Neil Debassige, Principal and Education Coordinator at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng First Nation.

Neil Debassige, Principal and Education Coordinator at Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng First Nation.

By Kelly Crawford

NIPISSING FIRST NATION – Neil Debassige gave Chiefs, education leaders, and delegates at the Special Assembly on Education, November 13 and 14 at Nipissing First Nation, an inspiring,  concrete example of why Anishinaabe education and First Nation control of First Nation education is foundational to Anishinaabe student success. Debassige and others describe Anishinaabe education as “growing” the whole child by nurturing students mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“The united approach is the way to change First Nations education. We decided that the fundamental purpose of the school was going to shift from teaching to learning.”

Debassige explained that in M’Chigeeng First Nation, they decided to make a paradigm shift to put the focus on the learner.

“The paradigm involves remembering three numbers: 6.3.1.”

Ten years ago M’Chigeeng decided to opt into the six characteristics of a professional learning community, three questions and one big idea. Debassige explained that developing capacity within our people is key. Capacity development leads to the positions within the education system being filled by our own people to tackle the problems in the education system from a First Nations perspective.

“We have made a difference. We know we have come a long way from the residential school system. Our people have made that difference.”

The creation of a professional learning community focused on six characteristics: A shared mission, vision, values and goals; collaborative teams; collective inquiry; action orientation/experimentation; continuous quality improvement; and results orientation.

The three key questions are: What does a successful First Nation student look like? How do we know they are learning? What do we do when they don’t get there? Collectively, these questions begin to define key components in curriculum, assessment/evaluation, and developing an alternative plan.

“We have to be prepared to learn from our mistakes and be prepared to abandon those things that didn’t work in the past,” explained Debassige. “We have to figure out a way to fund our programs so that we educate the whole child.”

Debassige explained that students learn through active movement. “We need to do things in our schools with our students that use both sides of the brain. In order to do that, we need to use both sides of the brain… ” Debassige stressed that programming for the whole student needs to be addressed with the agreements. “There are no short cuts.”

Neil Debassige serves as Principal and Department Manager (Education Coordinator) at Lakeview School and the M’Chigeeng Education Department in his home community of M’Chigeeng. He holds a B.Sc. from McMaster University, B.Ed from Brock University and a M.A. – Educational Leadership and Administration from San Diego State University. Debassige continues to reinforce the bridges between the Day Care, Elementary, Secondary, and Post-Secondary programs in M’Chigeeng’s journey to becoming a Professional Learning Community.