Campus Life - Kamloops  

Research finds peer support essential to ECE resiliency

Dr. Laura Doan

How do you define success in research?

Two years ago, Dr. Laura Doan embarked upon a project designed to develop a provincewide peer-mentoring network to support early childhood educators (ECEs) to stay in the field. Her research is driven by the fact that up to half of all ECEs in the province leave the profession in the first five years. This attrition limits the sector’s capacity to grow and reduces access to affordable and safe childcare.

Today, upon completion of that research project, those who participated report having their perspectives changed, and their careers enriched.

Peer support keeps educators in the field

Chelsea Hann, a practicing ECE based in Prince George, said her participation in the project is the reason she decided to remain in the field. 

“This project was what kept me from leaving. I was really disillusioned and frustrated. I felt very isolated, and I would think ‘I can’t do this,’” she said. However, through the project, she connected with another early childhood educator in her community, someone with decades of experience in the field. The pair met several times over a few months, and it was during those meetings they built a safe space to discuss challenges.

“We could come together and mutually support one another. I would say we built a friendship, but it was more than that. It was a confidential space, and there was no judgement, just acceptance,” Hann said.

Cari Rawling, a Quesnel-based early childhood educator, participated in the project as a facilitator. Rawling has worked in the field for nearly 30 years and used her connections to recruit mentor pairs to the project.

Peer support uplifts project participants

“Being in a small city it can feel like there is an element of competition, but when we came together connections were built; the conversations became so organic and comfortable and the reflections so meaningful that the support felt amazing,” she said.

“I think there are a lot of ECEs who feel isolated in their practice, and this helped alleviate that. I really hope that we see each other as a vast network of support people with a common goal of supporting children and families in our communities,” said Rawling.

The research project, “Peer mentoring for early childhood educators in BC,” was supported by a $650,000 grant from the Ministry for Children and Family Development through the Westcoast Child Care Resource Centre. The funding was part of the three-year, $153 million Early Learning and Child Care agreement between the Government of Canada and the Province of BC.

Understanding the resilient early childhood educator

“This experience demonstrates what is possible when we support early childhood educators in the way they should be supported,” said Doan, who recruited facilitators in 17 communities. The facilitators then recruited 12 ECEs each, meaning more than 200 ECEs participated in the project, which ran from summer 2019 to early spring 2020. 

“This shows me what can work when you give ECEs the opportunity to come together to support each other. They are able to come up with their own solutions, and I walked away with so much respect,” said Doan.

She also walked away recognizing that there is a huge resource of experienced ECEs in BC who have shown resilience in the face of adverse working conditions and lack of access to professional development. 

“There are many, many educators who have years of experience and they represent such a wealth of knowledge. They have all this knowledge, and they shared it with us, but they hadn’t shared it before because they had not been asked,” said Doan.

Doan’s recommendation to the province is to continue to ask those in the field what they need to be resilient, and to find ways to ensure they are supported through access to mentoring and professional development.

REDress Project reminds us of the missing

Dr. Shelly Johnson and the REDress Project

Every October, a number of events take place that bring awareness to the thousands of Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). October 4 is the day chosen to profile REDress vigils and install red dress displays to honour and remember Indigenous women and girls who are murdered or missing. These events aim to “address” this very important issue in Canada that has long been overlooked.

At TRU, the Office of Indigenous Education and some Indigenous researchers are raising awareness about the Indigenous sisters who are no longer with us but who are alive in people’s hearts and minds. They have hung red dresses around the Campus Commons, in front of several buildings including the Brown Family House of Learning, a building that looks upon the surrounding the hills representing the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc landscape. Mounts Peter and Paul are in the background and the two walkways represent the meeting of the two rivers (North and South Thompson rivers).

This is a meaningful place to showcase these dresses because it symbolizes Indigenous and non-Indigenous people meeting and working together toward a shared common goal of understanding.

In 2010, Métis artist Jaime Black curated a public art installation in response to the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the US. It commemorated missing and murdered Indigenous women from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities by hanging empty red dresses in a range of environments. She chose the colour red after conversations with a friend, who told her red is the only colour the spirits can see.

“So (red) is really a calling back of the spirits of these women and allowing them a chance to be among us and have their voices heard through their family members and community,” Black said at the time. She also suggested red “relates to our lifeblood and that connection between all of us,” and that it symbolizes both vitality and violence.

The dresses are empty, so that they evoke the missing women who should be wearing them. Black has said: “People notice there is a presence in the absence.”

The need to educate the public

This project is especially meaningful to Dr. Shelly Johnson because, as she said, “One of Jamie Black’s first art installations occurred at TRU in 2010. Ten years later, and despite the 2019 Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry into MMIWG, our sisters continue to be missing and murdered in disproportionately higher numbers than other women in Canada. The MMIWG Calls for Justice for Educators (11.1) calls on ‘all elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions and education authorities to educate and provide awareness to the public about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and about the issues and root causes of violence they experience.’ TRU’s work must continue in collaboration with other Canadian and Indigenous post-secondary institutions.”

Dr. Natalie Clark pointed out that TRU’s Status of Women committee continues the tradition started in 2010 with Jamie Black’s installation, honouring our Sisters on October 4 with ceremony and a circle involving Elders, students and families in coming together to remember, and to call for accountability to the Calls for Justice.

