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First Nations parent involvement in the public school system : the personal journey of a school principal Pearson, Christina Joanne 2007

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FIRST NATIONS PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM THE PERSONAL JOURNEY OF A SCHOOL PRINCIPAL CHRISTINA JOANNE PEARSON B.Ed, The University of Victoria, 1970 M.A., The University of Victoria, 1981 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF EDUCATION in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Educational Leadership and Policy) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA October 2007 © Christina Joanne Pearson, 2007 Abstract The purpose of this study was to determine what factors are needed to guide the practice of non-Native educators to build a positive working relationship between a First Nations community and an elementary public school as well as encourage and support parent involvement. An elementary school in Powell River, British Columbia and the local First Nation were purported to have a good working relationship that had resulted in increased parent involvement. I wanted to determine what factors were contributing to the good relationship, and how these factors could be used in other settings to improve First Nations parent involvement. I conducted a qualitative case study of James Thomson elementary school, and Sliammon First Nation. The research methods included semi-structured interviews, group meetings and an examination of planning documents. A First Nations committee was formed, the Ho ho jo thot group, that became my guide and conscience throughout the study. Through narrative writing I experienced a personal journey of reflexive thought about my own relationship to First Nations people. The findings of this research clearly indicated that James Thomson Elementary and the Sliammon First Nation, had a good relationship that was based on four factors: making an effort; knowing the people; being welcoming, and being respectful. The research also ii indicated there was increased First Nations parent involvement but not as much as educators and parents wanted. When asked what discouraged involvement, the parents and educators identified the barriers to be: history; economics; racism; lack of skills; lack of school support, and traditional differences. When asked what factors they believed would increase parent involvement they said: personal contact by staff; family networks; non-threatening activities; teachers being more 'aware', and a school plan. What this study has contributed to the literature is in both theory and practice. First, it contributes a respectful process for a non-Native person to work with a First Nations community. The Ho ho jo thot group, was my guide and conscience who gave me advice and approval at each stage of the study. Second, this study provides new ways of thinking about involving First Nations parents in the public school system that causes educators to have personal insights and philosophical thoughts instead of'techniques.' Finally, this study contributes a Handbook to be used by public school educators to improve First Nations parent involvement, that is based on a framework of understanding Aboriginal knowledge, having personal critical awareness, and working with purposefulness. iii TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT , i TABLE OF CONTENTS . .. iv ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vii DEDICATION : viii CHAPTER 1 PREPARING THE LANDSCAPE 1 The Original Seeds...... 6 Inquiry Significance 18 Dissertation Overview 20 CHAPTER 2 SELECTING THE LANDSCAPE AND TOOLS 22 Choosing the Landscape 22 The Sliammon Community 24 James Thomson School : 25 Choosing the Tools 27 Methodology 28 A Case Study 29 Narrative Writing 29 Reflexivity 32 Non-Native Researcher 33 The Meaning of a Positive Relationship .' 35 Digging In 37 The Interview Experience , 38 Tending the Beds 45 Chapter Review 48 CHAPTER 3 KNOWING THE LANDSCAPE 50 The Importance of Parent Involvement 51 Barriers to Parent Involvement 55 A Historical Look at First Nations Parent Involvement 58 Oppression 66 Cultural Insensitivity 69 Awareness - 72 School Leadership 73 Parental Involvement Models 75 iv CHAPTER 4 WATCHING AND ANALYZING THE GROWTH 81 The Interviews J . . . . . 81 Parent Support Worker Interview 82 Parent Group Meeting 84 Education Group Meeting 86 Analyzing the Growth 86 New Growth from the Research Process 88 Interview Questions Analysis 90 The Relationship Question 91 Relationship Question Theme 1: Making an Effort 95 Relationship Question Theme 2: Being Welcoming 97 Relationship Question Theme 3: Knowing the People 97 Relationship Question Theme 4: Being Respectful . 99 The Policy Question 101 The Culture Question 103 The Parent Involvement Question 108 Parent Involvement Question Theme 1: History of Residential Schools 109 Parent Involvement Question Theme 2: Lack of Skills I l l Parent Involvement Question Theme 3: Lack of School Support 112 Parent Involvement Question Theme 4: Economics 113 Parent Involvement Question Theme 5: Traditional Differences 115 Parent Involvement Question Theme 6: Racism 117 If You Were Principal Question 123 If You Were Principal Question Theme 1: Connect With the People 123 If You Were Principal Question Theme 2: Use Family Networks 125 If You Were Principal Question Theme 3: Be Aware of Yourself. 127 If You Were Principal Question Theme 4: Create Non-threatening Environments 128 If You Were Principal Question Theme 5: Have a Plan 129 Summary of the Findings 130 Debriefing the Results 132 A Final Reflection 135 Chapter Review 139 CHAPTER 5 PLANNING FUTURE GROWTH 140 Some Reflections on Parent Involvement 140 Contributions of This Study to the Research 143 A Relationship Framework...., 144 Understanding Aboriginal Knowledge 146 Having Personal Critical Awareness 150 Working with Purposefulness 153 A Handbook for Public School Administrators 155 Non-Native Research Process 157 Implications for Future Research 158 Impact on My Practice 159 v REFERENCES 164 APPENDIX Appendix A: Interview Questions 173 Appendix B: Handbook 174 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This thesis is the result of many hours of stories provided by the educators from School District 70, Powell River, and particularly the parents, educators, administrators and Elders from the Sliammon community. I also want to specifically acknowledge the Ho ho jo'thot group. Thank you all for your soul-searching comments and insightful suggestions. I feel honored to have been able to work with you. I want to thank my thesis committee, Jo-ann Archibald (advisor), Jan Hare and Don Fisher. You politely tolerated my stress and trauma as I struggled with completion. Jo-ann, your never-ending patience and sensitive feedback kept me going when I wanted to stop. Thanks to my friends, Debbie, Muff, Jane and Sheila who tirelessly listened to me whine, and provided me with their own form of wine to fortify my sole. Thanks, also, to Steven and Bob who spent many hours giving me technical support. A huge "wow" to the 2001 Ed.D cohort, without whom I would not have been writing the final pages. Your ongoing support and encouragement kept me going. A particular thank you to Diane, who phoned regularly to inspire me; and Jack, who taught me how to run and how not to write run-on sentences. Most of all, to my husband, Wayne Rowe, thank you for being you. vii DEDICATION I would like to dedicate this thesis to the men in my life who have helped me become the person I want to be. To my dad, who was always there for me as a child and made me aware of how to find the strengths in others. To my sons, who have kept me grounded in the real world. Finally, to my husband, Wayne Rowe, who has supported me with love and confidence throughout my dissertation journey. viii CHAPTER 1 PREPARING TO LANDSCAPE Learn our language, learn our ways, learn.... actually, understand where we came from and then go back there and you'll have more respect instead of saying they're just natives. Come in our boots, and then go back. At least you'll have an understanding instead of labelling us or judging us before we have a chance to prove ourselves, what we're capable of, what we can be if we had half the chance. We've come a long ways. So have respect, and treat us with the respect that we deserve. (First Nations parent, 2005) I feel as if I have been on a journey that started when I was a child and is just now beginning to define itself. I thought I was writing a dissertation about First Nations1 parent involvement in the public school system, and yet in many ways I am also writing about myself, and my understanding of who I am in relation to First Nations people. How fitting that this line, 'in relation to,' should emerge so early in my writing since one of the many things I have learned as a result of this study is that the term 'all my relations' is. very significant in the First Nations world: 'AH my relations' is the English equivalent of a phrase familiar to most Native peoples in North America. It may begin or end a prayer or a speech or a story, and, while each tribe has its own way of expressing this sentiment in its own language, the meaning is the same. (King, 1990, p. IX) In many ways I feel that the meaning of 'all my relations' has permeated my learning throughout this study: Before I continue writing, I would like to acknowledge my confusion regarding 'terminology.' It surprised me that many of the readings, even those currently written, use the title Indian. It has been my understanding that this term is derogatory due to its origin being a misnomer by Columbus believing he had landed in India. According to Muckle (2002), "First Nation refers to a group of people who can trace their ancestry to the populations that occupied the land prior to the arrival of Europeans..." (p. 2). Muckle also claims this term is not totally accepted by all due to it being "another label applied by Euro-Canadian society" (p. 2). I am aware that 'Aboriginal' is another term used that usually includes First Nations, M£tis and Inuit. For the purpose of this study, to honor the position of 'original sovereignty', I will use First Nations inclusively except when quoting from the literature. 1 'All my relations' is at first a reminder of who we are and of our relationship with both our family and our relatives. It also reminds us of the extended relationship we share with all human beings. But the relationships that Native people see go further, the web of kinship extending to the animals, to the birds, to the fish, to the plants, to all the animate and inanimate forms that can be seen or imagined. More than that, 'all my relations' is an encouragement for us to accept the responsibilities we have within this universal family by living our lives in a harmonious and moral manner (a common admonishment is to say of someone that they act as if they have no relations). (King, 1990, p. IX) In the process of conducting my research, I have learned there are many lenses through which to see, and that, as a middle class white person who has lived a very privileged life, I have a huge responsibility to be a moral educator who does not just see the world from a Eurocentric view. As a result, I believe I am now better able to share my experiences and knowledge with other non-Native educators in hopes of making a difference for First Nations people in future generations. I chose a narrative inquiry approach for this study in respect for the rich oral history of First Nations people (Miller, 1996). Also, I believed it was the best way for me to learn from them: "Aboriginal knowledge is said to be personal, oral, experiential, holistic, and conveyed in narrative or metaphorical language " (Castellano, 2000, p. 25). As my study developed, I found my own story of awareness, and changing attitude emerged. This fits with Clandinin and Connelly's (2000) belief that "narrative inquiries are always strongly autobiographical" (p. 121). Being aware of my own growth throughout this study has critical implications for knowing how to best share the research with other educators. I cannot assume they will have made the same shifts in thinking. 2 In this study I have chosen to use a gardening metaphor, for many reasons. For one, my garden has been a place to find peace throughout this study. Many days when I was feeling stressed and frustrated I would go to the garden and dig in the dirt moving things around, pulling weeds and listening to the eagles overhead. Another is that I became aware of how many of my actions in the garden paralleled my actions on the computer: moving, tossing, digging deeper. Frequently I was able to sort out thoughts about my research as I worked in the garden, which will be referred to later in the paper. At times I would find myself drifting into an almost trancelike state, imagining myself living off the land, having a 'kinship' with nature, as did First Nations people. The garden became a lens from which I tried to "come in [First Nations] boots... and understand where [they] come from " (Parent 7,2005). The final reason for using the garden metaphor comes from a story about my son, Jesse, when he was four years old. He knew I wanted to have another baby and one day while he and I were removing small rocks from the garden so we could plant seeds, he asked me why I couldn't just go get a baby. I explained to him that a baby had to grow from a seed within my tummy and that for some reason no seed was growing. After a few minutes of reflection he said, "maybe you have a rock holding down the seed" (Jesse, personal communication, February, 1987). This story came to my mind while gardening last summer. I found myself thinking that rocks can hold down a great deal of growth. I then started to chuckle at an image that had formed in my mind of educators buried under rocks, unable to grow. I believe my research will begin to remove some of those rocks, and fertilize the minds of educators so that new seeds of understanding can grow. 3 The specific purpose of this study was to identify factors that contribute to having a positive working relationship between an elementary public school and a First Nations community that would facilitate parent involvement. The question asked was: What factors will guide the practice of non-Native educators to build a positive working relationship between a First Nations community and an elementary public school as well as encourage and support parent involvement? This question initially had three themes: leadership, policy and culture, upon which I intended to focus. The three themes were removed as a result of an interaction I had with a group of First Nations advisors. This process will be explained in Chapter Two. Parent involvement refers to the relationship between the parent and the school (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001). According to Christenson, Rounds, & Gorney (1992), it includes all things that parents do at home and at school to contribute to the education of their children. Although the term 'parent' involvement is most commonly used, it generally can refer to any caregiver such as a grandparent, foster parent or other family member in the home. The terminology 'involvement' has become problematic, from the point of view of some researchers who have introduced a new term 'engagement' (Amendt, & Bousquet, 2006; Pushor & Ruitenberg, 2005). Pushor (2007) explains the difference in definition as a control issue. When parents are 'involved', according to Pushor, they are serving the school's agenda and the educators are in control. When parents are 'engaged' they are working with the educators as equal partners: 4 Instead, educators are entering a community to create with parents a shared world on the ground of school-a world in which parent knowledge and teacher knowledge both inform decision-making, the determination of agendas, and the intended outcomes of their efforts for children, families, the community and the school. Both educators and parents wear badges which mark their knowing and their expertise. There is s sense of reciprocity in their mutual engagement, a sense of benefit for families and the school. (Pushor, 2007, p. 3) My attitude about parents' work and contribution in the school has always been what Pushor refers to as the discourse of 'engagement' and yet I have always used the terminology 'involvement.' Pushor herself talks about how the terms are frequently used interchangeably: While 'involvement' continues to be the term predominantly used in the field, it is used to describe a wide-range of activities from communication with parents, to involvement, and at times to parental engagement in the core work of teaching and learning. It is often used as a term of comprehensive coverage, which does not differentiate the type of relationship being lived out between educators and parents. (Pushor, 2007, p.4) In the daily operations of the public school system, I have never heard the term 'engagement' used to refer to how parents are involved. Other than Pushor's work and Amendt and Bousquet (2006), I have seldom seen the term 'engagement' used in the literature, and yet, I personally agree with Pushor's belief that parents need to be engaged in their children's education and not just taking direction from educators. In all schools to which I have been the principal, I have encouraged parents to 'inform decision-making' and 'wear badges which mark their knowing and their expertise.' I have valued them as equal partners in our journey to educate their children. However, due to the more common use of the term 'involvement' and its interchangeable nature with 'engagement', I have chosen to use the terminology 'involvement' for my study. 5 The Original Seeds One of the starting points for narrative mquiry is the researcher's own narrative of experience, the researcher's autobiography. This task of composing our own narrative of experience is central to narrative inquiry. (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 70) My earliest experience with First Nations people was as a young child, visiting the Saanichton Reserve with my father. He was the Chief of Police, and had a very good relationship with the Band members. He would greet them in their language, and they would call him 'Chief, and then laugh heartily. They seemed to enjoy a genuine friendship. As a family, we collected clothing and furniture from the community, and delivered it to the Reserve two or three times a year. I loved helping, although at first it was shocking to visit the homes. My visual memory is of dogs, dirt and destruction; and yet, the people were such a contrast from the 'cowboys and Indians' that I regularly watched on television. They were extremely friendly, and it seemed, always laughing. I found it confusing. My dad and I had many long conversations about this contradiction. He told me that the television was only Hollywood shows, and that the First Nations were good people, and that we owed them a lot. I never really understood, but I knew my dad had some wonderful First Nations friends, and I loved being a part of that. As a beginning teacher in Smithers, B.C. in 1966,1 had many First Nations children in my class. They were often late for school, or absent. They looked dirty compared to the other kids, were academically far behind the norm, and many never spoke a word to me for months. The staff told me not to worry about them because there was nothing we could do to help. I was determined to a make a difference, so I worked with each child 6 individually, with respect and caring. One day, just before the Christmas break, a little boy named Charlie, came to me and spoke for the first time. He held out something and said, "This is for you." It was a small stapler, with a price tag still attached. (In class I had frequently grumbled about not having my own stapler.) Holding back tears, I thanked him and gave him a hug. I will never forget the smile on his face. Later I went to the local drug store and paid for the stapler that they identified as stolen. Charlie had a profound impact on me. Because of Charlie I started to think about the value of developing meaningful relationships with people to better engage with them. I have often wondered how he is doing and if I helped him in any way. I was 19 and he was 9. It's hard for me to imagine that he is now nearly 50.1 wonder what his life has been like. Did he finish school? Has he found happiness and 'success'? I imagine our lives have taken very different paths. It never occurred to me at the time to find out anything about him outside of the school system. All I knew was that he came from 'the Reserve.' I never met his parents. I doubt I even thought about his parents. Knowing what I know now about parent involvement in their children's education and in the school system, I wonder if it would have made a difference if I had gone to the Reserve to meet them? When I reflect back I am sure I would have thought a person absurd if they had suggested such a thing. It was not within my realm of thinking. Since that time I have positioned myself very differently in relation to parental involvement in children's education. My teaching career continued throughout various 7 communities in British Columbia. In every school I found myself trying to include parents in the classroom. At first it was to help me do 'menial jobs' such as creating bulletin boards; but I quickly discovered that casual chatter led to important discussions that influenced my teaching. Frequently, I was invited to parents' homes, for tea or special gatherings. The children always wanted to show me their bedrooms, pictures, trophies etc. As a result of the home visits, my relationships with these children changed in the classroom. We seemed more connected, more 'real' with one another. I became aware that the children who struggled the most behaviorally did not have parents volunteering in the classroom or inviting me to their homes. It became a personal quest on my part to connect with these parents, by inviting myself to their homes to deliver things, like a 'happy note.' Once this happened, the parents were more willing to enter my classroom, and the children's behavior improved. After many years in the classroom, I became the Coordinator of Special Education for the Sunshine Coast School District. In those days First Nations were included in special education, so it became my responsibility to assess First Nations students and help teachers program for their special needs. Reflecting back I realize I must have had an attitude (prejudice?) about First Nations parents, because, in all my dealings with the students I never once included the parents in decision-making. My prior knowledge and experience about parent involvement did not apply to First Nations parents. I can make excuses, by saying that 'others' told me not to bother, because "they never come to meetings anyways," but I am now shocked, and ashamed of my attitude at that time. 8 In the late 1990s, I was appointed as the principal of an elementary school, with about 30 percent First Nations students. I immediately became very aware of the lack of services available to the children, and the huge disconnect between the parents and the school. I decided to change this by hiring a First Nations educator to provide support services to the children and families. Many comments were made to me from other administrators that I was "opening a can of worms" that I would regret. I never regretted my decision, knowing that worms are good for the garden, but I did encounter many issues that exposed my naivety. In my attempts to involve the parents in decision-making, I hit resistance; they did not seem to want to get involved. Eventually I let the First Nations educator make most of the connections with the parents. But I did persist in trying to build relationships with them by chatting casually in the hallways, and making positive phone calls to their homes. Two years later I entered the Ed D program and decided to write a paper about First Nations parent involvement. By that time I felt that our First Nations support program was highly successful and I was proud of having initiated it. I still, however, was unable to get the parents to volunteer at the school in any way. I decided that a small study interviewing two First Nations parents would help meet the criteria for a Research course, and hopefully, provide me with ideas for better involving the First Nations parents in the school. I contacted two First Nations parents from 'my' school and asked them if they would be willing to talk to me about parent involvement. I explained that I was taking a course at 9 UBC about research methods, and would be writing a paper about the interview and would include some of their comments. They both agreed, without hesitation. I chose those parents because I felt I had a very positive relationship with them and I knew they had been forthcoming in the past with both positive and negative comments about the school. They were both single mums and had been involved with me at the school regarding some special needs issues. I felt they were a fairly good representation of the First Nations parents, as well as people I could count on to 'speak their truth.' The following day I met with each parent individually. To keep the interviews as open-ended as possible, I asked only one question. I explained that I wanted to increase parent involvement in the school, particularly that of the Aboriginal parents and asked if they could give me ideas that would encourage people to get more involved. The first parent arrived with a beautiful beaded cape she was working on and a package of pictures to show me of a traditional wedding she had just attended. She started with a story of how the Chiefs of the two bands negotiated the terms of the marriage. This included songs, food, prayers and activities that I had never imagined would happen at a wedding. When the story was finished, I asked her the question about parent involvement. She immediately talked about how angry she was about the Aboriginal program in our school, stating the program was doing the wrong thing by trying to provide culture to a very diverse group, one that actually did not have very many common traditions. She felt 10 strongly that the teacher should only focus on academic and behavior needs of the Aboriginal children. She also believed the teacher should be at the school daily, not just one day a week, because she knew there was enough funding for that and she wanted to know where the rest of the money went. Without any prompting, she then talked extensively about why she believed First Nations parents seldom come to the school. She said, "Our people have a fear of school, teachers and especially administration because of the horrors of Residential School" (Parent, personal communication, July, 2002). She then told me several tragic stories about her family's loss of culture and identity due to their schooling experiences. She said, "My parents missed how to be themselves, they only knew abuse, so they passed that on. They learned not to speak" (Parent, personal communication, July, 2002). She then said I would need to find ways to "buildbridges" to make the First Nations parents feel more comfortable. She suggested that I invite them to the school, to read to the kids, or share a skill, like carving or beading: "Give them a connection to bring them to the school" (Parent, personal communication, July, 2002). The second parent very quickly talked about how her mother had been "emotionally and physically beaten to not be Native." She said her mother wanted to break the cycle so she left the Band to live the "white way." She was raised to do her best and be proud of who she was. She was teaching her daughter the same values. Her next comments paralleled the first parent's comments. She talked extensively about how angry she was 11 about the Aboriginal program in our school; that it was "offensive, intrusive and demeaning. " Like the first parent, she said the First Nations parents in our community had little in common and that the program should be focused on helping the children with academic needs. She told me that most of the First Nations parents did not value education enough to get involved. Her own grandfather told her that no one would want to marry her because she had too much education. She talked extensively about the negative school experiences of many First Nations parents. "You cannot change their attitudes now. You '11 have to inspire the children. Bring in good Aboriginal role models for them " (Parent, personal communication, July 2002). We explored this idea for a while and then agreed to end the interview. I started these interviews believing I was writing a paper for a course. However, I found myself entangled in a web of political, emotional and educational issues. The concepts of the "power of the researcher, " or "research as transformation of culture "(Haig-Brown and Archibald, 1996) seemed, in fact, in this case to be the "powerless researcher transformed." So why was I feeling like a "powerless researcher transformed?" I entered the interviews looking for some 'cookbook' ideas on how to better involve First Nations parents in our school. What I got were emotional stories of anger, oppression, and power. I heard information about a program in my school that I didn't even ask about. The irony in this 12 is that I had been proud, and often bragged, of this initiative because it was the first program in our school district for off-reserve First Nations families. After the first year of operation, the school district decided to take over the program to provide services to other off-reserve students in our district. The result was a different teacher for our school providing less direct service to the children and minimal contact with me. I was aware of the change but did not take the time (a telling statement?) to ensure that the program was still meeting the needs of our children and families. When the interviewees first expressed their anger about the direction of the Aboriginal program I immediately felt defensive and wanted to tell them how lucky they were that I had 'so nobly' created this program. I also wanted to berate them for not coining to me about their concern. Fortunately something resonated in my head, suggesting this was precisely the issue: parents not being comfortable talking to educators. I kept quiet, and listened to learn. I felt ashamed to think I had been so oblivious to the feelings of the parents. How many more issues were out there that I had been 'happily' ignoring? Friedel (1999) found a similar situation in her studies of parent involvement, one that allows me to classify myself as "just like everyone else," but hopefully, with some significant personal transformation: Aboriginal parents and community members remain largely on the outside looking in when it comes to educational decision-making. Initiatives like the Native Program continue to operate in isolation from the desires of those students, parents and communities they are intended to serve, (p. 152) Those interviews helped me realize I would need to do a great deal more than develop a few 'catchy' ideas to bring First Nations parents into the school. The issues of trust and 13 acceptance would be integral in beginning to 'build some bridges' for the parents to walk across. I felt humbled by this experience. I learned a great deal about interviewing, relationships and respect. This small research project not only guided me into my dissertation but it opened my eyes to the fact that good intentions are not enough. As a non-Native educator I cannot accept the landscape as it looks from a distance. I have to dig deep into the soil and become aware of my environment. Most importantly, if I want this dissertation to effect change, I can take the initiative to help other educators become aware of the importance of knowing their own landscapes. In 2003,1 retired from the School District to devote more time to my research. I collected my 'data', and was ready to begin writing. Then I got a phone call, asking me if I would help the staff of a small Band school, in the interior of British Columbia, work with some children with special needs and write IEPs (individual education plans). Initially I was reluctant to accept the position. I was supposed to be writing, it was a long way from home and I wondered about my personal safety, both on the one-hour dirt road drive into the community and on the Reserve. Ashamed of my private thoughts, I quickly decided this was part of my dissertation, expanding my landscape from my own small garden to a much greater one, a First Nations world. Greene (1978) states that teachers need to be "awake to their own values and commitment (and to the conditions working upon them) " and be "personally engaged 14 with their subject matter and with the world around" (p. 48). I felt that committing myself to living in a First Nations community, isolated from my normally very middle class life style, would help me become better 'engaged' with my subject matter and more 'wide awake' to who I am. I accepted the position and lived in this very small isolated Firist Nations community for three months. It was an experience I will never forget. At first I felt very out of place; I was not accustomed to being the minority. I was also very aware of hiding my insecurity behind my 'expert' cloak. I quickly heard and saw the struggles the children and the families were having. Most of the students had learning and behavior challenges. Alcohol and drugs had played a significant role in their parents' lives. They were now a dry community with a new focus; language, dance and drumming. At night the school was their community centre but in the daytime it 'belonged' to the teachers. Few parents entered the building during school hours. I immediately started contacting the parents, doing everything I could in a short time frame to build a relationship. One parent said to me, "If you want to build trust, come to our ceremonies" (Parent, personal communication, May, 2005). Someone suggested I go to a drum making session. I tentatively entered the room wondering if they would want me there. They were very welcoming, going out of their way to find me the materials to build a drum. For two months after that night I attended every drum session. It progressed from drum building, to drum beating, to dancing. I did it all. One night I was invited to join the men at the big group drum, Moccasin Burner. I tentatively sat down and tried to follow the rhythm. I made a lot of mistakes and they 15 laughed at me. I felt very self-conscious, aware that I was the only white person in the room and not very good at what I was doing. I also felt very emotional about being so accepted. At one point the man next to me leaned his ear towards my mouth. I realized he expected me to join in the singing. That was going beyond my comfort level, but I knew I needed to do it. What was it about them that made me feel so welcomed, so safe to take risks? And what is it about 'us' that causes them to feel so unwelcome and afraid to take risks? We were in the school and I was the outsider feeling unsure of myself and yet in the daytime I know they felt like the outsiders. I couldn't help but reflect on the terrible history of oppression and the loss of culture that we white educators had caused. I felt guilty knowing I would leave in a few weeks having gained a tremendous amount of knowledge. Some 'rocks' would have been lifted from my head, clearing the way for new growth, but what would they have gained? I vowed not to leave without making some contribution to the community. I continued to join every activity that occurred while I was living there. I drove roads that made my knees quiver with fear and heard stories of community members driving the same roads in the ice and snow without 'quivering.' I went to the nearest town with a parent and had to have her direct me, including how to shop at a huge superstore, to which she went every month. I had never been inside such a big store with so many odd rules. In contrast to her knowledge and my ignorance in the store, I realized on the road that she pointed which way to turn because she was unsure of the terms 'left' and 'right.' 16 The paradoxes of my experience in this community were many. One day we took the entire school, including parents, into the local town to dance for a public school. I was very conscious of being part of the 'Indian' group while all the white folks watched us unload from the bus. Some of the First Nations men whom I had never met were already at the school. I found myself thinking that, because of how they looked, I would not be comfortable with them alone. It was these same men that I drummed with weeks later and would have trusted anywhere. One day a substitute secretary was in the office repeating the alphabet. I asked her what she was doing. She told me it was the only way she could put the files away because she couldn't remember the order of the letters. Another day a man told me his mother was dying in the hospital in the local town. He didn't have enough money for gas to go see her. The stories and experiences were endless. A student said she couldn't do something and I responded by saying that it was important that she 'reach for the stars.' She said, "How can I do that when I live in the dirt? " (Student, personal communication, May, 2005). I was stunned by her comment. It seemed that each day I was being given another glimpse of the First Nations' world. How naive I had been to believe I could create a list of ways to get parents involved in the school system. I felt a subtle change come over me during my three-month stay in that First Nations community. Early in the stay I went to a nearby community to meet with a group concerning a student. There were two other white professionals at the meeting. I found that I immediately aligned myself with them, an instant 'kinship.' Later I reflected on this and felt perplexed about why I had felt that way. There were First Nations 17 professionals at the meeting as well. Did I not have the same respect for the First Nations professionals? Did I feel safer with 'my own kind'? I made a note in my journal to recall this experience when I was writing about First Nations parent comfort levels in a public school. In contrast to this incident, near the end of my three month stay in the community, I went to another meeting about the same student. I walked into the room where there were only two white professionals. The mother and First Nations professionals were not there. I immediately felt hostile. I found myself thinking, "You white people think you can make all the decisions." Becoming aware of my subconscious thoughts, I realized I was aligning myself with the First Nations people. Another 'rock' removed. Politely, I then asked where the others were. They were to join us. I was early. I share this story because it caused me to become aware of how subtle and yet powerful our subconscious mind can be and how important it is to be 'awake' to these thoughts. I believe this experience will help me better relate to First Nations parents entering a white dominated school. Inquiry Significance The personal stories I have just told have common elements of building relationships and being aware. Since I was a small child I have been aware of, and sensitive to, my environment. As an educator I quickly appreciated the connections with parents and worked hard at building relationships with them. The other factor, however, is a naivety I brought to the workplace. Over the years, I have personally worked hard at trying to 18 make a difference for First Nations children but even though I worked from my heart, I can now see it was from a place of great ignorance. As Shields (2003) would say, "Good intentions are not enough." Many researchers document the 'evils' of white people controlling First Nations schooling (Adams, 1999; Frideres, 1978; Littlefield, 1993). Although I do not disagree with the catastrophic results of the white control of education, I do not believe it is beneficial to view those results as evil acts. In most cases, I think, it was white educators' ignorance, naivety or a genuine belief they were doing 'good.' I am aware that some people believe this way of thinking gives excuses for evil acts. However, by taking the position that doing harm to others is always driven by evil, I would argue, causes us to perpetuate our own behavior because we know, "I would never be evil. " Consequently, we can dismiss history because evil people did it. On the other hand, if we consider that the behavior was a result of ignorance or good intentions, we are forced to constantly look at our own 'good intentions' and ask if they could be causing evil. Part of the intent of this study is to contribute to the existing parent involvement research, by helping educators work from an awareness base, and not just naive good intentions. It does not provide a cookbook style of ideas on how to get First Nations parents into the school, but instead, creates a landscape that will encourage educators to be reflexive in their thinking and actions. I have recently accepted a K-12 principalship at a First Nations school in a remote community at the end of an hour-long logging road drive on the West Coast of 19 Vancouver Island. My journey continues. Although the formal aspect of my research is now complete, for me it is just the beginning. I was hired for this new job because the community wants to become more closely connected to the school. I wil l use my own study as the basis for involving parents in the school. Not only has this work enriched my thinking but it will now become a valuable 'tool' with which to dig deeper into my new landscape. Dissertation Overview Chapter One: Preparing the Landscape gives the 'lay of the land.' It provides the reader with my background, the purpose of the study and its significance to both myself and other educators. It outlines the use of the garden metaphor and how it became my lens through which to view the growth of the study. Chapter Two: Selecting the Landscape and Tools outlines the methods used to dig into the research, and the reasons for these methods. It demonstrates the need to cultivate the soil before planting the seeds. This chapter identifies the communities of Sliammon and Powell River as the landscape and narrative writing as the process with which to dig into that landscape. Chapter Three: Knowing the Landscape digs into the research. When gardening, it is important to understand the theory and logic behind the 'growing.' This chapter looks at topics, The Importance of Parent Involvement, Barriers to Parent Involvement, Awareness, School Leadership, and Parental Involvement Programs. It also outlines 20 possible philosophical positioning of every-day actions. Lastly, it demonstrates the need to garden from knowledge and not just trial and error. Chapter Four: Watching and Analyzing the Growth looks at the whole 'garden.' It is time to determine what grew, why it grew, and how it can grow better. There are a multitude of factors that affect growth, and most apparent is how these factors affect one another. This chapter helps the reader understand the many interfacing elements of a rich garden. Chapter Five: Planning Future Growth is a combination of debriefing the results and considering how things could have been done differently. What other tools could have been used to cultivate the soil? What other gardens are getting better success? This chapter explores alternate environments for parent involvement, including Band-owned and operated schools, and Jurisdiction of Education. It makes recommendations for future research. 