesh out that positive picture by showing that the students weren’t only satisfied with the program, but experienced personal and professional change, as well as change in relating to the community. As seen in the subsection dealing with the personal impact of the program, the graduates experienced a growth in confidence. Throughout this section, there are references to various aspects of the program that contributed to this new found confidence such as completing the action research project, feeling empowered by new skills and knowledge, and by more confidently embracing their Aboriginal and northern identities. Another factor that appears to be linked to increased confidence is a new sense of belonging that was nurtured by the program. Due to increased confidence, the graduates project themselves as being much more in control of their lives. They seem to have a more determined purpose. They seem to see themselves more as leaders. The action research reports provide the best picture of how the graduates have changed professionally; however, these educators also talked about professional change in the interviews. The impression of the graduates gained from this section on the professional impact of the program is best captured by the term rejuvenation. Although the actual term was never used in the interviews, many of the graduates talked about experiencing a new sense of purpose, implementing new practices, and taking on new roles and challenges. The image of the reworked moccasin shared at the beginning of this subsection certainly speaks to this notion of rejuvenation--making things new again. Although the grads did not speak about specific changes to their practice in the interviews, such as the changes made as part of their action research project, they did talk in a more holistic way about their changed practices. They appear to have a developed a deeper sense of what it means to be a professional, as evidenced by their awareness of others increasingly perceiving them as leaders. Having completed their graduate program, they see themselves, now, thinking differently about education, which has meant taking on new roles for some of them, such as administration and consulting. Along with personal and professional changes, the graduates also experienced change in relating to the community. In the interviews they attributed this change to the requirement that the action research projects connect the school and community in new ways. The final project reports demonstrate these new connections to the community. The graduates also find they have been feeling a greater sense of responsibility to the community from being perceived as role models who are creating new pathways for the young to follow in the future. For some of 37
the graduates, another change in relating to the community comes from a new awareness that the community expects them to provide leadership in various ways. Several of them are involved in some form of community development through town council involvement or other community organizations. Possibilities for Northern Graduate Education: Reflections Ripples of Hope Travelling throughout the North to conduct interviews with the graduates brought back many memories of similar travels when on staff with NORTEP. Three images are indelibly etched on my memory from these most recent trips to the North. The first one occurred on the way up the West side on a dull dreary fall day. A few kilometres outside of La Loche, the sky opened up and the sun shone on the trees on both sides of the highway, creating a blazing golden pathway into the community. The next image was experienced at dusk, a few kilometres outside of Cumberland House, on my way South. Coming around a bend in the road, the sky lit up with a stunning red sunset that promised a beautiful next day when I would be travelling to Pelican Narrows. And the third image comes from the early morning when I was driving north of Prince Albert on the way to Sturgeon Lake. As the dark clouds passed after a prolonged rain shower, a magnificent rainbow emerged out of a shining gold unharvested field arching high in the sky to eventually join a sun-soaked evergreen forest on the other end. This rainbow appeared to be permanently painted on the sky, with every color as brilliant as the next. These three images speak to me of hope and promise for the future of the children and youth in these communities, communities that are often marginalized in the minds of people in this province. The faces of the northern educators in the Community-Based Masterâ€™s Program are also etched onto my memory. And even more than those amazing natural images of rainbows, sunshine, and sunsets, these human images represent to me the hope these educators bring to the North. This report presents a collective image of these graduates, through the action research descriptions and their experiences in the program, showing their hopeful influence on their schools and communities. One of the graduates captured this idea of hopeful influence through the metaphor of a stone thrown in the water, sending ripples out far beyond the place where it landed. The Community-Based Masterâ€™s Program for this first cohort of students is like that stone thrown in the water. Through new practices, new roles, and new relationships developed in the program, these graduates exhibit a new confidence and rejuvenation to influence education in the North. The ripples of hope that flow out from their actions will continue to affect their students, their schools, and their communities. Several factors in the design of this program produced transformed graduates. First, the northern cohort model honoured Aboriginal and northern knowledge, fostering reflection on their own practice in an interactive learning community, and nurtured a strong sense of belonging. Second, the action research project became the vehicle effecting real action to change the reality in their classrooms, schools, and communities. Third, the program 38
consistently emphasized the place of the local community in education. In combination, these factors helped these northern educators come to a new level of confidence as their knowledge and identity were validated, as new knowledge and skills were developed, and as strong collegial and community relationships developed. But there was an additional factor that the design of the program couldn’t control—the people. These 24 educators came to share their wealth of experience, to make sense of their place in the North, to experience new understandings, and most importantly, to form a new family in a summer camp-like experience; it was a true northern experience. This coming together as a family was the major contributing factor to the collective learning that is documented in this report. Lighthouse for Change The Community-Based Master’s Program was designed as a lighthouse project to show that northern graduate education can produce significant change in northern Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educators. It was also designed and delivered to break down barriers between the university and the North, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educators, western and Aboriginal knowledge, and provincial and First Nation school systems. The program delivery mechanisms and funding are also innovative and have demonstrated that the program is affordable through partnership arrangements and unique sharing of already available resources. Given the high satisfaction the Community-Based Master’s Program has received from the graduates, and the strong impact it has had on the graduates as evidenced in this report, this program should be the gold standard for the design of other graduate programs in the North. A lighthouse program as documented in this report can serve to guide innovative, relevant graduate programs that will enhance the role of the university in northern development. Forward with the Past The image of summer camp strongly resonated with the graduates of the CommunityBased Master’s Program. Some of them remembered past experiences associated with families gathering on the land, while others still engage in that annual experience. Many of them have heard stories of summer camp from elders in their families and communities. A tension was evident in the interviews between memories of the past and possibilities for the future, and how those two factors are intertwined. The Community-Based Master’s Program was the catalyst enabling the graduates to identify and validate what needed to be recovered from the past and brought into the future as the North continues to develop, eroding the “old ways.” Foremost to be preserved for the future is the identity of Aboriginal people who seek the wisdom of the Elders, who work together to maintain traditional values including respect and caring, and who develop intergenerational relationships. The tension of old and new seems to dissolve in these educators’ writing in their attempt to move forward in their roles as educators, while honouring who they are as northerners, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. By strengthening their ties to the past, they carve out a path to the future that has more purpose and definition. 39
Just like summer camp, the Community-Based Master’s Program had to take place in the North, and had to be populated with Aboriginal and northern educators. And as important as these, the program also had to involve a process of learning that validated and affirmed Aboriginal knowledge and experience, not by presenting that knowledge in abstract propositional terms, but by stimulating dialogue that interfaced their knowledge with various western theoretical lenses in emotional as well as cognitive ways. The interaction that occurred in a learning community that felt “just like camp” led to the validation of their knowledge and experience, and that in turn had a significant impact on their confidence. Greater transparency through the deeper sharing of personal and professional experiences also served to strengthen group unity even across Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal lines. On completion of the program, the satisfaction of finishing an action research project was realized. The tapestry of courses, relationships, and project finally presented itself to each of the graduates with the old and the new woven together in a new way to guide their personal and professional practices into the future. Each project speaks to the transformation of the author as well as the production of knowledge. Each project is evidence of the ability of each of these educators to effect change in an area of concern inextricably linked to their Northern community. No doubt the development of the North will continue to change the place and its peoples. Equipping leaders to prepare children and youth for future participation in this development is crucial to ensure beneficial outcomes for northerners. The Community-based model portrayed in this report shows that northern leadership can be nurtured in an off-campus cohort approach—a camp-like experience.
