Monday, 14 November 2016

Walking the Living School Path

The Ongoing Chronicles of
RB Russell Vocational High School

Photo by Jiaxin Luo

“You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge."

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
An Inquiry into Values
(Pirsig, 1974)

 As I write this, I’m coming to the realization that my school is essentially in a stage of metamorphosis towards being a Living School or Campus. It is happening organically, dynamically and I am not sure if most students and staff know it. I know I didn’t.

In my last blog post, I found I had to delve quite deeply into what I was reading and researching for this course, and reconcile what is playing out and developing in situ ( I wrote about how the overlap, meshing, and inter-weaving of a multitude of attributes of Education for Sustainability (EfS) and Health Promoting Schools (HPS) seem already to be forming within a paradigm of the Seven Teachings at RB Russell Vocational High School. 

I explored the many positives and the many challenges, and emphasised the need for timely, deployable and gently tangible transformation. 

Finally, I confessed that I was only beginning to explore where this could go.


Leader Character & Living Campus,
and The Seven Sacred Grandfathers

"Seven Sacred Grandfather Teachings"
Artists: Melissa Muir, Darla Martens-Reece & Scott Sampson

"The truth knocks on the door and you say, go away,
 I'm looking for the truth,
and it goes away. Puzzling.”
(Pirsig, 1974)

As part of my exploration, I borrowed from Dr. O’Brien’s exercise in identifying synergies between EfS, HPS, and Living Campus/Leader Character, and mused on the evolving ethos in our school towards Indigenous traditional perspectives (O'Brien, Education for Sustainable Happiness and Well-Being, 2016).

I am convinced that once again we are re-speaking old truths and ways that are communally inherent in our DNA, and in our relationships with each other and our planet. Further, that these narratives, models and ways-to-go-forward are practical, essential and implementable. Have a look.

Leader Character / Living Campus
Attributes & Aspects
Seven Sacred
Grandfather Teachings


Self-aware, modest, respectful, learner, grateful, vulnerable;

curious, cooperative, collegial, flexible
Humble, accepting, considerate, deferential apportioning, curious, lack of arrogance, respectful of community, social, collective-minded, cooperative





Bold, brave, determined, tenacious, resilient, confident

passionate, initiative, results-oriented
Integrity facing difficulty, mental and moral strength to overcome fears & challenges, living in heart & spirit, balanced life



Authentic, candid, transparent, principled, consistent
Honour, integrity, true to self & other, trusted




Patient, calm, prudent, composed, self-controlled, fair, equitable, socially- responsible;

Situationally aware, cognitively complex, critical thinker, intuitive, pragmatic, adaptable
Determined, family and community-oriented, knowledge cherished, use of inherent gifts, recognition of differences, respect and kindness to other, observer of life, clarity and mindfulness, respect for own limitations and those of others



Takes ownership, accepts consequences, conscientious, responsible
Meticulous, sincere, truth found in journey & destination, faithful to principles & Teachings



Equitable, even-handed, socially responsible
Honouring of creation, accepting of all, sustainable relationships, stewardship, balance for family and community



Compassionate, empathetic, magnanimous, forgiving, inspired, purposive, optimistic, future oriented
Strength to carry all Teachings, clear vision, recognition of loving self & other, peace, imbued with creativity and energy



Seven Teaching attributes compiled from Anishinaabeg Bimaadiziwin, An Ojibwe Peoples Resource (Georgian College Aboriginal Resource Centre, 2014), and Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times (Meuers, 2014)

To be honest, like Dr. O'Brien, I too rankle somewhat at laying this out in tabular form. The essence of the Seven Teachings, I am learning, is that of a circle. To focus on one attribute, one teaching, one animal, or to live your life only by a selected few, is to miss the point entirely. The interconnections, the organic and dynamic nature of the “model” is its strength and utility.


Phenomenology in a
Medicine Wheel Context

'Shakespeare' the Barred Owl & Denizen of the Boreal Forest
Photo by Paul Clarke

The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there... only live for some future goal is shallow. It is the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top.”

(Pirsig, 1974)

As an extension of the question that Dr. O’Brien and Dr. Howard ask, “what does education look like when ‘Life’ is central to the enterprise?”; what then does ‘Life Education’ look like when it begins at the centre of a Medicine Wheel of self, school, community and Turtle Island/planet? (O'Brien & Howard, The Living School: The Transformative Sustainability Education Paradigm, 2016)

One other developing thread at RB Russell among some staff (including me) and community Elders that we are working with, is exploring and expanding various models and programs of traditional Land-based Learning. These have at their heart “the gradual implementation of these themes (Seven Teachings, Medicine Wheel) into traditional programming to… improve health and well-being through self-care. It is felt that through this process of empowerment healthy individuals and communities can be re-established” (Barwin, Shawande, Crighton, & Veronis, 2013). 

There is also strong evidence that involving Indigenous students in a Land-based Learning environment can create positive, healing ripples that can “reconnect Indigenous peoples to land and the social relations, knowledges and languages that arise from the land” (Wildcat, McDonald, Irlbacher-Fox, & Coulthard, 2014).