21 CHAPTER 2 SELECTING THE LANDSCAPE AND TOOLS When preparing the land for a major project it is crucial to use correct equipment. It is not practical to use a tractor in a raised flowerbed nor is it useful to use a trowel in a field. To identify factors that contribute to having a positive working relationship between an elementary public school and a First Nations community that would facilitate parent involvement, I had to first find the appropriate community, the landscape, and then choose the best tools to dig into that rich soil. In this section I outline the selection of the First Nations community and the elementary public school, the landscape. I then discuss the methods and tools which I used to dig into that landscape. Finally I outline the process of the study. Choosing the Landscape Powell River was recommended to me, by a UBC professor, as a school district that had a good working relationship with the local First Nations Sliammon community. I spoke with both the Superintendent of Schools and the Aboriginal Coordinator. The Coordinator told me that parent involvement in the school had increased significantly during the past few years as a result of relationships built between the school district, the school, and the Band Office. She also said that one of the district's goals was to make this school a model First Nations public school. The Superintendent welcomed my study as a way to assist them in their plans to fulfill this goal. 22 My next step was to meet with the Sliammon community officials and, to this end, a meeting was organized by the Aboriginal District Coordinator. I presented them with my initial ideas for the study. They seemed excited to be involved, and asked what support they could provide. They told me their parents were hesitant to get involved in the school, although there had been some improvement and education was extremely important to them. They knew something needed to be done but they didn't know what. They hoped my study would help them with the "gaps and barriers" of parent involvement they thought existed. When it was time for me to leave the meeting with the Sliammon community members, one of them said, "Is that it? Don't we get to help you? " (Sliammon official, 2004). It was then determined by the group they would form a committee to guide me along. They became the 'Guide Book' to my 'gardening.' The committee would include the: • Aboriginal Education Coordinator from the Board Office • Sliammon Education Manager • Sliammon Language Teacher from the school • Sliammon Treaty Coordinator, and • An Elder They decided to call themselves the Ho ho jo thot Committee (the getting ready committee). I met with the group four times. I also interviewed each one of them in their role as a parent, educator or administrator. They made themselves available to me throughout the process as well by telephone for advice in preparing, collecting, and analyzing the data. Each meeting will be outlined in this paper at the appropriate time. I felt excited and honored at having the opportunity to work with this group. I knew that in the past non-Native researchers have been considered intrusive and self-serving. I didn't 23 want to be "researcher as expert" but instead "researcher as learner" (Haig-Brown & Archibald, 1996, p. 247). I then met with the school staff of James Thomson Elementary, where the majority of the Sliammon children attended. I shared my ideas for the research and explained how the University of British Columbia committee would direct my professional ethics and how the Ho ho jo thot group would assist me in my work with the Sliammon community. The school staff also expressed enthusiasm for the topic. They were surprised, however, to hear they had been recommended as a school with First Nations parent involvement. They felt they had a good relationship with the Sliammon community but that there was a lot more they 'should' be doing. They said that what they did was not coordinated and basically intuitive, as opposed to purposeful. One of the main goals for the school was to improve parent involvement. They hoped my study would help them develop this goal. The Sliammon Community The Sliammon community is located six miles North of Powell River in British Columbia. The current community was established as Sliammon Indian Reserve No. 1, the main village for the Sliammon people. They are a Coast Salish people who have occupied this area for over two millennia, "Ourpeople have always lived here..." words spoken by an elder Noel George Harry (Kennedy & Bouchard, 1983, p. 17). Their traditional language is a dialect of the language 'Comox,' from the Coast Salish branch of the Salishan language (Kennedy & Bouchard, 1983). 24 Family is extremely important to the Sliammon people. Traditionally, family and the community supported individuals through birth, puberty, marriage and death. When our people think of'family,' what comes to mind is the group consisting of all the descendants of a certain ancestor. It is with this group we share names, songs, and special family knowledge. Your 'House group' or extended family was the fundamental social and economic unit by which to identify yourself. Family is extremely important to our people. (Washington, 2004, p. 8) Equally as important is the tradition of sharing and co-operating in the Sliammon community. No one family would be left to go without food or shelter due to misfortune. They all worked together to support each other. A story told by a community member, Rose Mitchell, demonstrates this way of living. The old people always shared with one another. My father used to tell us about the generosity of the old-time Indian people, as he hoped that we would follow their example. After dinner we would lie down and listen to my father's stories until late at night. He told us about a man who went out hunting deer. When the hunter returned home, his wife skinned the deer and distributed it to the people. By the time she had finished giving it out, there was only a small piece left for herself. The next day someone else went hunting. It was always like that in the old days, (cited in Kennedy & Bouchard, 1983, p. 25) The significance of family strength and community sharing and co-operating will be further addressed in the analysis section of the research. James Thomson School James Thomson is a small public elementary school and the oldest school in the Powell River School District. It has approximately 200 students with 35 percent of them being First Nations. Although their overall student numbers are decreasing, the First Nations population is increasing, which could result in the First Nations children being the majority by 2010. The school is located in the Wildwood community, which has a mainly 25 white middle class population. The Sliammon reserve is situated a few kilometers north of the school. (Principal, 2005) According to the School Performance Report (2003) prepared for the Provincial Government, poverty level income in the school catchment area is about on par with the rest of the province. The level of parent education, however, is lower than the Provincial average and the proportion of families who are single parents is higher. During the past few years the James Thomson staff has made considerable effort to connect with the Sliammon community. Some school meetings, including a Meet the Teacher night, have been held at Sliammon. The traditional language has been introduced into the school. Cultural activities are commonplace in the classrooms. Elders are invited to share stories. First Nations support staff work with the children. Assemblies are opened and closed with a First Nations ritual. Attempts have been made to change the focus of Learning Assistance for First Nations children from a deficit model, where children are sent to be 'fixed,' to a more positive model where self-esteem is being built through First Nations activities. Kindergarten is an all day program for all students, with half of the day at the school and the other half in the Sliammon community. In spite of these many inclusive programs at James Thomson, the staff still felt that not enough was being done to involve the First Nations parents. My first visit to the Sliammon community and James Thomson School caused me to feel both ecstatic and terrified. The acceptance and enthusiasm of everyone was wonderful. I 26 felt I had found the perfect landscape. Their expectations, however, were terrifying. They actually assumed my study would help them! Of course this is what I am supposed to do according to ethical research, but to be faced with the reality of it left me numb. I suddenly felt an immense sense of responsibility, realizing this was no longer just a research project to attain a Doctorate, but in fact, a conuiiitment to a large group of people to help them make a difference in their children's lives. Choosing the Tools At the initial Ho ho jo thot meeting in October we discussed the best 'tools' to use that would be non-threatening to the First Nations parents and still provide me with the information I needed. We decided that by using group discussions, semi-structured interviews, document analysis and field notes, I would be able to answer the question: What factors will guide the practice of non-Native educators to build a positive working relationship between a First Nations community and an elementary public school as well as encourage and support parent involvement? Parents, community members, school staff, as well as Band and School District officials would be asked to give their perspective on the relationship between the Sliammon parents and the school and how that relationship encouraged parent involvement. I wanted to gain an in-depth understanding of what factors were contributing to the positive working relationship between the school and the First Nations community. My purpose was in "discovery rather than confirmation" (Merriam, 2001) of what knowledges the First Nations community had about their relationship with the school. We agreed that the stories and documents would be analyzed for themes, in an attempt at "understanding and making meaning of experience " (Clandinin & Connelly, 200, p. 80). 2 7 All interviews would be transcribed and summarized, and the summaries would be shared with the Ho ho jo thot group and the individual interviewees. Full agreement on the next course of action would have to occur from everyone before I would proceed further. I felt by setting these criteria I would meet the standards or guidelines for "protecting communities" that Weijer (in Castellano, 2004) found when examining 16 documents about researching with Aboriginal Peoples. The guidelines were; consultation with the community, informed consent from community leaders prior to approaching individuals, community involvement, access to data and samples, and advance drafts of reports to the community (p. 108). The Ho ho jo thot group became the 'community protector.' The Ho ho jo thot committee and I determined that an outcome of this study would be a handbook written in conjunction with the James Thomson staff and Sliammon Band members. The handbook was intended to outline guiding principles for developing a working relationship between a First Nations community and a public school to encourage and support parent involvement. This would be my contribution to the school and Sliammon community. Methodology In this section I present the methodology and methods used for this study. I describe the type of research as well as the process used to convey the results. I also outline the stages of the study to provide the frame of the process. 28 A Case Study I conducted a qualitative case study written mainly in narrative form. I also drew from narrative inquiry to encourage the reader to rethink his or her own beliefs and practices. Merriam (2001) describes a qualitative case study as an "intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single instance, phenomenon, or social unit" (p. 27). My case, or 'social unit' was the elementary public school in Powell River and the 'phenomenon' was its relationship with the local First Nations Sliammon parents. I chose a case study, wanting to look in depth at this particular school and community because of their purported good relationship resulting in improving First Nations parent involvement, "Anchored in real-life situations, the case study results in a rich and holistic account of a phenomenon" (Merriam, 2001, p. 41). The theoretical framework from which I viewed this study was that educators have to build relationships with First Nations parents to have them involved in public schools. Merriam (2001) talks about the theoretical framework being "derivedfrom the orientation or stance that you bring to your study" (p. 45). Building relationships with parents has always been an implicit belief for me. This study endeavored to make this belief explicit, that is to say, it demonstrates what is needed to build a positive relationship between educators and First Nations parents that will result in increased parent involvement. Narrative Writing Working in narrative, as mentioned earlier, was chosen due to the rich oral history of First Nations people (Miller, 1996). It was also chosen because I believe narrative is the best way to write about educational experience, "Experience happens narratively. 29 Narrative inquiry is a form of narrative experience. Therefore, educational experience should be studied narratively (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 19). For me the inquiry and the experience became one. I wanted to work collaboratively with the participants and hear their stories as life experiences. I listened to the experiences of the interviewees and, at times, shared my own experiences with them. I reflected on my experience during the process and allowed it to guide me throughout my writing. Clandinin & Connelly (2000) talk about the need to find 'the narrative threads' that tie together and create the stories: "The narrative inquirer may note stories but more often records actions, doings, and happenings, all of which are narrative expressions" (p. 79). Throughout the research process I recorded the 'happenings' as part of the story. My own stories emerged as I experienced the process. I believe for many participants new stories emerged for them as well throughout the study. Working in narrative meant being aware of the tentative nature of what I was writing. Each person's story not only had a beginning, middle and end but it had, as Clandinin & Connelly (2000) suggest, a 'temporality.' Their stories are affected by their past experiences and their present circumstances talking to me, and possibly their anticipated future circumstances. I was aware that my interpretation of their stories could easily change depending on which lens I used. In order to ensure that I was truly hearing what the participants said, I worked collaboratively with them during the verification process. They helped guide me to better understand and learn from their stories. Writing 30 narratively caused me to consider the personal stories of each interviewee, the environment affecting these stories as well as historical events and future possibilities. Clandinin & Connelly (2000) refer to this as looking 'inward', 'outward', 'backward' and 'forward.' One asks questions, collects field notes, derives interpretations, and writes a research text that addresses both personal and social issues by looking inward and outward, and addresses temporal issues by looking not only to the event but to its past and to its future. (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 50) While writing in this narrative style I drew from Pushor (2001) and her PhD thesis, A Storied Photo Album of Parents' Positioning and the Landscape of Schools. Pushor, like myself, is a parent, an educator and an administrator. Her study explored the role of the parent in the public school system. Throughout her study, Pushor wove in and out of conversations, literature review, and personal thoughts, as they seemed pertinent, "I'll share my stories with you as they come to mind, as they become significant to the conversation " (p. 43). In my writing, I too wove in and out of the interview stories, the literature review and personal experiences I had from the research process. Pushor's work, however, was written as a pure narrative inquiry and included no formal interviews, as noted in her conversation with a colleague, "I told him I was going to arrive at the school, hang my coat andfind a place to put my things, get a coffee and wait to see what happened" (p. 43). She instead had informal open-ended conversations with teachers, parents and administrators to collect 'data.' I too had conversations with teachers, parents and administrators but, unlike a narrative inquiry, they were in a semi-structured interview format that evolved into open-ended discussions. This more formalized process was chosen due to my time and availability of participants. Unlike 31 Pushor, it was not possible for me to spend a year in the school to "see what happened." Furthermore, my main focus was to talk to First Nations parents about their involvement and lack of involvement in the school. If I only spoke with the parents who I found in the school, I would have a select group who were already comfortable being there. I wanted to hear from the parents who were not involved in the school. Pushor's study also looked at issues similar to those I wanted to explore: building relationships with parents, although not First Nations parents; and being aware of the effects of colonialism on the public school system. I will refer to Pushor's research again later in this study. Reflexivity Throughout this study I used a reflexive style, both while researching and writing. As stated by Denzin & Lincoln (2003): It [reflexivity] is a conscious experiencing of the self as both inquirer and respondent, as teacher and learner, as the one coming to know the self within the processes of research itself, (p. 283) By using this reflexive style, my thoughts and comments were interwoven throughout the study as I struggled to understand the participants, the research problem, and myself: .. .writing is not merely the transcribing of some reality. Rather, writing—of all the texts, notes, presentations, and possibilities—is also a process of discovery: discovery of the subject (and sometimes of the problem itself) and discovery of the self. (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003, p. 284) In an attempt to avoid doing 'expert outsider' research, as identified by Smith (2002), I took a more 'insider' role as I built relationships with the interviewees and spoke and wrote in a reflexive manner: 32 The critical issue with insider research is the constant need for reflexivity. At a general level insider researchers have to have ways of thinking critically about their process, their relationships and the quality and richness of their data and analysis, (p. 137) At times I found writing in this 'reflexive' manner caused me considerable discomfort. This might be called the reflexivity of the reflexivity. I have felt quite vulnerable and exposed revealing my subconscious thoughts. Until this study, I was seldom aware of what I now see as very stereotypical thinking, bordering on racism. In fact, I have always prided myself in believing I am a non-judgmental person who values everyone for who they are. I am also acutely aware of who is reading this document, at least two of who are First Nations women. I do not want to offend in any way. I find myself wanting to go back and remove some of these reflections, or at least defend myself, which is probably what I am now trying to do. When Denzin & Lincoln (2003) talk about writing being a "discovery of the subject and discovery of the self (p. 284), I concur with their comments and continue to write with trepidation, wondering how much more I will 'discover.' Using my gardening metaphor, I have 'unearthed' many surprises. The Non-Native Researcher During this study I was well aware of my position of power as a white administrator (Alcoff, 1992; Smith, 2002) working with First Nations people. I know that some critics believe it is "not appropriate for a non-Native investigator to attempt to tell the stories or speak in the voice ofpeople of another culture... " (Miller, 1996, p. 478). A non-Native person doing research of any nature with 'indigenous peoples' according to Smith (2002) is problematic due to a "different conceptualization of such things as time, space and 33 subjectivity, different and competing theories of knowledge, highly specializedforms of language, and structures of power" (p. 42). Smith (2002) believes research is "linked to European imperialism and colonialism, " and is "probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world's vocabulary" (p. 1). Smith does, however, make suggestions, to which I refer later, of how non-Native researchers can work with First Nations people. Considering the sensitive nature of a non-Native person working with First Nations parents, how is it, then, that I believed I had any right, let alone any skill, to research with First Nations people? Haig-Brown (1992), a well-known non-Aboriginal author-collaborator with First Nations people, questioned her role as a researcher: I continue to wonder about the possibility of my contributions being useful to the people with whom I work or if they may somehow serve to inform those who would continue to dominate and oppress, (p. 187) My intention is to be very aware of "informing those who may oppress;" in fact, I plan to share my research findings with other administrators to bring awareness about oppression as it relates to parent involvement. According to Graham Smith, cited in Smith (2002), there are four models that non-indigenous researchers can follow to be culturally appropriate. The first, "tiaki, or mentoring model," is when an indigenous person would "guide and sponsor the research. " The second, "whangai or adoption model," has the researcher "incorporated into the daily life... and sustain a life-long relationship. " The third, "power sharing model", has the researcher "seek the assistance of the community." Finally, the fourth model "empowering outcomes, " answers questions the people want to know themselves 34 and has "beneficial outcomes" for them (p. 177). To some degree, I believe I have addressed the criteria for each of these models during my research. My advisor, 'guide and sponsor,' is a First Nations person. Although I did not anticipate 'life-long relationships' as a result of this research, I do believe I became a small part of the lives of some First Nations people through their stories and my own reflexivity. I definitely sought the assistance of the community members through the Ho ho jo thot group and, lastly, I produced a document to be used for the benefit of First Nations' parents. By identifying the factors that have contributed to the positive working relationship between the Sliammon Community and James Thomson Elementary, I believe I have provided them with knowledge and information to sustain these conditions, regardless of future changes that may occur for them. My guess is this is a shallow interpretation of Graham Smith's models, and yet I would argue that my efforts and awareness at least placed me closer to a "culturally sensitive and empathetic approach " (Smith, 2002, p. 177). The Meaning of 'A Positive Relationship' I feel it is important to explain at this point what I mean by a positive relationship. To begin with, one of the purposes of this study was to define that meaning as interpreted by members of the Sliammon community and the educators in Powell River. They already believed they had 'it'; they just didn't know what 'it' was. When first exploring the possibility of working with the Sliammon community, I heard the words 'positive' or 'good relationship' mentioned by school staff, senior officials from the School Bdard Office, and Band Council members. However, dining casual conversation, all groups mentioned they did not know exactly why or how this had happened. This study sought 35 to identify the factors that had contributed to this positive relationship, and endeavored to help them sustain and share this knowledge. From my position, I initially used the Oxford Dictionary (1996) definitions to begin the discussion about a 'positive relationship.' Oxford defines the word 'relationship' as "a connection, emotional association between two people " (p.425); and the word 'positive' as "constructive, favorable " (p. 387). I then went to Hinde & Stevenson-Hinde (1987) for their definition of a relationship. They emphasize the need to consider that a relationship is not static and is an interaction between both parties that changes over time: When two individuals interact on successive occasions over time, each interaction may affect subsequent ones, and we speak of them as having a relationship. Their relationship includes not only what they do together, but the perceptions, fears, expectations, and so on that each has about the other and about the future course of the relationship, based in part on the individual histories of the two interactants and the past history of their relationship with each other, (p. 2) In my study I stayed mindful of how the educators and parents interacted with one another and how the history of the First Nations parents would influence their relationship with the educators. Keeping in mind King's (1990) definition of the First Nations meaning of 'all my relations' as mentioned earlier, for the purpose of this study, I defined a 'positive relationship' as follows: A positive relationship can be characterized as individuals or groups who have an emotional connection, in this case the children. The relationship may be influenced by the history of perceptions and or fears, but regardless of this, they feel they can work together in a constructive, favorable manner. 36 Digging In With every garden project I begin with enthusiasm, and yet with some apprehension, wondering what I may encounter. Throughout the winter I compost directly into the soil. As a result, when spring growing begins there are many surprises popping out of the ground. I seldom remove this new growth, which means I find potatoes and pansies with the carefully planted row of beets or tomatoes emerging in the middle of the cilantro. It is all valuable to me, a much more interesting landscape when allowed to grow freely. So it was when I began my data collection. With the assistance of the Ho ho jo thot group I carefully organized my interview questions. Letters of introduction were sent via mail by the principal to every educator and First Nations parent at James Thomson School requesting volunteers for interviews. Each person who responded was interviewed. No one who volunteered was excluded. Volunteers were sent a consent letter, which was followed by a personal phone call by me. At that time they were given a choice for the location of the interview, the school, their home or the Friendship center at Sliammon. I started the process with the same enthusiasm and apprehension I have for gardening. I had carefully planned my questions, the organized seeds I wanted to plant. Now all I had to do was water and feed them, nurture them along. I knew, however, there would be many unexpected seeds under the soil ready for an opportunity to burst forth. Some would be from childhood memories, others from current school experiences. I was determined to view every surprise as new growth. There could also be some seeds I would be unaware of planting myself. My body language, tone of voice, and comments could all affect the growth or lack of growth during the interviews: 37 [The] interviewer-respondent interaction is a complex phenomenon. Both parties bring biases, predispositions, attitudes, and physical characteristics that color the interaction and the data elicited. (Merriam, 2001, p. 87) It would be very easy to carelessly step on a seedling if I did not stay aware. The Interview Experience My second meeting with the Ho ho jo thot group proved to be a positive growth experience for me, and definitely had some surprises. To begin with, it was the first time I had driven through the Reserve by myself. Initially, I had been with the Aboriginal District Coordinator. Now on my own, I was aware of 'standing out' a white woman in a very large new black truck. It felt as if everyone I drove past was staring at me. I was unsure if my discomfort was because I felt 'different' or if I was worried about looking like an intruder. My guess is it was a little of both. Whatever the cause, I found myself reflecting on how First Nations parents must feel walking through the front door of a predominantly white school. Upon arrival at the Elders' Lodge where I was to meet the Ho ho jo thot group, I felt flashes of anxiety. As I walked through the door, two women, whom I had never met, stared at me with the 'who the heck are you' look. I explained who I was and they immediately smiled, offered me tea and said they would find the group for me. I had brought food for the meeting so busied myself locating plates. Again, I reflected on how uncomfortable it was entering a new situation as 'a minority.' I am someone who has lived a very privileged life with many successes. Yet, even with that confidence base, I 38 felt very unsure of myself. I was quickly developing a new appreciation for how we should expect First Nations parents to come to the school and be 'involved.' As the Ho ho jo thot group arrived, I offered them tea and goodies and presented them with my carefully sculpted interview questions, "The key to getting good data from interviewing is to ask good questions" (Merriam, 2001, p. 75). I had spent many hours developing the questions. At one point I realized the way they were worded sounded as if the 'good' relationship was only because of the school and nothing to do with the Sliammon community. I was proud of myself for being aware of that and having changed it before our meeting. I had done my own mini field test with my questions, by asking a First Nations friend to respond to them for me, "Pilot interviews are crucial for trying out your questions" (Merriam, 2001, p. 75). The Ho ho jo thot committee, however, immediately dismembered my wording, making such comments as, "Don 'fuse 'tell me' it sounds like an order" and, "Some of your opening statements will put people on guard" (Ho ho jo thot meeting, November 2005). I was shocked, and definitely a bit frustrated, but hugely grateful for their comments. They had identified an important component of data collection that I had neglected to consider: Without sensitivity to the impact of particular words on the person being interviewed, the answer may make no sense at all/or there may be no answer. (Patton in Merriam, 2001, p. 76) We spent the next two hours rewording my questions (Appendix A). To begin with I had wanted to focus the questions on three themes: 'leadership', 'policy' and 'culture.' The consensus from the Ho ho jo thot group was that the parents would not have much to say about leadership and policy and that the culture question needed to be reworded to reflect 39 what was actually going on in the school. They felt I needed to allow parents to talk about what blocked them from being involved and then talk about what they would do to improve parent involvement if they were the principal. When I look back at the wording of the questions, I can see that the Ho ho jo thot group had intuitively reworded them in such a way that would encourage discourse as opposed to specific answers. The question, 'Tell me what you know about the relationship between the school and the parents (or Band and District), became 'Talk to me about the relationship between the Sliammon community and the school.' I thought I had been sensitive to creating open-ended questions that would encourage stories instead of "responses limited to 'relevant' answers to narrowly specified questions" (Mishler, 1986, p. 68). Thanks to their direction, I was able to illicit many rich stories during the interview process. The Ho ho jo thot group then approved my parent consent letters (Appendix C). Parents who had volunteered for an interview had indicated so by returning the original introductory letter to the Sliammon Education Officer or the school district Aboriginal Coordinator. The Ho ho jo thot had the names of the volunteers and offered to 1 disseminate the consent letters for me. On the same day I briefly met with the school principal who was in receipt of the educator volunteer names. She too offered to give the consent letters to them. All that was left for me to do at that point was phone each volunteer personally to establish a time and place for the interviews. I would then be ready to begin interviewing. 40 As I am writing this, I have become aware of a subtle change that has occurred in my thinking in the past two years. Before this study, I explored the possibility of doing the same research in a different school. At that time I worked solely through the principal. I spoke with him on the phone and visited 'his' school. It never occurred to me to contact the First Nations people first. I am sure I would eventually have done this but it is interesting for me to note that most of my contact for this study was with the Sliammon people themselves and that the principal of the school was only someone with whom I 'briefly met' when it was necessary. I am sure as a result of this shift my study is far more valid than it would have been if I had worked from the lens of the school. During the next two months I met with 20 people as outlined below: • 4 James Thomson teachers, one of whom was also a Sliammon parent • The James Thomson Principal • 7 Sliammon parents • 2 Sliammon parent support workers • The Sliammon Education Manager • The Sliammon Chief • An Elder • The Powell River District Aboriginal Education Coordinator • The Powell River District Superintendent • The Powell River Mayor • From this group there were: o 14 females o 6 males o 14 First Nations people o 6 non-Native people The interviews with the parent support workers were not the standard taped interviews. The Ho ho jo thot group had recommended that I meet with these individuals, and discuss my project and questions with them, so they could talk to the parents who came to their parenting sessions. I met with the Daycare workers and they agreed to discuss the questions with the parents and get back to me with the results. During my initial contact 41 with these two women I felt very uncomfortable. I found myself 'rattling on' about why I was doing this research and who gave me permission to talk to them, the Ho ho jo thot group. They were very pleasant and willing to talk to their parent group for me. A few weeks later I met with them again and they shared with me the results of then-discussions. Later I reflected on my discomfort from the first meeting. I decided it was because I had not officially organized this meeting and therefore was not 'protected' by my role. I felt like I was just some middle class white person trying to get something from them. This surprise helped me prepare for the formal meetings with the parents. I did not want to feel awkward again but, on the other hand, I did not want to look like someone 'protected in a role.' I decided I would have to be well organized prior to the interviews and then be totally genuine and open to vulnerability during them. I did not tape record the interviews with the Chief or the Mayor but instead took notes. I did this because, during a meeting with the Ho ho jo thot committee, they strongly recommended that I meet with the Chief and the Mayor. They said that each had played a significant role in building a relationship between the Sliammon Community and the 'white' people of Powell River. After our meeting they insisted that I go directly to the Chiefs office because they knew he was 'around.' I felt uncomfortable going to his office, but assumed his secretary would book me an appointment for which I could better prepare myself. The Chiefs secretary was at lunch, but the Chief invited me into his office without hesitation. After introductions, I told him about my study. He had already heard about it and was keen to help. We determined there was no good time for him to meet with me in the next few weeks so he insisted that I interview him right then, even 42 though he was about to go to lunch. I had no tape recorder but I did have a copy of my questions. We met for an hour during which I quickly took notes. He made me feel extremely comfortable and I had a strong sense that building relationships was very important to this man. As a result of this interview without a tape recorder, I felt I should follow the same format with the Mayor. I did not want to do anything that might look like I valued one interviewee more than the other. Although it took nearly two weeks to book an appointment with the Mayor, during the interview I was again aware this was a person who believed building relationships is very important. The educators, except for one, chose to be interviewed at the school or the Board Office. They all appeared comfortable with the format. I felt a strong sense of camaraderie within minutes of beginning the discussions. The one teacher who chose to meet me at her home was very welcoming. She served tea and cookies and talked extensively about her involvement with the Sliammon people on a personal level. The interviews with the parents were initially more stressful for me. All except one chose to meet me at the Friendship Centre at Sliammon. One individual asked me to come to his home. As I headed out to meet with the parents, I found myself feeling awkward driving through the Reserve. This time, however, two people whom I had met previously waved and nodded to me as I drove past. I was amazed at how those gestures 43 helped me feel more like I belonged. I thought about how parents entering a school might be comforted by similar gestures. I had not yet been to the Friendship Centre and was feeling self-conscious about walking through the door, especially when a First Nations man, probably an Elder, was sitting at the table. 