PART TWO: ACTION RESEARCH PROJECTS In this section, the 24 action research projects are sorted into eight themes and briefly described to show the range of topics addressed. A brief introduction along with a photo for each of the graduates is also provided. Theme One: Involving Parents and the Community in the School Brandy Catarat Brandy teaches and also directs the Guided Reading Program in Buffalo Narrows. Her passion is involving parents in helping their children learn to read. Brandy is a NORTEP graduate. Project Title: Actively Involving Parents and Community Members in my Classroom to Improve Student Learning Through the Use of a Guided Reading Program. Brandy embarked on this project because of her ongoing struggle to involve parents and community members in their childrenâ€™s learning. She decided to explore this issue through the use of the Guided Reading Program as the structure to involve parents in her Grade 3 classroom, in a large northern school. This reading program allows students to read at their own level, but provides specific challenges to motivate advancement to higher levels. After the program was implemented school wide, Brandy found that she simply did not have enough time to monitor student progress in the program, and came to the realization that she would only be successful with the program by involving parents to help with some of the tasks. The first stage of the action research project involved calling parents to participate; however, only one parent and two grandparents responded. Brandy discovered that the reasons given by parents for not participating, for example, cultural and language barriers, were the same as those cited in the literature. After discussions with her critical friend, Brandy decided to broaden her appeal for assistance to other community members through letters, local television advertising, and personally contacting a number of people. A particularly useful arrangement was made with the Community College to have 12 students in the Educational Assistant program come into her classroom to help. Brandy found that these students preparing to be teacher assistants benefitted from this experience, as did the students in the elementary classroom. In the reflection on practice component of the action research process, Brandy writes about the place of trustful relationships within a cross-cultural setting. She comes to understand why community members might not want to come to the school to help. Turning to the community college, she opened a door that had previously been closed by developing a relationship with a different group of people for mutual benefit.
Melissa Cromarty Melissa teaches in the alternate program at Churchill Community High School in La Ronge. She completed her BEd at the University of Regina in Secondary Education before coming to the North to teach. Project Title: Rethinking the Role of the Alternative Program Teacher Through Action Research. A tension Melissa has faced throughout her career is that of delivering curriculum to meet students’ academic needs, while at the same time meeting their personal needs. The question for her action research study attempts to address this tension: “How can I improve my practice in developing a life skills program for students in the Alternate Program that has a stronger community connection? In the first cycle of the project, Melissa arranged volunteer work placements for her students to give them experiences outside the classroom. The second cycle involved looking for additional resources within the school such as getting other teachers involved with her students. Presenters from the community were added to the program in the third cycle. Emergency interventions became the focus of the fourth cycle. Cycle five involved a presentation by community agencies to families of her students. Finally, cycle six involved further collaboration and connections with the community. Melissa reflects on each of these cycles in her project report. In her discussion of new understandings from this project, Melissa writes about how she came to realize that she had been acting more as a case manager than a teacher in her program. She began to see her role in a new light and came to the conclusion that to ease the case management role, she could collaborate with agencies and people with whom she had formed new connections. The idea of multiagency wraparound as expressed in SchoolPLUS became a reality in Melissa’s practice. Melissa shares her view of action research by employing an interesting metaphor: Without action research, we are often floating on top of the river, watching the scenery flash by, carried along by the current. With action research, we dive underneath from time to time, examining what is underneath the water influencing the path of the current, and dipping our paddle into the water to consciously change our course. She suggests that journaling and talking to someone whom you trust are important ways to “keep you from getting caught up in the current of daily minutiae.”
Theme Two: Reaching Out to the Community Loretta Ballantyne Loretta comes from Pelican Narrows, having served as teacher, vice-principal, and guidance counselor. She is a NORTEP graduate. Loretta is presently teaching at the White Buffalo Cartier Equine Program at Sturgeon Lake First Nation. Project Title: Strengthening Woodland Cree Families: A Program to Promote School Parental Involvement. As a teacher, and more recently guidance counselor, Lorettaâ€™s primary concern has been for student and family wellness. Her journey before the Masterâ€™s program included studying traditional Cree values, and developing materials to aid her teaching of these values. For her action research project, Loretta decided to focus on ways to engage parents in their childrenâ€™s education. Adapting the Strengthening Hawaii Families program, and using the Traditional Cree Values she had formerly developed, Loretta designed the Strengthening Woodland Cree Families program to assist parents in increasing their knowledge of Cree values in relation to raising a family. After soliciting a few parents, Loretta delivered the program to them in eight sessions. The program provided parents with ways to help with discipline, and find community resources. It also provided an orientation to Traditional Cree Values. In her final report, Loretta describes each session held for the parents and what she thinks was accomplished. She explains the difficulties with raising a family that parents identified during the sessions, providing deeper insight into working with parents to make the community better for children and youth. These descriptions also provide insight into the place of traditional Cree values in the community healing process. She concludes that greater understanding of the situations parents are in must occur if adequate help is to be given to them. Loretta sees the action research project as another step on her journey to find ways to help her people: These insightful experiences will take me on another journey as I begin to look for more ways to help my people. The parent program itself is only one component of the solution; there are more solutions to be found and I am committed to finding them. As a result of this opportunity that I have had, it has given me a new outlook on how I can improve not only the place I work in, but also the programming that can be developed.
