I have always believed that all members of the school community should exhibit strong character traits. With these beliefs held close to my heart, I attended a workshop through my school board (York Region District School Board) on First Nations, Native, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) communities. That’s when I was first introduced to the Seven Grandfather Teachings, a set of teachings on human conduct practiced by groups such as the Anishinaabe, Ojibwe and Chippewa people.
I quickly noticed similarities between the ten character traits familiar to my school board and The Seven Grandfather Teachings: wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth. I wanted to find a way to bring these teachings to my students. I realized how challenging it would be, for both my Grade 6 students and me, to try to incorporate all seven teachings simultaneously and seamlessly into our lives. So instead, our class discussed the teachings and decided to hone in on one in particular: wisdom.
We had several reasons for choosing this particular teaching. First and foremost, I personally have been moved by many stories of elder abuse during my time as a former volunteer crisis counsellor with Victim Services, Toronto Police. Secondly, our class had realized that we are exposed to too many reality television shows, which don’t exactly depict youth respecting each other, their elders, or their environment for that matter. Finally, we landed on wisdom because it just felt right. We were compelled and interested to learn more.
We decided to explore wisdom by inviting our own “elders’’ (immediate and extended family members) into our classroom for a Q&A session. Any family member who was willing and able, was welcomed into our classroom community circle. The turnout was fantastic! Most interested elders happened to be parents, who came forth to share their wisdom about their careers, hobbies and interests. Each elder gave a slightly different take and yet all shared valuable insight. I often found myself being truly inspired.
Our central theme in our inquiry process was that we all, young or old, can learn from one another’s experiences by simply asking good questions. In preparation for each elder’s visit, we used the principles of Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop open-ended questions. For example, one of my female students asked a visiting working mom: “How do you find balance between your home and work life?” while another student discovered her own interest in her father’s career when she asked: “How do you cope with difficult clients? What strategies do you use?” I acted as messenger extraordinaire, ensuring that all visiting elders received student questions prior to their Q&A session so that they could prepare appropriate responses ahead of time.
When elders shared with us their answers to our questions, we made sure to reflect after each visit, and refer back to our learnings when an opportunity to apply them arose. As a further follow-up to each elder visit, I emailed out a SurveyMonkey link, with four short multiple choice questions. The feedback from our guests revealed several things. After visiting the class, elders felt that their child was more included and part of the class, and that they themselves were also more included and part of the class. They believed that all students learned a lot from their visits, and they unanimously expressed positive feelings towards the overall experience.
My students’ reflections were very revealing as well, highlighting many realizations, including the importance of: attentive listening, selflessness, collaboration, time-management, work-play balance, on-going learning, patience, healthy relationships, producing quality over quantity, and the benefits of second- and third-language acquisition.
My students made many of their own connections and engaged in meaningful discussions with one another about developing their collaboration and leadership skills. For example, one boy emphasized his new learning: that being a leader doesn’t mean being a know-it-all.
Our school climate focus on mental health and well-being was also furthered through this experience, as students learned the importance of managing emotions effectively and taking care of their own mental and physical health by maintaining a healthy diet, exercise and sleep.
It is clear that as a collective of learners – students, elders and myself – we have learned so much from exploring wisdom on a deeper and more meaningful level. I really feel that through this process, we have grown closer and more appreciative of one another – and that, to me, is really what wisdom is all about.
First published in Education Canada, December 2015