Resiliency and Leadership - Spiral of Inquiry Chief Paul Niditchie

Resiliency and Leadership -­ Spiral of Inquiry Chief Paul Niditchie School Tsiigehtchic, NWT Team: Tara Zuk, Darcy Douglas, Renie Koe, Nora Sargent Our question: Will adapting the Health curriculum for our grades 4-­9 classes, providing a focus on mindful leadership, resiliency, conflict resolution, and social and emotional aspects of learning, increase the resiliency of our students in terms of reducing aggressive behaviours and developing conflict resolution skills? Background information: Chief Paul Niditchie School (CPNS) serves the community of Tsiigehtchic in the Northwest Territories. Situated in the Arctic Circle just south of Inuvik on the Dempster Highway, Tsiigehtchic is located where the Arctic Red River meets the Mackenzie River. Being on the opposite side of the river from the highway, Tsiigehtchic is accessible by ferry during the summer months, and an ice bridge during the winter. The community is ‘cut off’ twice a year for the periods during freeze up and break up. CPNS has a student body of approximately 25 students ranging from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 9. There are three classes with full time teachers, a teaching principal taking the older cohort, plus a language / culture teacher who also has a role as a classroom assistant. The student population of CPNS are 100% aboriginal learners -­ mostly Gwichya Gwich’in, which is also their traditional language / dialect. 1. Scanning -­ what is going on for learners? Our school team have been very conscious of the emotional and behavioural challenges facing our youth, both in school and in the wider community setting. One very apparent aspect is that some of our students become very rapidly aggressive, upset and resistant when placed in situations that are challenging in any way. We have discussed at length -­ with teachers, elders, parents and the students themselves -­ what the fundamental and underlying issues might be. Resilience and social / emotional development were key areas identified to us through these investigations and conversations. Through observation and questioning, without making any prior assumptions, we pinpointed that some of the students were experiencing conflict and challenges, and were ill-­equipped to deal with them in an emotionally and socially appropriate manner. This was causing discord in all areas of these students’ lives -­ school, home, recreation and beyond -­ and preventing them from fully accessing education in a fulfilling and consistent way. Emotion and attitude is integral to successful educational and learning experiences. The stresses and emotional imbalance was leading to many students making poor life choices and exhibiting negative behaviour spirals -­ affecting their own learning and application as well as disrupting the learning of others. ​2. Focusing: We compiled information from initial ‘scanning’ conversations, observation and examined such data as behaviour reports, standardised testing results, and incident records. It was clear that our students were facing major challenges in the areas of social and emotional development. We also knew that we wanted our focus to be on developing mindful leadership skills, reducing bullying behaviour, focussing on health and well-­being, building strong and healthy relationships, recognising abusive language and behaviour in various settings, developing emotional strength to deal with conflict resolution, critical thinking and making healthy life choices. That seemed like a wide focus at first, but we realised that this all fit cleanly into the remit of the health curriculum of the school. By adapting the existing curriculum to more closely fit the specific needs of our students, we hoped to begin particularly address the areas where there might be a shortfall in skills and understanding. We also focused on the older students -­ our grades 4-­9 classes. We decided to ​explicitly​ teach the skills necessary for understanding what constitutes abusive behaviour, how to resolve internal and external conflicts, plus related areas of leadership, relationships and personal emotional stability and strength. 3. Developing a hunch: Our intuition, following the initial scanning conversations and observations, was driving us to explore the idea that maybe the students actually did not understand which of their behaviours were inappropriate in a school setting. We felt that perhaps there was a lack of understanding of what words and phrases and actions were actually fundamentally abusive in nature -­ some students were simply potentially unaware of how their behaviour was restricting choices, destroying efficacy, lowering self-­esteem, bullying others and disrupting learning. Our hunch led us to consider that this lack of understanding on behalf of the students meant that even when we as teachers were addressing the issues we faced daily in our classes, we were only ever dealing with the very tip of the iceberg, the visible surface of the behaviours. We were dealing with the immediate consequences of behaviour -­ unable to effectively deal with the antecedents, causes and deficiencies that underlie the challenges the students deal with. A further hunch is currently leading us to investigate the extent to which this lack of understanding of appropriate language and behaviour is due to a lack of understanding and practice by adult role models and carers in the community. 4. Learning: As a starting point, we felt the teachers needed to better understand the experiences and expectations of the community -­ the history, culture, background, triumphs and traumas of the community build a strong picture. As such, the teachers have spent time talking with elders, working on the land, sharing cultural experiences and learning about Residential Schools from local survivors, learning about traditional healing processes and culturally sensitive attitudes. Tara Zuk is also currently completing study through the University of British Columbia (UBC) on Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education. We felt strongly that teacher learning and understanding needed to bridge the gap -­-­ to directly match the needs of the students. We wanted to be as connected as possible, collaboratively involved in analysis, and being as informed as possible when taking action in this inquiry. For the students, we wanted to carefully consider our approaches -­ match our practices with the personal and cultural needs of the learners. We were aiming to deliver a new approach to addressing complex and sometimes emotionally intense issues, to challenge our own perceptions and approaches and attempt new ways of communicating and developing deeper learning that could be sustained and continue over time -­ providing the students not with a band-­aid fix, but a long term healing solution to conflict resolution and ingrained skills to encourage leadership and resilience across generations. 