Jackie Durocher Jackie has been a teacher and vice-principal in Buffalo Narrows and now is the principal of the K-12 school. She brings a strong community development orientation to her work and also serves on the town council. Jackie is a graduate of NORTEP. Project Title: Parents, School, and Community: Working Together for our Childrenâ€™s Education. This project focused on establishing stronger connections to and communication with the community to engage parents, school and community in working together to improve education for children in a Northern community. Jackie provides her story in the early part of the paper that covers growing up in the North, a look at her community, and a reflection on her teaching and administrative experiences in the North. As an administrator she discovered that teachers did not contact parents as much as she thought they should, especially when poor attendance resulting in suspension was the issue. The gap between her practice of suspending students and her belief in communicating with parents to resolve issues drove Jackie to this action research project. The first cycle of the project focused on improving the attendance policy in the high school through feedback from a survey of parents, high school teachers, and high school students. She also reviewed the number of students that were suspended the previous year due to attendance problems, determining that there was a gap in communication between the school and parents. The results were used to change the attendance policy to be more supportive by including parental communication. She reports improved attendance due to this change. Also, an after school homework program was put in place during this cycle and parents were made aware of this option through a meeting with the parent, teacher, and student. Another initiative in her project involved offering a workshop on communication to parents. During the second cycle, teachers started a regular communication letter to parents. Jackie began to give the school vision statement more prominence with staff, students, and parents during this second cycle. She reports deeper understanding of community development principles from her increased involvement with the community commenting that: Community development is about identifying, connecting, and mobilizing the strengths within the community to achieve desired outcomes. My action research question is very important to me because as an Aboriginal educator and a community member I want what is best for the students and the community.
Arlene Hansen Arlene is the principal of the K-12 school in Beauval, her home community. Her passion is for the school and community to work together for the betterment of children and youth. She is a graduate of NORTEP. Project Title: Early Literacy Strategies implemented Through Participatory Action Research Using Community-Based Education. Arlene’s action research project involved implementing early literacy strategies by visiting parents of preschool children in their homes, and by promoting early literacy in various ways in the community. As an administrator, she strived to improve her own practice as an administrator of preparing children to enter school with improved literacy skills, as well as getting to know families with preschool children. The focus of this action research project was the development of partnerships with family, community, and school, using Storysacks as the vehicle to enhance early literacy. Storysacks “are hands-on family literacy activities that help adults work with children by sharing books to make it fun and interactive.” The project involved Arlene taking Storysacks training, holding a community supper to inform the community of the project, and holding workshops 1 evening per week for 6 consecutive weeks for interested parents, during which time a number of Storysacks were created. A literacy night was held in the community in partnership with the Headstart organization that began to take a more active role in the Storysacks project along with several community members. Arlene states in her project report that the overall impact on participants was increased awareness of literacy issues, participation in a school-related activity, and willingness for parents to spend time with their children. She was particularly pleased that the project established stronger and improved relationships between community organizations and the school. In her reflection on the use of action research, Arlene claims that “it inspired me to look more into my best practice, my passions, my beliefs and most of all, what it was I most wanted to improve to bring positive and effective change to my professional and personal practice as a teacher, administrator and community member.”
Theme Three: Teacher Development for the North Deborah Gibson-Dingwall Deborah came into the North from Ontario and taught in several northern communities before joining the faculty of NORTEP as a teacher educator. She is a passionate advocate of the language arts in the North. Project Title: Reflections from the Journey of a Wild Social Constructivist Teacher Educator: Celebrating Culture, Community, Cohorts, and Collaboration in the Community-Based Master’s Program. This action research self-study is a narrative reflection on Deborah’s practice as a teacher educator in an Aboriginal teacher education program (NORTEP) located in Northern Saskatchewan. The use of the image of rocks and the Northern Shield is employed as an organizer for her extensive narrative of her changing teacher education practice, as a result of her experiences in the Community-Based Master’s Program. She tells her story of becoming a teacher educator and how she arrived at a point of questioning her teacher education pedagogy due to the program schedule in use at NORTEP, consisting of week blocks involving contact with her students and week blocks when they took other courses and had no contact with her. In her narrative, Deborah also develops an overview of the Community-Based Master’s Program from a participant perspective showing the links she makes between her own learning and that of her students. Her narrative tells of her deepening orientation towards reflective practices with her students. In one activity, Deborah has the students use quilt blocks to represent their personal values and teacher identity in order to help them move to written narratives that they seem to have difficulty writing. This example of changed pedagogy represents, to Deborah, her change as a teacher educator especially in the area of using multiple modalities for learning. Deborah mentions various topics that she encountered in her master’s program and how she incorporated them into her teaching. Frameworks such as Circle of Courage and SchoolPLUS have become part of the curriculum for her students. In this section of her narrative, Deborah also shares the students’ response to the ideas and activities added to her teaching. Over the 3 years of taking courses and completing the action research project, Deborah believes she has become a better teacher educator and writes about this in the final reflection of her narrative commenting that “more than one preservice teacher told me I was an example of a lifelong learner and it motivated them to study for their master’s degree in the future.”
Ronelda McCallum Ronelda comes from Buffalo Narrows where she is the viceprincipal of the K-12 school. She is a graduate of NORTEP. She has a strong belief in the practice of teacher mentorship to better orient new teachers to the community. Project Title: Teacher Mentorship to Improve Teacher Retention in Northern Schools. The focus of this project, for Ronelda, involved providing personal and professional support for new teachers to provide a smooth transition into the teaching profession in a northern community. To accomplish this transition, the author developed a mentoring program to link veteran teachers to novices. The project focus came from Ronelda’s disappointment with the historical separation between school and community and a desire to prepare new teachers to develop a stronger relationship with the community to help bridge this gap. She first administered a needs assessment through discussions with colleagues. The assessment revealed that communication between home and school was the most important concern voiced by teachers, followed by their relationship with parents. After forming a core collaborative group for the project, a Welcome Booklet to the community was developed as a first attempt to get new teachers to learn more about the community. It includes a brief introduction to the community, as well as information that would be useful to a newcomer. It also includes information pertinent to the mentorship program such as guidelines for the mentor/mentee pairs. Then four new teachers were paired with veteran teachers from different grades who had volunteered for the project. The pairs initially met daily, then weekly, and eventually monthly as the project progressed. Ronelda met with the pairs once a month and recorded the meetings in her journal. Once the mentorship project ended, Ronelda completed an evaluation of its success. Engaging in action research has provided Ronelda with a tool that can be used to work on other educational issues: Now that I have an understanding of how to do an action research project, I can attempt to do it in other areas of concern. The process of research, collaboration, development and evaluation of a new program will be useful to my role as an administrator in our school. The process of action research is a tool I can use to resolve issues or concerns that we will face. I understand the process to attain a Master’s degree; therefore I can be a role model for those who wish to pursue this educational avenue. When I tell my students, “if I can do it, you can do it” I can now say this to my colleagues who wish to pursue an advanced level of education.
