Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why Aboriginal Veterans' Day Matters: A Remembrance

You remember in army cadets that one time, you were on exercise and the troop was given the task of building shelters. You were handed rope and tarp and other little essentials with which to carry out the project.  Your Dad, one of our instructors, then came up to you and took everything away.  You protested but he silenced it when he said "What are the odds you will have everything you will need to survive?"  No one explicitly said this is how to build a shelter, but as you stood there, your Dad nudged a broken branch with his foot and always sort of stood near the next piece of the puzzle, making you figure it out on your own, although  you realize now that you were never alone.  By the end of it, you had a full audience of cadets and instructors who applauded the completed (but far from perfect) shelter.  The only response that mattered was the soft "Well done" from your Dad.

Your father was Saulteaux and Métis-Cree and he joined the Canadian Armed Forces when he was seventeen, an Engineer, though, for the life of you, you can't remember which Corps. In this career, he served in Gagetown, Chilliwack (where he added a wife to the army life and you as well), West Germany back when there was a West Germany, Chilliwack, Esquimalt, Kingston, Borden, Vancouver and retirement. While serving, he also worked as a radio deejay and a television commentator. He taught in the army cadets.

Not content to retire, he joined the RCMP and continued to serve, taking a special interest in seeing that the Aboriginal youth in his posting were treated fairly. He started the Seabird Island Army Cadets to give them something to do (it saddens you to see the Native youth were forgotten and abandoned by the Corps after his passing). You remember one night, after a long shift as a night security officer at the provincial park, he pulled you over, full sirens and everything, only to be told to "Call your mother, she hasn't heard from you in days."

One night, right before Christmas 2002, he went out and never returned. He died of natural causes but he died in the line of duty. He is and was a veteran. He served.

Every year, you remind anyone who will listen to acknowledge and teach about Aboriginal Veterans' Day. You do it for Cst. Vernon Genaille and all the others who step up to serve. They choose to serve for many reasons: to escape the Rez, to protect their ancestral homelands, to honour the treaties, because they believe in something better (hard to understand when you think of how Canada is treating First Nations at the moment). They served in hostile environments within their own countries, their own units. They watched the military deployed against their own people on some occasions. On Friday, you will put out some tobacco, take a moment of silence and then continue to look for, in your role as educator, as filmmaker, as blogger, that better tomorrow you are sure he was working on creating. And hopefully, someday, you will hear a soft "well done" in that space between sleep and awake.

BCTF Survey of Teachers Self-identified of Aboriginal Ancestry UPDATE: *DEADLINE EXTENDED TO NOVEMBER 20*

The BC Teachers' Federation has put up a request inviting teachers, who self-identify as having Aboriginal ancestry, to complete a survey to help the Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee (I used to be a member) determine a) the needs of Aboriginal teachers, b) how they can be supported and c) get an idea of the numbers that are currently in our education system.

From the site:
"The purpose of the survey is to collect data that will assist the BCTF in providing support and encouragement to Aboriginal teachers. The information will be used to guide the BCTF in ways to provide support to new teachers, to assist current teachers in their work, and to support the planning and implementation of employment equity for Aboriginal staff throughout the education system."

I hope that, if you self-identify, you'll consider checking out and completing the survey. There is so much support needed that we do need to find out how to build our community.

The survey can be found here:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Call for Articles for English Practice: Starting a Circle

When we move into a circle, we are moving into a space where there is no hierarchies, no boss and employee, no teacher and student.  In a circle, we are all on the same level and all are offered the same opportunity to contribute and to share, with the larger group, our experiences and truths.  Generally, we pass around something considered imbued with power, I usually use an eagle feather but I also have a pouch of stones that are meaningful to me (and, as such, have power) as well as talking stones, talking sticks, something with meaning.  We pass the object around and we share, in safety.  A circle can be used to just share but it is also a place where we can learn, a place to explore what we know and what we want to know. 

Which is why BCTELA's journal, English Practice, has titled its next issue Starting a Circle: Exploring Aboriginal Education.  I am guest co-editing this issue and would like to invite you to submit articles, lesson plans, reviews or arts and literary based pieces on this theme.  From the BCTELA website:

Spring 2014. Theme: Starting a Circle: Exploring Aboriginal Education
This issue is devoted to exploring the vital importance as well as challenges of integrating First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives, voices, texts, curricula and teaching and learning practices within English Language Arts. We invite educators and scholars from British Columbia and beyond to explore significant issues arising from landmark events and curricular shifts in BC, which reflect larger questions related to the future of Aboriginal Education and English Language Arts.

