Strong Bonds for Successful Students
A strong student-teacher relationship is an important part of the foundation for building student success, and many of our First Nations schools recognize this. Recently, at MFNERC’s annual Lighting the Fire Education Conference, educators were presented with this very idea, and a clear example of it in action can be found at Sagkeeng Anicinabe High School in the classroom of Liz Gray.
On this particular Thursday morning, Grade 12 English students are studying the book Broken Circle by Theodore Fontaine. It is obvious that Liz’s students are comfortable and at ease in her classroom. She maintains a positive atmosphere, casual yet respectful.
“There’s no hierarchy here,” states Liz. “We’re all on the same level and it works for us.” Another reason it works so well is because Liz strives to create as many opportunities as possible for her students to make use of their gifts, while earning them school credit at the same time.
For example, the High School’s Drama students recently toured with a play entitled I Wonder Why? The play, designed to teach the importance of accepting others’ differences, featured songs, instrumentalists, puppets and most important, the Ojibway language. The tour included 10 different stops in and around Sagkeeng First Nation, and featured 12 student performers. “It was a lot of work,” describes student Suede Brightnose, who played the Keesis (Sun) in the play. “But it was also a great time, especially because we’re a group who probably wouldn’t hang around together normally. But we got to know each other really well.”
“The play was about A sub kee shee (a spider) who is looking for a neechi (friend) and can’t understand why nobody likes her,” explains student Talia Courchene. “Eventually, people learn not to be scared of her. At the end there was a time where people in the audience could ask us questions.”
With minimal costumes and props, the true star was the collective talent of the actors, singers and musicians. After three weeks of rehearsals, the show was a resounding success, in spite of some obstacles. “One of the challenges was not having adequate rehearsal space in the school,” explains Liz. “But, as always, we made due. We used a local store’s multi-purpose room…the students became true roadies trucking all our equipment back and forth.”
Aside from creating these kinds of opportunities, another way Liz builds strong relationships with her students is by constantly adapting her teaching methods to suit their likes and styles of learning. In a First Nations Issues class, Grade 10 students participate in a Reader’s Theatre, while learning about how the Winnipeg River, which flows through their reserve, was slowly poisoned by a local paper mill. “With this topic, they seemed to become engaged more with the Reader’s Theatre, so that’s what we’re doing.” In the aforementioned English class, after wrapping up a written assignment on Broken Circle students who wanted to practice their public speaking skills got the chance. Three students made speeches on various topics, while the rest of the class became the audience.
“To get the students engaged, to get them interested, that’s the goal,” concludes Liz. And when one is dealing with high school students, this is not always easy.