Guy Penney Guy came to the North from Newfoundland to teach. He has been the vice-principal of Churchill Community High School and recently joined the NORTEP faculty as a teacher educator. He has a strong interest in teacher induction in the North. Project Title: How Do I Improve my Administrative Practice to Support New Teachers? In his search for a meaningful action research project, Guy reflected on his early years as a teacher, focusing on what had hampered his growth. He realized it was the fear of asking for help. This insight led Guy to taking an inventory of supports that he was already providing to new and beginning teachers, and then giving a questionnaire to four new teachers who had consented to be participants in this action research project. From this exercise, he was able to identify the gaps between his beliefs concerning helping new teachers, and his practice, “the most notable one being that new teachers should be able to feel comfortable approaching an administrator about any work related issue.” Guy met with his focus group of four new teachers (1-4 years of experience) over a semester, and also separately with each of them during regular informal supervisory visits. He kept notes on these meetings and classroom visits, and also administered second and third questionnaires to determine the usefulness of his time spent with them. One of the key changes Guy began to see in his practice was that informal supervisory visits became much more dialogical than in the past when they were more supervisor controlled. This more informal approach prepared the new teachers for the mandatory formal supervisory visit that was part of Guy’s role as vice-principal. From the conversations with the teachers and questionnaire results, Guy put together a new teacher pamphlet for new teachers that answers 25 commonly asked questions about the school. Guy writes about his view of action research and professional development and comes to realize that action research is about improving his own practice: I also experienced the challenge of constantly reminding myself that this research endeavor was about improving my practice not the practice of others. Initially I had trouble coming to grips with this reality. It was not until I really got into the practice of critical self-reflection, that I began to see that in order for this project to be successful I had to be looking for the changes that occurred in my practice and me.
Bonnie Werner Bonnie is a veteran northern teacher who came to the North from Alberta. After teaching in several northern schools including Churchill Community High School in La Ronge, Bonnie recently took a position as the core curriculum consultant with Northern Lights School Division. Project Title: How Can Participation in a Professional Learning Community Improve My Practice? As a veteran teacher in the North, Bonnie had been searching for ways to renew her passion for teaching. This search led her to an action research project examining the impact of belonging to a Professional Learning Community (PLC) focusing on her teaching practices. Bonnie’s reflections on PLCs constitute an insider’s critical look at a professional development practice, heavily promoted by school divisions. Initially this action research project involved recording her experiences with PLCs in a large northern community high school. Her first experiences involved getting the Grade 7 teachers together to consider ways to help students having trouble with math concepts. This led to a new cooperative effort to help these students and left the teachers more satisfied in their efforts to address this problem. Other experiences involved a school professional development day that didn’t yield the expected results and left teachers somewhat unhappy. Another one involved Bonnie presenting the notion of PLCs to the staff at the invitation of the principal. She realized from a survey of staff that “many staff members were very cynical about this new idea.” From these initial experiences, Bonnie took specific action. During the first phase of the project, she advocated for online professional communities as a way to address the limited time teachers have to improve their practice. In the second phase, Bonnie decided to advocate for more time for PLCs in the school. In the third phase of the project, Bonnie identified changes to her teaching practice that she realized were a result of working more collaboratively with other teachers and community members in her search to improve her teaching. Discussing her new self-awareness about the tension of teaching students versus curriculum that surfaced from this experience, Bonnie comes to the conclusion that her teaching is enriched by the web of relationships she has formed with those around her. Action research has enabled Bonnie to change her approach to teaching not by only providing a way to implement expert knowledge or best practice, but by providing a process for her to explore various ways to change her teaching that are more congruent with her beliefs and relevant to her context.
Theme Four: Bringing Elders’ Knowledge to the School Leda Corrigal Leda is from Beauval and works with the Northern Lights School Division in La Ronge in the area of Cree language development. She has a strong belief in the value of the Elders in language reclamation. Leda is a NORTEP graduate. Project Title: Elders Speak Out on Language Loss and Language Retention Initiatives. Leda starts her paper by stating that Aboriginal languages and knowledge of family history play a large part in fostering the development of Aboriginal identity. She traces developments in Aboriginal education from the past to present provincial initiatives. However, she notes that the same institution that has caused the loss of Aboriginal languages, the school, is now expected to reclaim those languages. In her role as a language consultant, Leda has noticed the lack of interest by students in learning about their culture, history, and language, so she decided to approach the Elders to gather their wisdom and insight into possibilities for the recovery of the language. This project involved collecting Elders’ knowledge through interviews with the intent of using this Aboriginal knowledge to inform the revitalization of Aboriginal languages and culture in school programs. Five elders from different communities were interviewed. Leda provides an overview of each interview and includes quotes from the Elders to show their view on a number of issues related to the loss of Aboriginal languages and culture. Each of the elders presented a unique message through their own stories. However, they agreed on many things including their common observation that young people in their communities show a lack of respect and lack of positive self-identity, both needed if Cree people are to possess a positive identity. Commenting on the value of respect to Cree people, Leda writes: Respect is so very much embedded in the Cree language. Knowing the language and understanding the Cree worldview gives one a very different perspective on life, the land and of the self. There are some words in the English language that cannot be translated easily into the Cree language because they are a part of the language. Some of the words used in teaching a child proper manners do not exist in the Cree language yet a child can learn to display manners using the Cree worldview. English words like ‘please, sorry and excuse me’ do not exist in the Cree language but can still be spoken in a way that the same meaning can be understood and expected.
Lily McKay-Carriere Lily completed her BEd at the University of Regina. She has taught in the North many years, currently she is the principal in Cumberland House, her home community. She is a strong advocate for the reclamation of northern language of culture in schools. Project Title: Decolonizing the Curriculum ‘Cree-atively’ Through Elders’ Stories. Lily began the action research journey with considerable experience as an Aboriginal educator and a concern for the loss of language that is taking place in the North. Describing herself as a “messenger of hope,” she committed herself to reversing the language shift by gathering the stories of local Elders and then creating curriculum materials to use those stories in the bilingual primary classrooms in her school. The motif of the four seasons (and their Cree names) is employed as an organizer to show the four different phases of the project. Twenty-nine Elders visited the school in the spring (Sigwan) for a 2-day gathering of traditional storytelling. From that experience a Cree-ative Collaborators Committee of Elders, teachers and staff, 15 in all, committed themselves to working together for 3 weeks over the summer (Nipin) to harness the local knowledge into sequences for instruction. Examples of the materials developed over the summer are included in the Final Report on the project. In the fall (Tagw-gin), the teachers implementing the new materials in the kindergarten Cree immersion and Grades 1-3 bilingual classrooms, met 10 times in a Professional Learning Community. In the winter phase (Pipon), the collaborators continued to implement the sequences, collect data, and hold focus group meetings. In reporting this phase, Lily suggests that “the gift of story continues to provide an intergenerational connection and a new perspective on practice.” In her final paper, Lily provides a rich narrative for each of the four phases that, together, describe what she has learned in each phase, concluding with the impact of the new sequences on teachers and students. One interesting result was that students took their new knowledge of the language and culture home for their parents to experience. Action research has become a way for Lily to influence others to take action: By completing an Action research project, I feel that I’ve thrown a pebble into the water and it has created a ripple effect. My hope is that others will throw in more pebbles so that the ripples will continue to be seen and felt in our educational waters so that Indigenous languages keep flowing through all seasons.