Taking Learning back to and from the Land has been emphasized too, as part of our path to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Elder Reg Crowshoe told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that "Indigenous peoples’ world views, oral history traditions, and practices have much to teach us about how to establish respectful relationships among peoples and with the land and all living things… 
so when we talk about stories, we talk about defining our environment and how we look at authorities that come from the land and our relationship with the land; how we look at forgiveness and reconciliation."

"We have stories in our culture about our superheroes, stories about how we treat each other, stories about how animals and plants give us authorities and privileges to use plants as healing; but we also have stories about practices."

"How would we practise reconciliation? How would we practise getting together to talk about reconciliation in an oral perspective? And those practices are so important." (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).

The school has taken tentative steps, especially over the last few years, to take excursions onto the land for gathering sage and sweetgrass, for Sweat Ceremonies and sometimes just to go; to walk, talk, smell, hear, feel, to share a meal, and learn from teachers and Elders. But these are still exceptional field trips, and not Learning rules.

photo - Durham College

Bringing these lessons back to the school is important: the sage picked in early October is now dried for use at school this month (28 days/one moon). Some things are more difficult. Our Culinary Arts program would love to work with wild game and fish, and even wild-harvested plants, but run into Health and Safety regulatory barriers.

One possible way to connect the real-world of the Land with the equally real-world of the school is the concept of Two-Eyed Seeing, “learning to see with the strengths of, or the best in, the Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye learning to see with the strengths of, or the best of, the Western (mainstream) knowledges and ways of knowing. 
It is more than just examining the world from two different perspectives, but is rather “learning to use both eyes together, for the benefit of all” (Hogue & Bartlett, 2014).

Art by Basma Kavanagh

Developed initially to address the historically low enrollment of Indigenous students in the sciences, it has evolved as a new way to “recognize, discuss, develop and foster transdisciplinary and transcultural collaboration." Especially intriguing is the discussion and research expanding into areas of individual, community and ecosystem health and well-being (Bartlett, Marshall, Marshall, & Iwaama, 2012).

Adaptability through Diversity 
& Acceleration through Sustainability (sic)

I’m loathe mention what I believe is a contributing sidetrack-reason why ESD “has not succeeded in capturing the passion and imagination of enough educators” (O’Brien & Howard, 2016). Were I multilingual, perhaps I could suggest a more suitable word to encapsulate what “we” define as Sustainability. English and Roget’s fail me. It is the clunky nomenclature itself that limits uptake and excitement by educators. 

So a teacher-colleague can say, “See? I bought the generic bottled water because the bottles’ thinner plastic. More Sustainable, right? Every bit helps, right?” And you say, “Well, ya… I guess so…”, and mentally slam your palm to your forehead. True story.

Calling what we are exploring, growing, researching, sharing and advocating for is ESD, and HPS (another clunker moniker), but it is so very much more. I like Living School/Campus.

The 'Living' part better encourages action; participation in a process that in turn acts as an accelerant. So too does it rely implicitly and explicitly, on diversity of process. 

An Education for Sustainability model that works on the volcanic soils of Green School Bali, or on the calcareous sand of the Barefoot College in Rajastan, or on the loamy turf of Dawson College may not work on the Red River gumbo around RB Russell High School or the Precambrian Shield of Shamattawa First Nation.

The philosophical framework of Living Schools as both a practical and a theoretical implication, embraces this. Diverse bare-soles/moccasins/trainers/boots on the ground.


"The teachings are not ancient, they never went away, so we ask…who moved? We need these Teachings now more than ever. Following the Teachings leads to well-being and onto a good path in life. The Wisdom Keepers say, to heal the Nation we must first heal the individual, family then community. And it's for anybody and everybody." (Meuers, 2014)


References and Works Cited
Bartlett, C., Marshall, M., Marshall, A., & Iwaama, M. (2012). Integrative Science and Two-Eyed Seeing: Enriching the Discussion Framework for healthy Communities. Retrieved from Institute for Integrative Science and Health:

Barwin, L., Shawande, M., Crighton, E., & Veronis, L. (2013). Teachings around self-care and medicine gathering in Manitoulin Island, Ontario: rebuilding capacity begins with youth. Retrieved from Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health:

Georgian College Aboriginal Resource Centre. (2014). Ojibwe Teachings - 7 Grandfathers. Retrieved from Anishnaabeg Bimaadiziwin:

Hogue, M., & Bartlett, C. (2014). Two-eyed Seeing. Retrieved from Canadian Education Association:

Meuers, M. (2014). Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times. Retrieved from Indian Country Today Media Network:

O'Brien, C. (2016). Education for Sustainable happiness and Well-Being. New York: Routledge.

O'Brien, C., & Howard, P. (2016). The Living School: The Transformative Sustainability Education Paradigm. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 10(1), 115-130.

Pirsig, R. M. (1974). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: Morrow.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Retrieved from Honouring the Truth Reconciling for the Future:

Wildcat, M., McDonald, M., Irlbacher-Fox, S., & Coulthard, G. (2014). Learning from the land: Indigenous land-based pedagogy and decolonization. Retrieved from Decolonization, Indigenity, Education & Society:


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