For students to learn, the classroom must be welcoming, and the work meaningful, an audience of over 100 parents, teachers and elders heard at School District 50’s educational symposium, held in Skidegate on Friday.
“Students succeed when attitudes are positive and optimistic,” said keynote speaker Lorna Williams of the Ministry of Education. Classrooms need to be relaxed, comfortable, accepting, welcoming, and non-competitive. “To go beyond stress and fear, students have to feel they belong.”
Teachers create this kind of atmosphere in the classroom, said Ms Williams. She acknowledged that teachers have a difficult task, especially when they don’t feel very positive in the classroom. However, classroom atmosphere is vital to the learning environment for all students, especially those of aboriginal descent. “For aboriginal students, relationships are the single most important factor in their success,” said Ms Williams.
“It is often said that our children are our future, but I want to flip that and say that we are their future. We are the ones who pave the way,” said Ms Williams.
Aboriginal education is highly politicized, said Ms Williams. Aboriginal people feel suspicious of education because it has been used as a tool to destroy their language and culture. Yet at the same time, educational success is celebrated in aboriginal communities as an important achievement.
One of the biggest challenges for teachers is to figure out how to make the provincial curriculum personally and culturally relevant to aboriginal students. “In order for learning to be something for which I strive, it has to be meaningful in my life,” said Ms Williams. Aboriginal students are under-represented in academic subjects like math and sciences, which they need to secure high paying jobs in the future. Any discussion of aboriginal student success has to include finding ways to help them succeed in these courses because “without these course our children’s future is non-existent,” says Ms Williams.
As well as hearing from Ms Williams, participants listened to student delegates from Queen Charlotte Secondary and George M. Dawson Secondary Schools present summaries of student surveys given out at both schools.
At both ends of the islands, students saw excessive homework as a problem, and asked teachers and parents to make more of an effort to communicate. In the surveys, students acknowledged they have to make more of an effort to motivate themselves to get the work done, but they say it would be easier if their courses were more meaningful and interesting.
At GMD, students said their own attitudes were the biggest barrier to achievement, but teachers were a close second. Students would like teachers to communicate better, parents to be more supportive and the district to meet with student leaders as well as teachers and parents, said presenters Laura Bell and Jacob Hillier.
At QCSS, students agreed that too much homework and boring courses were a problem. They also said more sleep and more interest from parents would help them achieve.
When asked how to make students’ school experience more meaningful, two QCSS students said students would like to be in the community with adults more often to see what they do and how they interact in the workplace. Students would also welcome community members coming into the classroom to talk about their work to help students see a connection between their studies and the real world.
The one-day symposium at Sk’aadgaa Naay school was organized by the school district and included other presentations including one on the accountability contract, the importance of cultural awareness, and imaginative education. It’s the first such symposium ever held in the district.
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