Theme Five: Community-Oriented/Culturally Sensitive Teaching Gail Gardiner Gail is presently the vice-principal at Beauval, her home town, and served as principal of Cole Bay while in the Community-Based Master’s Program. She is a graduate of the NORTEP program, and also completed a BA at the University of Saskatchewan. Project Title: Strength-Based Leadership in Life Transitions 30: Engaging the Youth of a Northern Community. Gail’s project took flight after a significant discussion with her students at the beginning of the term in her Life Transitions 30 course. In this discussion about local change, the students bemoaned the fact that there were few activities available for youth in their community. Her research question emerged from this discussion: How can I facilitate leadership skills in my senior high school Life Transitions 30 class? Using the action research cycle, Gail decided to take specific action in her teaching by implementing project-based learning. Students worked in groups to find ways to provide activities for youth in the community. Four distinct actions were taken by Gail. The first action allowed her to better understand her students through daily discussions and activities that helped them to develop a sense of community and trust. The second action was getting to know her students more formally through a needs assessment developed by the University of Victoria to help guide discussions. The third action focused on student research proposals, and the fourth action involved carrying out the actual projects and their assessment and interpretation. Ten student projects that the students carried outside of their classroom that came out of the discussion process are described in the paper along with student reflections. In the New Understandings section of her action research report, Gail makes the following statement about leadership as a teacher: Leadership has taken on a new understanding for me. During the course of this project I have learned that my leadership skills have taken on new aspects that I thought would never be possible. I have become more involved with the community and also within the school. I realized that to promote leadership one also had to model that leadership. If one is to become better at becoming a leader one must immerse themselves in action. She goes on to discuss how her teaching practices have changed to include more of her students’ ideas. Through the action research process she has strengthened her practice of project-based learning in her classroom.
Doris Gunn Doris is from Patuanak, a Dene community, and has taught in a number of northern and southern communities and is currently teaching in Dillon. Doris is a graduate of the NORTEP program. Project Title: How Can I Improve My Practice to Motivate Aboriginal Adolescent Girls in Physical Education Within the First Nation School System/Community? Initiating this project as a physical education teacher, Doris believes that she plays a special role in motivating young Aboriginal girls to participate in sport to enhance their overall health and fitness. After many years as a teacher in northern communities as well as Southern First Nation communities, Doris knew that getting girls involved in sports is difficult. Therefore, her question for the action research project became a personal challenge: “How can I improve my practice to motivate Aboriginal adolescent girls in Physical Education within the First Nation School System/Community?” Specifically, Doris wanted to find out what activities interest them, and how she could motivate them to participate in physical activities. The initial action involved interviewing Aboriginal adolescent girls at the First Nation Winter Games held in Regina in 2008. She also implemented new routines in her physical education classes informed by the student interviews and by her reading. For example, the notion of student choice became more important to her practice, as did the inclusion of cultural activities. Then, Doris followed up with several focus group sessions with five, Grade 8, Aboriginal, adolescent girls to gain feedback on their physical education experiences. The girls also participated in special sports events outside of school such as tournaments and workshops during the time of this project. One significant change to her practice came from her interviews with the girls—they wanted more say in the program and more choices of activities. Doris began to see changes in the students once she incorporated their feedback into her practice. Reflecting on her project in the last part of the paper, Doris talks about the benefit of using action research to structure her professional development: As a teacher, I believe we need to understand and change our ways of thinking in order to be more responsible for and responsive to the students we teach… I need to adapt to changes and accept the importance of modifying the curriculum in order to more effectively meet the needs of the students I teach. Action research is focused on teacher’s practice so it led me, as a physical educator, to better self-understanding.
Melva Herman Melva lives in La Loche coming from British Columbia after completing her education. From her many years in the North, she is passionate about making early childhood education meaningful for Dene children. Project Title: The Dene-Italian Connection: Tradition, Independence, Mastery. The ideas of Maria Montessori have been attractive to Melva since she was introduced to her work as early as high school and later at university. Over the years, teaching in the North in a Dene speaking community, she has seen her teaching approach become more formal and organized due to class sizes and school division mandates. As she entered graduate studies Melva experienced discontent with her teaching and was looking for ways to help her children develop mastery and independence while maintaining traditional values. This study describes Melva’s journey of incorporating Montessori methods to enhance independence and mastery in a Dene Kindergarten classroom. The project involved making changes to her classroom layout, daily scheduling, teaching methods and materials, and then reflecting on these changes to determine how they affected her students. As part of changing the classroom environment, Melva rearranged the furniture in her classroom and added new material to create more interactive learning. One significant change was the organization of breakfast program supplies in the classroom so students could learn to get snacks and juice by themselves. Children were also taught how to independently select materials when they entered the classroom. Finally, Melva describes the changes she made to her teaching style moving from direct teaching to “directress (not yet)” including movement and voice tone. She also talks about the struggles to make these changes. In the section discussing new understandings, Melva claims that her students have become more independent in the classroom. She attributes this to both the Montessori approach and the use of the Circle of Courage teachings. However, she concludes that she has much more to learn about this approach and its application to the Dene culture. In her reflections on the use of action research, Melva sees this methodology as well suited for teachers who are experiencing discontent in their practice. The intent of action research, according to her, is “not to generate general theories about education to be applied in a blanket manner to all students, but to aid teachers in providing the best possible education to their students.”