'What would he think?' 'Where would I interview if he stayed at the table?' 'What was I going to do for the next hour?' 'I had arrived so early.' All my anxiety was immediately dispelled the moment this man began to talk to me. He appeared to be excited about my arrival. I learned he had heard about my research, and that there was a room ready for me. 'Could he help me move furniture around for the interviews?' 'Would I like tea?' 'Should he turn up the heat for me?' After our initial interactions, he made me tea and insisted I sit with him. He then talked for 40 minutes about his life in Residential School. I found myself thinking, 'How can this man even be in the same room with me, let alone give me tea and treat me so graciously?' He then told me if I wanted to get First Nations parents involved in the school system I needed to get to know them as a people and build relationships. I told him I could skip my interviews because he had just written my thesis for me. We shared a good laugh together. By that time I was very relaxed and once again feeling this study had to be more about doing something for this community than merely writing a thesis. The final interviews were with the Elder and the Shammon Education Manager. The interviews went well. I already knew each of these people because they were part of the Ho ho jo thot group. I felt very humbled during those interviews, as they both had such 44 amazing stories to tell about their lives and their people. I was grateful for their time and wisdom. Tending the Beds Now it was time to sort through what had grown. First, a careful look at the full garden; transcribing, and then sorting and 'weeding' the summaries. Each tape was transcribed, and each transcription read multiple times. Key statements were highlighted and then summarized in the form of a letter for the interviewees. Each comment I made in the summary letter was supported by a quote from the person's transcript. The purpose of the summaries was not to restate every point each interviewee made but to ensure that I had the essence of their comments. Through letters and phone calls, I shared the summaries with the interviewees. Any requests they made to have quotes removed or summaries reworded, I honored. Once the summaries were read and approved by each individual, I started the process of analyzing and integrating the transcripts into one synopsis to present to the interviewees as a whole. I wanted to include the interviewees in the analysis and ensure that they, and the Ho ho jo thot group, approved my interpretation of the stories shared. For my purpose, a formal analysis of coding or linguistically categorizing the stories seemed inadequate. The thought of referring to the participants with whom I had conversed as 'respondents,' and their comments as 'data,' seemed to dehumanize the entire process. Instead, as Sandelowski (1991) suggests, "The interview and the research report need to 45 be rescued from efforts to standardize and scientize them and be reclaimed as occasions for storytelling" (p. 162). I also took direction from Coffey & Atkinson (1996) who said: There are no formulae or recipes for the 'best' way to analyze the stories we elicit and collect. One of the strengths of thinking about our data as narrative is that this opens up the possibilities for a variety of analytic strategies, (p. 80) I viewed each transcript as a story and employed a webbing process commonly used with children for story writing. In the classroom this would involve finding a topic, which would be put in the center of a circle. Ideas would then be brainstormed on anything associated with this topic and written oh the paper linked to the original word with a line. Next, the ideas would be analyzed for commonalities. Circles would be drawn around the ideas that were classified as the same. Headings would be given to each group. The students would then use each grouping as a different paragraph and eventually develop an opening and ending statement. I reversed this process, as I already had the ideas, they just needed to be grouped and classified. I bought four bulletin boards, 2 feet by 3 feet in size. At the top of each board I placed one of four headings from the interview questions: 'relationship,' 'culture,' 'parent involvement (barriers)' and 'parent involvement (if you were principal).' I then cut sentences and phrases from the transcripts and using pushpins I stuck them onto the appropriate board. As I did this, common categories started to emerge. Several days were spent moving sentence strips around until I felt I had included everyone's ideas and each idea was appropriately 'classified.' Themes emerged that were written and summarized. It was then time to return to the Ho ho jo thot group, meeting number three, to have them verify my interpretation of the transcripts. 46 The drive through the Reserve for the Ho ho jo thot meeting felt quite natural. In fact, it wasn't until I arrived at the Elder's Centre that I even thought about it. My comfort level had changed significahtly. No longer did I feel like an 'intruder.' I had something to offer. I was an accepted member of the group. As people arrived, however, I could feel a certain degree of anxiety. "What if they disagreed with my analysis? What if I had interpreted the stories from a Eurocentric lens? " Their approval had become very important to me. The meeting went well. They felt I had captured significant information from the interviews, and agreed I should now meet with the parents, educators and administrators to share my analysis. One point, however, that they were adamant about was that I should meet with the parents separately. They felt the parents would not feel comfortable speaking out if the educators and administrators were in the room. I was distressed by this concern since my entire thesis was based on the premise that there was a good relationship between the school and Sliammon Band. I wanted everyone to come together and communicate and feel good about one another. I knew, however, that the Ho ho jo thot group was right. If I wanted the parents to speak freely, I had to ensure a safe environment. I arranged to meet with the parents during a lunch hour since two of them were working and time was difficult for them. This gave me an opportunity to provide lunch and create an atmosphere of appreciation. I expressed how much I had enjoyed meeting everyone and provided the participants with an overview of the process I had followed. They were very supportive of my results and talked enthusiastically about helping to develop the 47 final document. Some caution was given about one interpretation I had made which I immediately noted. (Details of this meeting will be given in Chapter Four.) The group meeting with the educators and administrators was the same format but was held after school at James Thomson. They felt my analysis was "insightful" and "useful." One educator said at the end of the meeting: If you do nothing else with this information, I feel you have helped us as a staff by forcing us to think about how we need to change to better involve the First Nations parents. (Educator 1, 2005) The rest of the teachers nodded their heads and expressed agreement. I felt like crying. Not only had I learned an enormous amount about myself but also it appeared that my study had already benefited the community. The final step was to meet with the Ho ho jo thot group, meeting number 4, and interviewees to develop the Handbook. I anticipated doing this within six months of the original interviews but in fact over a year had elapsed before I was able to meet with them. The details of this meeting will be discussed in Chapter Five. Chapter Review In this chapter I detailed the selection of the First Nations community and the elementary school chosen for the study. I gave the rationale for choosing a case study written in narrative and explained my use of reflexivity to include my personal journey throughout the research. I also outlined the development of the First Nations committee j the Ho ho jo thot group that gave me guidance during the study. Finally, I outlined the stages of the 48 study; organizing and planning the process, interviewing 20 volunteers, summarizing the interviews, reconnecting with the interviewees to ensure I had the essence of their stories, analyzing and interpreting the stories, meeting with the interviewees as groups to seek approval of analysis and developing the Handbook with the interviewees. Throughout each stage I sought direction and approval from the Ho ho jo thot group. 49 CHAPTER 3 KNOWING THE LANDSCAPE Years ago when I started gardening I used the 'trial and error' approach. I knew from watching my mother that to make the garden grow I had to dig the soil in the spring, plant seeds, water and weed. A few months later I would indulge in the bountiful crop. The process seemed obvious and simple. What a shock I had when I followed this process and did not get my mother's results; some things would grow, many did not One year the carrots would be long and juicy, the next year short and 'woody.' I blundered along with varying degrees of success. I started asking friends for help. They gave me ideas but I eventually resorted to books written by the 'experts.' What a difference it made. I was then able to mesh theory and research with observations and experience. So it has been for me with First Nations parent involvement in the public school system. At first I watched what others were doing and then tried my own techniques based on observations and trial and error. I had some successes and many failures. Surely invitations to participate (cultivating the soil), and giving ideas on what they could do (planting seeds), would be enough to find blossoming faces at my door ready to be harvested. I could easily add smiles and reinforcement, the sunshine and water, to encourage the growth. Minimal growth occurred. Again, it was time for me to go to the experts. Like gardening, though, I found no guaranteed methods. Each garden has its own unique properties that have to be identified in relation to the theory. Parents too have their own uniqueness that has to be considered with sensitivity and awareness. Prior to this research, I was working with considerable sensitivity and very little awareness. 50 Looking at the work of others and combining this knowledge with my research, I believe I have now developed the awareness needed to identify the factors to guide the practice of non-Native educators that will help to build a positive working relationship between a First Nations community and an elementary public school as well as encourage and support parent involvement. In this chapter, I illustrate why I believe First Nations parents need more than standard policies and programs (garden-like formulas), to become involved in the public school system. I begin by looking at the importance of parent involvement, the barriers that currently exist and typical models being used to encourage parents to get involved in the school system. I then turn to the research on First Nations involvement in education and the barriers First Nations people have encountered since contact. I identify three main factors, oppression, cultural insensitivity and awareness that I believe, from my experience and the literature review, need to be dealt with before First Nations parents can be meaningfully involved in the public school system. Finally, I review the literature on school leadership and its role in relation to parent involvement in the school system. The Importance of Parent Involvement Research has demonstrated that when parents are involved in their children's education everyone benefits: student, parent, educator and community (Bell, 2004; Epstein, 2001; Mills, 1994). Students' grades improve when their parents are involved, regardless of the parent education, socio-economic status or race (Desimone, 1999; Edwards & Warin, 1999; Griffith, 1996; Hara, 1998; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Ho Sui-Chu & Willms, 51 1996; Reynolds, 1992). Students are more likely to graduate from high school and to enter a post secondary institution if their parents are involved (Ballen & Moles, 2002; Epstein, 2001; White-Clark & Decker, 1996). Parent involvement results in more successful transitions from elementary to high school (Trusty, 1999), attendance improves and students are more prepared to learn (Christenson et al, 1992; Drake, 1995; Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Even acting-out classroom behavior decreases when parents are involved (Christenson, 1995; Dauber & Epstein 1993; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994). In a study done for the Saskatchewan School Trustees, parent involvement was found to be the single most important factor for academic success (Mills, 1994). Parents feel more connected with the school when they become involved (Dauber & Epstein, 1993; Hornby, 2000) and generally have a stronger sense of efficacy (Hornby, 2000). Their parenting skills frequently improve (Christenson, 1995), as does their ability to communicate with their children (Epstein, 2001). Parent self esteem can improve as a result of positive teacher comments (Sutherland, 1991) that can then result in parents furthering their own formal education (Ballen & Moles, 2002; Hornby, 2000). Teachers benefit from parent involvement by having extra helpers in the classroom, giving them more time to spend with individual students (Chavkin, 1989; Prosise, 1990; Sutherland, 1991). Teachers' efficacy often improves when parents get involved (Swick, 1997), as does their general morale (Prosise, 1990; Sutherland, 1991). 52 Issues related to the school in general also improve as a result of parent involvement. New school initiatives are better sustained when parents are involved (Leitch & Tangri, 1988; Sutherland, 1991), and school/parent communication improves (Christenson et al, 1992). Parents rate the school more highly (Dauber & Epstein, 1993) and students have a more positive attitude towards the school when their parents are involved (Christenson, 1995; Epstein & Dauber, 1993). When there is extensive parent involvement in a school, there is a more positive school climate (Christenson et al, 1992). The community benefits when parents are involved because the children tend to get more involved in the community and, when seniors are involved, they have a stronger sense of purpose due to connecting with the children (National PTA, 1997). Research sponsored by the National PTA (2002) found that alcohol, violence and anti-social behavior decreased when parents got involved in the school system, benefiting the entire community (cited in Kavanagh, 2003). The difficulty with the parent involvement research is that there is no clear definition on the meaning or terminology of parent involvement. Studies use a variety of measures to determine the effectiveness of parent involvement. Ho Sui-Chu, E. and Willms, J.D. (1996) studied eighth-grade students and their parents and teachers in 1000 schools to determine if parent involvement improved student achievement. For them 'involvement' was: discussing school activities at home, monitoring activities, contacting the school and volunteering. The authors found that the time parents spent involved with their children schoolwork correlated positively with student achievement. They speculated that better 53 results would be attained if the educators were more directive about teaching techniques and curriculum. Izzo et al (1999) did a longitudinal study of 1200 primary children in New England to measure the effects of parent involvement on student achievement. The measures used in this study were: parent teacher contacts, quality interactions, participation in school activities and activities at home. The authors found that home activities correlated the highest with student achievement. Keith et al (1993) used different measures again to determine a correlation between parent involvement and student achievement. They defined parent involvement as: parent's educational hopes, parent-child communication, family rules and school volunteering. They found that high parent hopes or aspirations for their children and good communication correlated positively with student achievement. Regardless of how parent involved is defined or measured, Provincial Governments in Canada, most recently in British Columbia (Bill 34, School Amendment Act, 2002) have mandated parent involvement in public schools. Schools are required to have a plan for parent involvement as well as a school council that gives parents a voice in decision-making. In some cases this has become problematic due to parents positioning themselves as having rights in the classroom previously never imagined by teachers. At the same time, teachers are trying to maintain control of education. An article in an education journal, From Fund Raising to Hell Raising: New Roles for Parents, talks 54 about parents as being 'vocal' and 'demanding' and questioning school authority (Fege, 2000). Another article in the Globe & Mail, 2004, Beware the Super Parent: Educators learn to deal with new schoolyard bully, states that: Parents across Canada are facing no-trespass orders, criminal charges and civil suits after shouting abuses at teachers, refusing to leave their child's classroom, or staging protests in a bid to get their child into special programs, (p. 1) From my own experience of encouraging and supporting parent involvement in every new school in which I have been principal, I have encountered some resistance from teachers. At 'my' last school the staff bemoaned my departure until someone 'jokingly' said, "Well at least we won't have to have all these parents in our classroom and staffroom any more " (Teacher, April, 2003). At the time I laughed with them but reflected with some sadness that I had not done a very good job of 'educating' them about parent involvement. I knew without the ongoing encouragement and support from the staff, the parents would not stay involved (Dauber & Epstein, 1993; Fullan, 1991; Patrikakou et al, 1999). Barriers to Parent Involvement It would seem logical to assume that when parent involvement results in so many benefits there would be extensive involvement in all schools. In fact, the research has found that there are very low levels of parent involvement (Carey et al, 1998; Epstein, 2001). The barriers seem to be varied. Teachers generally do not tend to encourage involvement (Henderson et al, 1986) and when they do they try to keep the parents to typical and/ or superficial roles such as helping with art projects and driving for field trips (Pena, 2000). 55 In her study of a small urban elementary school in Texas, Pena interviewed 28 parents of Mexican decent. One of the most significant factors parents reported as discouraging them from being involved was teacher attitude. It made the difference to whether or not parents felt 'welcomed' in the school. Even principals are not always cooperative when parents want to be involved (Epstein, 2001). Other parents are unable to get involved due to time, transportation, language and childcare (Adelman, 1994; Baker, 1997; Patrikakou et al 1999; Pena, 2000). For some parents it is due to their own negative school experiences (Finders & Lewis, 1994), cultural differences (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001), and/or lack of education (Comer, 1980) that they are unwilling or unwelcomed to be involved. First Nations parent involvement in the public school system is particularly low compared to non-Native parents (Friedel, 1999; Sewepagaham, 1998; Tippeconnic, 1999). Reasons for lack of involvement are similar to the non-Native parents but with other issues layered onto the standard barriers. Hare (2003) found First Nations parents are reluctant to be involved in the schools due to their own negative school experiences. Mackay & Myles (1995) found that sometimes the principal actually discouraged First Nations parents from getting involved in the school: The principal may implicitly discourage [First Nations] parents from participating as complementary partners in education, (p. 166) MacKay & Myles (1995) also believe that some First Nations parents may feel that their children graduating can pose a threat to their traditional ways and therefore do not get involved: 56 Parents may fear that they will 'lose' their children both metaphorically and literally; education will result in a severing of emotional and cultural ties and may eventually lead children to leave the reserve or community for attractive employment elsewhere, (p. 167) According to Sewepagaham (1998), teachers will not encourage parents. He also found that parents are afraid of authority due to bad memories of Residential schools; Many parents feel insecure and afraid when they go to the school because they themselves had negative experiences.... (p. 16) Friedel (1999) concurs with this position of First Nations parent insecurity. She talks about alienation caused by Residential school experiences and negative relationships between staff and parents resulting in a lack of parent involvement in schools. She does not see the public school as meeting needs any better than Residential schools: Where Residential schools might be viewed as cultural invasion, perhaps public schools can be seen as 'cultural occupation'. In both cases parents remain on the outside looking in. (p. 141) She concludes that First Nations parents may be consciously not participating in the public school system as a form of passive resistance to oppression: Perhaps the mass resistance of Aboriginal parents to being involved is the result of the existence of oppression in the system, (p. 153) In an extensive study done for the Saskatchewan Trustees Association, Mills (1994) found a serious barrier to First Nations parent school involvement related to superficial roles given to parents, a negative attitude of the principal, and parent beliefs: [A barrier is] perhaps the firmly rooted belief that education is best run by professionals rather than as a democratic process that involves all parties with a vested interest, (p. 37) 57 The barrier of 'best run by professionals' was personally reinforced for me recently at the First Nations School in which I work when no parents phoned the school for an interview. A notice had gone home with report cards requesting parents phone for a time that suited them on a certain designated evening. When the interview day arrived and not one parent had phoned the school, the secretary decided to call the parents herself. As a Staff we were amazed when each parent agreed to come to the school once they were personally phoned. Assuming that I had made a process error in expecting the parents to call us, I asked them i f they were waiting for a phone call. The general response was 'no' they believed everything was fine so they wouldn't bother coming to the school but since we did phone they felt they should come. Was this lack of involvement rooted in the belief that the teachers were doing a fine job and there was no need for parent input, as Mills might suggest? Or was it a deeper 'root' of 'it's not our place to tell the teachers what to do unless they directly ask us'? Based on my personal experience, and readings on First Nations research, as outlined below, I would argue that First Nations parents have not yet realized the value of their role in the school system due to years of oppression. A Historical Look at First Nations Parent Involvement For First Nations parents, in my opinion, the barriers to getting involved in the public schools is far more complex than for non-Aboriginal parents due to the struggles since contact. In fact, First Nations parents were involved in their children's education, outside of the public school system, for as long as we have written records (Frideres, 1978; Kirkness & Bowman, 1992). They have been committed to their children's education 58 throughout history. Their traditional education started within the family and community learning how to live in their environment (Kirkness & Bowman, 1992). "It was an education inclusive ofparents, siblings, extendedfamily and Elders" (Hare, 2003, p. 415). Once North America was 'taken over' by the English and French, First Nations parents struggled to remain their children's educators. The government and school officials denied them the right to be involved in their children's education and repeatedly rebuked them (Frideres, 1978; Kirkness & Bowman, 1992). In fact the government used their control of education as a means to destroy First Nations culture (Hare, 2003; Smith, 1999). As the Missionaries took over Native education in 1670 parents were forbidden to make decisions about curriculum, which was strictly religious knowledge. By 1830 the Indian Affairs Department was formed with a focus to "formally educate and civilize " without jeopardizing the fur trade. Again parents had no say. The Chief Superintendent of Education, in 1845, decided to expand education for First Nations children without input from parents, and made the focus training for farming and/ or farm workers. By 1858, an act was written to "encourage the gradual civilization of the Indian " so that once they could read and write French or English they would be considered "enfranchised (thus no longer an Indian in legal terms) " (Frideres, p. 30). First Nations people had no say in this decision. The British North America Act, in 1867, claimed official jurisdiction of Indian education without parent involvement. In 1894, the Department of Indian Affairs established 59 Industrial and Residential schools and was officially given the right to educate Indian children without parent consent. Parents did not give up easily: Resistance among Indian parents manifested itself all across Canada and took many forms, from the withholding of children despite threatened sanctions to petitions, visits and outright threats of violence. (Fournier, 1997, p. 57) Once in school, the children had not only been taken from their families but were isolated from their friends and siblings. It appeared to be a formal attempt to destroy the Indian language and culture as a way of civilizing them: The progress of Indian children at day schools .. .is very greatly hampered and injuriously affected by the associations of their home life. (Annual Report of the Department of Indian Affairs cited in Furniss, 1995, p. 25) In a desperate plea to improve education for their children, a First Nations Chief went to England in 1906 to meet with the King. The Chief was eventually put in jail for this attempt to help the children (Kirkness & Baker, 1994). Another attempt by parents to improve their children's education was made in 1917 when a group of First Nations mothers sent a telegram to Ottawa expressing their concerns regarding the education of Indian children. They were told to apologize for being rude to the government (Moran, 1988). In 1917, for the first time, First Nations parents' concerns were heard. The McKenna-McBride Commission, a Federal and BC Provincial group, reviewed schooling in BC, which resulted in some Reserve schools being formed (Archibald, 1993). In 1920, however, attendance at Residential Schools became law regardless of the desire of the parent. Truant officers were allowed to enforce this law by removing children from their 60 homes and taking them to Residential school if they were not attending a Reserve School (Frideres, 1978). Most parents were not permitted any contact whatsoever with their children once they were at the schools. Any contact with the family was discouraged or forbidden outright. (Hare, 2003, p.418) In another attempt to improve their children's education, members of the Chehalis Band wrote a letter in 1936 to the Indian Department requesting a new teacher. According to the children and parents, the current teacher, who was not a professionally trained teacher, was not covering the curriculum or paying adequate attention to the children to support their learning. The Indians of our band are quite willing and anxious to do their part in educating their children, but we are asking the Department to give us a capable Instructor who will take a deeper interest in the progress of our children and our own welfare. (Indian Affairs RG 10, Central Registry, cited in Archibald, 1993, p. 101) The Indian Department defended their teacher and did not respond to the parents' request. Parents continued to try to be involved by lobbying for more Day Schools on Reserves and were finally successful in 1940. The problem, however, was that only agricultural skills were allowed to be taught (Frideres, 1978). In 1944, the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons conducted a study of Indian Education and determined that Indian children should be treated as all other Canadian children, this meant, however, that Indian language and culture were still not part of the curriculum regardless of what parents wanted (Frideres, 1978). The focus of the Government changed during the period 1945 to 1950, from assimilation to integration of Indian children. Staffing, budgets and curriculum, however, remained under the 61 control of the government, not the parents. Serious concerns were expressed about the lack of First Nations content in the curriculum. One study done by an Indian Integration Committee, recommended that there be "increased First Nations participation in school programmes" (Archibald, 1993, p. 102). By the 1960s it appeared that the government was going to begin to listen to parents. Most Residential and Reserve schools were phased out due to ongoing concerns expressed by parents (Archibald, 1993). The Hawthorn Report (1967), a two-volume study on contemporary Indians, acknowledged that First Nations children lived and learned differently from mainstream Canadian children. It recommended that: The integration of Indian children into the public school system should proceed with due concern for all involved and after the full co-operation of local Indians and non-Indians has been secured. (Hawthorn Report, 1967, cited in Kirkness & Bowman 1992, p. 107) Unfortunately little changed as a result of this report. The Hawthorn Report was followed by the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy (also known as the White Paper) in 1969 and stated that all forms of discrimination would be eliminated. However, it also said it would be no longer responsible for Indian education and that complete integration would occur with no extra help to the provinces. This action would eliminate Aboriginal constitutional rights. First Nations parents were not consulted. In 1971, the Watson Report, written by a federal body from the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs and Northern Development, "noted many deficiencies in the response of federal and provincial governments to the needs of First Nations and Inuit communities and recommended a variety of actions aimed at involving parents and communities 62 through education committees and school board participation " (Graham, et al, 1996, p. 275). In 1972, The National Indian Brotherhood, originating from concerned parents, was formed as a reaction to the proposed White Paper on Indian Policy. This resulted in the document, Indian Control of Indian Education, the main focus of which was for local control of education and parental responsibility. "It recognizes that Indian parents must enjoy the same fundamental decision-making rights about their children's education as other parents across Canada" (Kirkness & Bowman, 1992, p. 15). A significant step towards First Nations parent involvement occurred in 1975 when the Nisga'a people were given the right to form their own school district in Northern BC. Unfortunately, it was required to be modeled after the mainstream districts, "models which were developedfor non-Indians" (McKay & McKay 1987, p. 80). A new study by the Federal Government in 1982, the Indian Education Paper, acknowledged the lack of change for Indian children that resulted in funds being provided for First Nations people to do their own study. As a result, in 1988 the Assembly of First Nations completed a study of First Nations education, Tradition & Education: Towards a Vision of Our Vision, and found that very little had changed in 16 years. This started a new focus in self-government for First Nations people: The right of First Nations to resume jurisdiction over education affecting First Nations students in federal, First Nations, and public schools must be recognized by all levels of government. (Recommendations of the 1988 Assembly of First Nations Report cited in Kirkness & Bowman, 1992, p. 113) 63 The MacPherson Report in 1991, Tradition & Education: Towards a Vision of our Future, reviewed the 1988 Assembly of First Nations report. It commended the Assembly of First Nations for its report and recommended that: A National education law must create an explicit and formal role for Indians in the creation and administration of Indian education policy. (MacPherson Report, Tradition & Education: Towards a Vision of our Future, 1991, p. 43) Still very little changed for First Nations children. In 1996, The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Vol.3: Gathering Strength, once again recommended that First Nations parents needed to be a significant part of their children's education: The commission recommends that Federal, provincial and territorial governments collaborate with Aboriginal governments, organizations or education authorities, as appropriate, to support the development of Aboriginal controlled education systems... (p. 256) When Iretired from my position as a school administrator in 2003, having been involved in public education for 30 years, I saw very little change for the First Nations child in the classroom and little, if any, change resulting from the Royal Commission. As educators we are critical of the lack of First Nations parent involvement in our school system. At times I have heard staff say, 'Do they even care how their kids are doing?' After years of being told their opinions are not needed, that their language and culture is detrimental to education and that their recommendations are not worthy of following, is it any wonder that First Nations parents appear to not be involved in the public school system? During my first 'draft' of this study the previous sentence read, "Is it any wonder that First Nations parents are not involved..." After working directly with First Nations parents, I can see that they may 'appear' to not be involved but in fact they have 64 their own ways of being committed to their children's education. This point was acutely clear to me in a recent discussion with a First Nations educator who said: My parents didn't speak English. They struggled with my schoolwork. Their involvement was in what they said, 'Don't forget who you are.' (First Nations Educator, April 2006) She went on to explain to me that this statement from her mother is what made her do her best at her school. Further examples of First Nations ways of being involved in their children's education will be addressed later in the analysis section. In spite of the lack of apparent visible involvement of First Nations parents, Berger & Das (1972, cited in Frideres, 1978) found "that education is one of the most important topics of concern for Indian people " (p. 34). There are some hopeful current 'happenings' for First Nations education. A National Policy Roundtable called Moving Forward in Aboriginal Education occurred at Concordia University, February 22, 2005. The purpose was to "move forward, from the past to the future, from good intentions to promising initiatives, from talk to action " (p. 25). There were six main action outcomes resulting from this Roundtable: • Improve support for Aboriginal education at all levels • Obtain better data on Aboriginal education and make better use of these data • Promote a culture of learning based on Aboriginal content and approaches • Improve the recruitment, preparation and support for teachers ofAboriginal students • Establish regional centres of excellence to provide research and development support for Aboriginal education • Take short-term initiatives to improve communication, coordination and the sharing of information about best practices. 65 To me, this is an excellent beginning of an authentic attempt Nation-wide to improve education for First Nations children in the public school system. As educators, if we genuinely want First Nations parents to be involved in the public school system, I believe we have to take responsibility to work with them to make the system work for them. For this to happen, I would argue, from my personal experience and review of the literature, we have to first identify and deal with three issues: oppression, cultural insensitivity and awareness of stereotypical tWnking. Oppression To 'oppress' means, "govern or treat harshly, abuse, grind down, maltreat" (Hawker & Cowley, 1996, p. 350). I believe that as educators we have oppressed First Nations people. I would like to think this has not been intentional; that is certainly true of myself. At no time in my career have I intentionally tried to 'grind down or treat harshly' First Nations children or parents. I have, however, met with parents and insisted that their child complete work from the Ministry of Education curriculum which I am only now beginning to understand is based on a Eurocentric frame that originally shut out the beliefs and values of First Nations people. According to Battiste (2000), oppression of the First Nations people has occurred as a result of 'cognitive imperialism'' which she describes as "a form of cognitive manipulation used to disclaim other knowledge bases and values" (p. 198). She argues that the North American ideology of one language, one culture, "seeks to change the consciousness of the oppressed, not change the situation that oppressed them " (p. 198). 66 Young (1990) categorizes oppression into five 'faces': exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. She claims that the presence of any one of these "is sufficient for calling a group oppressed" (p. 64). I will address each 'face' individually as defined by Young and place it in the context of First Nations parent involvement in the school system. 'Exploitation' according to Young, is when a group experiences the steady transfer of power and loss of control resulting in a decrease of self-respect. First Nations parents, from my perspective, have lost control of their children's education, their language and their culture as a result of the Government practice previously outlined. 