Northwest Regional Literacy Forum

Educators from Northwest BC gathered in Prince Rupert to share the results of Literacy Grant initiatives. Hosted by School District #52 (Prince Rupert), the forum involved teachers and administrators from Coast Mountain (Terrace, Kitimat, and the Hazeltons), Haida Gwaii, and Nisga’a school districts.

It was inspiring to see the wide range of activities in support of literacy that teachers are engaged in through the northwest of BC. Common to all of the presentations was a focus on differentiated curriculum and integrating First Nations content and approaches across the curriculum. Each of the teacher presentations reminded me of the level of dedication, concern, and passion that our teachers demonstrate on a day to day basis as they conduct the job of teaching and caring for our children. The presentations ranged from specific examples of literacy projects in classrooms to district wide programmes. Each presentation highlighted specific examples of what has worked. Useful resources and techniques were described that could have important implications across the public school system.

Four key themes or approaches stood out for me:

  • Effectiveness of additional preparation time.
  • Collaboration with other teachers.
  • Bringing other adults (parents, elders, community members) into the classroom.
  • Targeted resources that are ‘leveled’ (i.e. grouped by grade levels) and First Nations content.

For me the presentations reinforced the poverty of simplistic measures used by agencies such as the Fraser Institute in it’s report card on schools. These sorts of quantitative measures often inflict harm through generalization and their overemphasis of standardized tests. There are many other aspects of schools and teaching that are more effective indicators of learning; but these indicators are more complex and do not lend themselves easily to rank ordering.

For example, Prince Rupert School District has one of the most effective First Nations education resource centers in BC. The district office has produced a great deal of provincially and nationally recognized curriculum and teaching resources. In addition, the district itself has made huge strides in working with First Nations communities to ensure that the entire curriculum has relevance and meaning for all students.

The presentation of Prince Rupert teachers highlighted the ways in which a small amount of additional resources can make a significant difference. Taking the grants that have been provided under the literacy grant programme teachers in Prince Rupert and throughout the northwest have been able to effectively reduce class sizes and draw upon the expertise of their colleagues and community members to develop and deliver the sort of education that should be common place in our schools. They did this through collaborative team teaching, hiring TOCs and, in one case a retired teacher to add more adults to the classroom in order to provide more direct attention to small groups of students.

In addition the literacy grant funds made it possible to increase in-service and opportunities for classroom teachers to collaborate within their schools and more generally across their district. The collaborative aspect was reflected not simply in the classroom activities but in the nature of the presentations themselves which were exemplary collaborative activities.

The literacy forum demonstrated to me that effective teaching is possible when committed individuals are empowered and encouraged to find on-the-ground solutions. We need be cautious, however. Simply exhorting teachers –as high ranking government officials and other prominent education partners are wont to do- is not enough. To do the job that they are asked to do, teachers require adequate resources, time, and support. I left the forum amazed at what this small group of teachers had done with such limited funds and wondered what they could do if we were to actually fund the real costs of our public educaution system.

on location in Prince Rupert