Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day One Hundred Thirty-Six: Key Note

Friday is division-wide convention at Queensbury Downs in Regina, the Queen City. I enjoy my colleagues, huddled round our table for the morning speeches and elections, followed by a Taste of Greece for lunch. I’m mostly thinking of the Keynote I’m to deliver tomorrow at the University of Saskatchewan’s Graduate Studies and Research Seminar.

Eating pizza at my sister’s with my daughters while watching curling, we see clouds getting darker. The weather people are telling us there will be freezing rain tonight. Victoria is supposed to drive Arwen and Moira to Strasburg for dance in the morning. I’m supposed to drive to Saskatoon by 8:00am. We decide to get on the road an hour earlier, just to be safe.

It’s 4:30am and I’m driving between 60 and 80kms. The roads are a little slick with snowy sections. Victoria is on the road by 6:15. She arrives safely and I pull into Saskatoon at 8:30 for my 9:00 engagement. I set up my materials like I would for a book talk, get my multi-media ready, set my guitar out, and at 9:10 they are introducing me.

"On Thursday I finished day four of treaty teacher training and I graduated as a Treaty Catalyst Teacher with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner. Elder Sam Isaac was telling his story and he gave this little piece of advice. If you ever get lost while giving a speech you can speak from here (points to his head) and here (points to his heart). You can talk from your mind or heart, your spirit or body.

"I thought of you folks here today. Looking at the sessions blurbs and the posters this morning, I think Elder Isaac would be pleased. You are all speaking from your hearts, minds, spirits, and you’re here in body.

"I’d like to thank Laurie Hellsten, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research for this invitation to be with you today. I would also like to acknowledge Lanette Kuchenski, Manager of the Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation for Research into Teaching. She is charged with facilitating a renewal and revisioning of the McDowell Foundation, and I am looking forward to working with her on the McDowell Board of Directors. It’s an honour to be here in the flesh with open hearted, like-minded, kindred spirits.

I begin to talk about the research I was involved in ten years ago while living in Black Lake while my Treaty Walks slides cycle at my back. I might be talking to sixty people in the theatre style room or maybe there are a hundred.

"Father Porte Memorial Dene School is a unique work environment. The majority of the professional teachers (used to) come from the southern mainstream culture, but find that they are a minority in the dominant Dene culture of Black Lake. All of the teacher associates are Dene; however, they are most often the translators of instruction, not the initiators of the teaching methods, curriculum (skills) and values that predominate in the classroom. The students, predominantly Dene, are in the middle between two cultures and part of a community in transition. Sometimes the Dene culture and mainstream (school) culture compete for the students’ attention, each to the detriment of the other.

"Action research is the process of real teachers in real classrooms conducting real research to provide solutions to their problems. It brings a spirit of optimism and a belief in creative problem solving, and it develops a climate of reflection that may lead to improved learning and teaching. Within the unique work environment experienced by a dual-culture, isolated staff, action research helps identify problems and discrepancies in a constructive manner and provides a creative window in which to collectively paint a future using more open communications. Using action research to examine different perspectives and different worlds validates solutions that are already in place and offers new insights.

The rest of the presentation goes well. When it is over, I pack my show and tell items, visit with a few kind souls. Renew friendship with Jay, who is now a professor at the UofS, but he once was a film-maker who visited Black Lake, making a video about the Dr. Stirling McDowell Foundation for Research into Teaching. He remembers Michael taking him grayling fishing. Remembers snagging Michael's jacket with the hook.

I drive back to Regina in half the time it took me to arrive. Andrea is still watching curling. I fall asleep on the couch. The girls arrive home from dance. Victoria fell off her chair, banging her elbow in one of the numbers, but she was a trouper, getting up and hitting the floor for the rest of the routine.

We end up staying the night and watch The Muppets. The girls build a campfire in the backyard make marshmallows and smores. They wrap themselves in blankets and huddle on top of one another. The smell of wood burning makes some of us sneeze and weep, but it's my favorite smell in the world.

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