Darren Linklater Darren comes from Pelican Narrows and is a graduate of NORTEP. He currently is the vice-principal of the school. Darren has a strong belief in listening to students to find out their opinions in the process of making school a better place. Project Title: How Can I Improve My Practice of Addressing Bullying in My Classroom and School? Prior to this action research project, Darren had become more and more concerned about increasing levels of bullying and violence in his community and school. Reconnaissance on the topic, conducted by interviewing teachers in his school, revealed that it was indeed a problem worth pursuing through action research. The Circle of Courage model was used as the conceptual framework for his study. Collaborating with several colleagues, Darren developed a unit on bullying, consisting of 12 lessons, and then implemented it in his classroom over a 3-week period. The first lesson focused on the Circle of Courage model in order to teach students traditional ways to treat others (Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity). The unit involved the students in the following activities: making Circle of Courage banners, making posters containing definitions of bullying, making anti-bullying posters, doing a school survey and representing the results with charts, carrying out interviews, producing an information newsletter, producing and delivering a local radio broadcast, setting up an information booth in the community, making presentations to other classrooms, and producing an anti-bullying DVD. In his final report on the project, Darren describes how each of these activities unfolded and shares his observations on how the students responded to each activity. Reflecting on the unit after completing the project, Darren writes that the teacher can make a difference to reduce bullying in the classroom. He also comes to realize that the Circle of Courage had a strong impact on students. To reflect his understanding of this model, Darren redesigned the four quadrant circle to include a centre called forgiveness to reflect his Aboriginal northern values. Darren makes the claim in his report that he has changed as a teacher as a result of doing the action research project: In the end, I was fortunate enough to see that I needed to change to be a better teacher for my studentsâ€™ sake. I have learned this from my students that were part of the project. I am more pleased with the studentsâ€™ growth and development as young people. They certainly have the courage to try and all they need is direction. They demonstrate the virtues of the Circle of Courage of Belonging, Generosity, Independence, and Mastery, and they also learned Forgiveness. I have learned to pay more attention to their learning.
Grace McKenzie Grace comes from Pelican Narrows but has made Stanley Mission her home, teaching in the high school there. She is committed to finding ways to motivate student learning. Grace is a NORTEP graduate. Project Title: Finding Interest and Relevance: Engaging Aboriginal Students in Reading and Writing Activities Through Multiple Intelligences. Grace’s interest in engaging her students in learning came from her observations as a beginning teacher that students did not appear to be motivated to learn. While pursuing this dilemma, and reading about differentiated instruction, Grace decided to implement this new approach in her classroom, to increase motivation to learn. This action research project took place in a Grade 9 classroom in a First Nation community. Grace began the project by exploring the theoretical frameworks of student engagement, constructivism, and differentiated instruction using multiple intelligences. The literature convinced Grace that these frameworks nicely complemented Aboriginal pedagogical approaches, particularly in language arts. For her initial action, Grace taught the first unit in language arts focusing on the curriculum theme “All That I Am” to help her get to know her students’ preferences in terms of interests and learning profiles. Grace explains in her paper how differentiated instruction was integrated with the cultural background of her students. She also documents the activities used in the classroom to incorporate differentiated instruction through multiple intelligences. Reflecting on new understandings, Grace claims that she has become a different kind of teacher becoming more student-centered than before by stressing student readiness, interests, and learning profiles. She also experienced a stronger sense of community in her classroom. Because of this action research study, students are much more eager to collaborate with one another. Through collaboration comes a shared responsibility for learning in our classroom. Collaboration in our classroom has brought about positive relationships. As these relationships grew in our classroom, whether it was studentstudent or student-teacher, there was an improvement in the classroom environment, which changed to become a welcoming, safe place for them, with students more willing to collaborate with one another, and also with me.
Pam Sanderson Pam teaches students with special needs in Churchill Community High School in La Ronge. As a graduate of NORTEP, with expertise in several other fields, Pam is a strong advocate for the holistic educational development of northern children. Project Title: Aboriginal Ways and Instruction in a Functional Integration Program. Before embarking on this project, Pam had experienced a disconnect between her understanding of how special needs students should be taught and Ministry and school division expectations for these students. In particular, she questioned the viability of teaching isolated life skills in her Functional Integrated Program. This action research project involved approaching her teaching in a more holistic way by using her northern teaching experiences, her traditional Aboriginal teaching practices, and her knowledge of special education studentsâ€™ abilities. This action research project focused on implementing holistic teaching in the area of language and communication in a Functional Integrated Program for students with moderate to severe cognitive disabilities. Pam implemented a series of Circle Teachings so students could explore their abilities to communicate with a variety of people in the classroom and in community settings. Talking Circles were used to develop their communication. Data of critical incidences were collected to determine the effectiveness of these holistic teaching practices. Pam involved Grades 10 and 11 students as well as 1st- year education students as volunteers to help with this holistic approach to broaden her studentsâ€™ social interaction experiences. Pam describes a holistic teaching session in her paper and goes on in her paper to describe how she maintained and expanded the holistic instructional practices in her classroom. She also reflects on the meaning of integration and inclusion for her students: I believe there is an unexplored integrity behind maintaining my instructive holistic Aboriginal educational practices. It is my hope the Eurocentric education system will allow me to further explore place-based learning practices, because I feel holistic practices can effectively enhance my studentsâ€™ communication skills, improve their diverse abilities and enable their participation in the development of a healthier community. I feel both integration and inclusion provide too narrow of a learning experience for my students with disabilities, and I will continue to expand my understanding of the effectiveness of holistic educational practices.
Rosalena Smith Rosalena comes from Pinehouse Lake and is a graduate of NORTEP. She has been an administrator in her home community and is now a consultant with the Northern Lights School Division, working to develop school councils in the North. Project Title: Incorporating First Nations and Métis Culture into the Classroom Through Action Research. Rosalena came to this action research project with the concern that students are not aware of their First Nations and Métis culture and heritage. As a result, she has witnessed the effect negative messages have had on these students throughout her teaching career. Therefore, Rosalena decided to incorporate more teaching about Aboriginal culture and heritage into her classroom using the Circle of Courage and SchoolPLUS models as conceptual frameworks. In the 2008-09 school year, Rosalena started the project by administering a parent survey to gather opinions concerning cultural programming. Then she held a discussion with her Grade 2 students to determine their understanding of what the terms First Nations or Métis meant to them, discovering that they had little knowledge or understanding of their heritage. Next, she organized an overnight camping trip including the school Elder to provide the students with an opportunity to experience how their ancestors lived off the land in order to survive. In her report, Rosalena describes the trip on the lake with her students where they learned about fishing, about northern animals like the beaver and rabbit, and also to cook on an open fire. Another change in her teaching involved bringing 10 different Elders into the classroom to tell the old stories, and describes each of these events in detail. She believes that change has happened as a result of her project. She ends the paper by talking about her own Aboriginal identity and how it was formed. In particular, she remembers the influence the Elders had on her: The connections that were created with the Elders always reminded me of who I was as a Métis person. Many of these connections between the youth and the Elders have been severed for various reasons. As an educator, I will continue to try and bring the gaps together so that the children can learn about their cultural identity and be proud of who they are as First Nations and Métis people. The Elders need to be involved in the education of our children. The education system will not be able to continue to have successful outcomes without the involvement of Elders.