In October 2013, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held a national event in British Columbia, and the TRC Education Event drew more than 5000 students from across BC. What does reconciliation mean in our classrooms? How can we support students in finding their role within reconciliation? What legacies of residential schools remain in BC schools and beyond, and how can we as Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal educators address these in our practices?

The inclusion of Aboriginal focused outcomes in every subject and at every level is an important element of change to the BC curriculum. How do we increase our ability to integrate Aboriginal content throughout our educational practice? How do we work proactively as a professional community towards these ends?

In British Colombia and elsewhere, the graduation rate for Aboriginal students continues to lag far behind non-Aboriginal students. Aboriginal students are overrepresented in courses such as BC's Communications 12 course, which offers a modified pathway towards graduation. What approaches support engagement, inclusion, powerful outcomes and greater success for Aboriginal learners in English Language Arts? What practices support increased Aboriginal graduation outcomes?

BC has one the most innovative Indigenous literature courses in the world - English First Peoples 12 - which utilizes engaging texts, is founded on the First People Principles of Learning, and is supported by a teacher's resource guide. Yet only a few hundred students take this course each year. How do we meaningfully and ethically integrate First Peoples' texts and curriculum into our practices? What barriers and tensions exist and how do we address these?

Closing date: February 15th, 2014.
Contact: Robert Genaille, or Pamela Richardson

Below is the criteria for the journal, which can also be found on their website,

Criteria for English Practice

English Practice provides you with the opportunity to write and be read. Your viewpoints, lessons, opinions, research (formal or informal) are welcomed in formats ranging from strategies, lesson plans and units, to more formal compositions and narratives exploring big ideas in teaching and learning, to creative writing.
English Practice publishes contributions on all facets of language arts learning, teaching and research, focusing on the intermediate, middle and secondary grades. The journal offers teachers of a practical, user-friendly guide to research-based practices.
We have four sections with the following guidelines to assist you in preparing and submitting your writing:

Teaching Ideas (teaching strategies, lesson plans, unit plans)
Articles should
  • have a clear purpose (i.e. articulate specific learning goals for students)
  • acknowledge your perspective/background/role (i.e. grade 6 teacher; have used reading workshops for 10 years; trying to embed more targeted strategy instruction in my teaching)
  • provide a description of instruction that outlines how modeling or scaffolding is used
  • offer specific classroom practices that are grounded in research (backed up with current thinking, research reference(s))
  • be well organized and clear
  • ensure that any student samples, graphic organizers, and/or handouts are readable and reproducible
  • ensure that formative and summative assessment are aligned with instruction 
  • include information on any student and/or professional resources that may be useful for readers
  • include a summary and/or reflection
  Investigating Our Practice (action research, reflection on practice over time, narrative)
Articles should:
  • introduce and outline the purpose and process of inquiry
  • explore a big idea in teaching and learning over time
  • acknowledge your perspective/background/role in relation to issues, big ideas, and/or inquiry question(s) (i.e. "I believe in democratic schooling, but I hadn't recently looked at how what I do was or was not working"; "I have been teaching for 18 years and oral language has always been important to me. However, I want to know how I can help my students actually improve their speaking and listening abilities.")
  • include reflections made before and after the teaching practice
  • typically be narrative in style
  • relate your own thinking and practice to current thinking and research
  • be well organized and clear
  • include synthesis and/or next steps 
  • include a list of references in APA format
Salon (literary and arts-based explorations, or opinion pieces)
Pieces should

  • be related to teaching and learning, curriculum theory and philosophy, language and literacy, or English language arts
  • use form effectively 
  • be engagingly written (first person, present tense, ideas are effectively linked and language choice heightens meaning)
  • acknowledge your perspective/background/role, especially in opinion pieces
Check This Out (includes reviews, announcements of contests and conferences)
Articles should

  • acknowledge your perspective/background/role (i.e. teach grades 9-12 English; looking for novels related to the theme of...; "I am always looking for new ideas related to diversity in the classroom")
  • have clearly explained and supported ideas and/or opinions
  • Book, website, or other resource reviews should include a target audience and some ideas for application in the classroom.
  • Authors must not have a personal or a financial stake in what is being announced or reviewed.
I am honoured to have been asked to be a part of this project with the BC Teachers of English Language Arts and look forward to hearing from you and reading your submissions.