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Planting Knowledge to Start a Conversation

Academics
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After visiting with students at GNS various times throughout last year, Indigenous educator, Mr. James Taylor, is now spending a few days each week on our campuses as a consultant to help our faculty and students with approaches to curriculum as well as discussions around truth and reconciliation.

“We looked at September 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as more than a day,” said Mr. Chad Holtum, Head of School. “We wanted to look internally and say this is not a one-day situation, this is a lifelong learning journey. James worked with the school earlier and I liked his approach. I liked the way he worked with the teachers and students, so we thought this would be a thoughtful way of learning for our community.” 

With Mr. Taylor’s help, the responsibility to listen, educate ourselves, and provide greater opportunities for students to learn, to understand and to participate in creating that future as a healing process has continued throughout the school past September 30. 

“From James being here, I hope the community joins in the awareness, understanding and the opportunity to learn,” said Mr. Holtum. “James is teaching all of us and he’s been a wonderful addition to the staff.” 

Being a positive change and being able to educate was an important part of Mr. Taylor taking on this role with GNS. 

“I wanted to be part of the community because I wanted to be part of the positive change that is happening,” said Mr. Taylor. “Not only with the students, but with the staff—you can really feel that.” 

Mr. Taylor has had the chance to visit many classrooms and he participated in the Grade 12 retreat at the beginning of the year. 

“The reception of the students wanting to know and learn has been incredible, but it’s just as equal to the staff—everyone is so open and welcoming,” he said. 

Mr. Taylor can be seen on both campuses with a smile and laughter as he interacts with students and staff. Recently people will have noticed him wearing a ‘Ribbon Shirt,’ which features the school colours. Before he had the shirt made however, he consulted with Elder Harriet Prince to see if it was something that would be allowed. 

“When I started working here, I thought of the uniforms and the school colours. I didn’t know if getting a Ribbon Shirt was something I could do, because they are very sacred to us. It depicts who we are and the journeys we are on,” he said. “I asked if there was a way to show the pride I’m having in the work I’m doing, if she would have come back and said it wasn’t something that works for us I would have listened.” 

The Ribbon Shirt is blue, green and white. On the back of the shirt is a morning flower. 

“That flower depicts the work we are doing, the knowledge we are planting, the beauty that’s growing from that,” said Mr. Taylor. “There are leaves that are blooming on that flower and vines that are still yet to bloom. Those represent the future work we are all doing together.” 

Mr. Taylor hopes people take away from their time with him an understanding of the people they see and the changes they can make. 

“The stuff that’s happening here with the students, it’s already affecting their parents at home,” he said. “It’s a ripple effect of the education that is happening because they have to learn it in reverse—the parents didn’t get the education the way the students are.”

In just a short time, Mr. Taylor has already had an impact on the students and staff he has worked with. Having spent time on both campuses, students of all ages have had the chance to listen, ask questions and to learn. 

Mrs. Rebecca Nielson, Coordinator: Student Life & Leadership, asked Mr. Taylor to join the Grade 12 Grad Retreat that happened at the start of the school year. During their time together they took part in a smudging ceremony, land acknowledgments and a welcome song down at the inner harbour. 

“He was just being his authentic self, and had some really lovely moments with the Grade 12s at the retreat,” said Mrs. Nielson. “From there the students built a relationship with him. One even baked a cake for him on his birthday.” 

Mr. Taylor has continued to do community-building work with the Grade 12s and has worked with Mrs. Nielson in student life, including helping plan Orange Shirt Day and Pink Shirt Day. 

In the science department, Mr. Taylor has been working with the staff as they find authentic ways to invite him into their classrooms. Ms. Erin Dallin, Head of Sciences and Design, said there were overlaps between science and First Nations principles of knowing and learning, and the plan was to bring elements of that into the coursework.

“It’s not necessarily about the curriculum, but how storytelling can be important in our classrooms,” said Ms. Dallin. “We don’t have the right to tell someone else’s story, but we have our own stories. Some of the pedagogy that First Nations might use and the way they teach their children, we can use that and the idea of caring and learning as a community.” 

In Chemistry they are planning to have Mr. Taylor to talk about medicinal chemistry, and in the MYP Sciences to discuss the astronomy/creation story, climate change and general science questions. 

With the Grade 6 students, Mr. Taylor has talked about superheroes in Language and Literature, and about civilizations from an Indigenous perspective as well as colonization, reconciliation, land acknowledgments, and ceremonies in Individuals and Societies. 

At the Beach Drive Campus, Mr. Taylor spent time at Nature School where he talked to the students in First Steps about making connections to the land and shared his knowledge of stories and animals with the Kindergarten classes. 

Mr. Taylor spoke with the Grade 1s about family, traditions and celebrations, and discussed the similarities and differences between cultures. Grade 4 and 5 students had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Taylor on Orange Shirt Day after his presentation about residential schools. 

“It’s important to start these conversations early and to include Indigenous thoughts and practices in the work that we do here with the students,” said Mrs. Sarah McLeod, Teacher Librarian. “To have that opportunity to have an authentic voice in our area to help us and guide us in our practice is amazing. We feel so fortunate that James has come into our school, classrooms and our lives.”