Pulling Together In The Same Direction

By Anna Bartosik

*Sheridan sits on the Territorial Lands of the Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation.

Paula Laing, Student Success and Transition Advisor from Sheridan’s Aboriginal Initiatives Office, creates a lasting impression with those who meet her. I was first drawn into her office by the magnificent thunderbird hanging over it.

Spend some time with Paula and her visiting students and you feel a connection with our Aboriginal Initiatives Office. If you have only smelled the smudging in the morning in the B wing at Trafalgar, follow your nose and take advantage of Paula’s open door policy. Everyone is greeted and welcomed to join the conversation.

Paula on her paddleboard. Photo: Anna Bartosik

Paula on her paddleboard. Photo: Anna Bartosik

One thing that is terribly important to me is cultural awareness in the classroom. Among all the outcomes we have to meet in our ESL program, it is easy to dismiss the importance of situating our students culturally within the Canadian educational framework. Tied by my course and program outcomes, I seek creative ways to incorporate social commentary in my ESL classes. Positioning discussions in a Canadian context provides students with a taste of that framework. Giving them a taste of the context outside of the classroom doesn’t happen often.

From our position as educators, we can all use a refresher course on what the Aboriginal community brings to us. Paula Laing is willing to edify and makes the experience both unique and unapologetically educational. We’ve chatted about students making connections at Sheridan, but Paula and I also believe in initiatives and reaching out to faculty and departments, to make connections where none exist. Let’s take those ESL students of yours canoeing, she said.

She arranged an outrigger canoe outing with Wendy Perkins, owner of Wai Nui o Kanaka Canoeing Club, located under the Rebecca Street Bridge on Water Street in Oakville. We were all greeted warmly by Terry, Wendy and her husband at the dock. Paula’s goal was to make new associations for my students, but I certainly became aware of my relationship with my class that day. Sitting in the stroking position gave me a perspective on leadership that most of us should take: None of us leading a classroom is any less or more important when we are working together – my going faster was not going to help my 12 member team paddle better. Being cognizant of my counterpart paddling next to me and behind me tempered my tempo to the caller’s voice. I was at the front so that everyone could see me stroke, but we all maintained the same pace – I matched myself to them and vice versa.

Photo: Anna Bartosik

Photo: Anna Bartosik

My class and I enjoyed our afternoon together, paddling in unison and turning the outrigger canoe 180 degrees on several occasions to seat the rest of our team, and backing up when we got caught in the reeds, or braking suddenly but quietly to watch the blue heron at the end of a dock. He gave us a chance for rest (finally!) and contemplation. Ever the teacher, Paula, from her paddleboard, told us the heron is a blessing and we should give thanks to the creator for this blessing. The bonds my class made on this end-of-semester outing were wonderful, of course, but the ties the students made to the larger context were touching to observe. I really feel that this is a very Canadian experience, one student remarked. Everyone should do this to see what is hidden from us in Oakville, someone else said.

So pop in and exchange a few words with Paula Laing and Meagan Byrne in the Aboriginal Initiatives space at Trafalgar this autumn. We could all learn a few things. Onahgeyah! (See you in good health!)

Student reflections:

Wenqi Zhao, Advanced Level ESL Student: “I often took pictures of Lake Ontario when I came to Canada. I always looked at other people boating on the lake. I never thought I would have the opportunity to boat, especially with my classmates and my professor Anna. I love the collective activities (please look at the photos). “The boat is called a canoe; it’s also called the Canada boat,” Wendy said. She is the owner at the club and gave us a special journey.”

Heron Dock

Photo: Anna Bartosik

Junyi Li, Advanced Level ESL Student: “On August 20 Anna, who is our ESL teacher at Sheridan College, took us canoeing. That was my first time canoeing and it was so exciting. Even though I can’t swim, Paula promised we wouldn’t fall into the water. That day was cloudy, but it wasn’t raining, and we could still go canoeing. When we got there, Paula and Wendy were friendly and they taught us how to paddle. I think canoeing requires cooperation and following directions well. We spent two hours together and it was such a great time.”

Lirong Xu, Advanced Level ESL Student: “I had a great time on the canoeing trip. It was amazing that we went canoeing on the lake with a lot of waves, just like an adventure on the ocean. It was my first time to go canoeing and it is a fantastic idea to go canoeing in the summer. I saw the beautiful views around the lake. In addition, I tried Paula’s paddleboard, which you have to stand on and keep your balance. First, you need to kneel on the board and lay the paddle in front of you to keep balance. Then, you stand up slowly. That feels more like surfing, actually. I think I did a good job. Even though I can swim, I still felt a little bit scared.”