Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day One Hundred and Fifteen: I Love McDowell

A long, long time ago, in a far off land, I was teaching middle years. One of my colleagues, Penny, asked if I might be part of a project she was proposing to the Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation for Research into Teaching.

"Sure," I said, although I'd never heard of the good doctor's foundation.

So, Penny did all the work, and my buddy Jeremy and I were just there to look pretty. The latter might be part of the reason we were not successful with our original proposal; however, this far out organization offered us a "Development Grant" of $1,000 to get our act together and resubmit the next year. Unbelievable!

Another slight problem with our original proposal was that we were three white teachers living in a fly-in Dene community, proposing Action Research without including any community members. The next year, Penny moved on, and Jeremy and I continued with two colleagues who had both married into the community and the Vice Principal who was herself Dene.

When our research was published, here's what our remaining team, Anne, Joyce and I wrote in the introduction:

An initial research proposal was submitted to the Foundation in 1996 and
received a $1,000 grant for the purpose of focusing and resubmitting the proposal.
In 1997, the research team was reorganized and the present research process
began in 1998 with a McDowell Foundation grant of $9,090.

One of the priorities in designing the 1998-99 research initiative was to ensure that
all players in the Black Lake educational process were given a chance to voice their
dreams and be involved in improving the current system. Hence the project
was given the title, “Dreams and Involvement”. The second half of the title, “A Black
Lake Quest for 2000”, highlighted our understanding that a project of this
magnitude was of millennial consequence and duration.

The purpose of the study was to determine:
     1. What are the traditional teaching methods, content curriculum (skills) and
          educational values of the Dene in Black Lake?
     2. How can these methods, curriculum and values be acknowledged and
         incorporated into the classroom and school system?

Through radio, print media and word of mouth, the community was invited
and encouraged to be a part of the study, even those community members who
were not specifically approached to participate in the study.

Thus began my love-affair with the community of Black Lake and Dr. Stirling McDowell.

My husband (who is also a teacher) and our first two daughters, lived in Black Lake for five years. Those years were formative and transformative. The community loved our daughters, taught them Dene, gave them nicknames; community members were patient and kind with us as we made our cross-cultural mistakes.

And all the time, Dr. Stirling McDowell was walking alongside, holding my hand. His people sincerely cared about the children of Black Lake, the community of Black Lake, and even the import teachers of Black Lake. Phone calls with Verna Gallen, then the executive director, were many and short between. Participation in the McDowell Foundation Conference, Learning from Practice, became a yearly visit to our own private cheer club. Our project which we first envisioned to be a one year project was not published until 2000, four years later. And then, we were approved for an Implementation Project which was then published in 2002. In many ways, the McDowell Foundation was my support group, helping me be an effective teacher in a new culture.

Today I'm friends with fifty or sixty former students and buddies in Black Lake. In the past three years, I've revisited the community twice, and I was on the verge of tears much of the time as people who could have forgotten me long, long ago, welcomed me home like a long lost daughter.

And just today, I joined the McDowell Foundation Board of Directors for our very first meeting. As I rekindle my love for McDowell, I'm flying high, like those little birdies on my ACT I ON RE SEARCH blog's wallpaper. I'm flying around our province, from the far south where I was born and raised, Lampman and Macoun; to the far north, Black Lake; and today I was flying along the Riel Trail between Regina and Saskatoon, looking around our Saskatchewan, dreaming; what could Action Research become for our province? How can the McDowell Foundation play a role in those possibilities. But first, I'm wanting to understand our collective story, through our many stories, of what Action Research is already being.

P.S. I never really met Dr. McDowell, so my love is a little closer to an unrequited love or perhaps a stalker.

P.P.S. Published simultaneously at

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