'Marginalization' is when a group is not acknowledged for their skills or ability resulting in a dependency on systems. "Being dependent in our society implies being legitimately subject to the often arbitrary and invasive authority of social service providers and other public and private administrators" (p. 54). I would argue that First Nations parents have unsuccessfully tried to share their skills and knowledge with the school system but have been told to stay away, resulting in their children becoming pawns in the system. Young describes 'powerlessness' as occurring when a group is unable to have any authority and when policy and rules are imposed on them. Residential schools are a tragic example of First Nations children having policy and rules imposed on them and their parents having no authority to protect them. 'Cultural imperialism', according to Young, is when a group experiences a lack of identity because another group sets the norms or values. One group is dominant over the other and assumes its way is best. Colonialism, in my opinion, has completely dominated First Nations people and almost successfully destroyed their norms 67 and values. Finally, 'violence' can be experienced by a group in the traditional way but also in the form of'harassment, intimidation and ridicule,' according to Young. It is very evident from my personal experience that First Nations children have experienced all of these forms of 'violence' in the school system. This discourse of oppression clearly situates First Nations parents as 'oppressed.' Through cultural imperialism they have been exploited, marginalized and left powerless while they and their children have been violated. Until we recognize and acknowledge this, First Nations parents will always be on the outside looking in. The previous line, 'on the outside looking in' once again leads me to tell a gardening story. My adult son, Jesse, while helping me weed my garden, noted that the dogs followed us around the perimeter fence watching our every move. He said, "Do you think they believe we are trapped in here and they are free, or that they are stuck on the outside looking in? " (Jesse, personal communication, August, 2005). We then had a somewhat philosophical discussion about different perceptions depending on your positioning. This reflection leads me back to my gardening metaphor and First Nations parents. As a white society have we created a well-weeded Eurocentric education system that only allows 'others' to walk the perimeter or enter under controlled conditions? Do we believe we have a garden of well-cultivated ideas and processes that would be destroyed by outsiders 'running through'? I believe we are trapped within our own fencing and that First Nations parents are being kept outside this barrier, possibly not even aware of their own rich garden in which they have been standing. Until we are 68 prepared to remove the fence and merge our garden with theirs, not only will the First Nations parents be left on the outside but we will forever be trapped on the inside. Cultural Insensitivity Until this study, I would have considered cultural 'sensitivity' in a public school as knowing about and providing opportunities for such activities as basket weaving, beading and drumming. As a result of my readings, interviews and personal experience I believe these activities are not the culture, but in fact the products of the culture. As teachers we need to have a much deeper understanding of First Nations culture and how best to use it. Otherwise, our shallow 'understanding' becomes token stereotyping that is beneficial to no one and harmful to all. By using the ideological frame of individualism versus collectivism, I will outline some cultural differences between Anglo Canadians and First Nations people. I would argue, based on personal experience and findings in some studies, that our school system is grounded in an individualist ideology (Adams, 1999; Battiste, 2000; Battiste & Barman, 1995; Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Joe & Malach, 1998). I acknowledge that not everyone is alike; families function in different ways and teachers teach with varying skills, but this is an attempt to identify some core differences that could be causing a disconnect between First Nations parents and children and the public school system. 69 The North American ideology of individualism and capitalism is a stark contrast to the First Nations belief in collective values and spiritualism (Adams, 1999). Joe & Malach (1998) found: [That] when many young Native American children enter the classroom, they frequently find themselves in foreign environments where familiar words, values, and lifestyles are absent. As the classroom activities and language become increasingly different from the familiar home environment, the students suffer a loss of confidence and self-esteem, a loss that is sometimes irreparable, (pp. 142-143) This is not to say we have to change our classrooms to someone else's culture. What we need is to be aware and respectful of differences. By denying a child the right to their own culture, we deny them the soul of their identity. Research has found a correlation between a strong cultural identity and school success (Barnhardt, 1999; Battiste, 2000; McKay & McKay, 1987). Deyhle (1995) states that: Youth who are better integrated into their home culture will be more successful students, regardless of the structural barriers they face. (p. 28) Generally, the collectivist ideology values contributions to the group, intact extended family relations, hard work and self-sacrifice (Deyhle, 1995). Traditions are major life guidelines along with strong connections with the past and future generations (McKay & McKay, 1987). This is in sharp contrast to the individualist position which values competition and individual achievement. With this position, the focus is on 'do your best now' so you will live well in the future, with 'well' often defined by possessions (McDermott, 2001). Punctuality does not have the same priority for the collectivist as it does for the individualist (Joe & Malach, 1998). According to McDermott (2001), being efficient and on time are highly valued by the individualist. Collectivists are 'participant 70 observers' of nature respecting its power (Martin, 1987). Individualists tend to view nature as something to use for personal gain (Martin, 1987). The concept of family in a collectivist culture refers to the extended family, with tremendous respect given to Elders. There is responsibility on the part of the individual to do what is best for the entire family. Individual behavior is reflective of the family (Joe & Malach, 1998). Discipline tends to be unstructured with considerable autonomy given to children (Frideres, 1978). In contrast, in the individualist family, the 'relatives' are seldom considered part of the core family and little respect is given to the elderly (Joe & Malach, 1998). Discipline tends to be very structured and children are tightly supervised (Frideres, 1978). For the collectivist, leadership is demonstrated by what is commonly known, with the goal being shared and negotiated knowledge: Aboriginal leaders derived their authority from their Own characters and their ability to persuade. They were expected to lead by example, and when speaking, to express the thoughts of their people. (Bell, 2004, p. 297) Collectivist leaders do not share information directly and do not respond to direct interrogation. Silence is valued. Story telling is an important component of communication. The individualist leader, on the other hand, has a more direct, forthright aggressive manner with the goal to be right. Control and power are essential to communication. (Riddington, 1990). 71 Christenson and Sheridan (2001) suggest that cultural differences between school and home could be a significant cause of lack of parent involvement. Epstein (2001) in her studies found, "When teachers differ culturally and educationally from their students.... they are less likely to know the students' parents and, therefore, more likely to believe that parents are uninterested or uninvolved" (p. 145). As educators, we need to learn about and value these cultural differences so that First Nations parents will feel a part of the school system and thereby more likely to be involved. As I stated earlier, I believe it is our responsibility to make the system work for the parents and the children. Awareness When I first began this research I was not thinking about 'racism' as an issue to write about. I knew, as I explained earlier, that I was not and never would be racist. Periodically I had heard parents and students express concerns about racism in the Public School system, but knew from the staff that it was not an issue.. .none of us would ever be 'racist.' After three years of reading, writing, listening, thinking and generally becoming much more aware of my own subconscious thoughts, I have concluded that I cannot avoid the topic. I am choosing, however, to discuss it from the point of view of being 'aware' or, as Maxine Greene (1978) says, 'wide-awake' to our thinking and actions: ... each of us achieved contact with the world from a particular vantage point, in terms of a particular biography. All of this underlies our present perspectives and affects the way we look at things and talk about things and structure our realities. To be in touch with our land-scapes is to be conscious of our evolving experiences, to be aware of the ways in which we encounter our world, (p. 2) 72 During the past three years I feel I have become very aware of my thinking. I have seen how my assumptions about 'good' and 'right' are based on a very middle class Eurocentric positioning. Most shocking for me has been the awareness of my subconscious stereotypical thoughts. If I am making assumptions about First Nations parents even before I meet them, how can I ever expect them to feel comfortable to enter the school? As a result of this research, I believe educators have to develop a 'wide-awakeness' to who they are and what they think. Being 'wide-awake' to the possibility of stereotypical thinking or racism will be the foundation to begin to develop genuine trusting relationships with First Nations parents. School Leadership At this point I believe it is important to discuss school leadership and its link to parent involvement. From my own experience of 15 years as a school principal in the public system, I have found the amount of parent involvement in a school is directly related to the leadership provided by the principal. When a principal views parents as interfering in 'our' profession, the parents are more likely to become hostile, fight the system or just stay away. Principals, who believe parents should be involved in their children's education, develop policies and programs that encourage meaningful participation. This results in a sense of community with the staff and parents and builds trusting relationships. The literature on leadership supports this position of principals' influence. In a study, "Ambushed by the Principal," Benson (1998) found that principals' attitude towards parent involvement on School Planning Councils directly affected the success of 73 the councils. When principals resisted 'parent voice' and 'genuine' dialogue, parents became angry and confrontational or quit the councils. Storey (1989), in his study on parent involvement and school leadership, found: The principal is the key, in at least two ways. First he will have a direct influence on the attitudes of others towards parents and their involvement with the work of the school. Second, the principal is in a position to support teachers in their efforts to understand the parent potential, (p. 49) Knudson (1990) interviewed 12 school principals, the Division Board chairperson and the chief superintendent in a Manitoba school district regarding planning for parent involvement in their schools: All the participants without exception identified the principal as the key person in providing local initiative and support for parental involvement, (p. 112) The American National PTA (1997) in a study on parent involvement, found similar results to Knudson: The principal or program director plays a pivotal role in making parent and family involvement a reality. Educators and other staff sense the level of priority administrators give to involving parents. The climate in a school is created, to a large extent, by the tone set in the office of administration. If principals collaborate with parents, educators will be more likely to follow suit (p. 6) Epstein (2001) has developed an extensive parent involvement framework that is widely used in the United States. Much of her research focuses on the role of the teacher, however, she did find that a core piece of her parent involvement plans, Action Teams for Partnerships (ATP), requires the principal as "an essential role in supporting and maintaining the work of an ATP " (p. 572). 74 David Bell (2004), in Sharing Our Success, a broad study and analysis of ten 'successful' Canadian schools with First Nations students, found that leadership was a key factor to each school's success. Although this study was not just looking at parent involvement, Bell found a strong relationship between leadership, trust, school climate and parent involvement: All [principals] exerted special efforts to bring parents into the school and foster trust relationships with parents and community to overcome the lingering multi-generational suspicion of schools as instruments of assimilation, (p. 13) The significance of these studies, I believe, is that we must be aware of the importance of school leadership in implementing parent involvement programs. Parental Involvement Models In spite of the barriers, according to Epstein et al (2002), parents, students and educators want parents to be involved in the public school system. She believes that: Caring communities can be built intentionally; that they include families that might not become involved on their own; and that, by their own reports, just about all families, students, and teachers believe that partnerships are important for helping students succeed across the grades, (p. 12) Comer (1991) of Yale University has developed a model based on parent and staff partnerships to improve behavior and academic performance. This systems approach uses child development principles and relationship theories as its guiding principles. It is structured to have a Parent Team, School Planning Management Team and Student and Staff Support Team. It has three main goals that focus on student achievement, school climate, and public relations. There is a strong component for staff development that addresses these goals. The structure of this model, assuming parents will volunteer to be 75 on teams, in my opinion, would not provide the support or encouragement to have First Nations parents involved in the beginning. From my past experience of trying to involve First Nations parents, I have found most parents need personal invitations, a strong purpose to be involved and a friend or relative at their side. The other aspect of this model, that I think is problematic, is that no in-service is provided for educators to understand the benefits or barriers to parent involvement, and most important, to develop an awareness about oppression, racism and cultural issues. Storey (1989), from the University of Victoria, developed a parent involvement model based on consultation, participation and involvement. The core of his model is what I would consider a very honest look at avoidance and resistance between parents and teachers regarding parent involvement. He views parent involvement as a valuable asset for learning but also sees it as a political reality of today: This book is for the reader who believes, or who is at least prepared to examine the possibility, that involving parents in their children's schools is both an educational and political imperative, (p. ix) Storey's model is structured on the dimensions of relationships that he views as 'liaison,' 'support,' 'influence,' and 'control.' He believes both parents and educators enter involvement from different positions that need to be addressed to effectively develop a program. Storey's model, in my opinion, has the theoretical underpinnings of honesty and relationship building that, I believe, would work for developing a parent involvement program with First Nations parents. Like Comer's model, however, there is no component for developing awareness of oppression, racism and cultural issues with educators. 76 Epstein (2002) has developed a framework for parent involvement that I found to be the most widely cited in the research. Her model identifies six types of involvement that have overlapping spheres (family, school and community) of influence on children. The six types of involvement include Parenting, Communicating, Volunteering, Learning at Home, Decision Making and Collaborating with the Community. Each 'type' has an Action Team that ensures that parents have an opportunity to be involved. Epstein claims her work is based on 'partnerships' as opposed to assumptions or telling: Neither of these approaches;—waiting for involvement or dictating it—is effective for informing or involving all families. Research suggests that 'partnership' is a better approach, (p. 4) Epstein elaborately outlines systems for educators to involve parents, including how to run meetings, how to give workshops and how to acknowledge and enhance what parents are doing at home (Epstein et al, 2002). Her research has included extensive studies with parents of varying race and socioeconomic status (Epstein, 2001). Several aspects of Epstein's work appear to be problematic. Epstein does not differentiate culturally appropriate activities, and in fact, provides 'involvement' to which all parents are expected to engage. Chrispeels and Rivero (2000) found that other cultural groups bring their own concepts about the parent's role in the school. Consequently they do not respond to the standard invitations to get involved. From my research, it became apparent to me that some activities, such as joining group meetings, were not always desirable for the First Nations parents. Furthermore, Epstein does not make allowance for different forms of involvement depending on the developmental stage of the child. Amaral (2007) found in her research, parent involvement changes significantly as 77 children develop through the grades. Parents are involved less in the school and more at home with high school aged children. Furthermore, Epstein claims to build her model on partnerships and yet her entire program is developed and directed by educators. Pushor (2001) is critical of Epstein's model for having "knowledge, voice and decision-making rest with the educators" instead of learning from the parent (p. 22). She feels that programs such as Epstein's encourage educators to control the school agenda that is to be served by the parent, "The agenda is set by the school and I [as parent] serve that agenda" (p. 21). Finally, what appears to be missing in Epstein's model is a step prior to building teams. Epstein identifies teacher attitude as a highly significant factor to involving parents in education: Thus, the attitudes and practices of the teachers, not only the educational, socioeconomic status (SES) or marital status of parents, are important variables for fully understanding whether and how parents become knowledgeable and successful partners with schools in their children's education, (p. 135) Epstein does discuss the need for teachers to understand how to develop partnerships with parents. She believes there needs to be formal courses for teachers: It is important to note that the development of partnership programs would be easier if educators came to their schools prepared to work productively with families and communities. Courses or classes are needed in preservice teacher education and in advanced degree programs for teachers and administrators to help them define their professional work in terms of partnerships. (Epstein et al, 2002, p. 24) With this in mind, one would assume Epstein would include inservice for teacher 'awareness' as the initial stage in developing parent involvement programs. Nowhere in Epstein's work did I see 'awareness' considered as part of staff development. This earlier 78 f step would develop sensitivity and awareness in educators. They could then work with First Nations parents from a place of knowledge and purpose, not just good intentions. My research demonstrates how educators can build a relationship with First Nations parents by being aware of their own 'attitudes' and by being sensitive and respectful to the people with whom they are working. The intent of this study is not to create a new program but to 'prepare the beds' for the most effective 'growth' that will honor the parent when using programs such as Epstein's. Kavanagh (2003), in her review of parent involvement literature, found that "no one type of parental involvement program works best for First Nations parents, but in order to be most effective, the types of parental involvement that are encouraged must be 'meanmgraP. She also found that: Parental involvement initiatives are best viewed not as one activity, but rather as an ongoing process including a series of efforts by a variety of stakeholders, (p. 19) From my personal experience, I would concur with Kavanagh that parent involvement programs need to be 'meaningful' and 'ongoing' and I would add that 'awareness' is also a crucial component. In order to successfully involve First Nations parents in the school, I believe educators need to be aware of their own biases and cultural beliefs and be willing to build trusting relationships with parents. The Saskatchewan School Trustees Association, (SSTA) (2002), in their summary of results from the 1993 SSTA Indian Forum on parent partners in the school system, places 79 the focus more on relationships than programs. Nowhere in their document do they talk about specific programs but in fact emphasize what I would consider to be elements of building relationships. Based on input from forum participants, they concluded that the following three points are "what makes parental involvement successful" (p. 20): • A welcoming climate must be developed • A sense of mutual respect is essential • Parents must share a common cause and a meaningful reason for being involved They also concluded that, "plans to increase parental involvement have to be developed with parents and not for parents" (p. 19). It is with these key points from the SSTA regarding the success of parental involvement for First Nations parents in conjunction with the aforementioned literature that I entered into my research. 80 CHAPTER 4 WATCHING AND ANALYZING THE GROWTH Once I have prepared my landscape, selected the tools and consulted with the books, magazines and previous notes I am ready to plant the garden. A careful step-by-step process occurs that has some routines, many adjustments and considerable reflections on what is or is not working. In this same way I started my interviews. I had prepared and selected the landscape by establishing the need for this research, the questions to be explored, the people to involve and the group to oversee my work, Ho ho jo thot. Equally important, I was becoming acutely aware of my inner thoughts and feelings. I was now ready to watch the study grow from the seeds of thought provided during the interviews of parents, educators, administrators, Elder and group meetings. And like gardening, there was surprising growth along the way. The Interviews As a researcher, I took on the story-listener's responsibility to listen mindfully and to think and feel deeply about the life-experience stories and perspectives that each participant shared. In order to show the diversity and commonalities of perspectives, statements from each interview are included in this chapter. This "rich, thick description " will also provide other researchers with a depth of understanding for future studies: Rich, thick description—providing enough description so that readers will be able to determine how closely their situations match the research situation, and hence, whether findings can be transferred. (Merriam, 2002, p. 211) 81 Each interview was conducted in the same way. I first chatted informally about the study and the interview process. I assured each person that all transcripts would be kept confidential and eventually destroyed. I also let them know that they could at any time stop the interview without negative consequences. The interviews were based on the initial question of the study: What factors will guide the practice of non-Native educators to build a positive working relationship between a First Nations community and an elementary public school as well as encourage and support parent involvement? The specific questions asked were designed by myself, in collaboration with the Ho ho jo thot group. There were some minor variations depending on who was being interviewed, as explained in Chapter Two. The main difference was that only the administrators were asked about district or school policies since it was believed by the Ho ho jo thot group that most parents would not be aware of any policies and would be uncomfortable being asked a question about which they had no knowledge. The questions were the structure of my interviews; I found, however, that many interviewees told stories that answered my questions without me directly asking them. I accepted this process as part of my own learning experience. First Nations people often tell life-experience stories from which to learn lessons. (Archibald, 1997) Parent Support Workers Interview One of the suggestions of the Ho ho jo thot group was to meet with the First Nations Parent Support Workers. The group believed that because the support workers worked with parents at the Friendship Centre several days a week, they would have good insights and be able to ask the parents informally what would get them more involved at the 82 school. There were about ten parents who attended these Friendship Centre gatherings regularly and none of them had volunteered for an interview. I felt by getting information from this group I would broaden my knowledge base. I met with the two workers to explain my role and ask them to speak with their parent group. As reported in Chapter 2, this was a very awkward meeting for me butthe Support Workers seemed willing to assist. The following month we met again and the Parent Support Workers had a list of ideas from the parents. The suggestions were very similar to my interviewees' comments. The parents said they felt nervous about going to the school and always felt better if they had a friend or relative with them. The staff was friendly and helpful but sometimes said things that upset them, but they would never tell them. They thought it was good that the school hired First Nations workers and wished there were more. They enjoyed the celebrations, especially when there was food served. Sometimes transportation and babysitting was a problem but more often they just didn't bother going to the school unless they were personally invited. Many of them said that they didn't think they had the skills to help at the school. At first I was disappointed by the results of this meeting. I had hot been given any new information. Then it occurred to me that in fact these parents had validated my interviews by providing me similar comments. A group of First Nations parents sitting in a familiar setting in Sliammon talking to a fellow First Nations person to whom they 83 knew well produced the same results as 1 had gotten in my formal interviews. I was elated. Once all the interviews were completed I transcribed and summarized them. These summaries were mailed to the interviewees with the option to phone me collect or email about any questions or concerns. The purpose of the summaries was not to restate the entire transcript, but rather, to ensure that I had accurately captured the essence of each persons interview. One parent called me, as reported in Chapter 2. As a result of her phone call some adjustments were made to the summary of the interview. Once it was confirmed that each interviewee was satisfied with my interpretation of their transcript, I wrote a synopsis of all of the interviews for a group presentation. I first took the synopsis to the Ho ho jo thot group for approval. The details of this meeting were reported in Chapter 2. Once they approved of my results I presented them to the parents and educators at separate meetings. Parent Group Meeting I felt anxious meeting with all the parents together. It was important to me they approved my interpretations and not feel offended by any of my comments. We agreed to meet at the School Board Office since it was most convenient for the working parents. The Aboriginal Coordinator joined us at this meeting. I offered transportation for those who needed it and served lunch. I presented the information on an overhead projector under the headings of Relationship, Challenges to the Relationship, Culture (what is being done), Challenges to Culture, Barriers to Parent Involvement and Ways to Encourage 84 Parent Involvement. Each topic was discussed extensively within the group. The response from the parents was extremely positive. I noted every parent made some comment. At the end of my formal presentation, some parents expressed emotional appreciation for the opportunity to have been able to tell their stories. They also commented on how well I had captured the meaning of their stories. They talked about how they care for their children but are not confident within the school 'system'. Several parents commented that the interviews caused them to think more about their role in the school and felt that they had benefited from the experience. Considerable conversation then developed around the 'insensitive comments' topic. One parent said she had been asked, by a non-Native parent, "do you eat dogs "(Parent 4). Needless to say this parent was very upset with the comment and felt she didn't want to return to the school. Another parent said teachers often had students create 'family trees' which could be problematic for First Nations children since they knew a lot less about their ancestry particularly when it came to 'real' names (Parent 2). Another topic that was discussed by this group was 'the meaning of success' to First Nations families. This was in response to my summary statement that one barrier to parent involvement was that First Nations parents did not necessarily view success in the same way as the educators. I explained that several First Nations interviewees had voiced this issue. The group seemed sensitive to this and not all of them agreed. We eventually decided there was no common attitude, or stereotypical thoughts about success. It was 85 felt that the educators needed to get to know each family and determine with the family what they wanted for their children. At the end of this meeting, one parent thanked me for the work I was doing and said she had thought a great deal about parent involvement in the school as a result of our interview (Parent 6). Several other parents then agreed and said they believed they would now be more involved at the school as a result of our discussions. That was definitely my definition of 'success'. Educator Group Meeting The meeting with the educators was organized in exactly the same format as the parent group meeting, except that I only served snacks instead of lunch since it was an after-school meeting. The educators were quieter than the parents just nodding their heads in agreement throughout the presentation. In the end I got comments such as "this is amazing stuff", "insightful", "useful". 'There was general agreement that the summary made them more 'aware' of what was going on. Analyzing the Growth Once the seeds are in the ground and the plants are growing, it's time to analyze what is making the plants grow or inhibiting the growth. Is there enough fertilizer, water and sun? Are the plants spaced enough to extend their roots? Are the negative influences, such as slugs and wireworms, being controlled? Do I have a plan of how to keep a close watch on the whole garden, staying alert to problems even when I am out of town? 86 I will now show how the parent-teacher relationship has to be nurtured with fertilizer, water and sun to keep it rich. I will show how the parents need room to be who they are so their roots can extend and give them balance. I will also show how some individuals speak out inappropriately, causing permanent damage to the growth. Finally, I will show the need for a purposeful plan to encourage and support growth and stay aware of unintentional problems. I will identify, in the opinion of parents, school staff, administrators and community members, what has contributed to the growth of the 'good relationship' that exists between James Thomson Elementary School, School District 47, and the Sliammon and Powell River communities. I will analyze the data from the interviews and meetings of parents, school staff, administrators and community members to identify the factors that have contributed to this relationship and how these factors relate to the involvement of the parents in James Thomson School. I will also draw on the literature and documents used in the school and the district to support my findings. I continue to write in a narrative style, including reflexive comments throughout the text that tell the stories of the interviewees as well as recount my own personal journey. "Our guiding principle in an inquiry is to focus on experience and to follow where it leads " (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 188). When I began this study I believed I should include the areas of 'leadership,' and 'school and district policies' in the interview questions. Working with the Ho ho jo thot group, the questions for the interviews emerged differently than I had anticipated. No questions 87 were developed for 'leadership' and the parents were not asked about 'policy.' In a very natural way, however, some interviewees made comments about leadership and policy, whether or not they were asked. The question, "Talk to me about the First Nations parent involvement in the school, " evolved into what blocks and what encourages parents to be involved. As a result, comments from parents, teachers and administrators were used to discuss the barriers to parent involvement and to identify ways to encourage parent involvement in the public school system. I used the questions asked during the interviews to analyze the results. Clandinin & Connelly (2000) talk about the need to focus 'inward' the feelings, 'outward' the environment, 'backward' the past and 'forward' the future, throughout the research, "...to do research into an experience—is to experience it simultaneously in these four ways and to ask questions pointing each way" (p. 50). During the interviews I tried to capture 'these four ways' by encouraging the interviewees to tell their stories from a personal perspective. My analysis includes quotes that express feelings, discuss the school environment, recall the past and reflect on future possibilities. I also explore the possibility that a research process alone can nurture new growth. This chapter ends with a summary of the findings from the research. New Growth from the Research Process When I first became serious about gardening and discovered that it was necessary to have rich soil to stimulate growth, I began composting. This involved dumping all of my left over fruits and vegetables into a large bin and eventually digging this composition into the garden. The results were amazing. Not only did the newly planted seeds grow with more vigor but surprise growth occurred from the original fruits and vegetables, due to 88 the process of composting. So it was with my research; surprise seeds sprung up from the 'process.' I started the research believing that accumulating all the data (the nutritious fruits and vegetables) would eventually lead to planting new seeds in enriched soil, which would encourage parents and teachers to find new ways to grow together. The surprise for me was discovering that the process of interviewing enriched the soil on its own, prior to me planting any new seeds. Both parents and teachers reported new growth: If you do nothing else with this information, I feel you have helped us as a staff by forcing us to think about how we need to change to better involve the First Nations parents. (Educator 1, 2005) I have been thinking a lot about parent involvement since our interview and I know I will get more involved now. (Parent 3,2005) Clandinin & Connelly (2000) would not be surprised by these results. They would suggest one should expect to learn and grow from the process: Participants are in relation, and we as researchers are in relation to participants. Narrative inquiry is an experience of the experience. It is people in relation studying with people in relation, (p. 189) The 'experience of the experience,' during the interview process and group meetings, seems worth exploring. Knowing what happened between interviewer and interviewee might inform this research and begin to give some answers to the question: What factors will guide the practice of non-Native educators to build a positive working relationship between a First Nations community and an elementary public school as well as encourage and support parent involvement? Were there factors identified during the interviews that built a relationship and, as a result, encouraged and supported parent involvement? I entered the interviews aware of the need to be respectful and sensitive to power issues (Haig-Brown & Archibald, 1996). 89 I was open to the interviewees by sharing my own experiences and self-discoveries as the stories emerged (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Under the circumstances of a semi-formal interview, I did my best to get to know the parents at a personal level (Taylor, 1995). During the summary group meeting with the school staff, I shared parent quotes with the teachers, which they reported made them more aware of the parents' needs and feelings. Reflecting back on the interview experience, I would argue that in a small way I built relationships with the parents and educators that caused them to 'learn and grow' as suggested by Clandinin & Connelly, Interview Questions Analysis During the interviews the following five questions were used to guide our discussions: Talk to me about the relationship between the Sliammon Band (Sliammon parents) and the School District (James Thomson School). What policies are you aware of that may be benefiting this relationship? To what extent is the First Nations culture being addressed in this school (district)? Talk to me about the First Nations parent involvement in the school. If you (person's name) were the principal trying to encourage First Nations parent involvement, what would you do? As previously explained, only the administrators were asked the policy question. At the end of the interview, I gave each interviewee the opportunity to comment on anything else they believed I should know. 90 Once the interviews were completed, they were transcribed and summarized individually. Each interviewee had the opportunity to discuss their own summary to ensure I had captured the essence of their comments. I then analyzed the interviews by tacking individual quotes made by interviewees onto a sorting board as explained in Chapter 2. Each quote was then grouped with a common quote until obvious themes emerged. These themes and my interpretation of the themes were then presented to the Ho ho jo thot group for approval. They, in turn, recommended I meet with the teacher and parent groups separately to share my findings. The following outlines the analysis of the findings presented under the headings of each question. I draw from the original interviews, the group meetings, as well as documents and the literature to help interpret the data. I also continue to be reflexive throughout my writing to show my personal growth as I learn from the process. The Relationship Question Based on informal discussions with a University professor, the Powell River School District Superintendent and Sliammon administrators, I started this study on the premise that there was a good relationship between the Sliammon and Powell River communities in general, and the parents, school and school district specifically. My first interview question, "Talk to me about the relationship between the Sliammon Band (Sliammon parents) and the School District (James Thomson School)," was intended to confirm this belief. The response was overwhelmingly positive from everyone with some cautions/challenges made by a few interviewees. 