Alana Petrella

Inquiry and place-based educator in Smithers, BC

Reflections on My Fall/Winter 2020 Practicum

My EDUC 490 practicum, which took place at an outdoor, homeschool blended education centre, involved working with students from grade K – 9 with diverse needs, interests, and abilities.  This experience was a rich learning opportunity that has helped to shape my pedagogy and practice.

As two of the classes consisted of four grades, there was a necessity to create learning opportunities that were accessible, engaging, challenging and meaningful for each learner.  Throughout the four weeks, I got to know about each student, their interests, strengths, and exceptionalities. This understanding helped me adapt lessons so that each learner could access and engage in the learning intention in their own way. To differentiate learning to accommodate for and honour each learners’ diverse strengths, I encouraged learners to express their learning in the way that suited them best (orally, visually, concretely, or written).  With a clear learning intention, expressions of learning could be differentiated, helping students become more deeply involved and autonomous over the direction of their own learning journey.

I also noticed that planning inquiry-based learning opportunities that foster problem solving and collaboration helped empower each learner to engage in the lesson using their unique strengths and abilities.  For these lessons to be successful, learners needed adequate space, time and support to truly dive into the learning.

One of my goals for this practicum was to more intentionally integrate First Peoples Principles of Learning in my teaching. I focused on teaching to the whole child (physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual).  At the core of many of my lessons I focused on our connection to the land and each other. With learning primarily happening outdoors, I focused on encouraging learners to connect through their five senses to appreciate, reflect on, and strengthen their connection to the land. I also focused on exploring and appreciating the resilience of our Wet’suwet’en neighbours and the skills, technologies, and perspectives that our Wet’suwet’en ancestors developed which contribute to our current way of knowing by planning lessons that helped students engage in these perspectives and skills.

Another goal of mine in this practicum was to develop my skills in assessment.  In my previous practicum, assessment was usually an afterthought.  After my Assessment and Motivation course this semester, I now believe that engaging learners in their own assessment can empower them to take responsibility for their learning journey.  I experimented with facilitating the co-creation of criteria at the beginning of a lesson with students and writing it on the board to refer to throughout the lesson and conclusion.  I felt that the act of co-creating the criteria and expectations as a class gave learners autonomy over, investment in, and responsibility for their learning process and product.  I noticed how the co-created criteria on the board helped to create space for self-reflection, rich discussion, and peer feedback during the conclusion of the lesson.  In my next practicum, I will continue to experiment with and improve this strategy in hopes of continuing to empower learners to become active members in their own assessment.

Another way I worked on my skills in assessment was by providing meaningful feedback for learners through their e-portfolios.  By spending time with students’ e-portfolios, I was able to get a better idea of their growth through their learning continuum, and then provide meaningful, encouraging feedback, while challenging them for future growth.  Spending time to provide feedback for learners on this platform also helped to connect to families of these learners, during a time where it is more difficult to connect in person.

In my 10 week 2021 practicum, it is my goal to continue to develop my skills in fostering a learning environment that prioritizes differentiated, student-directed, inquiry based learning that empowers deep, meaningful engagement of the whole learner.  I hope to continue to build on integrating meaningful, holistic assessment through the use of a portfolio that can be shared and celebrated with families.

Workshop by Lori Snyder: Acknowledging and Repairing Relations with our Wild, Native and Medicinal Plants

During the Classrooms to Community professional development conference, I was privileged to listen to Lori Snyder’s workshop on “Acknowledging and Repairing our Relations with our Wild, Native and Medicinal plants.” Her lesson was that everything we are – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually is connected to the natural world.  One of the big lessons I took from this workshop was that, “Plants are our oldest teachers” (Robin Wall Kimmerer).

This idea, that every plant can teach us something (even the ones we consider weeds), can instantly shift our perspective of our place in this ecosystem.  By incorporating these ideas into (and outside!) of our classroom, we may help to deepen our learner’s connection to the land they are living on and therefore deepen the authenticity and wholeness of their learning.

A strategy Lori suggests to repair our learners’ connection to our native, wild, and medicinal plants is to create a “living library” on the school grounds. This means planting native and medicinal plants and herbs on an accessible portion of school grounds.  The proximity of this library to the school makes it accessible for every student to engage with the plants in an unstructured (during recess) or structured (during class) way.

An idea I had for using the living library in literacy class is to ask students to choose a plant, weed, or tree in the library and to get to know it. Like a book or a great teacher, plants can teach us so much; we just have to be open and receptive to their knowledge.  In this lesson I would ask students to sit with their chosen plant for a while and just observe.  As Lori suggested, this will help students down regulate and engage their parasympathetic nervous system (Snyder, 2020).  After observation, students may get to know it’s personality a bit better.  Students may do more research about the plant, on their own or by asking an elder, a parent, a teacher, or book about their experiences of a plant.  Learners may then use this knowledge to write a plant character profile.  I believe this lesson will help students to appreciate and respect the food, medicine, life, and teachings of our plants.  I also think this activity will deepen their connection to the land, an essential step in decolonizing education.

I am continually reflecting and learning on how I can further embed Indigenous worldview at the heart of my teaching practice.  To develop my learning in this area, I will continue to seek mentorship from great teachers like Lori Snyder, as well as to continue to develop my own connection to the land. 

Lori stated that “curiosity is at the heart of everything” (Snyder, 2020). If we inspire our students and ourselves to stay curious about the land we live on, we may engage them in connected, authentic, and meaningful lifelong learning.  


Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Snyder, L. (2020, Oct 19). Acknowledging and Repairing our Relations with our Wild, Native and Medicinal plants. Classrooms to Communities, Prince George, BC, Canada.


SD57 Indigenous Day of Learning

Lhulh’uts’ut’en (Working Together), September 25, 2020

Today was an exceptional day of learning.  I was inspired over and over again by keynote speakers Dr. Dustin Louie and Dr. Niiganwewidam James Sinclair as well as by “Discovering your wild, native, and medical plants” workshop leader Lori Snyder.  These leaders shared clear and passionate messages about how essential it is to decolonize our current education system and be intentional about Indigenizing it.  I especially resonated with the statement, “We do not teach curriculum, we teach relationships.” (Sinclair, 2020).  This statement got to the heart of all teaching. Building community and relationships is how we embed reconciliation into the curriculum.  Taking care of each other and the land is how connect to our deeper purpose. Lori Snyder talked about this reciprocal relationship and said, “we give and take, it is a web of life” (Snyder, 2020).  As I continue this year, I am now more aware that facilitating relationships and interconnectedness should always be at the core of my teaching practice. 

Metaphor for Teaching

The classroom is an ecosystem. It thrives with diversity; everyone’s strengths contribute to a richer whole.  It is focused on building community, collaboration, and supporting one another. Everything and everyone (students, teachers, support workers, parents, administration, family, community, and resources) are undeniably interconnected and have a specific role in maintaining the balance of learning.

A teacher’s role in the ecosystem is to be a student’s learning companion. Teachers help to create a safe and rich habitat for students to ask questions, take risks, grow, learn, and thrive.  Teachers should work to recognize each student’s unique role in the ecosystem (interests, strengths, and goals) and help to create the space and support that will empower each student to grow towards their unique potential.

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