5. Taking Action: In order to address the issues we have identified, we are working as partners with the elders of Tsiigehtchic (Elders in School programme), the Tsiigehtchic Charter Community, the Tsiigehtchic DEA, the Justice and By-­Law officers, the parents and wider community of Tsiigehtchic. This involves having community members offering cultural education opportunities, resilience activities, restorative justice and community-­based behavioural guidance based upon the tenets of the Dene Kede. We are working in partnership with our local health centre, who will provide staff and resources for suitable programmes. Our research is building upon skill-­based education;; teaching life-­long skills that are transferable, developing emotional resilience, and creating mindful leaders and citizens. Firstly, we aim to continue to develop resources for delivering an adaptation of the ‘Respect Yourself’ curriculum. This will be culturally informed and involve the daily input of an authentic cultural voice. Our modules include;; * Maintaining personal safety, avoiding peer pressure, combating bullying (using ‘High Five’ techniques) and focusing on independence of thought and action -­ resilience to personal challenges. * Explicitly teaching the Dene Kede. Having Elders work within the school collaboratively, developing cultural values and self-­respect (pride in heritage and understanding cultural history). * Explicitly teaching what constitutes abusive language and behaviour. How to alter those behaviours into positive and appropriate modifications. * Teaching the history of residential schools from the survivors’ perspective. * Making good choices and setting life goals -­ learning how to be a role model and leader. Developing critical thinking to evaluate situations and choices. Learning to collaborate with peers, learning compromise and negotiation -­ the benefits of positive peer support. * Explicit teaching of ‘self talk’ as a path to emotional resiliency. How to ‘stay calm’ under pressure in a variety of situations. * Explicit teaching of what being a good friend and a good leader looks like. * How to recognise ‘feeling down’ and emotional vulnerability -­ developing coping skills and proactively addressing mental and emotional health issues. Additionally, Students may take part in the RCMP-­led D.A.R.E. programme for drug and alcohol awareness, as well as the ‘Don’t Be A Butthead’ anti-­smoking campaign (or similar) -­ with a focus on cultural attitudes to health, the cultural value of local tobacco and plants for healing. Students will be introduced to age-­appropriate sexual education through an approved health care provider -­ emotional strength and protection, saying no, peer pressure, good touch / bad touch, and self esteem -­ with birth control and sexual health being approached for older students. Students will follow the ‘Screen Smart’ NWT programme for developing healthy and culturally relevant lifestyles -­ spending time on the land and taking part in cultural sports. We also aim to begin/extend related extra-­curricular activities. One main focus will be to develop leadership and citizenship skills through creating and evolving a ​CPNS student council​ to allow for students’ active involvement in the decision-­making processes, the political process of elections / selection, and working together collaboratively -­-­ setting goals and putting the steps into practice to attain targets. There will be an art club -­ for emotional therapy, resilience and emotionally creative expression. Relaxation exercises will provide ‘brain gym’ training, potentially having an aerobics and exercise programme after school for physical health and relaxation. We will also be introducing meditation and mindful thought techniques from one of the elders. We also hope that by continuing involvement of older students in the Page Programme at the territorial parliament in Yellowknife -­ teaching about responsibility, leadership and the political process -­ will expose students to community involvement and positive role models, representing the interests of their culture and community. 6. Checking: Initially using formative assessment techniques, ultimately integrating more standardised summative data, we will constantly (daily) review the needs of the students and react / adapt appropriately. We are currently monitoring behaviour reports and associated incidents. We are keeping observational records of student behaviour and interaction. We are monitoring also the effect our action research is having on standardised summative assessments -­ whether students react more calmly to the process of facing challenges and conquering individual stressors, thereby improving overall performance. Since writing this report in December 2015, for example, reviewing and further scanning conversation has led us to reinforce our hunch about adult / parent / carer understanding of behaviours, self-­regulation, conflict resolution and resilience. Next steps: To this end, we are now investigating the possibility, through the Tsiigehtchic DEA, of beginning a parent support group, where parents first (and then parents and students together) will learn the explicit skills for leadership and resilience, directly reflecting the work in school, with students taking ownership with an active teaching role in passing on the skills to adults. This is an ongoing process that will surely continue to spiral back upon itself, constantly raising new questions and approaches. Tara Zuk 2015