9 1 All of the administrators felt the school district and the Powell River community were closely connected in a very positive way to the Sliammon community: Year after year it is getting better. We are improving. (Administrator 1) The Band has got a good working relationship with the Municipality. (Administrator 2) We have good linkages with the community. (Administrator 3) Senior management is open to ideas and innovations. They really want to work hard in a partnership with Sliammon. (Administrator 4) The Mayor of Powell River and Chief of Sliammon were passionate about the good relationship shared between their two communities: Everyone wants honesty and openness. We have to be frank and honourable. It's all about respect. (The Mayor) [The relationship with the Powell River community] It's very, very good. (The Chief) The Elder talked about how the principals were supportive and how the relationship between Powell River and the Sliammon people had changed for the better: Principals have been very good in this school and they have gone out of their way to work cooperatively with our people. (Elder) Just yesterday, we hosted in our community a large representation through waterfront development of the coast all the way down to California. People were in Powell River for this conference and the last day of their conference they were invited here and there were 200 participants. And that was really something and all I could do yesterday was sit there and look back and think.. .when I was a child I never saw anything like this. (Elder) All of the educators felt strongly they had a good relationship with the parents: 92 We tend to have a lot of parents who kind of trust the school, it seems. They are not here to check you out - they kind of assume that people here are going to do the job they are here to do. (Educator 1) I really do think that there is a real will to just sorta build bridges between the communities. (Educator 2) There is a feeling of community here when you walk in the door. A feeling that the kids are supported particularly our First Nations kids. (Educator 3) [There is] a positive feeling from both sides. (Educator 4 ) All of the parents were equally as positive about the relationship: It's very community minded. I don't even feel a difference. I don't feel like I'm one person and they're different. (Parent 1) I think in our District the relationship is quite good. (Parent 2) There's obviously a good relationship. I know the School District has worked hard with the First Nations language teachers that are in the system.. .and it's good. (Parent 3) I think a lot of the teachers are very, very open-minded and nice. I really want to know what's going on, and they've always been really, really nice and helpful. (Parent 4 ) I see the relationship as a unique one between Sliammon and the community in many ways. We've had great Superintendents who were willing to go down the road. (Parent 5) Well, James Thomson staff, from my point of view, have always been very accepting of myself, and from what it looks like they're very open to parent volunteers. (Parent 6) I've had a good relationship with the teachers and school, (Parent 7) As mentioned previously, there were a few cautions about the relationship. One parent said the relationship depended on who the principal was in the school. She felt the personality, attitude and manner of the principal made a significant difference to how welcomed parents felt, and consequently, how willing they were to be involved in the 93 school. "When the principal doesn't make us feel welcome, we don't want to go " (Parent 1). The position of this parent is supported in the research of several authors who believe the principal's attitude makes a difference to parent involvement (Benson, 1998; Epstein, 2001; Knudson, 1990; Storey, 1989). Two parents expressed concern about discrimination from some non-Native parents and students affecting the relationship and tone of the school but felt the school staff dealt with it well: It seems like the Natives are shunned, put down a little in the school system. (Parent 4) I think Sliammon is stereotyped as just a bad place in general. Teachers are good at getting on top of it though. (Parent 6) Although the Elder felt the relationship was very good, she also felt there was a perception of a barrier between the Native and non-Native communities caused by the Indian Act, which originally stated that non-Natives were not permitted on the Reserve after 5:00 PM: I always said there is an invisible border there, although it is invisible, it was there, it's still there, it's slowly coming down. (Elder) Once each interviewee confirmed that they believed there was a good relationship, I asked them to elaborate on what they felt contributed to this relationship. For this analysis, their responses were cut into strips, as outlined in Chapter 2, and grouped into categories. Four main themes emerged; Making an Effort, Being Welcoming, Knowing the People, and Being Respectful. Each category is discussed separately 94 Relationship Question Theme 1: Making an Effort One parent made an impassioned reference to the effort made by teachers, non-Native parents and administrators to have a good working relationship. The administrators, the teachers and even the PAC committees have volunteered to come out to Sliammon to run some of their meetings. (Parent 2) The interviewees gave many examples that demonstrate how 'an effort' is made by everyone to build and maintain the relationship. Management meetings include Sliammon representatives where everyone has an equal say (Administrators 1 & 3). Both the Sliammon and School District administration are open to creative solutions (Administrator 4). The School District staff, in conjunction with First Nations personnel, are developing First Nations curriculum (Administrators 1,2, 3 & 4). The Sliammon language is being taught from Kindergarten to grade 12, and is now accepted at the Universities of Victoria and Simon Fraser as a second language qualification (Administrators 1,2 & 4; Educator 1; Parent 2). Positive statements were made about the benefits to the relationship by hiring Sliammon staff: [The coordinator] acts as a mediator for both sides. She knows the needs of both sides. She joins groups in town so she has all the information. (Parent 2) We've always had that link of an Aboriginal certified teacher working out of the board office and I think that has played a huge role in building that bridge. (Parent 5) [The language teacher] is our most effective tool in liaising with the parents. (Administrator 2) 95 There were comments from the Administrators that the School District and Municipality make a huge effort to work with the Sliammon community and vice versa: We've really been at the forefront of working on First Nations programs. We have a First Nations management committee, which is arJministrators and Chief and Council representatives that help First Nations students' programming, and also the Local Education Agreement (LEA), which includes Sliammon and the school district. (Administrator 1) This First Nations Band has got a good working relationship with the Municipality; they do lots of joint projects. (Administrator 2) We have good linkages with the community. There's common interests that are gained from service areas. That connection has resulted in positive results for Treaty movement, developing corporations and aquaculture business. (Administrator 3) We had our Trustees meeting before Christmas down at Sliammon and our kids drummed, sang and did a play. This particular Board is really open. (Administrator 4) At the school level many efforts are being made to connect with the Sliammon community that are enriching the relationship. Staff meetings, parent nights and workshops are being held at Sliammon (Administrators 2 & 4; Educators 1,3 & 4; Parents 2, 3,5 & 6). An all-day kindergarten program, that spent half the day at the school and half the day at Sliammon, was very well received by everyone (Administrators 2 & 4; Educators 1 & 2). Many cultural activities are included in the school curriculum and the assemblies (Administrators 2 & 4; Educators 1,2, 3 & 4; Parents 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6). Elders are honored in the school and traditional dancing and drumming is encouraged (Administrators 2 & 4; Educators 1,2, 3, & 4; Elder; Parents 2, 3, 5, & 6). The school uses the Sliammon Traditional Governance Principles for its Code of Conduct (Administrator 2 & 4; Educator 3 & 4). 96 Relationship Question Theme 2: Being Welcoming Many interviewees commented on how welcoming the school is. Part of this is due to the kinds of activities mentioned above, but a great deal of it is how the staff receives them. When the staff smiles, use first names, and take the time to chat for a moment, parents report feeling welcome: The previous principal was awesome. He knew everybody's name. (Parent 1) When a teacher would wander in and say, "Hey, what are you guys doing, that's great," the parents feel more comfortable then. (Parent 2) It's patience, and how you communicate. (Parent 3) I think it's how you approach someone. I think by getting to know... trying to get to know them... at a personal level. (Parent 6) She (teacher) opens up a coffee room maybe before 10-15 minutes, and it's for everybody just to come in and just to say hello or anything - just get that warm feeling again. (Educator 4) I personally concur with this sense of'welcoming,' recalling my own experience of being waved and smiled at during my third visit to Sliammon. I often wonder, however, if this is the only goal? Do we want parents to feel welcome in 'our' school or do we want them to feel like they belong, not as a guest, but as an equal participant? Pushor (2001) addresses this issue in her Ph.D. thesis. She talks about parents being on the "side lines " as "spectators" and "cheerleaders" (p. 39). She would prefer to see parents with a role more equal to that of the teachers. Relationship Question Theme 3: Knowing the People Both parents and teachers talked about the importance of knowing one another. The parents said that when they are more involved in the school they better understand the 97 teachers (Parent Group Meeting). The research would support this position, that when parents are more involved in the school, better relationships are built between teacher and parent (Hornby, 2000). Similarly, the educators said when they spend time at Sliammon and talk to parents at a personal level they feel more connected: We went to the healing lodge. We did stuff to get connected. (Educator I) I really believe it's all based on relationship. I think the more of a relationship we build up with our parents the more parents we're going to get in. (Educator 3) One parent made a very strong statement about the need for educators to get to know the parents so they can better understand First Nations language and culture: Learn our language, learn our ways, learn.... actually, understand where we came from and then go back there and you'll have more respect instead of saying they're just natives. Come in our boots, and then go back. At least you'll have an understanding instead of labelling us or judging us before we have a chance to prove ourselves, what we're capable of, what we can be if we had half the chance. We've come a long ways. So have respect, and treat us with the respect that we deserve. (Parent 7) All the educators interviewed believe they do a lot to connect with the parents, "Our school makes the effort in communicating with the Sliammon community" (Educator 4), but s/he admitted they do not know them really well. In fact, as I started to give feedback to the educators about the parents' fears of the school, the educators were shocked, and commented they needed to do a better job of getting to know the parents (Educator Group Meeting). 98 Relationship Question Theme 4: Being Respectful The final theme that surfaced from the relationship question was 'respect.' Many First Nations interviewees made some reference to feeling respected by the non-Native educators or administrators. It was not clearly identified as one specific thing, but more a feeling of being recognized as a people, through honoring their language and culture and treating them in a respectful manner: They [the teachers] would just invite you and thank you for helping out. And it was fun - the teachers would come in at lunch and mingle, and we'd have tea, coffee, sometimes usually a dessert, and the kids would serve it, and the principal would walk around and sit with every table. (Parent 1) They've been really good about coming here -1 think at the end of the year the teachers from James Thomson staff came down and the principal and they met with the parents. It makes us feel valued. (Parent 3) Well, James Thomson staff, from my point of view, have always been very accepting of myself. (Parent 6) Treaty decided to put some of this [Guiding Principles] on paper for the next generations just to remember and practice some of these sayings that we have and for me schools to get that comfort again. So I think it's a positive start. It is great to see that again. It's just getting that snowballed, it's already starting and now it's getting that little push for parents to come on out. I think it's a great idea. (Educator 4) The district's been open to accepting cultural activities or cultural components whether it's ceremonies or resource people coming into the school doing interviews or just discussion on topics like food gathering, traditional sites or medicines and other things. It's moving in the right direction. This is what we want. (Administrator 3) The comment of one First Nations administrator sums up how the relationship has been growing over the past few years between the Sliammon community and school and district personnel: 99 Think of it as a circle; there are other circles connected, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. That bigger and bigger idea makes more and more people know who we are. (Administrator 3) To further analyze what has contributed to the good relationship between the Sliammon community and the school and District, I refer to the LEA (May 2,2000) developed by the administration from the school district and the Sliammon Nation. The statements in the LEA, in my opinion, further demonstrate the effort and commitment of the School District and Sliammon Community to work together: The Band Council and the Board wish to.. .provide educational programs and services for Sliammon learners resident within the school district, which develop and reinforce in Sliammon learners a strong identity, pride in their cultural and linguistic heritage and feelings of self-worth as First Nations people, (p. 1) The LEA encourages parent involvement: The Band Council and Board wish to.. .promote family involvement in the education of Sliammon learners at home and at school, (p. 1) It promotes the parent-teacher connection: The Board and Band will encourage...School District 47 teachers, where practicable, to meet with Sliammon parents on Sliammon band lands, (p. 9) It has a commitment to hiring First Nations staff: The Board and Band shall develop plans to attract and obtain qualified First Nations teachers and counsellors, (p. 8) When the leaders of the community model this kind of attitude in their everyday manner and in their institutional education documents, it sets the tone for behavior and expectations of its members. I believe it could contribute to building a positive relationship. 100 Another document, the Community Accord, signed May 10th, 2003 by the Municipality, the District of Powell River and Sliammon First Nation, in my opinion, provides the foundation for mutual respect in the communities of Powell River and Sliammon: All residents of Powell River and Sliammon trace their origin to societies of different cultural traditions, beliefs and values, and The residents of the Municipality and the members of Sliammon have created, or have had created on their behalf, distinct local governing institution, and Powell River and Sliammon deem recognition, understanding and reconciliation the foundation of their communities' common good. Paramount is the respect for and appreciation of each other's diverse backgrounds. (Community Accord, opening statement) Not only are these statements written in the Community Accord, according to the Mayor and Chief, they are also practiced in every day interactions. Again, I believe this document was instrumental in fostering the good relationship between the Powell River and Sliammon communities. The Policy Question As a result of the second meeting with the Ho ho jo thot group, I removed the policy question from the interviews for all except the administrators. The Ho ho jo thot group believed only the administrators would have information about policy and therefore should be the only ones asked about it. The policy question, "Whatpolicies are you aware of that may be benefiting this relationship," elicited a variety of responses about the type of and need for policy. The School District Administrator and Sliammon Education Administrator both said that the LEA was their policy format and they appeared to be satisfied with it: 101 The formal process seems to be the LEA, which outlines our relationship with the Sliammon so there aren't any formal Board policies. It outlines things like accountability, how kids do each year, and formalizing how we change programs and services. It does a very good job of kind of outlining what this looks like. (Administrator 1) The school administrator, however, said there were no formal policies in the school regarding parent involvement, or their relationship with the Sliammon community. She admitted it was something they had intended, and needed to do. Although not asked the policy question, one parent suggested that policy needed to be written regarding the role of the Aboriginal Coordinator, because it was not outlined in the LEA, and needed to be established as a permanent position (Parent 5). Another parent said it would be good to have a written plan to clarify how to involve parents (Parent 4). One educator commented during the interview that written policy could assist with the problem of changing principals. She felt there was no guarantee from year to year if the principal would encourage or discourage parent involvement. Although she admitted that policy could not control the attitude of administration, having written policy may help set the tone, or belief system, more clearly for new principals (Educator 1). The idea that the principal has a significant role in encouraging, or discouraging, parent involvement is well supported in the research, as reported in Chapter 3 (Benson, 1998; Epstein, 2001; Knudson, 1990; Storey, 1989). The concept of using policy as a way to influence the principal's tWnking is worth pursuing. If nothing else, it would give staffs a good grounding on which to appeal their case if they encountered a principal against parent involvement. 102 During the Educators' Group Meeting, one educator said they believed that their school needed a policy for parent involvement (Educator 3). Many heads nodded in agreement. They felt it would give clearer direction on how to involve parents, and create more intention to the process (Educator Group Meeting). Upon reflection of these interviews and group meeting with the educators, I wonder if any of them have read, or are aware of the LEA. It was not a question I asked at the time of the Educator Group Meeting, but might have been beneficial to discuss. Since the LEA provides policy about parent involvement, it seems logical to me that the school could use the LEA statements quoted earlier as the basic tenets for their own school policy. The Culture Question The culture question, "To what extent is the First Nations culture being addressed in this school (district)? " did not stimulate the reaction I anticipated. I was expecting a lot of concern about the non-Native staff not understanding culture, and treating it as 'an activity.' Instead, I heard very positive comments from all interviewees about how culture is handled. The Mayor talked about how the municipality of Powell River and Sliammon work together at monthly meetings to bring their cultures together. The Chief of Sliammon talked about how the Mayor used the Sliammon language to begin public meetings and how the Sliammon people had given the Mayor an Indian name, "Snow 103 Owl." Stories were told from other interviewees about the genuine attempts to include Sliammon language and culture into the curriculum and daily activities of the school. My son's been learning that [the language] since Day Care. And you know, I didn't realize, I just read this year, that other people are allowed to take it also. (Parent 1) I think they've done a great job. When an assembly ends they have two kids stand up and say in our language 'see you later.' I think that's great that they have been able to have the language not only in the classroom but throughout. (Parent Through the years, at assemblies, they've always implemented part of the culture. They've had Natives coming down there and doing their, traditional dances and story telling. James Thomson staff has always been invited down to Sliammon on Aboriginal Days. That sort of thing - trips to the fish hatchery ... I remember my kids going there. (Parent 6) The interviewees listed the many ways "they [teachers] embrace it [culture] at the school" (Parent 1). They talked about First Nations dancers frequently performing at assemblies (Parents 1,2, 3 & 6; Educators 1,3 & 4; Administrators 2 & 4). They praised the language program that was inclusive to all students, Native and non-Native, as well as the many celebrations that have a First Nations focus (Parents 1,2, 3, 5,6 & 7; Educators 1, 3 & 4; Administrators 1, 2 & 4). Other cultural events that were mentioned included carving classes, Elder stories, salmon barbecues, and the painting of the Library by the First Nations children (Parents 1, 2, 3 & 6; Educators 1, 3 & 4; Administrators 2 & 3). One parent commented on how impressed she was that the school has a committee, which includes First Nations parents, to develop the culture (Parent 2). Each of the administrators commented on the First Nations Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum being developed by the Sliammon people, as something extremely important for cultural acceptance. One highlight, mentioned by every interviewee, was the annual Cross-104 cultural Day held at Sliammon. This day brings together all the Powell River Grade 4 students, First Nations and non-Native, to the Sliammon community to learn about the culture. During the culture discussion there was some reference made by interviewees to cultural differences between First Nations people and the non-Native people. They talked about families viewing school differently and focusing more on what's good for the family. In our house it [school] wasn't important, but I have to learn to be consistent and keep that priority. (Parent 3) In some families it is the grandparents rather than the parents that are there with the child, which keeps the traditional ways. (Parent 5) My parents never went to school. It wasn't needed. I won't expect too much from my kids any more, you know, stress him, because he's behind. He's got all his life to make up. (Parent 7) I was limited to how much school. I went whenever we were on the reserve here. We had a day school here, and I went to the day school, but that was limited because it was all Indian children in that school, and I might go for the winter months while we were here for a month or two months, and then my grandparents traveled.. .that's the way we were, and I just didn't stay in school. I went with them, other than the one year I spent in residential school, and that was not a good experience. There's a lot of history there: a lot of bad experience, so I just didn't go to a public school. It was hard for me when it came to my children's schooling. (Elder) We have more people that stay home as a community. We have people that migrate, I guess, to the city. They've had family members going off to city and school and work in other places but they all come back in the end, everybody comes back in the end. (Administrator 3) You don't have to get down on yourself. Like a letter grade, oh boo hoo. I thought I was trying harder; it's not what I expected. You're a good hunter, you have good skills, you're a good fisherman. They have things I wish I could say they could fall back on, but that really was what it was all about, way back then. It wasn't about school, but fishing. (Administrator 3) 105 The Elder told a story about how parenting was different when she was a child, how the children were taught to behave differently than is expected today in the non-Native world: When we were children my grandparents and other people from that generation were very strong in that teaching 'about you don't stare at people'; 'you don't look people in the eye'; 'put your eyes down, it's rude to stare at people'. And yet the kids today go to school and the teachers say, 'Now you look at me.' It's very different. (Elder) It was made very clear by one interviewee that the Sliammon people need to, and do, participate in culture decisions: It's important to have the say. I just think being respectful of how much is going to be agreed upon that's going to be included in the schools, district and community. We need consensus. (Administrator 3) The interviewees made the following comments about how culture is positively implemented in the school and District: I really think the frontline workers and the staff themselves need to be acknowledged more for the commitment they do or the commitment they've shown [towards culture]. (Parent 3) I really give a lot of credit to the school district that they've allowed that [culture] to happen, that they've incorporated all that into the curriculum, recognizing our culture. (Elder) It is possible that my expectation of a negative response to this question stems back to the statement by a First Nations woman made to me in the early stages of my study that "...a focus on cultural awareness removes the focus from whites to avoid racism issues " (personal communication, October, 2004). At the time I did not understand her point, but I do recall thinking that culture could be a sensitive topic. I believe I have a much better understanding now of what she was trying to convey to me; that if schools host cultural 106 activities, it suggests we care about, and understand First Nations people, and therefore can ignore racism issues. Razack (1999) feels strongly about this topic of cultural awareness/sensitivity. She says white people mask power and oppression issues by being 'aware' of culture: The risks of talking culture are immense. What is too easily denied and suppressed in this discussion is power, (p. 85) I believe this probably can, and does occur. It does not seem to be the situation in James Thomson School. Certainly the parents did not express concern about racism or power issues with the school staff. Is this, a lack of racism and power issues, the 'key factor' to the relationship between the Sliammon parents and school staff? Do the teachers understand power and oppression, and are they consciously aware of those issues as they work with the parents? I doubt that is the case, but I do believe the staff at James Thomson are very genuine in their pursuit of understanding the Sliammon parents, and have a strong desire to work together to do what is best for the children. The parents did talk about some discrimination and racism with other parents and children, which will be discussed more extensively in the Parent Involvement section. The comment made by one parent about what culture means to her seems to represent how it is being manifested in this school, the District and the Powell River community: I would define it [culture] as values and beliefs. For culture to exist, one has to live with their values. (Parent 5) I would suggest that when the school uses the Traditional Governance Principles for the school Code of Conduct, they are attempting to 'live with their values.' Upon reflection, 107 I would speculate that how this school, District, and community connect with the Sliammon people and their culture is a significant part of the 'good relationship' enjoyed by everyone. The Parent Involvement Question Originally I wanted to ask parents questions such as, "How often are you involved in the school? " or "Tell me how you are you involved in the school? " The Ho ho jot thot group felt that kind of questioning would make parents feel judged about their involvement. Consequently, the question became more open-ended, "Talk to me about the First Nations parent involvement in the school. " This question resulted in comments about how the school encourages parent involvement that has resulted in considerable improvement from the past. They [the school staff] have been open to holding some of their meetings there [at Sliammon] really trying to encourage parents to participate more and get more involved in their children's education. (Parent 2) I saw other parents in my son's class who had never been in class before. I had never seen them at parent-teacher conferences. I'd never seen them at an event. (Parent 3) I do see a change in a sense that it is young parents [being involved]. Where as before, my parents would not go to school. Now the school itself has changed. (Parent 5) It looks like they are very open to parent volunteers. (Parent 6) I did my part, right from day one. I've been in school every year doing everything. (Parent 7) In our first set of conferences this year I think I had all my First Nations parents come. This year we tried to encourage more parents to come to our Open House by moving the events to Sliammon. (Educator 1) 108 I am seeing more First Nations people becoming more comfortable with the school and are coming more often. (Educator 2) This year particularly we're trying [to involve parents]. We've been out into the community [Sliammon]. We're trying to do our school based team meetings there and invite people to meet us in the healing lodge. (Educator 3) I think it's a positive start. It's just getting that snowballed, it's already starting and now it's getting that little push for parents to come on out. (Educator 4) More and more when they have a concern they [parent] will phone me. (Administrator 2) I know there's a lot more work in the school, a lot more involvement with the parents. There's a lot of improvement in that area. (Elder) This question, Talk to me about the First Nations parent involvement in the school, also resulted in many comments about why parents do not get involved with the school. As I sorted my multitude of 'sentence strips' onto the analysis board, I found that six themes emerged about the barriers to parent involvement: History of Residential Schools, Lack of Skills, Lack of School Support, Economics, Traditional Differences and Racism. Each theme will be addressed from the interviewees' perspective. Parent Involvement Question Theme 1: History of Residential Schools According to several interviewees, the history of the Residential school system has played a significant role in the lives of First Nations parents. Either they themselves, or their parents and/or grandparents, attended Residential School, where they were not allowed to speak their language, practice their culture or see their families: I think parents are nervous to walk into a school because of the Residential school history. (Parent 6) Even in a small group it's challenging [speaking up], and a lot of it can be Residential school stuff. (Parent 3) 109 I think the memories of Residential school for a lot of people are scary and in my experience people have come into the school because they had to deliver something for their kid and they come into the classroom and they go 'wow, this isn't like it was when I was a kid'. (Educator 2) Some parents have an eerie feeling about schools [because of Residential school experience]. (Educator 4) We weren't allowed by the Government even to attend public schools until I think at least the 60's.. .the general perception was First Nations don't attend public school because it was for white kids only. (Administrator 4) All they knew they were in Residential school they weren't allowed to be around their parents and they lost something.. .1 guess the everyday love and companionship. Now they're learning to be parents. (Administrator 3) When I heard parents talk about their experiences at Residential school, their loss of language, culture, family and human worth, I wondered how they had survived at all. During an informal conversation with a parent where I work, I was told she would never use Ivory soap because of the terrible memories that are conjured up by the smell of the soap (Parent, personal communication, November, 2006). I believe, as non-Native educators, we cannot ignore the devastating effects Residential schools had, and will have, for generations to come. We need to be aware that just walking through the doors of a public school can cause a First Nations parent trauma: I returned here to try to heal my wounds. My body still shudders when I walk through the old school doors. I want better for my kids. (Parent, personal communication, May, 2005) Bell (2004) found that one of the common components of building trust in the ten Canadian schools he studied was that the staffs were sensitive to the Residential school issues: 110 School staff are aware of the residual effects of residential schools within their communities. Recognizing that visiting schools makes some parents and community members feel apprehensive, they work hard to ameliorate this by offering a variety of non-threatening opportunities for school visits, (p. 299) I have often heard educators say, 'That was the past', 'They need to look ahead.' Unfortunately it is not as simple as suggesting 'My favorite rose bush died so I'll have to buy another one.' This is the loss of an entire garden, and all the experience and knowledge of what made it grow gone with it. The roots have been ripped from the ground with only a few strong seeds left to germinate once again. Growing can be a slow, painful process. The public schools could play a significant positive role in this growth, by better understanding First Nations people, and by looking at the role public schools have played, and do play, in the oppression of the people. Public school educators could have a richer understanding of First Nations people if they listened to their stories of survival and resistance. Parent Involvement Question Theme 2: Lack of Skills Some parents commented that many First Nations parents lack education resulting in a fear of getting involved in the school. They felt they were unable to have an intelligent conversation with the teachers. Parents can become confused and frustrated and then not say anything at all. These comments reinforce one of the original statements made by the Ho ho jo thot group that parents would not be comfortable speaking out during a meeting with me if the teachers were in the room. At the time I questioned their reasoning but having completed the interviews and heard about the parents' fears, I now greatly appreciate their wisdom. Ill To come into a building full of university-educated people and try to play in their field when you're lacking even grade 12 is pretty scary for a lot of parents. (Parent 2) Parents think, 'What is that?' but they are not going to ask. A lot of parents don't have the education in order to go in there [school] and have what they consider to be a fair conversation. (Parent 2) It can be intimidating to meet the teachers when you don't have skills. (Parent 3) I don't know if all of them can read. That's the main blockage, getting the information to them, [parents] (Parent 4) I can't even do the work. (Parent 7) Once again, this causes me to repeat that educators need to be aware: aware of what subtle messages they are giving, aware of the parents' discomforts and aware of whom the parents are as a people. Every parent talked about some little thing that can make a difference to his or her comfort level, such as a teacher smiling, knowing his or her name and listening without judgment. If educators have this awareness, I believe they can build on parent strengths and alleviate many of the fears. Parent Involvement Question Theme 3: Lack of School Support Several interviewees talked about not really knowing what parent involvement looks like. The parents said they would see requests in a newsletter, or hear an announcement at an assembly, but didn't feel there was any clear direction on how to follow this up: I have offered to help and then no one calls me. (Parent 1) It's the lack of know how. They don't know what to do. It's the schools responsibility to be clear about their expectations from the parents. (Parent 5) I don't really know what they want me to do. (Parent 6) 112 I don't think we do a good job of that, letting parents know how to be involved. (Educator 1) Other interviewees reinforced this when they said the school didn't really have a plan. They knew parent involvement was supposed to be beneficial, but it was time-consuming to organize (Educators 2 & 3, Administrators 2 & 4). One administrator talked about the need to educate the parents about how to be involved: A lot of it is knowing what schooling is, what it takes, what role a parent plays. It's going to take some kind of strategic plan on our part to specifically address it other than just talk about how it's not happening. (Administrator 1) To me the lack of a purposeful plan for parent involvement in the school system is a significant problem. James Thomson School has built a good relationship with the parents, and has been gradually increasing their involvement in the school. I would argue this is in part due to the groundwork established in the LEA and the Community Accord. I suggest it is now time to work with parents to develop a policy, and/or plan that will outline their definition of parent involvement, explain how parents can get involved, and show how both staff and parents can learn ways to work together as a team. Parent Involvement Question Theme 4: Economics Both parents and educators made comments about transportation and the need for employment interfering with parent involvement. I called this category Economics. It was stated that many of the parents needed to have jobs, in some cases two, and as a result, were not available to get involved at the school (Parents 2, 3 & 4). Lack of babysitters and transportation issues were given as a concern as well (Parents 2, 3 & 7). 113 One comment was made about First Nations parents being in a different socio-economic category from other parents: Our kids are at a disadvantage you know. They don't have lawyers and teachers for parents. That makes our parents feel shy to come out. They aren't as well off and they know it. (Elder) No one mentioned the social injustices that exist between life on the Reserve and the 'white world.' I, however, cannot help reflecting on the differences. 'My' world is about individual accomplishments to attain personal success. The meaning of 'success' in the Eurocentric society tends to mean money and possessions (Adams, 1999). With this in mind, I wonder if we, the educators, have subconscious thoughts about life on the Reserve. I have certainly been conscious of my own critical reflections about 'messy' yards and 'dilapidated' houses. Do we educators pass judgment on the parents based on our measures of success? Adams suggests that pur ideology of individualism and acquisition of possessions "is one of the most important mechanisms by which the ruling class dominates the state" (p. 144). I do not believe I intentionally try to dominate to make my way as right or best, nor did I hear any concern of this nature from parents or educators. The operative word, though, is 'intentionally.' How many non-verbal, subtle, or maybe not so subtle, messages are educators giving to First Nations parents suggesting they are not meeting our social standards? Is this not a barrier that would keep parents out of the school? 