Participating in Professional Development: How Early Learning Center staff members engage in collective inquiry to design meaningful lesson plans for Tribal nations’ youngest citizens

While many Northwest Indian College (NWIC) faculty members and students were off for spring break, early childhood educators from our Early Learning Center (ELC) dedicated one full day to engage in collective inquiry. Administrators and lead teachers came together for a Professional Learning Community (PLC) co-facilitated by Dr. Anna Lees, Curriculum Coach, Alicia Allard, ELC Director, and Nahrin Aziz-Parsons, Early Childhood Education faculty.

We began our session with a team building exercise, in an effort to strengthen our own early learning community and to feel confident about the start of spring quarter.We then delved into hard work. Our activities included thinking critically about the site-embedded professional development model in which we are engaged focusing on (1) our Traditional Plants and Foods Curriculum, created in partnership with the Lummi Nation Culture and Language Department and (2) our observation, documentation, and assessment practices. We also viewed videos about and reflected on integrated and place-based teaching in Indigenous contexts.

We also took a nature walk, along with representatives from NWIC’s Native Environmental Science (NES) degree program. We explored NWIC’s Salish Sea Garden, and under the guidance of NES students, began identifying Native plants in their natural habitat. The nature walk inspired us to then brainstorm relevant topic areas for spring quarter planning. It is our intention to move away from focusing our lesson plans on holidays, and move toward creating more meaningful units of study, grounded in Sense of Place and based on seasons, community events, and local flora and fauna. This represents our efforts to think more holistically, and design lesson plans that enable young children to examine the interactions and relationality between plants, animals, and humans.

When asked if the ELC PLC was beneficial, Cindy Ayala, Lead Infant Teacher, responded, “I look forward to seeing how the Early Learning Center will continue to add [Native] values into our weekly planning; so far we are off to a great start!”

-Written by, Nahrin Aziz-Parsons, Project Director