An initiative that focuses on teacher practice to support the engagement of Indigenous students in their learning is helping guide the work of educators at Mount Royal and Bedford Road collegiates.
Following Their Voices focuses on the relationships, interactions, and environment that Indigenous students and educators experience every school day. Through the initiative, teachers are adapting their work to ensure that Indigenous students are engaged in learning, have a sense of belonging, and achieve greater educational success.
Bedford Road was one of five Saskatchewan high schools that piloted the program during the second semester of 2015, with Mount Royal coming on board at the start of the 2015–16 school year.
As one of the priorities in the provincial Education Sector Strategic Plan, Following Their Voices is a Saskatchewan-specific initiative based on research conducted with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students, parents/caregivers, teachers, and school administrators about how schools can provide what those students need from their education. It is designed to raise the achievement and participation of Indigenous students and improve the on-time graduation rate, defined as graduation within three years of starting Grade 10.
"The 'voices' of these groups of people were clear about what was working and what needed to change in our education system," says Kate Clements, a teacher with Saskatoon Public Schools. "Their words and insights—along with international research, guidance and advice from Elders and knowledge keepers—formed the foundation of this initiative. Following Their Voices is really about educators working together to make learning more joyful and purposeful. It is about good teaching practice and listening to what the voices are telling us in regard to what works and does not work when it comes to learning."
Mount Royal and Bedford Road have strategic change leadership teams responsible for implementation of the initiative at the school level. The team provides professional learning and facilitators work with educators to observe teaching and check for student engagement, provide feedback, develop a plan for student growth, and provide ongoing support. Educators and administrators work to create change that results in new practices and reflect on values and beliefs, recognizing privilege, and engaging in anti-racist/ anti-oppressive pedagogy.
The initiative's success reflects how educators create balance in the classroom by sharing the power and ensuring that students clearly understand the learning outcomes and what mastery of each looks like. Teachers are investing in learning opportunities that respond to students' interests and needs and are using a range of teaching strategies to promote accelerated growth.
Practices that encompass caring relationships and safe, well-managed learning environments allow students to take risks in their learning, while interactions that demonstrate involvement and mastery of learning are resulting in increased student attendance, engagement, and achievement.
"Students remember the educators who greeted them with kindness, asked them meaningful questions, shared connecting stories, and had high expectations for their learning," Clements says.
"This focus on relationships, interactions, and environment provides space for students to develop or further establish a secure personal and cultural identity. When students know who they are and where they come from, this is a strong basis for successfully navigating life. Following Their Voices schools promote advocacy in building up Indigenous student voice, all the while role modelling self-advocacy and in turn, graduating students who can speak for themselves and make informed choices."