BUILDING A LEARNING COMMUNITY THROUGH ?· Building a: Learning Community Through Restitution 1 ... and…

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<ul><li><p>Brown, W. (2004). Building a: Learning Community Through Restitution 1</p><p>BUILDING A LEARNING COMMUNITY THROUGH RESTITUTION </p><p>Chapters IV, V, and VI of a Doctoral Dissertation </p><p>by Willow Brown </p><p>University of Saskatchewan Department of Educational Administration </p><p>2004 </p><p>ABSTRACT </p><p>This case study focused on understanding forces of cultural change among the staff members of one inner-city elementary school. Participants and a university researcher set out to learn Restitution (Gossen, 1996), a counselling-based approach to student self-management, and implement it reflectively through collaborative action research. We were interested in exploring relationships between individual learning and the growth of adaptive capacity in the professional community. Reflections confirmed that participants observed personal and community development, with positive effects on social conditions for student learning. Contributing factors were: (1) enhanced meta-cognition, and (2) development of common language to support new beliefs and practices. Four cultural patterns, or tools were also identified as enhancing capacity and hope: identity formation, empowerment, awareness, and connectedness. With its emphasis on personal autonomy, meta-cognition, and self-regulation according to community beliefs, Restitution was found to be an effective tool for establishing the cultural patterns that contributed to learning community development. </p><p>CHAPTER IV THE CONTEXT: ETHNOGRAPHIC </p><p>DESCRIPTION IN A LEARNING COMMUNITY FRAMEWORK </p><p>To answer questions of human development, Vygotsky saw that it would be necessary to </p><p>look not only at individuals but also at the social and material environment with which they </p><p>interacted in the course of their development (Wells, 2000, p. 53) </p><p> Given that contextual circumstances shape </p><p>the unique developmental path of each learning community (Mitchell &amp; Sackney, 2000, p. 10), description of context is a significant aspect of this study. Further, a Vygotskian perspective of learning recognizes that social activities are not merely a background for development, but a context that is internalized, with the active participation of the individual, to contribute to the formation of personal identity. In the tradition of Wertsch (1985), who pursued Vygotksys interest in the influence of culture on the development of individual self-regulation and of identity, this research attempted to uncover those forms of social life that have the most profound consequences for mental life (p. 32). Thus, thick description of the school community, including its cultural nuances, was gathered and reported with an ethnographic influence (Wolcott, 1997). </p><p>This chapter describes Tansi Community school, the physical building, its surrounding neighbourhood, and provides an overview of school characteristics. Focusing on the significance of the human environment for group learning, the learning community (Mitchell &amp; Sackney, 2000) framework is used as a pre-existing category scheme (Merriam, 1998) to describe the culture of the schools professional community. That is, observations related to Tansis learning architecture are categorized as aspects of three dynamic, interactive capacities: personal, interpersonal and organizational, and then situated within the larger societal context. </p><p>Though I was, for a time, an insider in this community and a participant in its cultural </p></li><li><p>Brown, W. (2004). Building a: Learning Community Through Restitution 2</p><p> characteristics, I limit this chapter to observing and reporting what appeared to exist apart from my interventions. My role as a learning agent, including the chronicle of my contributions and the degree of influence they were perceived to have on the community, are presented in Chapter V. Also presented in more detail, in Chapter VI, are the patterns of interaction that I grouped and identified as four cultural tools that were significant for the development of the Tansi learning community. The cultural patterns of identity-construction, empowerment, awareness and connectedness, may be mentioned here but will be revisited. </p><p> The Tansi Neighbourhood </p><p>My first visit to Tansi Community School was also my introduction to the neighbourhood. Arriving early and finding the front door still locked, I walked to the corner gas station to use the washroom. The attendant gave me a key and directions but the lock was not what I expected. A large plate of three-quarter inch steel was welded crudely across the metal door and secured with a padlock. As I crossed the street, the sun shone on the stained glass windows of a stately church and there was little traffic; except for the bingo hall, this neighbourhood appeared safe and familiar. However, broken bottles were strewn around a mailbox on the corner and at the front of the church was a billboard with large