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Posts Tagged ‘Indigenous Education’

I may be the most stereotypical teacher ever.

My parents were teachers.  Their parents were teachers.  I met my wife at work – we both were teachers.

I was also born in Canada.  And my parents were born in Canada as well.  

My backstory is that despite some early learning challenges, I was a good student.  I did well at school.  And then I graduated from high school, zoomed through university and at twenty-two years of age I was back at my former junior high school as a teacher.  

And 26 years later, education is the only career I have ever known.

And I think I was (and still am) a pretty good teacher.  But I also know we need to continue to do better to attract teachers to the profession who have a different story than I do.  For too long, too many teachers stories were very similar to mine.  The teaching profession was largely made-up of people who were successful at school, very often spoke English as their first language, were born in Canada, and also often went straight into teaching as a career without other real work experiences.  

We are trying to do better.  Just as we have diversity with our learners, we need diversity in the adults that work with them.  Having teachers who come to teaching after careers in construction or accounting or professional sports gives new perspectives to students and reminds them that for most, their work life will be made up of many different jobs.  Having teachers who struggled in school gives added voice to those in our classes who are struggling now.  School does not come easy for everyone, and adolescence is hard, so having teachers with non-linear life experiences helps.

And we want our teaching force just like our student population, to be culturally diverse, speaking different languages at home, and demonstrating that our schools are reflective of our communities.  And with our efforts around Reconciliation, we need to be better at recruiting Indigenous teachers on our staff.

And now with 75% or more of our teachers female, we need to find ways to ensure men see the professional as valuable.

I know this is all not really controversial.  But it is hard.  Changing the make-up of the adults that work in our schools is not only about who we hire, but also about who is encouraged to go into teaching.  And it goes all the way back to what we show young students about the profession, that representation matters.  

As we close another school year and look ahead, this is a topic I think a lot about.  It is a weird notion but we need to do better to hire and retain staff that are not like me. 

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One of the best parts of June is attending all of the graduation ceremonies in our schools. There is such a great energy and these events are full of nostalgia and excitement. I have used this space several times before to share some of the messages I have left with students as I got to address the grad classes. And I want to wrap-up this school year by doing that again.

In all the talk of schools being slow to change, I am struck how students are driving change around two key social issues of our time – that of Indigenous Education and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.  As adults move slowly, students just move and seem almost confused about why we are waiting.

The other topic I come back to this year is the positive choice so many families are making for public education.  In a community where families have more options than in most other places in the country our families overwhelmingly choose public education.  They see what their children get from a public school education, and equally important what they contribute to the system through their participation.

Taking out some of the school specific notes and other pleasantries, here are some of my key notes from this year’s grad speeches I have given:

I began doing the job of Superintendent when this year’s graduates were in grade 4.  And while you may know me best as the person responsible for not giving you any snow days during this period of time, I have had the chance to see our schools really change.

Your graduation looks very different from when I spoke to graduates in 2011.

I want to highlight two key social areas, really where you and your fellow students have shown the way for the adults.

The first area is Indigenous Education.  During your time in our schools we have moved from Indigenous Education being something that is studied in grade 4 and 11 to something that is integrated in all of our work.  We started with cultural projects, but moved to real human connections.  We were guided by the Truth and Reconciliation Report in our country, and students, like you, have led the way.  We are on the way to Reconciliation because of your leadership – helping guide the adults.  I am a Social Studies teacher, and 20 years ago, never mentioned Residential Schools in my classes, we all know now its place as part of our history.

The other area I want to highlight is another issue of social importance, the work around sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).  When you started school, there were arguments in British Columbia around books in schools which showed a range of different families. We have come a long way and again students like you have led the way.   Conversations from washrooms, to gay-straight alliance clubs to curriculum that teaches our diversity have at times seemed hard for the adults, but again not for the students.  When I am told that young people don’t have a huge impact on our values – I see the SOGI work and know they are wrong.  You have made our schools more open, more tolerant and more loving than they were even a decade ago.

And your steadfast commitments going forward will ensure the few loud voices around us who want to move us backwards will not win the day.

So, some things have changed – but others haven’t.  We are so deeply proud of our public schools in our community.

I know families have choices they can make on school – and my thanks to all of you for choosing public schools.  Whether you are going to work, for a gap year or off to college or university we hope you are academically prepared and more importantly prepared to be citizens for our world.

It is cliché, but it takes a community.  In West Vancouver, which is really like a small town, it takes the outstanding staff, committed and supportive parents, and dedicated students to make this system flourish.

My thanks to all of you for doing your parts.

It is a great honour to serve as Superintendent in West Vancouver.  We have the reputation as the finest education system in the country.  And each day I see it come alive in our schools – from academics, to athletics to the arts.  Thank you all for your contributions to this reputation and to our community.

Thanks again for reading, engaging and challenging this year here on Culture of Yes.  I will likely drop in for a post or two in the summer and back at full capacity in September.

Happy Summer.

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