114 At the National Policy Roundtable a statement in the document, Moving Forward in Aboriginal Education (Henchey, 2005)2 reads: The relationship between an Aboriginal school and its community may be the same as those in other communities but it may also be different. Community problems like poverty, hunger and violence are also learning problems for the school, (p. 23) I would go one step further with this statement and suggest that, as educators, we not only need to be aware of how 'poverty, hunger and violence' affect learning, but we need to be aware of how they affect our thinking about the people who may be struggling with these issues. A final thought about the Economics topic has to do with the definition of parent involvement that implies being in the school building. As long as educators believe the only way parents are involved is when they are seen in the school, parents who are unable, or unwilling, to come to the school due to economic reasons, will be vulnerable to criticism. A fresh look at the meaning of parent involvement will be explored during the summary of this study. Parent Involvement Question Theme 5: Traditional Differences There was considerable discussion during the interviews about the different ways First Nations parents and non-Native educators view education. There seemed to be two main issues: the definition of success and whose job is it to educate: 1 The National Round Table was a conference held at Concordia University by 50 participants from regional and national Aboriginal organizations, federal government departments, provincial/territorial departments of education, universities and other organizations. The document, Moving Forward in Aboriginal Education, was produced with recommendations for change by the participants. 115 When I was growing up it was always the mind set of our people that I'm putting my child in your hands and it's your job to educate them, and then they come home and it's my job to clothe and feed them. (Parent 7) In our house it [school] wasn't important, but I have to learn to be consistent and keep that priority. (Parent 3) To be successful in the white world is not necessarily seen as being a good thing. First Nations don't necessarily want to see the kids be successful. They don't have a vision of them being successful...or our picture. They don't fit our picture of success. (Educator 3) I think we are still discovering what First Nations people would like to have education be for their students. I don't think we know yet. A lot of them really see education as white education, as being very harmful and not being something that they want. (Administrator 2) There's nothing wrong with being an Indian. You just have different things that show results of prosperity. Regardless of who you are, being very confident and very responsible is a requirement of success in school. (Administrator 3) Parents, educators and administrators commented that they felt some First Nations parents did not view 'success' in life was necessarily graduating from secondary school (Parents 2, 3,4, & 7; Educators 1& 3; Administrator 1, 2 & 3). Interviewees also commented on the struggle for parents to let their children go to the city for post-secondary education, "Who's to say that success is to leave town and not come back? " (Educator 1). To some parents this represented the breaking apart of the family that had lived for generations in the same community. One dad told me how his father wouldn't talk to him for a year because he let the grandson go to university in Vancouver (Administrator 3). 116 When I raised this topic of different views of success at the parent group meeting, there was not complete agreement. As reported earlier, it was determined by the group that some parents might feel that high school graduation is not a measure of success, but it was very much an individual thing. Teachers, they felt, needed to work with parents about long-term goals for their children. A statement from the National Policy Roundtable (2005) in Moving Forward in Aboriginal Education, reinforces for me that it is educators' responsibility to understand what is blocking parents from being involved in education, whether or not it is related to traditional thinking or other issues: Establishing a seamless 'culture of learning' for Aboriginal education means re-examining the organization, roles, rituals and relationships of the school in the context of community traditions, needs, families and resources, (p. 22) Once again, if the school has a written plan for parent involvement that has been developed by parents, different ways can be created for all parents to get involved. Parent Involvement Question Theme 6: Racism While sorting my quotes I came across six that commented on discrimination, stereotyping or racism as a reason for parents not to be involved in the public schools (Parents 4,6 & 7; Educator 1; Administrator 4 & the Elder). Two parents talked about the stigma of lice causing problems for parents: White parents don't want their kids to hang out with Native kids because they relate the head lice to the Natives. (Parent 4) There was some issues regarding being sensitive towards First Nations with head checks for lice. First Nations were making it a race issue. (Parent 6) 117 One parent said there were some racist issues in the school, but he felt it had improved: There's still racism, staff and parents, still some red necks around, but it's much better. (Parent 7) An educator talked about how the 'home talk' was brought into classrooms, causing bad feelings for everyone: There are some real negative feelings, not a prejudice, not a racist kind of thing, but in that whole political scene. We'd better be prepared for kids bringing some of that stuff from the dinner table to school. (Educator 1) An administrator told a story about an incident that happened during the annual Cross-Cultural Day: There's unthinking kind of talk. People just don't realize. A white parent said to a Native mum, 'I hear that First Nations parents give their children wine and alcohol to go to sleep when they're babies'. Of course the First Nations mum then said, 'I'm not doing this next year.' (Administrator 4) The final comment about racism is a story told by the Elder. She talked about how her son was quite talkative in school and one day the teacher joked about it. She found his remarks to be demeaning: The teacher said to me, 'Are you sure you have the right child? Are you sure there was not a mix up at the hospital?' I said why and he said, 'Well most Native children just don't offer to answer questions, but your son forever has his hand up.' I thought about that comment and thought, 'how dare you.' He was trying to be funny, but I think a parent could really take offence to that. Can't my kid be outgoing and smart? (Elder) This story, which occurred over 40 years ago, still reflects the kind of comments made today, as seen in the previous quote from Administrator 4. Educators could create a more 118 comfortable school atmosphere for First Nations parents if they, the educators, were more aware of and sensitive to these kinds of problems. Only one of the above comments made by interviewees referred to current school staff. The rest were about other parents and students. This is not to say there is no responsibility for the staff to be aware of or deal with these issues. I would suggest, however, it does say that the staff at James Thomson School is not seen as racist or discriminatory by the parents interviewed. I believe the lack of any racist feelings about the staff at James Thomson could be another factor towards the 'good' relationship. I have been avoiding the discussion of racism. It is not something I care to admit How could good, caring, well-intentioned people be racist? Even after parents mentioned some racist concerns during the interviews, I still said that James Thomson did not have racism issues. I am comfortable to discuss stereotyping, oppression or lack of awareness, but not racism. When the First Nations woman made her comment about white people avoiding the issue of racism, first referred to in Chapter 3,1 know I immediately felt defensive and annoyed. Racism to me is an intentional slight towards another race, a conscious sense of superiority. I do not believe I have ever felt that way and I would like to believe that is true of other educators. I, however, have become particularly aware of some subconscious thoughts of stereotyping during the past two years. One personal story I want to share is both funny and shocking to me. I was giving a ride to a First Nations man who I had only just met. Symphony music was playing on my car CD. He said to me, "/ was listening to a symphony playing one night in Stanley Park waiting for 119 a bus group. People kept looking at me odd. They probably wondered, 'what's that Indian doing listening to symphony?' I asked him how that made him feel and he said, "Oh it just made me laugh. I like symphony music." I smiled at him and said, "Me too, sometimes," but what was really going on in my mind was how I was suddenly aware of my first thoughts when the music started. I realized that I almost changed the CD because I didn't want him to think of me as a 'yuppie' and I assumed he would prefer to listen to something different. So in my thoughts, I didn't want to be stereotyped by him but in the process I stereotyped him by thinking he wouldn't want to listen to symphony music. I was very shocked how, once again, I caught myself stereotyping someone. I also couldn't help but chuckle about the image of this man with his longish hair sticking out in all directions from under his hat, with his 'ragged' clothing and cowboys boots, sitting listening to symphony music in Stanley Park. I could imagine how people would look at him. Would they be thinking the thoughts he assumed they were? The best part was that he was laughing at them for their apparent ignorance. Razack (1999), talks about how oppressed people become depersonalized by the dominant race, stating that, "Powerful narratives turn oppressed peoples into objects, to be held in contempt, or to be saved from their fates by more civilized beings" (p. 3). Is that what happens? Do we, the dominant race, all look at 'others' as 'nothing' or something to scorn? I remember once when I asked my 16 year old son what he thought of my haircut he said, "I didn't notice it. You are just an old blur to me" (Cameron, 120 personal communication, January, 2004). I was shocked by his comment....'an old blur'? Is that all I am? Is that how the secondary school students see me in the school, not as a person, but as an 'old blur'? After I got over the shock of the comment, I started thinking about other races and how they must feel. Are they being perceived as a 'black blur' or a 'First Nations blur'? Is this what Razack (1999) is talking about when she says educators need to "...build critical consciousness about how we, as subjects, position ourselves as innocent through the use of such markers of identity as the good activist" (p. 18). Am I, through this research, becoming a 'good activist' and thereby using it as an excuse to deny racism? According to the Oxford Dictionary (1996), the meaning of 'racism' is "a belief in superiority of a particular race; antagonism towards other races " (p. 413). What I am suggesting is that if we do not have intentional conscious thoughts of superiority then we are not racist. This does not, however, preclude the possibility of unconscious thoughts of superiority, of which, as educators, we need to become aware. St. Denis & Hampton (2002), in their writing on behalf of the Minister's National Working Group on Education, found educators deny that racism exists in schools. They suggest there is a taboo about discussing racism because it would cause us to have to face our own racist issues. During my interview with one of the administrators, this exact issue arose when she told me some teachers would not attend workshops on racism, "Some of the staff refused to come to our workshop [Program Against Racism] because they didn't want to be known as racist" (Administrator 4). This may also be the case with 121 the educator who made the remark quoted earlier about bad feelings from 'political' comments from home not being racist or prejudice. At the time I wanted to challenge her about qualifying the remarks as 'not racist' but decided an interview was not the place to do it. In light of what I said previously, I seem to 'fit the mold' of denial. What I do know for myself, though, is that by raising my level of consciousness, and becoming aware of my subconscious thoughts, I am much more likely to eliminate them, whether or not I use the word 'racism.' Whatever we call it, as long as we judge others, see them as a 'blur,' or make assumptions about them, we will never break the barrier that keeps First Nations parents out. When I referred back to my original literature review, I was happy to discover that the findings from the interviewees regarding the barriers to parent involvement could all be validated in the research. Parents are not likely to get involved due to: negative school experiences, (Finders & Lewis, 1994; Hare, 2003); lack of support from the school staff, (Dauber & Epstein, 1993; Fullan, 1991; Patrikakou et al, 1999); lack of education, (Comer, 1980); traditional ways, (Mackay & Myles, 1995; Christenson & Sheridan, 2001); economics, (Adelman, 1994; Baker, 1997; Patrikakou et al 1999; Pena, 2000); and racism (Razack, 1999). Upon reflection, however, I wondered if I had been influenced by the literature. Was I directing the interviewees towards these categories during the questioning? Did I interpret their responses to fit into these categories? I reviewed the transcripts and determined I had not influenced the results in any way that I could 122 determine. The interviewees initiated the statements without prompting from me, and the resulting categories on the analysis board appeared uncontaminated by preconceived ideas. If You Were Principal Question The Ho ho jo thot group felt the best way to initiate ideas for parent involvement would be to ask the interviewees what they would do if they were the principal. This question, If you (person's name) were the principal trying to encourage First Nations parent involvement, what would you do? stimulated many ideas. It seemed to lift the weight from the heavy thoughts that had been expressed previously about fears and insecurities caused by Residential school experiences. A long list of ideas was generated from every interviewee. It is not my intention to recreate that list, although some of the ideas will be included in the Handbook. Instead, I want to talk about the general concepts that emerged from the interviews. There were five main themes: Connect With the People, Use Family Networks, Be Aware of Yourself, Create Non-threatening Environments That Offer Food, and Have a Plan. If You Were Principal Question Theme 1: Connect With the People Parents talked about the difference it made when teachers connected with them personally, doing such things as positive phone calls, hand-written notes, small 'tea' parties, and student led conferences. All these 'little things' made the parents feel better about entering the school: Just little things, you'd get a note home, once a month in the newsletter there would be a footnote for parents. I always read them all. (Parent 1) 123 Sit in the staffroom and have a cup of tea [with principal]. Give parents a place to just kind of hang out and feel a little comfortable in the building. (Parent 2) A lot of it is just outreach, i f you need a ride, just call. (Parent 3) We'l l be handwriting little invitations to all the people we're inviting. It really makes a difference. (Educator 2) Pushor & Ruitenberg (2005), found the same thing in their study of a small public school with a high population of First Nations students: In so many ways, we see that their building of trust and relationship is about the little things they [teachers] do-making contact, listening, talking, and just being present-as individuals, as a school team, and as a school community, (p.55) Some interviewees commented it was easier connecting with the parents of young children, so any programs that did that would increase parents' involvement: I think the best thing is i f you get the parents of the students when they are little. You can get that generation and then each generation would improve. (Parent 4) I see a change in a sense of the young parents. The younger are easier to get into the school system. (Parent 5) Interviewees felt strongly that parents and school staffs had to know one another, as individuals, and as a people: You need a person in the school that knows pretty well the Native community and the people to go and talk to individual people. (Parent 4) Once you get to know the people, and once you get to know the way they do things you'll find they are actually very laid back people. I think the more you focus on our differences it's going to create differences. If you just look at people as people, whether it be non-Native or Native you might have more success of both kinds coming out and being involved. (Parent 6) Learn our language, learn our ways, actually understand where we came from and then go back there and you'll have more respect instead of saying they're just Natives. (Parent 7) 124 Edwards (2003), in his writing about 'dialogue,' is adamant about the need for non-Native Administrators to know and understand the people with whom they work: The first significant avenue of approach for educational leaders must be to seek to understand both the shared experience of the United States or Canada by First Nations people and the particular history of the First Nation within whose traditional territory, the educational leader works, (p. 10) Several interviewees felt the work James Thomson staff was doing at Sliammon was helping connect the two communities and highly recommended that it continue: The administrator, the teachers and even the PAC committees have volunteered to come out to Sliammon to run some of their meetings. There were a few parents who attended. They [school staff] just have to persist, and keep on doing it, the numbers will grow. (Parent 2) Even the PAC was trying to have the meetings down here [Sliammon] to get more First Nations people to come out. I think it was a good idea. (Parent 6) There's a positive feeling from both sides. It's very nice i f the staff can go down there [Sliammon], they're willing to do that, just to get that comfort zone for everybody, for themselves, too. (Educator 4) I would pursue more of that [teachers at Sliammon] to happen, just meet, have lunch or just to be with each other in a setting where its not so on the teacher's schedule. (Administrator 3) One parent commented on how important it was that the Chief of Sliammon and Mayor of Powell River attended school events together: We had a really good turnout [of parents] at yesterday's assembly, maybe because the Chief and the Mayor were involved. They have a really good relationship. They often make appearances together, so it goes a long way. It is just reaching out. (Parent 3) If You Were Principal Question Theme 2: Use Family Networks Interviewees made comments about the importance of family to the First Nations people. One administrator said he believed every family had a key person who could organize the 125 others, and that teachers should find that 'key' (Administrator 3). An educator talked about how teachers need to be aware of family strengths and make use of them to connect with parents: I think one of the strengths of First Nations is that they have been in that village for generations, like grandparents aren't living in Ontario or Florida, wintering in Arizona. They're there for those kids. It's something that I think we can learn from them or just realize how important their kids are to them. (Educator 2) Many ideas were given on how to involve parents at meetings by building on the family strength: We figured we'd get rid of that unfair playing field, so if you're there [at a meeting] and you'd like to feel a little more comfortable, bring someone, a sister, friend, take a gramma, whatever, the more the merrier. (Parent 2) Instead of having public meetings have family meetings, invite brothers and sisters and say, we'll have a meeting just for you. People will speak more in a smaller group. What they'll do is they will talk privately with someone and that someone will then bring their concerns out. (Parent 3) Provide a networking system with mums and relatives. Cook or make something, have coffee and just talk about kids and whatever while you are doing it. That gets parents out. (Administrator 4) A strong recommendation from the National Policy Roundtable (2005) in Moving Forward in Aboriginal Education reinforces this concept of family networks: Schools must recognize the importance of community and family partnerships to educate their youth and may often serve as the hub of these adjunct services. Schools must go out of their way to bring the community into the school and be prepared to provide outreach services in other ways and venues to overcome residual fears of educational institutions and to engage community members in the learning process, (p. 22) 126 If You Were the Principal Question Three 3: Be Aware of Yourself There was a great deal of discussion about teachers needing to be aware of how they interact with parents. It was suggested by several interviewees that when educators are aware of, and sensitive to, how they present themselves, parents are more likely to be comfortable around them. This included non-verbal body language, tone of voice and spoken words: It's patience and how you communicate. There's no magic. (Parent 3) Make sure you are approachable. A certain tone of someone's voice would set them [parent] off to be not involved. (Parent 6) Language is so important. If you say, 'what are your strengths?' parents will say, I'm not good at anything.' Instead ask them what they like to do. (Parent 5) I was told several times that First Nations people do not like to be told or directed: They need to be 'nurtured' and 'encouraged'. (Elder) Don't tell them [parents] what to do. (Administrator 3) Edwards (2003), talks about the need to know ourselves, and where we came from to better communicate with First Nations parents: What we hear, how we respond, what the other person hears, how they respond are all strongly influenced by the pre-formed patterns that stand in the background of each enactment of ourselves, (p. 5) I believe this is a crucial factor when trying to connect with First Nations parents. Our personal history and that of the school system has a huge impact on how we respond to parents. We need to be aware of these factors. 127 If You Were Principal Question Theme 4: Create Non-threatening Environments Many interviewees said something about the need to create environments that are informal, fun and non-threatening to get parents more involved. They said to celebrate and serve food: The teachers would come in at lunch and mingle, and we'd have tea, coffee, sometimes a dessert, and the kids would serve it, and the principal would walk around and sit with every table.. .it was fun. (Parent 1) Do like a 'gramma day' where everybody makes a big pot of soup and bannock and invite grammas and parents to all come in and share a meal. (Parent 2) You've got to remember to celebrate. (Parent 3) Create win-win situations. When it's win-win there's resolution, and that's what we need more of. (Parent 5) Encourage more involvement in safe things like playing soccer with the kids at lunchtime. (Parent 6) I'd go before lunch and just walk in and say hi to the teacher and what not, just to see what is happening, and then I'm off chit chatting with my son. (Parent 7) I think we need to celebrate parents, acknowledge parents who are doing things with their kids. (Educator 2) It could be a coffee stop, lunch hour activities, maybe more cultural stuff. We could do activities like beading or just talk about story telling, just little minor things like that. (Educator 4) Offer a cooking program for new mums, rather than a workshop or meeting. You principals put on your aprons, slice carrots and whatever. They [parents] would talk about their kids, talk about what problems they were experiencing. We would brainstorm and share ideas. (Administrator 4) Certainly from my own experience of working and living in two First Nations communities I would agree with the benefits of having informal events and celebrations. Every gathering is an opportunity to get to know one another, and food, like sunshine and water, is a common need that comforts us. 128 If You Were Principal Question Theme 5 : Have a Plan This final theme, Have a Plan, came from comments made by parents, educators and administrators. All three groups felt that schools need to be purposeful about their parent involvement. It is not good enough to just assume it is going to happen. Staff and parents would benefit from being educated about the importance and opportunities in parent involvement (Parents 4, 5,6 & 7). There was some concern expressed about the lack of a policy or plan for parent involvement in the school. When things are sustainable, it doesn't matter who's in the position. The relationship will continue. I don' think it will be sustained because there is no formal process in place. (Parent 5) The staff is aware that we have a way to go [regarding parent involvement]. They think we could be doing more. We just don't know what it is. We need a plan for parent involvement. (Administrator 2 ) One parent felt teachers needed to educate parents about the need to be involved with their children by being straightforward about the benefits: I would interact face to face and say, 'Do you want your kids to succeed? Do you love your children? If you do, get involved.' (Parent 7) An educator suggested schools should work with the Band Council first to help Council members learn about the benefits of parent involvement and then develop a plan with them: I would meet with Band Council, educate them [about parent involvement]. I don't think they understand. Then we could develop a plan. (Educator 2) A parent also suggested that teachers should go to the Band to develop a plan: I would meet with the Band Leaders in education. Figure out how to get the parent in the door and then go to the Band office and talk to them and see what can be set up in their ideas, because their culture is different. (Parent 4) 129 Considering the interviewees' comments, I would suggest that parents and staff in conjunction with the Band Council, could develop a written plan and or policy to improve parent involvement at James Thomson School. This will be discussed further in the summary. Summary of the Findings What was this research really about? My educational passion has been to have parents involved in their children's education, both at the school and in the home. I have always believed the way to orchestrate this would be by developing a relationship with parents and creating a welcoming, safe environment for them to participate. My frustration over the years has been that I have not connected with the First Nations parents such that they have felt comfortable being involved in the school. Since I know the research correlates parent involvement with many positive outcomes for parents, students and staff, as cited in Chapter 3,1 wanted to learn what public school educators could do differently to better involve First Nations parents in the school system; how to make the garden grow and flourish. This research was a case study of an elementary public school and the local First Nations community. When I was given the chance to work with the Sliammon First Nations community, that was purported to have a good relationship with the school, district and town and was increasing their parent involvement at the school, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn from them. After contacting the School District Aboriginal Coordinator, I met with a group of Sliammon representatives who became the designated 130 First Nations committee to guide my work, the Ho ho jo thot group. Between us we organized interviews with 20 individuals, 14 of which were First Nations, including 4 administrators, 4 educators, 7 parents 1 Elder, 2 Daycare workers, the Chief of the local First Nations community and the Mayor of Powell River. I wanted to confirm from the interviewees that the relationship was good, as reported, and then establish what they believed created that relationship. Next, I wanted to explore the involvement of the parents in the school, and determine what encouraged, or discouraged that involvement. Once I had confirmed the factors of the relationship and resulting parent involvement, I wanted to establish how those factors could be used in other school settings. I started the study by asking the question: What factors will guide the practice of non-Native educators to build a positive working relationship between a First Nations community and an elementary public school as well as encourage and support parent involvement? First, I sought to establish that the relationship was, in fact, good, which was confirmed by all interviewees. I then questioned what facilitated this relationship. The responses can be summarized into the four factors of: making an effort; knowing the people; being welcoming; and being respectful. I then explored the concept of parent involvement in the school. I found that the parents were not as involved as they, or the teachers believed they could be, but that involvement had increased significantly over the past few years. Comments were made from several interviewees suggested that they believed the increase in parent involvement was related to the positive relationship between the parents and school: 131 Well, James Thomson staff, from my point of view, have always been very accepting of myself, and from what it looks like they're very open to parent volunteers. (Parent 6) I am seeing more First Nations people becoming more comfortable with the school and are coming more often. (Educator 2) I know there's a lot more work in the school, a lot more involvement with the parents. There's a lot of improvement in that area. (Elder) When I asked the parents and educators what discouraged parent involvement, they identified the barriers to parent involvement as: history; economics; racism; lack of skills; lack of school support; and traditional differences. When asked what they believed would increase parent involvement they said: personal contact by staff; family networks; non-threatening activities; teachers being more 'aware', and a school plan. Debriefing the Results The results of this case study suggest that James Thomson Elementary School, the Powell River Community and School District, and the Sliammon Community have a positive relationship that has resulted in encouraging and supporting parent involvement in the school. The school district and Powell River Community have purposefully developed very respectful written documents with the Sliammon Community, which outlines their relationship. The school staff has been attempting to develop understanding of parent involvement and of the Sliammon culture. The Sliammon Community supports and encourages the non-Native community to participate in activities hosted at Sliammon. The school staff has created a welcoming, sensitive environment for the parents and other family members by becoming more aware of their own thoughts and actions. All of 132 these factors appear to have contributed to the First Nations parent involvement in James Thomson School. The school staff, however, still faces many challenges to First Nations parent involvement in the school. The residual affects of Residential schooling are enormous. Generations of parents have developed deeply rooted fears of schools and have been exposed to unnatural parenting in the residential setting. As a result, many parents have not completed their own schooling and are now facing the reality of their children knowing more than themselves. Compounding this issue is the expectation that parents are to work with teachers to better the children's education, when, in fact, some parents feel intimidated by the jargon and the skills required, and are fearful of walking through the school front door. Economics also plays a role in the challenges for parents being involved in the school. Some parents have no transportation, no babysitters, or time to spare, due to multiple jobs needed to pay the bills. The teachers could become more aware and sensitive to these issues and find ways to support the parents with their involvement, both at home and at school. Ironically, the school does not always support parent involvement due to their own lack of awareness on many levels. Not all teachers understand the benefits associated with parents being involved with their children's education, and as a result they view it as extra work for them, or threatening to their professionalism. They are also unaware of 133 the subtle negative messages they can give parents through insensitive comments and body language, resulting in parents feeling unwelcome in the school. The school principal can also play a role in blocking parent involvement by not being sensitive to parent needs and in some cases, not even acknowledging that they exist. James Thomson school staff has identified First Nations parent involvement as a school goal, and, they have a 'welcoming' environment. However, when schools do not have a well-articulated policy and plan for parent involvement, it is unlikely to be sustained. Individual teachers can ask parents to assist in the classroom, but unless the school has a plan with a culture of welcoming, usually initiated by the principal, parents won't even feel comfortable entering the building. James Thomson staff now needs to work with the parents to develop a plan to make their goal of First Nations parent involvement attainable and sustainable. Cultural differences between First Nations parents and non-Native school staff presents many challenges in a public school setting. As discussed earlier, some examples of cultural differences that school staffs need to understand are: the varying definitions of school success; the valuing of extended family members and Elders; leadership as knowledge, not hierarchical power; and working for the group and future generations, as opposed to the individual. James Thomson staff has done a good job of embracing the Sliammon culture in the school, which has assisted them in accepting differences. A significant issue that was raised during the interviews, however, was the school 'system' itself. The Euro-centric focus of the public school system instills a white superiority 134 positioning that is often not recognized by educators. It reinforces the non-Native values, as 'right' which easily translates into everything else is 'wrong'. This can then result in stereotyping and racism. Teachers need to be involved in professional development that addresses this issue. They need to have the opportunity to have conversations about ideology and subconscious thoughts that will help them develop an awareness of their own world-view in relation to others. A Final Reflection What I have presented here are the events, activities and attitudes of James Thomson Elementary School and the Sliammon community that appear to have contributed to improved parent involvement. It is important to remember, however, that there are still human components of fear and lack of awareness. First Nations parents have many fears of educators and the school system in general, as a result of years of oppression and the Residential School experience. Educators have fears of losing their professional position as the ones who know how and what to teach. First Nations parents and educators are unaware of how the parents can contribute to their children's education. In many cases educators and parents are unaware of what the other is trying to do: Most teachers do not know the goals that parents have for their children, how parents help them learn, or how parents would like to be involved. Conversely, most parents do not know much about educational programs in their children's schools or what teachers require of them. (Ford & Amaral, 2006, p. 6) Educators are also unaware they may have subconscious biases towards First Nations parents, resulting in subtle non-verbal messages that create barriers to parent 135 involvement. Battiste (2000) suggests these biases are the result of our education system based on imagined laws and regulations, created by the original colonizers: Few Canadians understand the relationship of modern thought to the educational system. Most educators assume that modern thought is an accurate description of reality, and this assumption is at the centre of the modern curriculum, (p. 195) Battiste believes that we need to examine our education system so that we can understand the underlying assumptions and eventually better align it with First Nations thinking: What is apparent to Aboriginal peoples is the need for a serious and far reaching examination of the assumptions inherent in modern educational theory. How these assumptions create the moral and intellectual foundations of modern society and culture has to be studied and written about by Aboriginal people to allow space for Aboriginal consciousness, language, and identity to flourish without ethnocentric or racist interpretation, (p. 197) This study was not intended to re-create the education system. It has, however, caused me to become aware that there are many layers to involving First Nations parents in schools that include better understanding of the roots of the public school system. I believe educators could improve relationships with First Nations parents if they explored the underlying assumptions of the education system and equate these to their own subconscious thoughts about First Nations parents. I also believe that we non-Native educators in the public school system are missing out on what the First Nations people have to offer. Their "world-view based on recognizing and affirming wholeness" as opposed to "the fragmentary self-world view that permeates the Western world" could have huge benefits to our school system if we were willing to embrace it (Ermine, 1995, p. 110). In Moving Forward in Aboriginal Education, the participants of the National Policy Roundtable (Henchey 2005), state that: 136 It is vital for the culture of learning that the school reflect the community, that the community and its people see themselves reflected in the school. The community is a source of both knowledge and trust; elders are sources of knowledge, leaders in this culture of learning; parents must be welcome in the school, participate in the learning activities of the school and know their contributions are valued, (p. 22) Moving Forward in Aboriginal Education emphasizes the value and need to involve First Nations parents and their world-view in the school system. Unfortunately I never heard of this document prior to my study. It would be of great value to make all teachers and administrators in the public school system aware of this information. James Thomson staff appeared to be trying to encompass the Sliammon world-view into the school by using the Guiding Principles from Reflecting on Traditional Governance. The staff used its Principles: Yeeq otl tlet (Accountability); Qwaqwi stowtl (Communication); Klossom qwygon (Discipline); Thath xwen (Fairness); Ganooxwet (Honesty); Pee yet qway gon (Humility); Tee hegun metum (Integrity); Tees tahm (Respect); Ah ah thum (Sharing); and Xax giy yanen (Spirituality) as their way to communicate with the children about behavior and values (Washington, 2004). The use of these Guiding Principles, I believe, contributed to the good relationship enjoyed between the Sliammon parents and the James Thomson staff. As educators we make choices about how we involve parents. In some ways it is easy to ignore the First Nations parents and keep them on the sidelines, accusing them of not caring about their childrea In a study about non-Native educators living and teaching on a Reserve, Taylor (1995) discusses the dynamics of Reserve life, and the need for 137 teachers to 'be aware' of their role in the school and community. He suggests that the non-Native teacher arrives at the Band school with preconceived ideas about her role as a teacher and a sense of being "limited [in] what she could do while she was there " (p. 226). Due to fears of rejection and culture shock she is unlikely to participate in community events. Instead, the non-Native teacher will group together with other non-Native teachers to find reinforcement for what is right and 'normal.' Often these gatherings will result in complaints, fracturing their perceptions of themselves in relation to the First Nations community, thus elevating themselves to a position of superiority. Having lived on two different Reserves for the past two years, I have seen some evidence of these 'elevating gatherings.' Relating this to the public school system, however, I wonder if we, non-Native educators, behave in many of these same ways just cloaked in a different manner. Teachers do arrive with preconceived ideas about teaching and working with the Native community in the public school system. Our ideas are based on our own personal experiences and pubic education. If these preconceived ideas are wrought with thoughts of stereotyping, we will unlikely be open to embracing the First Nations community. Instead, we hide away with like-minded teachers to share stories about the "right" way to do things. This is not meant to be a criticism of teachers but a commentary on what I believe many people naturally do when confronted with new and different environments. For me, Taylor's article reinforced the findings from my study, that as educators, if we want to successfully involve First Nations parents and not keep them on the sidelines, we 138 must have knowledge about who they are as a people, be aware of our own thoughts and behavior and be purposeful about what we do. We cannot 'hide away' in our comfortable staffrooms and criticize the lack of parent involvement. Chapter Review In this Chapter, I analyzed the growth of this case study by presenting the five questions asked during the interviews and the responses that were elicited by the interviewees. I verified the good relationship between the Sliammon community and James Thomson School, and the Powell River School District and then explored the components of that relationship by determining what encouraged or discouraged the parents from becoming involved in the school. Throughout the writing, I continued to refer to the literature and my own reflections as part of the analysis. Finally, I summarized what this study suggests has created the positive relationship between the Sliammon parents and James Thomson Elementary School that has encouraged and supported parent involvement. 