Theme Six: Advocating for Northern People Walter Smith Walter’s home community is Pinehouse Lake but he has lived in several northern communities. He is a graduate of NORTEP and the only graduate of the graduate program not working in the field of education. Walter is a manager with CAMECO in La Ronge. Project Title: Cameco —Northern Workforce Development: Advocating for Northern People. Working as a manager in the mining industry, Walter shares, in his project paper, how Cameco has worked towards training and employing more northern people, and how he has been involved in this development as an advocate for northern people. In his paper, he shares the tension he experiences as a manager on the one hand, and as a northerner on the other, and how he is able to better live in this tension. As a key player in the corporation’s Northern Workforce Strategy, Walter explains that, for northern people, advocacy is important so that local people can support themselves and their families. The strategy employed “creates workforce capacity and workforce process expertise within the northern population to ensure a greater voice in decision making processes when further major developments occur in Northern Saskatchewan.” He shows how Aboriginal culture is valued within this workplace strategy that is aimed at greater participation of northern people. Walter shares his personal story as a backdrop to his current role within the uranium mining industry. He traces his personal development through his experiences and particularly his NORTEP experience of becoming a teacher. He realizes that “the very ability I have now is built upon the concerted effort of many previous northern people who initiated the process of building capacity for the engagement and self determination of northern people.” Background to understanding this project is given by Walter in sections describing the NAD (Northern Administration District) and a history of uranium mining in Saskatchewan. He also traces the development of northern labour force development in the mining sector, and as well, explains how the corporation now attempts to understand the needs of northerners, including support for northern students who want to further their education. Walter claims that this engagement process is helping northern communities understand the legal and political authority they have. Concluding his paper, Walter claims that through this project he has learned to better live in the tension of being a manager and being an Aboriginal northerner.
Theme Seven: Exploring Teacher Aboriginal Identity Cheryl Morin Cheryl did her formal schooling in the South and then came to teach in the North. She has taught for many years in Pelican Narrows. Cheryl has a strong commitment to teaching traditional Cree values to girls to foster their overall wellness. Project Title: How do I Implement the Traditional Woodland Cree Values in my Professional Development and Daily Teaching Practices? Beginning with a brief history of colonization of Aboriginal people, Cheryl comes to a question for her project that forms the title of her final paper. She uses a personal narrative to describe the gap between her beliefs and personal practice involving her own response to being in the “crossfire of words and behaviours that occur between family, school, and community members, which creates feelings of angst.” Cheryl determines to change a component of her practice as a way of reducing the belief/practice gap. Her project created extracurricular opportunities for 10 Grade 5 females, and herself, “to learn about wellness on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level by incorporating the traditional Woodland Cree values into the Medicine Wheel and Circle of Courage frameworks.” To initiate action, Cheryl did a general survey to discover the girls’ extracurricular interests, “which indicated that the girls were interested in food preparation, non competitive sports, crafts, and the creative arts like drama and dancing.” The after school extracurricular program was designed from the survey results and discussions with the girls. Reporting on the three action research cycles of the project, Cheryl provides descriptions of activities that formed each cycle for each after school session, and then discusses what she learned from the project as it evolved from one cycle to another. Commenting on the project, after it was completed, Cheryl noted that she had both a much better understanding of the needs of the children, and a new self-understanding that developed from the use of action research to resolve a belief/practice gap. New self-understanding has come from the use of action research according to Cheryl: I regard the ancient Medicine Wheel ideology in a new way. I know that everyone needs help navigating societal pressures and changes, including me. By learning how to deal with and understand my own issues using the Medicine Wheel as a guide, I will become more grounded, confident and more open to allow others to help me learn about my Woodland Cree culture.
Theme Eight: Structuring Schooling for Success Cheryl Herman Cheryl comes from La Loche and has been a teacher in the North, language consultant for the Prince Albert Grand Council, and most recently language consultant with Northern Lights School Division. She is a graduate of NORTEP. Project Title: Ways to Make Schools and Learning More Meaningful for Students in Order to Retain Them. Cheryl begins her report with the story of a teenage at-risk girl she interviewed as a part of her action research study. The story tells of the clash between this girl’s personal lifestyle with school. She ends the story at the end of the paper showing how, with support, this student does succeed at school. The study takes place in an extension school in an urban centre offering alternative programming opportunities for high school students such as counselling services, addiction treatment, and child care services. It is a school where the Circle of Courage philosophy is in place. Although this project is called an action research study, Cheryl focuses primarily on the reconnaissance phase; learning as much as possible about student retention before actually taking action and studying the effects of that action. As well as interviewing students, she also interviewed teachers, an administrator, and two non-attenders. Cheryl shows evidence that the Circle of Courage is indeed being used in the school. Data were further analyzed to show student needs and possible actions that can be taken to improve student retention. She comes to the conclusion that there are better ways to keep students in school, and suggests: Although we research the strategies, the reasons, the possibilities and so forth if we do not attempt to go beyond conventional means of educating, schools will continue to see students dropping out. I have personally gained more insight into this issue and am willing now to try other strategies rather than standing at the board all day and checking off the material that needs to be covered in the curriculum. We can fulfill the requirements of curriculum in more innovative and constructive ways. In the last section of the paper entitled “Hope for Student Retention,” Cheryl reflects on the benefits of culturally relevant education and also the Circle of Courage Model and how each of the four areas can be developed in a classroom.