“When you see the red dresses hanging from the trees in front of CAC and HOL this is reminder to all of us in how we can bring awareness to the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and also to males, children and two-spirited people,” said Clark.

The idea for this project and support came from the Faculty of Education and Social Work, and the Office of Indigenous Education is working with all faculties in obtaining red dresses and clothing for this project to generate meaningful conversations about MMWIG. The dresses will hang as reminders for rest of October.

Animal-care advocate receives honorary doctorate

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin has changed the world’s perception of what people with autism can achieve, making her mark as an animal behaviour consultant, then as an author and university professor.

For countless others, she’s been a trailblazer.

For her far-reaching and impactful achievements, Grandin is receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters from Thompson Rivers University during the virtual Fall Convocation Ceremony on Friday, Oct. 16.

Grandin has made outstanding contributions to the humane treatment of animals and the support and acceptance of those with autism and neurodiversity. The honorary degree is the highest form of recognition offered by TRU and awarded for demonstrated excellence in the fields of public affairs, the sciences, arts, humanities, business, law and philanthropy.

“Dr Temple Grandin embodies so much of what TRU stands for. Her work to understand animals speaks to us and our region, particularly situated as we are in ranch country,” said TRU President and Vice-Chancellor Brett Fairbairn.

“Dr. Grandin inspires us in our commitment to inclusion, to being a place where all people belong and contribute according to their unique talents. Her example has changed the lives of countless others.”

Profile: Dr. Temple Grandin, Doctor of Letters, honoris causa

Dr. Temple Grandin redefined what a life with autism can look like. By embracing her own autistic mind, Grandin has become the world’s foremost authority on animal welfare and livestock handling. While Grandin’s work garnered her industry recognition, it was her candor and resilience in “groping her way from the far side of darkness” of autism that brought her celebrity and influence—proving that autism can be guided, educated and celebrated.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1947, Grandin had no speech and showed all the signs of severe autism at age two. However, she wasn’t formally diagnosed with autism until her forties. The original diagnosis was ‘brain damage’ and the medical advice was institutionalization. Through her mother’s advocacy, Grandin was instead provided intensive speech therapy and educational guidance. This support led to Grandin learning to speak and begin school. Despite teasing and social struggles, Grandin found her passion for animal sciences under the mentorship of her high school science teacher and a formative experience at her aunt’s ranch.

In 1970, Grandin earned her Bachelor’s in Human Psychology. In 1974, she began working as the livestock editor for the Arizona Farmer Ranchman and in equipment design for corral industries. A year later, she earned her Master’s in Animal Science for her work on cattle behaviour in different squeeze chutes. In 1989, Grandin received her PhD in Animal Science. She is currently a professor at Colorado State University teaching courses on livestock handling and facility design.

When not teaching, Grandin is either consulting the livestock industry on animal behaviour and welfare or lecturing about autism and the importance of supporting neurodiversity. Grandin has published hundreds of publications, book chapters and technical papers, plus 10 books. Her research, work and advocacy for both animal welfare and neurodiversity has garnered Grandin many accolades from the Meritorious Achievement Award from the World Organization for Animal Health and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to a Double Helix Medal and the Ashoka Fellowship. Grandin has also been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, among others. In 2010, she was named in the Heroes categoryin the TIME 100 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She has also been featured in Time, People, Discover, Forbes and The New York Times.

Grandin was the subject of the Horizon documentary, “The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow,” and a semi-biographical HBO film titled Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes as Grandin. In 2010, she presented a TED talk on the importance of fostering different kinds of minds and thought processes among young people, particularly those on the autism spectrum.

Grandin has made outstanding contributions to the humane treatment of animals and the support and acceptance of those with autism and neurodiversity. Her achievements exemplify the values of inclusion and diversity that TRU strives to foster in its students.

Virtual Fall Convocation 2020 begins at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 16. Get details at tru.ca/convocation.

Send words of congratulations and encouragement to students by signing the guest book.

Law students are the future for reconciliation, minister says

Federal Minister of Justice David Lametti applauded TRU for its commitment to Truth and Reconciliation through its various initiatives and relationships with students and Indigenous leaders during an online event with law students.

Nearly 100 students from the Faculty of Law joined the virtual event Thursday to hear Lametti discuss important legal matters surrounding Indigenous law in Canada. The event was part of TRU’s Truth and Reconciliation Learning Days and a national virtual tour by the minister to meet with law schools.

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir and Kwenem7íple7 (Councillor) Jeanette Jules opened the online event with a welcome to the territory. Their participation and that of other Secwépemc chiefs and leaders was appreciated.

TRU President Brett Fairbairn spoke near the opening of the virtual event, noting that TRU,as an institution on unceded Secwépemc lands, takes its role in this country’s reconciliation journey seriously.

TRU is not the first community of researchers, teachers and learners on these lands, Fairbairn continued, adding that it is important to the university to respect the long history of learning associated with the place where it has operated for only a few generations.

Lametti remarked that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is a key part of the federal government’s work and part of his ministerial mandate.

He answered several questions from students on Indigenous legal issues in Canada. He pointed out that law students such as those in attendance are a critical part of the future of reconciliation. He also noted that these students are Canada’s future leaders, which is why he is always pleased to speak to students.

Fairbairn concluded: “Our work along the road to true reconciliation will take time, but Thompson Rivers University remains committed to doing the work necessary.”

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