Through the winter inquiry my senior kindergarten students and I are involved in at the moment, I have recently been reminded of the importance of seizing opportunities for students that can spark a sense of self and place within the school setting.
In one of our classes, we have a five-year old Inuk girl who is from Pangnirtung (on Baffin Island), and who was adopted by a family from the south. When we began talking about how people stay warm in the winter, her mother spoke to me of an opportunity for her daughter to bring in and share some of the clothing she has received from her family in Pangnirtung; a spring amauti (anorak), sealskin slippers and mittens, and a pair of sealskin kamik (boots).
Elisapie (not her real name) is a quiet student who plays happily with her friends and who engages in a variety of activities and learning opportunities during her school day without making a big splash. However, since beginning this journey of exploring the wonders of the north with her classmates and her unique connection to it, Elisapie has become a bit of a superstar. She is definitely proud of her uniqueness and this inquiry seems to have offered her an opportunity to step up and claim a place which is her own within the school setting. We have all noticed how she has become more engaged in class – asking where her amauti is every morning and wanting to put it on to go visit other classrooms in the school to show and tell all about it. When one classmate came back to school after an absence, Elisapie said, “I have to show her my amauti and slippers. When can I do that?” I am finding I occasionally need to open a window to get some cool, fresh air in the classroom before her cheeks start to glow red (sealskin is very warm), because she likes to wear them during centre time now. According to her mother, Elisapie talks more about her school day when she goes home in the afternoon, and also mentioned that Elisapie is showing an interest in going to Inuktitut classes to begin learning her language again. In class the other day, Elisapie and two of her best friends took an Inuktitut early reader from the class library and used it to write a message in Inuktitut. It is a collection of words that no one can read at this point, but it is definitely an exercise in writing in Inuktitut.
Because of the nature of inquiry, you never know where it will take you and your students. While our winter inquiry is not quite finished, I am very inspired by the learning journey and where it has taken Elisapie in particular and the whole class in general.
We may all have taken workshops on diversity and inclusion which remind us how representation in a school of every child’s culture and people can have a positive impact on their sense of self and place. As teachers, we understand that learning in a school and seeing people and images that, for a change, are familiar rather than largely representative of the dominant white culture, is not only important but imperative for a child’s well-being. None the less, seeing the world from the unique perspective of all of your students may be hard to consider. Furthermore, if you find that each of your students seems relatively well-integrated and engaged in school life, you may not seize on opportunities that may make their school experience even more worthwhile and personal. That is why I feel that workshops, books, and discussions which encourage you to make diversity and inclusion regular aspects of your teaching day are invaluable to individual students as well as the broader school community.