block letters and a startling message: Its not prostitution Its child abuse!. Attached to the chain link fence by the schools front door were more signs. I assumed these were painted by students. They used flowing lines and Aboriginal imagery to feature the words Education and Harmony. I was apprehensive, yet intrigued. I did not yet know that this site would be the focus of my doctoral research but I hoped it could be. </p><p> As the research took shape, I learned that ninety-eight percent of the nearly 270 pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8 students attending Tansi Community School in June, 2000, were of Aboriginal ancestry, predominantly Plains Cree. Interestingly, the principal reported that this non-diverse population is classified as high on the citys ethnic diversity scale. For comparison, the provincial Aboriginal population is near 15% </p><p>and growing. Evidence of changing neighbour-hood composition over the past several decades was found in a framed piece of calligraphic art, listing World War II servicemen, neighbourhood sons whose family names may still be familiar to the citys prominent business people. Yet the pace of demographic change appears to have accelerated in this neighbourhood recently. Information from an international study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on services for children and youth at risk (OECD, 1998) supplements statistics provided by the Tansi principal. This study, which included specific reference to Tansi, reported that the community schools criteria were met in the early nineties with a 64% Aboriginal population and a significant number of Asian and Caucasian students. By 1995 the proportion of First Nations and Metis students had reached 80% and was still growing. </p><p>On a typical school day with classes in session, a visitor to Tansi might notice students wandering and playing in the hallways and under the stairs. Some would be outside the office or the community room waiting for assistance, while others would be engaged in conversation about their needs with a concerned but understanding staff member. One might see, as I did, students who were crying, angry or sullen, and others who were curious about visitors. Sometimes adult conversations would be interrupted by students, even older ones, who stopped to hug a special teacher. </p><p> Some classroom doors would be locked even while classes were in session, but through the windows one would usually see the orderly activity of an ordinary school day. Occasionally, a frustrated child would explode into the hall and find a place to cool down. A few other students might be walking around, avoiding class until an adult found them and encouraged them to return. When the bell went, students would burst out of classrooms and the hallway would become a danger zone of hurtling bodies, some wrestling, many poking and punching, and most ignoring reminders to keep hands and feet to themselves or not to run. There would be some good-natured teasing, some profanity, and lots of body contact, with unprovoked attacks accompanied by loud protests. Inevitably, </p></li><li><p>Brown, W. (2004). Building a: Learning Community Through Restitution 3</p><p> someone would be hurt and someone else would be angry and defiant. Teachers, sometimes looking patient and relaxed and other times appearing tired, might be seen nurturing students and supporting the needs of both victims and offenders. Other staff members could be found taking refuge in the staff room. </p><p>At the time of the research, staffing at Tansi Community School consisted of twelve classroom teachers as well as a Cree language teacher, a part-time teacher working on cultural programs, and two resource teachers. (Adult high school equivalency programs were offered intermittently as funding permitted.) Of ten teacher associates, five were assigned to special needs students and the others had either Community School duties or Literacy and Numeracy designation. Tansi shared an itinerant counselor with two other schools. The principal was a full-time administrator and the teaching vice-principal had .3 release time for administrative duties. A Community School Coordinator also worked closely with administrators, the Community teacher associates, and with the Nutrition staff who supplied students with breakfast and lunch. The official staff roster was complete with a full-time secretary, a head custodian who worked days, and an evening custodian. However, consultants, social workers, students from various programs, and frequent parent and community volunteers were often present and involved in school activities. About one-fifth of the adult staff members were of First Nations heritage and a few of them lived in or near the attendance area. </p><p>The Tansi school building is a simple two-story rectangular design, built in 1961, with a gymnasium of later construction on the back and an addition of three portable classrooms at one end. Tidy grounds, fresh paint and shiny floors give the building a well-kept appearance, while bright, well-planned bulletin boards and displays of student