139 CHAPTER 5 PLANNING FUTURE GROWTH I will begin this chapter by reflecting on parent involvement and how, as educators, we need to rethink our views about it. Are there other lenses to look through when viewing First Nations parent involvement in the public school system? Are there other 'gardens' getting better results? What future research needs to occur? Finally, this chapter will introduce the concept of a new emerging framework for First Nations parent involvement in the public school system that could be used as a foundation for existing parent involvement programs. Based on this framework, a 'Handbook' for non-Native administrators to use with their staffs to lay the foundation for increased First Nations parent involvement in the public school system has been developed.. This chapter ends with my own personal reflections on the experience of the study. Some Reflections on Parent Involvement Before looking at future growth, I want to reflect on my thoughts about parent involvement. Parent involvement means different things to different people. Based on the research, I described parent involvement in Chapter 3 as: Parent involvement is the relationship between the parent and the school that includes all things parents do at home and at school to contribute to the education of their children.. .it generally can refer to any caregiver, such as a grandparent, foster parent or other family member in the home. In reality, most teachers I speak to perceive parent involvement as what happens inside the school or, at least, what has been directed by the teacher to be done at home. I would argue that when parents do not fit into the teacher-perceived categories, they are 140 viewed as not being involved with their children's education. Hence, comments such as, 'Don't they care about their kids?' are frequently heard in staff rooms. MacKay & My les (1995) caution that teachers can use the lack of parent involvement as an excuse for their own lack of 'action': In homes where graduation and education is stressed and valued by parents, kids graduate: otherwise they rarely do. Such an apparently cogent explanation can enormously comfort educators because it places responsibility for a student's behavior firmly with the parents and releases the school system from both blame and remedial action, (p. 166) From my own experience I have heard teachers comment that it is no wonder a child is struggling when 'we never see the parents.' I have not, however, seen this translated into an excuse to give up on the child, as MacKay & Myles warn. While interviewing an administrator, one of the first things he said to me was how there is a perception that First Nations parents do not care about education because they are not visible in the school (Administrator 1). I would suggest that being visible is not the only criterion for being involved. There are many things parents do and say at home that influence their children's education. Like a bamboo plant that grows under the ground for five years before it surfaces, we don't really know what growth is occurring outside of the school. When I began analyzing the interviews, I found myself thinking that what we need to do is expand the definition of parent involvement to include everything parents and relatives do with their children that relates to education. Then I reread my own 141 definition from Chapter 3 and found that, in fact, that was how I did define parent involvement, which suggests to me that having a definition and living that definition are two different things. This thought process leads me, once again, to the word 'awareness.' As educators we need to be aware of the subtle thoughts we are having about parents. Are we putting our energy into criticizing, judging and stereotyping? Do we genuinely want First Nations parents to be involved? Pushor (2001) believes all parents are left on the sidelines and that teachers, intentionally or not, keep them busy with tasks. She argues that parents need to be equal team members who are valued and respected, and are given the opportunity to make 'real' decisions about education: What interests me is exploring possibilities for positioning parents on the landscape of schools where their knowledge and stories can be laid beside those of teachers, (p. 26) I am hopeful that once teachers understand the value of parent involvement, and their possible role in blocking it, they will be more willing to involve parents. My experience, however, has been that many teachers see lack of involvement as the parents' issue and not the educators' responsibility. Pushor (2001) refers to this when she quotes Cairney & Munsie: When parents are not engaged in schooling activities, the assumption is the fault rests with the parent rather than with the way the school invites involvement. (Cairney & Munsie in Pushor, p. 23) According to this study, teachers could improve First Nations parent involvement if they could nurture them without criticism or judgment. When I find a plant that is not growing as well as I think it could, I don't rip it from the ground and criticize it for not being what I want it to be. Instead I try to determine what I can do to make it flourish. 142 It may need more water, sun, fertilizer or space. Maybe it needs a different 'companion'? New research about gardening has discovered that some plants grow better when they are coupled with certain other plants. My study suggests that parents too may flourish with a more nurturing environment and different companions. When they are treated in a personal, caring, respectful manner and accompanied by friends or relatives they are more likely to attend meetings and school gatherings; more likely to get involved. Contributions of This Study to the Research The findings of this study agree with previous research regarding the barriers to parent involvement. Parents are not likely to get involved due to: negative school experiences, (Finders & Lewis, 1994; Hare, 2003); lack of support from the school staff, (Dauber & Epstein, 1993; Fullan, 1991; Patrikakou et al, 1999); lack of education, (Comer, 1980); traditional ways, (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001; Mackay & Myles, 1995); economics, (Adelman, 1994; Baker, 1997; Patrikakou et al 1999; Pena, 2000); and racism (Razack, 1999). The findings also agree with the research regarding the need for purposeful positive leadership in schools (American National PTA, 1997; Bell, 2004; Benson, 1998; Knudson, 1990; Storey 1989). This study is also supported by some recent research on how to involve First Nations parents in the school system; connect with the people, build family networks, be 'aware' of your messages, and create non-threatening environments (Amendt & Bousquet, 2006; Kavanagh, 2003; Saskatchewan School Trustees, 2002). 143 What this study has to contribute to the literature is in both theory and practice. A new emerging relationship framework for involving First Nations parents in the public school system is being suggested along with new ways for non-Native researchers to work with First Nations people. A Relationship Framework When the administrators, educators and parents of James Thomson School and Sliammon Nation were asked to discuss parent involvement, they talked about the positive relationship they enjoyed with one another and the many things that were happening that contributed to that relationship. The results of this case study would suggest that the increased parent involvement is directly related to the positive relationship. The results of the interviews suggested there are four factors that educators needed to be aware of to develop a positive relationship with First Nations parents: making an effort, being welcoming, knowing the people, and being respectful. The parents also identified six factors that blocked them from getting involved in the public schools: history of residential schools, economics, racism, lack of skills, lack of school support, and traditional differences. Finally, the interviewees identified five factors that would improve parent involvement: personal contact by staff family networks, non-threatening activities, teachers being more aware and a school plan. My final step in this research was to take the information from the interviewees and combine it with the literature and my own experience to establish what other educators could do to create a positive working relationship between a First Nations community 144 and a public school in order to encourage and support parent involvement. The existing literature seems to focus on barriers to parent involvement and specific programs to develop parent involvement. What appears to be missing in the research is a way to lay the groundwork upon which First Nations parents can feel confident to walk, so they can become involved in the public school system in ways that are meaningful to them. Returning to my garden metaphor, I think of all the years I have been battling the weeds along the pathways between the raised beds. A great deal of time and effort in the pathways took away from the growth of the vegetables because I didn't begin with a good plan. Last week, while I was away, my husband dug out all the weeds along the paths, lay down a garden carpet and covered it with bark mulch. I can now focus on the vegetables in the beds instead of fighting with, and complaining about, the weeds in the pathway. In the same way, by laying down the carpet of respect, knowledge and awareness for the First Nations parents, we can focus on how they can become involved instead of complaining about their lack of involvement. Like the garden carpet, that will likely still have weeds creep up from its edges, the parents will not find a perfect pathway to the school. They will still encounter blocks along the way, but teachers will have a clearer view of what needs to be done to encourage and support parents if they begin with a well thought out path. By looking at what interviewees in this study said, combined with my personal experience, documents and literature review, I suggest there are three key themes that non-Native educators could pursue to build a positive working relationship with First 145 Nations parents. Each theme has incorporated the factors that have been identified in this study that will guide the practice of non-Native educators to build a positive working relationship between a First Nations community and an elementary public school as well as encourage and support parent involvement. The three themes are: • Understanding Aboriginal Knowledge • Having Personal Critical Awareness • Working with Purposefulness Understanding Aboriginal Knowledge I believe, as a result of personal experience and this research, educators could encourage more parent involvement if they had a genuine understanding of the people with whom they are working. If educators learn about the culture and history of First Nations people, better relationships will be built. This is not to say that teachers are expected to have a deep understanding of the culture, but every effort to understand is beneficial. Recently, I had an amazing personal experience while attending a meeting about the culture of the people with whom I am currently working. I feel it is worth sharing this story since it impressed upon me how quickly we can judge others and misunderstand what is happening. I was involved in a meeting with the Tribal Council about which songs and dance could be used at our school. I knew that there were family songs and dance, and that whomever owned them had to be acknowledged so I assumed that we could use any of them as long as we stated from where they came. The meeting was very emotional and bordered on violent. No one seemed to agree to what could or could not be used at the school. I found myself listening in disbelief, my thoughts wondered; 146 'How could they be so upset?' 'Who cares what we use?' 'Why don't they feel honoured that we want to use them?' Finally, one man spoke, passionately with tears in his eyes, about how his songs and dances had been created and passed down through his family. He said these songs and dances were his family's only real possessions in life and that he would never share them with the school. At that moment, I realized I was experiencing an example of a profound cultural difference. 'Possessing' a song, in my mind, would only be for the purpose of producing it on a CD to make money. This man's comments were so powerful for me, not just giving me a glimpse of the meaning of 'family' songs and dance, but recognizing that our cultural differences can so easily lead to misguided thoughts. The staff at James Thomson School appears to have developed a good relationship with the Sliammon parents by making a genuine attempt to get to know their culture and who they are as individuals. They have learned to expand their thinking of involvement from the 'parent' to the 'extended family' and they have learned to celebrate successes with a First Nations focus. I was excited when I heard about the extent to which the Sliammon culture was being 'embraced' by the school and how it contributed to the positive relationship between staff and parents. This connection between knowing the culture and building relationships reinforced the findings of Ross (1996), who believes that by understanding culture and traditional learnings, we are better able to understand the people. 147 Bousquet and Amendt, (2006), found similar relationships, that learning 'Indigenous Ways of Knowing' resulted in new and better connections with the community: Through our journey at Princess Alexander Community School (PACS), we began as teachers but evolved as a community of learners who began to experience the value of Indigenous Ways of Knowing. We learned that as we adopted community education practices, parents and community members were willing to share their strengths and gifts with us. Our commitment at PACS was to doing things differently in order to work in new ways with our community, (p. 29) Razack cautions, however, that; "If we understand realities of groups subordinate to us as different or special, we plunge into hierarchy: we become saviors of less fortunate peoples " (p. 20). I did not get the impression from the Sliammon parents that the teachers were seen as 'saviors.' At times I heard frustration from the teachers that they felt they were not doing a good enough job of listening to or understanding the Sliammon parents. What I heard was a genuine desire to connect with and understand the parents. I would go one step further, however, and suggest that educators, including the James Thomson staff, could strengthen their relationship by learning more about the history of First Nations people, particularly as it relates to First Nations parents and the school system. We have all been affected by history, as Razack (1999) points out in her book, Looking White People in the Eye. "We may know how colonization changed Aboriginal people, but do we know how it changed, and continues to change, white people " (p. 19)? Several staff at James Thomson talked about the 'white way' of the school, and how they did not believe it was in the best interest of the First Nations students. They were 148 struggling with finding new ways to teach and interact with the parents. I saw a genuine attempt to understand what they were doing. Battiste (2000) would say that the James Thomson teachers' concern about the 'white way' is a legitimate concern. She suggests, however, that non-Native Educators focus on different learning styles of First Nations children instead of facing the reality of 'cognitive imperialism' that places the white world as superior to First Nations: Cognitive imperialism, also known as cultural racism, is the imposition of one worldview on a people who have an alternative worldview, with the implication that the imposed worldview is superior to the alternative worldview. (p. 193) As a result of this study, I am beginning to understand the concern of First Nations 'academics' that our Eurocentric education system is only presenting a non-Native 'world-view.' I can see how just knowing about another culture is not enough. In fact we need to understand how our own culture is affecting our thinking and attitudes towards other peoples and their cultures. Battiste (2000) suggests, and I concur, that the strength of the Aboriginal people is in their language: Aboriginal languages are the means of communication for the full range of human experiences, and they are critical to the survival of the culture and political integrity of any people. These languages are a direct and powerful means of understanding the legacy of tribal knowledge, (p. 199) This being the case, I believe educators would benefit by having the knowledge that First Nations culture is more than traditional activities but in fact includes the depth of Aboriginal language and thought. This is not to suggest that non-Native educators need 149 to learn the traditional language of the people with whom they are working, although I am sure there would be huge benefits to that, but it does suggest that supporting traditional languages in the public school system is crucial. Once again, James Thomson staff and Powell River School District are doing this. The Sliammon Language is offered in all the Powell River schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and is open to non-Native students as well as Sliammon students. Having Personal Critical Awareness My personal journey through this study has caused me to become acutely aware of who I am in relation to First Nations parents in the school system. In the beginning I believed they needed to change, to become more involved in their children's education. Gradually, I discovered that the system and the educators are the ones who need to change. By becoming aware of parents' stories and my own subconscious thoughts I have determined that, as educators, we must be aware of what we are thinking and what messages we are giving to the parents. Greene (1978), talks about needing: ..an imaginativeness, an awareness, and a sense of possibility.. .along with the sense of autonomy and agency, of being present to the self. There must be attentiveness to others and to the circumstances of everyday life. (p. 51) Greene's "attentiveness to others and to the circumstances of everyday life" causes me to reflect on how we interact with parents. What judgments are we making when we have parent teacher meetings? During a recent discussion with a non-Native consultant in First Nations schools, she told me the following story. 150 A First Nations child was exhibiting severe behaviors in a school. As a result, the interactions with the parent and staff were almost always negative. The principal (non-Native) was desperate to build a relationship with the parents but was unable to get beyond hostility. The consultant came to the school and conducted an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) meeting with the parents and staff. Throughout the meeting the parents were encouraged to talk about their son's strengths and asked how the school could help them. The result of the meeting was magical. Both parents are now very involved in working with the school and in fact talk to others, including making a brief video clip, about how the IEP 'process' changed the school's attitude towards them. When the consultant and I discussed this situation, she talked about how the IEP process values and respects parents and gives them the opportunity to discuss their child in a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment. She passionately believes that writing IEPs with parents creates an atmosphere that builds trusting relationships. Having been involved in many IEP meetings where I did not always see this happening, I talked to the consultant about this. After considerable discussion, we concluded that in fact it is the process of respecting and valuing the parent without judgment that makes the difference, not necessarily writing an IEP. This takes me back to my point that 'critical self awareness' is crucial for building relationships with parents. If we enter a meeting with parents full of judgment and criticism, the result will more likely be hostility than trust. During my interview meetings with parents, I believed they knew more than I. They told stories that I valued 151 and respected. The result of those interviews, as reported later from the parents, was that they felt more positive about the possibility of being involved in the school. I believe teachers need to meet with every First Nations parent from their classroom, prior to report cards, with a genuine desire to hear what the parent has to say about their child. The teacher would enter the meeting with an awareness of possible preconceived ideas and judgments, and lay them aside, to have an authentic interaction. They would create a non-threatening environment such as inviting relatives or a spokesperson for the parent, possibly have the meeting outside of the school and provide coffee and snacks. I believe if teachers have this degree of awareness, they will be better able to build trusting relationships with parents. The teachers at James Thomson School were attempting to be 'aware'. They were asking critical questions of themselves and seeking help from the First Nations parents. When I talked about subconscious thoughts of stereotyping they did not deny them or accuse others, but, instead, expressed the desire to be more awake to these possibilities. Mezirow (1990) talks about critical reflection as a way to challenge and transform our thinking. During the past three years, I have transformed my thoughts about First Nations parent involvement through critical reflection, or what I have referred to as reflexive thinking. I believe that public school educators, through staff development with programs such as the enclosed Handbook, can learn to become aware, more reflexive thinkers. 152 Razack (1999), however, would caution against possible oversimplification of 'awareness.' She would say we have to face the realities of power and oppression: As long as we see ourselves as not implicated in relations of power, as innocent, we cannot begin to walk the path of social justice and to thread our way through the complexities of power relations, (p. 22) Her quote causes me to think about my resistance to talk about racism. Am I seeing myself as 'innocent' and thereby not 'implicated'? I believe if school staffs have these kinds of conversations they will develop the awareness needed to be honest with themselves and those with whom they work. Working with Purposefulness I think we can make significant gains and increase parent involvement, but it's going to take some kind of real strategic plan on our part to specifically address it other than just talk about how it's not happening. (Administrator 1) To have successful First Nations parent involvement in the public schools, I believe, a plan needs to be developed in a purposeful manner. We cannot assume it will happen on its own. Staff and parents, through inservice sessions, can learn together what parent involvement looks like, how to develop a plan and how to maintain it. If educators do not truly understand the benefits and depth of parent involvement, they will not be successful at promoting it. First Nations parents, and possibly Band Councils, must play a critical role in the development of the plan otherwise it will only be 'telling them' what to do, instead of asking them what they could do. The plan has to be approached by all participants with 153 an open mind ready to explore possibilities. There are many formal programs available such as Epstein's School, Family, and Community Partnerships (Epstein. 20011 Asa result of personal experience, the literature review and my research, I believe that programs such as these are not the beginning point but in fact something to refer to once the groundwork is laid. Prior to putting a First Nations parent involvement program in place I believe a staff has to begin by understanding the benefits of parent involvement and then talk honestly in their own safe environment about their fears and biases. Educators can then work with First Nations parents in developing their own plan. Clear policies arid guidelines that honor and value everyone can be developed by parents and staff in public schools. Battiste (2000) states that: Most public schools in Canada today do not have coherent plans about how teachers and students can know aboriginal thought and apply it in current educational processes, (p. 192) In summary, for non-Native educators to successfully build relationships with First Nations parents, educators would benefit from an understanding of Aboriginal knowledge, have personal critical awareness and work with purposefulness. First, they would benefit from developing a knowledge of the language and culture of the people with whom they are working, and the history of the people in relation to education, and what those people can contribute to the public school system. Second, they need to develop an awareness of: themselves, their subconscious thoughts and body language; and how our education system is influencing their attitudes towards other cultures. Finally, have purposefulness in how they work with First Nations parents that includes an understanding of the value of parent involvement. Educators and First Nations parents need to build a plan of parent involvement together that begins with a safe, 154 welcoming path into the school that leads to opportunity for everyone to grow and blossom. A Handbook for Public School Administrators Based on the Relationship Framework, this study contributes a practical document to be used by non-Native Administrators in the Public School System (Appendix B). When I first met with the Ho ho jo thot group we talked about what I could contribute to the community, as a result of this research. It was decided that a Handbook for administrators of public schools on how to involve First Nations parents could be a valuable contribution. The final stage of my study was to meet with the Ho ho jo thot group and the interviewees to plan the Handbook. I outline below the experience of that meeting to continue my personal journey and to emphasize the significance of the Handbook. As I drove onto the Reserve I was aware once again of how very different I felt from the first time I went to Sliammon. The main difference was that it did not feel 'different'. I was unaware at what point I left the main road to turn onto the Reserve. That awareness reinforced for me how many unconscious biases I had been packing around in my head. I hoped those biases had not been evident to others. The meeting began with the Ho ho jo thot group, parents, Elders, Educators and Administrators. I presented an overview of my progress and my ideas for the Handbook. I explained that the main purpose of the day was to get feedback from them about the format of the Handbook, and my interpretation of the personal comments or 155 quotes I wanted to use. Everyone agreed to the format and we then started a rich discussion about the meaning of each comment. One interview statement, "White people were nervous driving on the Reserve at night," caused some surprising reactions for me. A Ho ho jo thot member sounded concerned that this quote could imply 'racism' against white people. Another agreed that times had changed and that we shouldn't bring up old issues. I could feel myself getting defensive. I didn't want to compromise my work by having to be sensitive about the non-Native community being offended. I wanted these parent perspectives to 'wake up' the white world. On the other hand, I knew I couldn't continue without the approval of the Ho ho jo thot committee and the parents. After considerable discussion, I was able to establish that their concern was that this Handbook was going to be the Sliammon parents talking to James Thomson school staff. Once I was able to explain that the Handbook would be generalized for all schools and would have quotes from sources other than just the interviews, they seemed more accepting. I then told them about my experience of driving on the Reserve at night the year before. I felt very uncomfortable revealing my experience but knew I had to be honest. That caused us to discuss the topics of racism, stereotyping and women alone in strange places. My honesty seemed to release many feelings from several of the First Nations women talking about their fears of entering the school. The non-Native Educator in the meeting was amazed by the comments. She shared what the school had tried to do to make parents welcome and comfortable and expressed her deep regret that the educators had been so "blind to the parents'fears" (Educator 3, 2006). By the end of the meeting it was agreed by all that it was time the school staff and Sliammon parents sit down and speak honestly about their feelings to 156 better facilitate parent involvement. The educator's final comment to me was, "This is amazing stuff you are doing. This is going to help us all greatly" (Educator 3, 2006). Based on the results of that meeting, I completed the Handbook. Its purpose is to provide non-Native educators ways to build a safe and welcoming pathway for First Nations parents to be involved in the public school system. Educators are provided the opportunity to read and discuss the history of First Nations parent involvement as well as an overview of the benefits of parent involvement. It asks educators to look at their definition of parent involvement and consider the problematic issues of having parents in their classrooms. By using a series of activities, the Handbook guides educators through their own subconscious thinking to try to identify stereotypical thoughts and how these thoughts may be affecting parents. Finally, this Handbook uses individual comments made by First Nations parents on their thoughts and feelings about their children, their experiences and the school system that were highlighted in Chapters Four and Five. These personal perspectives are intended to develop an awareness about First Nations people that will inform public school educators on how to better understand the people with whom they are working. The Handbook is designed to be a resource for a seminar or workshop that will develop sensitivity and awareness in educators towards involving First Nations parents in the public school system. Non-Native Researcher Process Finally, this study contributes to the research by establishing a respectful process for a non-Native person to work with a First Nations community. A local First Nations committee was established, the Ho ho jot thot committee, to be my guide and 157 conscience. As each stage progressed in the study, I met with the Ho ho jo thot group to seek their advice and approval. This committee proved to be invaluable with their insights about: wording of questions, interacting with parents, summarizing interviews, and interpreting the interviews. Implications for Future Research This study focused on a First Nations community and a local public school that were purported to have established a good working relationship that encouraged and supported parent involvement. The results of 20 interviews suggested that four themes were at play in this school and community that contributed to a positive relationship and resulted in improved parent involvement: making an effort; being welcoming; knowing the people; and being respectful. Once these themes were combined with the literature and the interviews, analyzed by myself and the Ho ho jo thot group, it was determined that three general factors, 'Understanding Aboriginal Knowledge', 'Personal Critical Awareness' and 'Having Purposefulness' are needed for a public school to establish a good relationship with First Nations parents to encourage parent involvement. It would seem that the next step is to use the Handbook in conjunction with the principles, to work with a First Nations community and local school that has minimal parent involvement. The purpose of the study would be to establish whether or not implementing professional development in the areas of Aboriginal Knowledge, Personal Critical Awareness and Purposefulness could create a positive relationship between the school and parents and result in increased parent involvement. Professional development 1 5 8 would be conducted with the school staff about the school system, stereotyping and subconscious thoughts to develop 'awareness.' Both parents and school staff would have in-service on the values of parent involvement. Both groups would then work together to determine how to integrate the First Nations culture and world view into the school in a meaningful way. Finally, parents and staff would develop a plan together on how to further involve the First Nations parents in their children's education. The Handbook would be used to initiate professional development activities for those involved. The other research that I believe needs to occur on this topic is to determine levels of parent involvement in First Nations operated schools. Is there more or less parent involvement? Does it occur differently than in the public schools? Does it make a difference if the Principal, and/or teaching staff are First Nations persons? Would the same factors, knowledge, awareness and purposefulness still need to be addressed in a First Nations operated school? Having lived and worked on a Reserve for the past two years I have many ideas on this topic and believe it is worthwhile pursuing. Impact on My Practice This study has had a huge impact on both my practice and on me as a person. I have become much more aware of my own non-verbal messages and thoughts, and feel a strong need to act on them when appropriate. Furthermore, I feel as if I am working with more intention, instead of just intuition. 159 I have to begin by looking back at how I have introduced parent involvement into every school of which I have been the principal, and yet have managed to neglect the First Nations parents. What was that about? Was it intentional? Was it racist? Once again, I find myself defending my behavior. It was just easy to ignore them. They were quiet; they didn't complain. They didn't stand at my office door threatening to hire a lawyer if I didn't put their child into a certain classroom. Furthermore, I did implement a First Nations program in my last school that eventually became a District-wide initiative. The fact that parents weren't happy with it wasn't my fault. It is so difficult for me to admit I ever thought that way. I believe what was happening was not being aware of what was really going on. It is so easy to feel justified with what you are doing when the 'majority' of parents tell you everything is wonderful and your colleagues revere you for new initiatives. I didn't make the effort to seek out those who were not there. King (1990) would probably say, "[I was acting] as if\l] have no relations (p. IX). As I sit here now at the kitchen table that overlooks my garden, I realize this writing has given me a different view of my life, and my garden. In the past, the garden was all about completing tasks, digging, planting, weeding, picking. As a result of sitting here for hundreds of hours writing, I have found myself gazing out at the garden in a way that I never did before. Sometimes I have been thinking about how the metaphor of the garden works with parent involvement, but more often I am just gazing at the garden watching the amazing action that occurs when I am not in it. It seems to be sustaining an entire community of wildlife. The birds are endless, eating the worms, seeds, cherries, raspberries and grapes. At this very moment I can see four bright blue Stellar 160 Jays fighting over who owns the raspberry patch. There is also what looks like a white, possibly albino, Jay that I have never seen before watching from the fence tentatively trying to get its share. As I write this, I recognize the irony in what I am saying about the white one on the edge afraid to enter. Once again the garden causes me to be reflexive. I can also see a woodpecker sitting in the pear tree, his bright red head bobbing up and down as he is eating my pears. I thought they only ate bugs. Amazing what I am learning by just watching. Last night, while gazing out the same window, I saw a bear help himself to dozens of pears and eventually break a huge branch from the tree. He is a regular dinner guest here. I have watched him grow from a wiry nervous cub to a huge overstuffed self-assured adult. What was different about last night is that I realized he was sitting, no more than thirty feet away, looking towards the window for at least fifteen minutes. Maybe he does that regularly before he tackles the pear tree but I have never been watching long enough before to notice. In the late afternoon, I have discovered that a coyote also visits regularly to help himself to the pears that have fallen on the ground. That is when my 115 pound dog, Shadow, isn't already lying there munching on the pears. I always knew Shadow liked pears but I didn't realize that he eats at least a dozen a day. When he can't find a good one on the ground, I have seen him jump at the branches to pull more down. I was not aware of any of this until I started sitting here gazing out the window. 