Stephen King Stephen comes from British Columbia and has been a teacher for many years in La Loche. He is presently the principal of the schools there. He sees many possibilities for the use of technology in northern education to bridge school and community. Project Title: Personalizing Online Learning in a Northern Aboriginal Community. The motivation to undertake this project emerged from what Stephen calls â€œa contradiction of practice.â€? As an administrator, Stephen came to the conclusion, based on attendance statistics, that the strict attendance policy in his school has not improved poor attendance. Faced with the realities of long standing poor school attendance in his community and with a deeper understanding of the culture of his community, Stephen began to see the challenge as one of delivering the high school program differently; he then turned to technology to offer online modules to students. This action research project involved following school students enrolled in online courses. The project began with an invitation to the staff of the northern online school to come to the community to do a presentation with both students and staff. After this event, Stephen became more active in advertising online learning possibilities in the community. Cycle 2 of the project began with the new fall semester during which time Stephen assisted students taking online courses. Cycle 3 involved modifying his practice to provide more practical help to students taking a different online course. In Cycle 4, he enlisted the help of other high school teachers to help online students. In Cycle 5, Stephen adds e-mail to his strategies to assist students with their online learning. One of the unanticipated outcomes from the project was the benefit to the school in having adults from the community returning to high school. Reflecting on the project in the paper, Stephen claims that this project has not just been about increasing credits taken by students, but rather has been about his own practice as an educator and the clash of his beliefs with the community. He goes on to say that: Action research has proven to be an effective way to identify problems in my practice, to collaborate with colleagues, make plans for action, and then reflect on the actions before moving on to new actions. Action research has improved my reflective skills as a professional and it has helped me find a way to engage staff in professional growth.
Pauline McKay Pauline is a long time northern educator who grew up in Cumberland House. She has been an administrator at several schools, presently the principal with Sturgeon Lake First Nation. Pauline is passionate about improving high school education for Aboriginal youth. Project Title: “Setting Up Camp” Block Scheduling in a First Nation School. This action research study examines the impact of the One-Month Block system (Copernican block schedule) implemented in a First Nation School, and compares the new system with the semester system. Pauline opens the paper with a brief history of First Nation education in Canada along with a section on the reality of First Nation schools. Her main concern is the despair brought about by poverty and unemployment often resulting in poor attendance and high dropout rates. In this study, Pauline monitored student progress in the One-Month block system over a 4-month period, and compared the results with the previous semester. The study took place in a small band school in a First Nation community with about 70 students and four teachers. Data were collected on credits and marks distribution, attendance rates, drop-out rates, discipline reports, and graduation levels. Pauline reports a number of improvements and successes with the block system including: better teacher-student relationships; a greater variety of teaching strategies were used by teachers; attendance issues decreased since tracking fewer students was easier; planning for “surprise” school closures was better; grades improved due to more intense time on specific subjects; teachers found it easier to work with returning students; and teachers preferred the One-Month Block system. Reflecting on the project, Pauline realizes that implementing change is difficult for an administrator. However, she reports learning many things in the process about the block system, the students, and also herself. The research process convinces her that she is on the right track for improving high school education for First Nation schools: The semester system has not been successful in keeping our youth in school. We have used this system for decades; it is time to try something different. If the block system proves to be successful for the long-term in our community, it may present an alternative way to deliver education on other reserves. Our problems as First Nation peoples are without borders. We have the same statistics no matter what province, city, town, or reserve we live in. This project may open doors for other reserve schools in Canada to explore different approaches to delivering education on reserves that suit the needs and ways of aboriginal students.
Minnie McKenzie Minnie is a Cree immersion consultant with the Lac La Ronge First Nation. She comes from Stanley Mission and is a graduate of NORTEP. She is a strong advocate of biculturalism to bridge Aboriginal and nonAboriginal languages and culture. Project Title: How To Improve My Practice of Implementing Cree Immersion Programs: A Journey Towards Personal and Professional Development. The purpose of this action research study, according to Minnie, is to find the most effective way of implementing a Cree language program through her role as a curriculum consultant and developer. Minnie begins her report with an overview of previous work done in her community on immersion and bilingual programs including a teacher training program for band members, some who were hired to teach Cree and others to work as teacher assistants. Minnie makes the case for the need to implement Cree language immersion programs, citing studies from the language revitalization literature. She also presents some examples of successful immersion programs from other countries. Throughout this section, insight is provided into Aboriginal ways of language and culture gained from her life experiences. The Cree immersion implementation team included Minnie forming the Cree Immersion Advisory Committee made up of educational administrators of the First Nation, the school administrator, the curriculum consultant for the curriculum project, and three immersion teachers. Minnie interviewed members of this committee to gain their insights as the program was being implemented in a First Nation school. Minnie follows the implementation process from the first meetings right through to the graduation of the first immersion group from Kindergarten in June 2009. Minnie comments on the usefulness of the action research process to implement the Cree immersion program, and carry its development into the future: This action research cycle of acting, observing, and reflecting is a process that occurred in this journey of how to implement a Cree immersion program. We will continue to use the cycle of action research for the next 5 years from Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, then onto Grade 4. In 2014, if all is well the first group of students will finish the 5-year plan of the Cree immersion program. Then, they will integrate into the English stream while continuing to acquire the Cree language as a core language program 1 hour daily.
Program Template and Record of Courses Delivered UNIVERSITY OF REGINA, FACULTY OF EDUCATION COMMUNITY-BASED MASTER OF EDUCATION PROGRAM NORTEP Cohort: La Ronge, Saskatchewan
YEAR ONE (2007-08)
YEAR TWO (2008-09)
SUMMER ED 815: Dr. David Friesen Action Research July 3-6; 9-12; 16-19 Summer Institute
SUMMER EC&I 857: Dr. Val Mulholland North Saskatchewan Writers Project July 2-18 ED 870 AS: Dr. Carol Fulton Sustainability, Community and Education July 2-18 FALL ED 870 AR: Dr. Linda Goulet Aboriginal Education Sept 13/14; Oct 4/5; Nov 1/2; Nov 22/23
FALL EC&I 804: Dr. Liz Cooper Curriculum Development Sept 7/8; Sept 28/29; Nov 2/3; Nov 24/25 Weekend face-to-face
WINTER Elective (online) Choice of elective from the following online offerings:
WINTER ED 870 AK: Dr. Stephen Kemp Leadership for Community Schools Jan 7-Apr 26 Online
a. EC&I 831: Dr. Alec Couros Computers in the Classroom b. EC&I 832: Dr. Vi Maeers Internet and Curriculum Integration SPRING ED 900 Project: Dr. David Friesen Submission of action research project and presentation (final 3 credits of project work granted for completed project)
SPRING EC&I 808: Dr. David Friesen Instruction: Theory and Practice May 16-19 (Spring Term May 5-June 18) Blended weekend symposium and online ED 900 Project: Dr. David.Friesen: (3 credits granted for project in progress)
A SIDRU Publication Faculty of Education University of Regina Regina, SK S4S 0A2 67
A Study of the Community-Based Master's Program in Northern Saskatchewan, a University of Regina, Faculty of Education initiative
Published on Nov 30, 2011
A Study of the Community-Based Master's Program in Northern Saskatchewan, a University of Regina, Faculty of Education initiative