work make the front foyer and hallways attractive. A series of professional-quality posters honouring local people and their values are prominent, giving the impression that every effort is made here to respect community members and help them to feel welcome. An Aboriginal-style branch and leaf design is a permanent part of hallway decor throughout the </p><p>main building, culminating in a symbolic tree and book mural that brightens one stairwell. It appeared that someone had invested great effort to make this school visually appealing and culturally affirming. </p><p>In terms of location, the Tansi neighbourhood lies only three blocks from the citys central business district and less than one block off a major throughway and commercial zone. The school building is adjacent to an industrial shop and railroad tracks that some students cross on their way to school. At the front of the school, large evergreens tower over strips of lawn protected by a chain link fence. The playground area at the back is treeless and covered with asphalt or sparse grass, but does have the usual array of equipment and in winter, a small ice rink. Across the alley is a large empty lot which, in other city neighbourhoods, might have been an ideal location for a park. Here, however, it is posted as commercial property for sale. </p><p>In 2000, the Tansi neighbourhoods average monthly rent of $402 per month was among the lowest in the city. An estimated 75% of students came from single-parent families, compared to 12% provincially and 10% in the city (OECD, 1998, p. 104). More than 75% of Tansi families were assumed to live below the poverty line. Student turnover was very high, with over one-third of the fall, 2000, registration comprised of new students. Based on past records, the principal expected that student turnover throughout the school year would approach 100%. However, the itinerant counselor noted considerable improvement from an estimated turnover of near 250% when he began working in the citys core six years before. He explained that he would see the same students rotating through several inner-city schools, transferring out when pressure on themselves or their families increased. </p><p>Achievement at two to four grades below suburban levels for the majority of students was attributed to a combination of high transience and other risk factors such as hunger, poor care during pregnancy, teen pregnancy, low level of education and troubles with the law (OECD, pp. 98-104). Related to low elementary school </p></li><li><p>Brown, W. (2004). Building a: Learning Community Through Restitution 4</p><p> achievement was a high school drop out rate of up to 90% for First Nations and Metis students, as compared to a provincial rate of 16%. Thus, in 2000, the Tansi principal was unable to find evidence of even one student who was completing Grade 12 four years after leaving Tansi at the end of Grade 8. </p><p>Since 1980, Saskatchewan Educations Community Schools Policy has provided a comprehensive, preventive, culturally affirming and community-based approach to meeting the learning needs of at risk and Indian and Metis students (Saskatchewan Education, 1996, p.2). Assignment of Community School status is based on criteria, including a high percentage of Indian or Metis students and a high rate of poverty. With this designation comes an annual grant for staff to work with the community, nutrition programs and teacher associates (to have Indian or Metis background where possible) to increase the staff ratio and to bring people of Aboriginal ancestry into the school (OECD, 1998). All parents and community members are invited to participate on a Community School Council that also has staff representatives. The aim is to create a shared sense of responsibility for the education and well-being of children and to develop opportunities for Indian and Metis peoples to have greater participation in decision-making in public education (Saskatchewan Education, 1996, p. 5). </p><p>The Community School initiative aims to build communities of hope (Saskatchewan Education, 1996). Casual visitors to Tansi may recognize the spirit of this policy enacted in artistic displays with cultural motifs, the Cree language program, an elder program (intermittent, due to funding), and the feasts and drumming that are a feature of school celebrations. Though Tansi is a pseudonym, a significant Cree greeting chosen for the purposes of confidentiality in this study, there has been some discussion about petitioning to have the actual name changed to increase its cultural relevance. </p><p>Tansis Learning Architecture </p><p>A postmodern approach to organizations portrays them as cultural systems creating and generating symbolic realities (Gergen, 1992, p. 216). Therefore, while a backdrop of demographic data may be necessary, this study focuses on the cultural reality of Tansi School for its participants. As one staff member confided, this area has been studied to death. Assuming that statistics alone are an inadequate basis for understanding this school and its people, this study portrays...</p></li></ul>