161 So where's the parallel to parent involvement? To me this is about needing to be aware, to do more 'gazing.' It is so easy to get caught up in the tasks, enjoy the good results and not take the time to notice what is really going on. So much happens when we aren't looking. In my work, as a Principal of a First Nations school on a Reserve, I am trying to take time to be more aware of what is really going on. I am encouraging parents and staff to talk about their concerns and to discuss with me how we can make the school a better place to be. I am actively seeking out the parents that I never see and am trying to build a relationship with them so they will feel comfortable to enter the school. I am joining the children's Language and Culture classes so I can learn more about who the people really are, and I am participating in all the local celebrations. For the first time in my career, I have organized a meeting with the First Nations parents and the non-Native staff to discuss a plan for involving the parents in their children's education. I am using my research as the basis for my interactions with the parents at the school where I currently work. In Chapter One I said: I thought I was writing a dissertation about First Nations parent involvement in the public school system, and yet in many ways I am also writing about myself, and my understanding of who I am in relation to First Nations people, (p. 1) I now think I can say I have been writing about who I am in relation to 'others'. I have become so much more aware of how I see other people and myself. My subconscious thoughts are much more conscious. Of course, that's not to say there aren't other 162 thoughts that I am totally oblivious to, but I believe I am now much more aware of my thoughts and am prepared to do something about them. Finally, a deeply rooted belief I now have as a result of this study is that non-Native educators do not have all the knowledge about what is best for First Nations children. 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Tribal control of American Indian education: Observations since the 1960's with implications for the future. In K. Swisher & J. T. I l l (Eds.), Next steps: Research and practice to advance Indian education (pp. 33-52). Charleston: ERIC. Washington, M. Siemthlut. (2004). Reflecting on Traditional Governance. Powell River: Sliammon Treaty Society Research Department. White-Clark, R., & Decker, L. E. (1996). The 'hard-to-reachparent: Old challenges, New insights: Mid-Atlantic Center for Community Education. Retrieved on July 10, 2006, from Young, I.M. (1990). Five faces of oppression. In I.M. Young, Justice and the politics of difference, (pp. 39-65). Princeton: Princeton University Press. 172 Appendix A: Interview Questions Each question is written in its original form and then the revised form, which occurred as a result of meeting with the Ho ho jo thot group. T H E R E L A T I O N S H I P Q U E S T I O N (Original) Tell me what you know about the relationship between the Sliammon parents and James Thomson elementary (the Sliammon Band and the school district /the Sliammon Band and the Powell River community). Has it changed over the years and if yes, how? (Revised) Talk to me about the relationship between the Sliammon Band (Sliammon parents) and the School District (James Thomson School). T H E P O L I C Y Q U E S T I O N (Original) Tell me about the policy in the District (School) that may be supporting or discouraging this relationship. (Revised) What policies are you aware of that may be benefiting this relationship? T H E C U L T U R E Q U E S T I O N (Original) In what ways is the First Nations culture being addressed in this school (district)? (Revised) To what extent is the First Nations culture being addressed in this school (district)? T H E P A R E N T I N V O L V E M E N T Q U E S T I O N (Original) Tell me about your involvement in the school. What encourages or discourages your involvement? (Revised) Talk to me about the First Nations parent involvement in the school. I F Y O U W E R E T H E P R I N C I P A L Q U E S T I O N (Original) What advice can you give me about encouraging First Nations parent involvement? (Revised) If you (person's name) were the principal trying to encourage First Nations parent involvement, what would you do? 173 Appendix B: Handbook HANDBOOK FOR FIRST NATIONS PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTYM © Joanne Pearson April 2007 174 A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T I want to thank the educators from School District 70, Powell River, B.C. for their contributions towards this Handbook. I also want to commend them for their dedication to the First Nations children and parents in their community. I particularly want to extend a huge thank you to the Sliammon parents, educators, administrators and Elders for the many hours they devoted to assisting me in producing this Handbook. I felt honored to work with the Sliammon people. Without their sensitive, thought provoking comments, this Handbook would not have been possible. 175 T A B L E O F C O N T E N T S INTRODUCTION 177 What is Parent Involvement 179 The Importance of Parent Involvement 180 Barriers to Parent Involvement 182 DISCUSSION NOTES FROM THE LITERATURE 183 Some Traditions of First Nations People 183 The Effects of Residential School 183 REFLECTIONS FROM FIRST NATIONS PARENTS 185 A FINAL COMMENT 205 REFERENCES 206 176 I N T R O D U C T I O N The purpose of this Handbook is to provide guidance to non-Native educators to work with First Nations parents. This Handbook is based on personal experience and a formal research study done for the completion of a Doctorate in Education. After working in the Public School System for over 30 years as a teacher, Principal and special education coordinator, and two years as a principal of a Band operated school, I have some insights into First Nations parent involvement to share. Probably my greatest insight during the study was to discover that I knew far less than I believed I did, and that I was not aware of what was really going on. As one parent said, "White people tend to surf the First Nations world. " His comment was in relation to how we, non-Native educators, learn little bits about the First Nations Culture and use that to demonstrate our knowledge and acceptance of differences. The problem with 'surfing' is we often don't really understand what those 'small bits' of Culture.are really about, which can result in misunderstandings. Probably my greatest insight during the study was to discover that I knew far less than I believed I did. The results of my research clearly indicated that non-Native educators have to build relationships with First Nations parents just to get them to feel comfortable enough to walk through the front door of the school. For non-Native educators to successfully build these relationships with First Nations parents, educators need, Knowledge, Awareness and Purposefulness. First, they need Knowledge of: the language and culture of the people with whom they are working, the history of the people in relation to education, and the 'worldview' of First Nations people. Second, they need to have Awareness of: themselves, their subconscious thoughts and body language; and how our education system is influencing their attitudes towards other cultures. Finally, they need to have Purposefulness in how they work with First Nations parents, assuming it will happen is not enough. Educators need to understand the benefits of parent involvement, and then work with First Nations parents to build a plan that begins with a safe, welcoming path into the school. Through a series of statements from First Nations parents, this Handbook provides educators with the framework for building a positive working relationship with parents. It is based on the results of the research findings that suggest educators need to: • Know the people with whom you are working • Have critical self awareness of what's really going on • Be purposeful in what you do 177 The results of my research clearly indicated that non-Native educators have to build relationships with First Nations parents just to get them to feel comfortable enough to walk through the front door of the school. This Handbook could be used as discussion seminars. I direct my comments to the school principal. Each page is separate for duplicating or using on an overhead projector. Prior to using these quotes, it would be valuable to discuss: • The meaning of parent involvement • The research regarding the benefits of parent involvement • What the research says blocks parent involvement • Some traditions of First Nations people • The effects of Residential School on First Nations people. 178 What is Parent Involvement? Brainstorm with your staff the meaning ofparent involvement. The terminology 'involvement' has become problematic, from the point of view of some researchers who have introduced a new term 'engagement' (Amendt, & Bousquet, 2006; Pushor & Ruitenberg, 2005). Pushor (2007) explains the difference in definition as a control issue. When parents are 'involved', according to Pushor, they are serving the school's agenda and the educators are in control. When parents are 'engaged' they are working with the educators as equal partners. Typically, I have found, educators think of 'involvement' as being within the school walls, or doing specific activities such as home reading and signing planners. Educators also think of 'parents' as the mum and dad. I have learned that some First Nations parents view their extended family as equally connected with their children. It is not unusual for a gramma or auntie to attend a meeting or school event instead of a mum or dad. As a result of the research and my study, I found the following: Parent involvement refers to the relationship between the parent and the school (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001). It includes all things that parents do at home and at school to contribute to the education of their children (Christenson, Rounds, & Gorney, 1992). Although the term parent' involvement is most commonly used, it generally can refer to any caregiver such as a grandparent, foster parent or other family member in the home. The key words in this statement, I believe, are 'relationship between the parent and school.' When parents have a good relationship with the classroom teacher and the principal, they tend to have a positive attitude about the school and education in general. This is supported by the research in the next section. Three main ideas emerge from this parent involvement statement: • It is important for educators to have a positive relationship with parents • All activities that support learning are a form of being 'involvement' • The extended family is part of parent involvement 179 The Importance of Parent Involvement Discuss with the staff the pros and cons ofparent involvement. Have staff read articles such as: "Parents, Schools, Clash over Roles in Education" (Vancouver Sun, 2004); From Fund Raising to Hell Raising: New Roles for Parents (Fege, 2000); Beware the Super Parent: Educators Learn to Deal with New Schoolyard Bully (Globe & Mail, 2004). Some educators are not comfortable with adults in their classrooms. Others feel their professionalism challenged by some parents. These concerns need to be expressed and validated prior to the principal encouraging parents to "come on in any time you want." There are tremendous benefits to parents being involved in their children's education, however, educators need to feel comfortable with the arrangement, otherwise the benefits will not be realized. Some educators are not comfortable with other adults in their classrooms. The research is conclusive on the positive benefits to parents being involved in their children's education. It has demonstrated that when parents are involved, everyone benefits, student, parent, educator and community (Bell, 2004; Epstein, 2001; Mills, 1994). Students' grades improve when their parents are involved, regardless of the parent education, socio-economic status or race (Desimone, 1999; Edwards & Warin, 1999; Griffith, 1996; Hara, 1998; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Ho Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996; Reynolds, 1992). Students are more likely to graduate from high school and to enter a post secondary institution if their parents are involved (Ballen & Moles, 2002; Epstein, 2001; White-Clark & Decker, 1996). Parent involvement results in more successful transitions from elementary to high school (Trusty, 1999), attendance improves and students are more prepared to learn (Christenson et al, 1992; Drake, 1995; Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Even acting out classroom behavior decreases when parents are involved (Christenson, 1995; Dauber & Epstein 1993; Grolnick & Slowiaczek, 1994). In a study done for the Saskatchewan School Trustees, parent involvement was found to be the single most important factor for academic success (Mills, 1994). Parents feel more connected with the school when they become involved (Dauber & Epstein, 1993; Hornby, 2000) and generally have a stronger sense of efficacy (Hornby, 2000). Their parenting skills frequently improve (Christenson, 1995), as does their ability to communicate with their children (Epstein, 2001). Parent self esteem can improve as a 180 to communicate with their children (Epstein, 2001). Parent self esteem can improve as a result of positive teacher comments (Sutherland, 1991) that can then result in parents furthering their own formal education (Ballen & Moles, 2002; Hornby, 2000). Teachers benefit from parent involvement by having extra helpers in the classroom giving them more time to spend with individual students (Chavkin, 1989; Prosise, 1990; Sutherland, 1991). Teachers' efficacy often improves when parents get involved (Swick, 1997), as does their general morale (Prosise, 1990; Sutherland, 1991). Issues related to the school in general also improve as a result of parent involvement. New school initiatives are better sustained when parents are involved (Leitch & Tangri, 1988; Sutherland, 1991), and school/parent communication improves (Christenson et al, 1992). Parents rate the school more highly (Dauber & Epstein, 1993) and students have a more positive attitude towards the school when their parents are involved (Christenson, 1995; Epstein & Dauber, 1993). When there is extensive parent involvement in a school, there is a more positive school climate (Christenson et al, 1992). The community benefits when parents are involved because the children tend to get more involved in the community and when seniors are involved, they have a stronger sense of purpose due to connecting with the children (National PTA, 1997). Research done by the National PTA (2002) found that alcohol, violence and anti-social behavior decreased when parents got involved in the school system, benefiting the entire community (cited in Kavanagh, 2003). 181 Barriers to Parent Involvement Have the staff discuss what they believe is blocking parents from getting involved in the school. The following information can guide their discussion. It would seem logical to assume that when parent involvement results in so many benefits there would be extensive involvement in all schools. In fact, the research has found that there are very low levels of parent involvement (Carey et al, 1998; Epstein, 2001). The barriers seem to be varied. Teachers do not tend to encourage involvement (Henderson et al, 1986) and when they do they try to keep the parents to traditional and or superficial roles such as helping with art projects and driving for field trips (Pena, 2000). Even principals are not always cooperative when parents want to be involved (Epstein, 2001). Other parents are unable to get involved due to time, transportation, language and childcare (Adelman, 1994; Baker, 1997; Patrikakou et al 1999; Pena, 2000). For some parents it is due to their own negative school experiences (Finders & Lewis, 1994), cultural differences (Christenson & Sheridan, 2001), and/or lack of education (Comer, 1980). First Nations parent involvement in the public school system is particularly low compared to non-Native parents (Friedel, 1999; Sewepagaham, 1998; Tippeconnic, 1999). Reasons for lack of involvement are similar to the non-Native parents with other issues layered onto the standard barriers. Hare (2003) found that parents are reluctant to be involved in the schools due to their own negative school experiences. Mackay & Myles (1995) found that some times the principal actually discouraged First Nations parents from getting involved in the school. MacKay & Myles (1995) also believe that some First Nations parents may feel that their children graduating can pose a threat to their traditional ways and therefore do not get involved: According to Sewepagaham (1998), teachers will not encourage parents. He also found that parents are afraid of authority due to bad memories of Residential schools. Friedel (1999) concurs with this position of First Nations parent insecurity. She talks about alienation caused by Residential experiences and negative relationships between staff and parents resulting in a lack of parent involvement in schools. She does not see the public school as meeting needs any better than Residential schools. She concludes that First Nations parents may be consciously not participating in the public school system as a form of resistance to oppression. In an extensive study done for the Saskatchewan Trustees Association, Mills (1994) found a serious barrier to First Nations parent school involvement related to superficial roles given to parents, a negative attitude of the principal, and parent beliefs. 182 DISCUSSION NOTES FROM THE LITERATURE Staff can read and discuss the meaning of the passages below. Consider the implications for schooling today. Taken from Stolen From Our Embrace by Suzanne Fournier and Ernie Crey. Some Traditions of First Nations People "Aboriginal children, regarded as the very future of their societies, were considered integral members of the family who learned by listening, watching and carrying out tasks suited to their age, sex and social standing" (p. 52). "My grandparents taught me and corrected me without ever raising their hand or voice to me. If I did something wrong, my grandfather would tell me a long story, and I had to figure out for myself its meaning and what it told me about what I had done" (p. 65). The Effects of Residential School "They took away our clothes, cut our hair and gave us a number. The abuse began as soon as I got there. It seemed like the perverts oh the school staff knew how to pick the most vulnerable" (p. 66). "The priests reserved their most harsh punishments for aboriginal children who dared to express their cultural or spiritual identity. 'Talking.Indian' or 'making Indian dances' was punished by 'public whippings', 'lashes' and forcible confinement for days. Hungry children who stole food were put on a bread and water diet. Still, the conduct ledger reveals that many children risked severe beatings to maintain their traditional ways" (p. 59). "I got to Grade 12 but I quit before I graduated, because I didn't want to give the government the satisfaction of bragging about any more residential school graduates, after what had been done to me. I was eighteen, an adult, but I'd been a sex object, a toy, from the time that I was ten" (p. 69). 183 "Graduates were also bedeviled by the rigid, authoritarian regime of the schools, which inevitably invaded their lives as adults. Some inflicted serious physical discipline on their own children, while others became overly lax and disorganized" (p. 63). "I could have been an engineer, earned big money i f I'd gone back to school, but I can't go near any kind of school even now-it gives me the cold sweats. The residential school finished me for learning for life" (p. 62). "B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Hogarth said the former supervisor was a predator, a sexual terrorist allowed to prey unchecked. As far as the victims are concerned, the Indian residential school system ,was nothing more than institutionalized pedophilia,' said Justice Hogarth. Generations of children were wrenched from their families and were brought up to be ashamed to be Indians" (p. 72). 184 REFLECTIONS FROM FIRST NATIONS PARENTS A parent said each comment below, either informally or during the research study. My suggestion is that each comment be used on an overhead projector for large group discussion or given on cards for small groups to discuss and then share with the larger group. A discussion needs to occur regarding the interpretation of the comment as well as the implications for the school system. With each comment I have included the results of such conversations with First Nations parents and Educators. 1. "Learn our language, learn our ways, learn....actually, understand where we came from and then go back there and you '11 have more respect instead of saying they're just natives. Come in our boots, and then go back. At least you'll have an understanding instead of labeling us or judging us before we have a chance to prove ourselves, what we're capable of, what we can be if we had half the chance. We've come a long ways. So have respect, and treat us with the respect that we deserve." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS This parent was frustrated with the ongoing 'stereotyping' that occurred for both he and his children. He often felt he was treated as if he wasn't a 'real' person. Educators can talk about their own subconscious thoughts and become aware of their body language and casual comments. Encourage parents to tell their stories. 185 2. "In some cases I felt like my voice wasn't being heard or wasn't important ...just disregarded." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS This parent frequently attended meetings where she was the only First Nations person. It took great courage for her to speak up. When she did speak, often no one would comment or someone else would quickly say something. She felt as if she didn't exist. As a principal, I can recall many times when this was probably happening in 'my' meetings. It is easy to move on quickly without validating a comment. Take the time to acknowledge everyone. 186 3 "J think the more you focus on our differences, it's going to create differences. If you just look at people as people, whether it be non-Native or Native you might have more success of both kinds coming out and being involved." I N T E R P R E T A T I O N I M P L I C A T I O N F O R S C H O O L S The concern expressed here was that sometimes in our efforts to be sensitive or helpful, we single people out. This parent did not want to feel 'special.' This can be an awkward situation. If a school is trying to be sensitive to the needs of the First Nations parents and in doing so, causes them to feel targeted, more harm will be done than good. Try working with a committee of First Nations parents and take direction from them. 187 4 "There's unthinking kind of talk. People just don't realize. A white parent said to a Native mum on cross cultural day 'I hear that First Nations parents give their children wine and alcohol to go to sleep when they're babies'. Of course the First Nations mum then said she wouldn't help out again next year." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Adults can make seemingly 'harmless' comments that are in fact inflammatory or racist in nature. This speaker had encountered this many times and felt frustrated by the insensitivity of some people. Insensitive, or unthinking comments are difficult to control. As a staff it is important to talk about these possibilities and be prepared to point them out to others when they occur. It is imperative to always have a professional attitude in all discussions. Encourage parents to speak up about these comments so they can be dealt with. 188 5. "The teacher said to me, 'Are you sure you have the right child? Are you sure there was not a mix up at the hospital?' "I said why? He said, 'Well most native children just don't offer to answer questions, but your son forever has his hand up.' I thought about that comment and thought, 'how dare you'. He was trying to be funny, but I think a parent could really take offense to that. Can't my kid be outgoing and smart?'' INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS This statement is similar to #4. A teacher said this to a parent, probably meaning it as a compliment when in fact the parent felt offended by it. Educators can talk about these kinds of comments and share ideas on how to avoid or deal with them. 189 6. "Some mothers won't let their children come to the reserve and play with our children, you know, spend the night That's happened in my own family, and we are very careful with our children. Sometimes the non-Native view us as being all drunks, all dirty or whatever,....they're not going to risk their children coming here". 7. "White parents don't want their kids to hang out with Native kids because they relate the head lice to the Natives." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Several parents expressed this issue of being viewed as 'drunks' and unsafe for 'white' kids. They also talked about the frustration of being labeled as the ones who have the head lice. A school cannot make parents 'mix' but it can create opportunities for families to come together. The best example I saw of this was an all day Kindergarten that spent half the day in the Public School and half the day on the Reserve. This goes a long ways to undoing stereotyping. 190 8. "Some parents are shy to enter the building. Some parents have an eerie feeling about schools." 9. "It is challenging to walk through the doors." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Many parents talked about their fear of entering the school building. In most cases it was the result of bad memories or the fear of rejection. As educators we can be aware of these fears and consider ways to welcome parents and build trust. Consider such things as a sidewalk 'greeter' at the beginning of the year. Have informal activities such as coffee parties, evening cooking classes etc. 191 10. "They're willing to come if I give them a phone call or do a home visit just to advertise something is happening. INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS A teacher who had considerable success with parent involvement made this comment. She found that when she phoned or visited personally parents would respond. Obviously this comment implies that teachers make personal contact with parents. Sometimes, however, even having a secretary or other staff member call parents can make a difference. Another effective process is having a First Nations parent, or maybe an Elder, make the calls for the teacher. 192 11. "I think it will be great for our kids and our parents to have that warm feeling that the discipline comes from the First Nations point of view." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS This school had used the local First Nations traditional teachings to form their behavior model. It appeared to make a difference to both students and parents. Consider involving parents and Elders when writing a behavior plan. Ask the Elders for any written documentation about honoring and valuing their people. Be sure to use key words in their language when possible. 193 12. "I really feel that our children need to be proud of their heritage. In my generation I never had that opportunity to take part in anything off reserve." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Parents are beginning to learn that the traditional language and culture are crucial to their children. The research strongly supports that learning their language and culture correlates with school success. Schools learn all they can about their 'local'First Nations people. Seek assistance from the Elders and parents and ask them what can be shared with and at the school. 194 13. "I was limited to how much school. I went whenever we were on the reserve here. We had a day school here, and I went to the day school, but that was limited because it was all Indian children in that school, and I might go for the winter months while we were here for a month or two months, and then my grandparents traveled...that's the way we were, and I just didn't stay in school I went with them, other than the one year I spent in residential school, and that was not a good experience. There's a lot of history there: a lot of bad experience, so I just didn 'tgo to a public school." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS There are still some parents, and definitely many grandparents, for whom this quote is true. It suggests a different way of viewing education. Not all learning happened in a school building. It also reminds us, again, of the horrific Residential School memories that can still affect attitudes towards schooling. As educators we have no idea of the personal experiences that are affecting the parents. Become aware of potential sensitive issues and continually ask parents what they want for their kids. This has to be genuine and sincere. 1 9 5 14. "I think our First Nations children struggle harder because of where they're coming from-it's more difficult because maybe our parents didn't go to school and don't see the importance of pushing your child to go to school." 15. "In our house it (school) wasn't important, but I have to learn to be consistent and keep that priority." 16. "There's nothing wrong with being an Indian. You just have different things that show results of prosperity." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS These quotes are similar to others in that they speak to the different frames of reference held by parents and educators as a result of experience. Be aware of your own thinking and consider the possibility that others come from a different place. It is important to find the balance between the two that will best work for the children. 196 17. "I was always told you're a girl; you be humble; you cast your eyes down; you don't stare at strangers; you don't make noises; you be quiet; you're a little girl-you behave. And now they go to the school system and they're told something different" INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Home and school do not always have the same expectations, values and interpretations of behavior. Again, I believe, awareness of our own thinking and our own 'schooling' is crucial. Recognize 'difference' as 'different', not 'wrong'. 197 18. "There's still some discrimination and fear from the non-Native people, and that filters down to the ears to some of our children." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Non-Native parents, and maybe even educators, are still holding onto stereotypes and biases about First Nations people. Comments made at the dinner table, ice rink etc. can affect the thinking of the children. Bringing together non-Native and First Nations parents in a variety of fun/positive activities can help change this thinking. Again, awareness of it happening will also help stop it. 198 19. "Non- Natives couldn't go on the reserve after 5:00; after dark you 're not to be on the reserve. And us as First Nations people we didn't go to town unless we had something specific to do there and then we were to come right back. So I always said there is an invisible border there, although it is invisible, it was there-it's still there-it's slowly coming down. I talk about this when I go to the school and do like a cross cultural or history story telling, and I've done that, and I know that's well received in the school." 20. "The Indian Act segregated us, no white person was allowed after dark on the reserve, as bad as South Africa". INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Both # 17 & 18 say the same thing: old laws affected our thinking in the past and have left lingering biases. Parents, educators and students can discuss these laws openly and try to determine how they may be affecting us today. 199 21. "Instead of having public meetings we called family meetings and kind of said you're the head of the family or the spokesperson, call your brother and sister and nieces and nephews and we'll hold a session just for you. It's a little bit tough to organize but we find we get people speaking in a smaller group when they would never ever speak publicly. What they'll do is they will talk privately maybe with someone, and that someone will then bring their concerns out, so even in a smaller group it's challenging, and a lot of it can be residential school stuff. It's challenging." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS This parent talked about how their Band encouraged individuals to attend meetings and have a voice. Schools could use this format of inviting parents to bring friends and relatives to meetings for support and if necessary to speak for them. 2 0 0 22. "There are some people of First Nations who feel that it's exploiting their culture. As long as everybody's heart feels okay, then we should do it. If it's to enhance our First Nations students to feel better for who they are, then away we go. But if it's somebody else's thinking, somebody else's goodness or value, then I think we have to think very closely whose shadow is going to benefit and for what reason." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS This quote refers to 'using' First Nations culture in the schools. It is a sensitive issue that can be interpreted as abusing the culture or just trying to look good. Any use of materials, classes, dances, songs etc. from the First Nations culture needs to be discussed with the 'owners.' Having a First Nations parent advisory group that includes Elders would assist this process. 201 23. "All they knew they were in residential school they weren't allowed to be around their parents and they lost something...I guess the everyday love and companionship. Now they 're learning to be parents." 24. 'They [children] were not around for the customs, language, holidays and birthdays. It was different' INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Children who attended Residential School not only lost their language and culture but they lost understanding what a normal home life was like. They had no parent models to draw on for the future. When we are tempted to judge First Nations people for their parenting we have to remember that not only do they have different traditions, but, that for generations they had no models. Meet with parents and learn about their strengths and build relationships with them. 202 25. "School atmosphere can be changed by principal attitude." INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS Many parents commented on how the acceptance of them in the school changed with the principal. The research, in fact, supports this position. The principal can significantly influence the attitudes of staff towards parents. Principals need to be acutely aware of their attitude towards parents. Schools can benefit by having a written plan for parent involvement that will not change when a new principal is placed in a school. 203 26. "I think it needs to be a lot of encouragement and nurturing the process because we're so very young yet as far as working with the school system. INTERPRETATION IMPLICATION FOR SCHOOLS This elder was talking about parents coming into the school. She felt educators need to be patient and understanding. Educators can work with parents to gain a good understanding of who they are as a people, and to develop a plan for involvement. 204 A FINAL COMMENT Parent involvement in the public school system, according to the research, is proving to be a huge benefit to student success. For First Nations parents to be involved in the schools they have many barriers to work through as a result of government intervention that nearly destroyed their language and culture. It is my belief that educators can and need to help break down these barriers by becoming more knowledgeable of the people with whom they are working and being more aware of their own biases and stereotyping they may be projecting. This booklet was written to help educators become more aware. Once the activities in this booklet have been completed, I would encourage educators to invite First Nations parents to work with them to develop a plan for parent involvement. In this booklet I have avoided creating lists of things to do to encourage parent involvement because I do not believe lists support parents, but in fact, attitudes and awareness do. Having said that, however, as a result of my research, I believe if educators do the following basic things they will be more successful at having First Nations parents come to the school: • Encourage parents to invite a friend or relative to a meeting if they seem hesitant about being involved in the school • Use family networks to get parents to events • Make personal phone calls or invitations written by children • Consult with the Elders regarding culture • Provide food whenever possible • At all times create an atmosphere of welcoming 9 Be aware of what you are thinking and doing. 205 HANDBOOK REFERENCES Adams, H. (1999). Tortured people: The politics of colonization. Pentiction, BC: Theytus Books Ltd. Adelman, H. S. (1994). Intervening to enhance home involvement in schooling. Intervention in School and Clinic, 29(5), 276-287. American National PTA. 1997. National PTA's National Standards for parent/family involvement programs. (\vww.pta.org/programs/invstand.htm#series). Baker, A. (1997). Improving parent involvement programs and practice: A qualitative study of parent perception. The School Community Journal, 7(1), 9-35. Ballen, J., & Moles, O. (2002). Building community partnerships for learning. Based on Strong families, Strong schools, written for the national family initiative of the U.S. Department of Education. Sept. 1994. web. tc. Columbia, edu/families/strong/involve. html#benefit. Battiste, M. (2000). Maintaining Aboriginal identity, language, and culture in modern society. In Marie Battiste (Ed.), Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision (pp. 192-208). Vancouver: UBC Press. Benson, D. (1998, April 13-17). Ambushed by the principal: Parents and school councils. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association/Annual Meeting, San Diego, California. Carey, N., Lewis, L., Farris, E., & Burns, S. (1998). Report No. 98-032. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Chavkin, N. F. (1989). Debunking the myth about minority parents. Educational Horizons, 67(4), 119-123. Christenson, S. L. (1995). Families and schools: What is the role of the school psychologist? School Psychology Quarterly, 10(2), 118-132. Christenson, S. L., Rounds, T., & Gorney, D. (1992). Family factors and student achievement: An avenue to increase student success. School Psychology Quarterly, 7, 178-206. Christenson, S. L., Rounds, T., & Franklin, M. J. (1992). Home-school collaboration: Effects, issues, and opporf unities. In S.L. Christenson & J.C. Conoley (Eds.), Home-school collaboration: Enhancing children's academic and social competence (pp. 19-51). 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Hornby, G. (2000). Model for parental involvement. In G. Hornby (Ed.), Improving parental involvement (pp. 16-31). New York: Cassell Kavanagh, B. (2003). The role of parental and community involvement in the success of First Nations learners: A review of the literature. Ottawa: The Minister's National Working Group on First Nations Education. Leitch, L. M., & Tangri, S. S. (1988). Barriers to home-school collaboration. Educational Leadership, 12-14. 208 Mackay, R., & Myles, L. (1995). A major challenge for the education system: Aboriginal retention and dropout. In M. Battiste & J. Barman (Eds.), First Nations education in Canada: The circle unfolds (pp. 157-178). Vancouver, BC: UBC Press. Mihlar, F. (2004, February 7). Native education: The news is still bad, but there's reason for hope. The Vancouver Sun. Mills, S. (1994). Extending the learning community: Involving parents andfamilies in schools (Report #94-09). Regina: Saskatchewan School Trustees Association. Patrikakou, E. 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