This year SD67 will be hosting a series called Welcoming Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Learning with and from the Okanagan/Syilx Nation. Dr. Leyton Schnellert (UBC) and Dr. Sara Florence Davidson (UFV) will be partnering with SD67 in this series. Leyton and Sara have both been on the planning committee, as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators from SD67, and elders and educators from the Penticton Indian Band. We are excited to be offering this series.
This blog is a conversation with Dr. Leyton Schnellert and Dr. Sara Florence Davidson.
Where we’ve been - Leyton
When TADL began, with funding from the Vancouver Foundation, SD67 consistently achieved an 80-85% six year school completion rate, but looking closer, the two most at-risk populations were students of Indigenous ancestry (50% completion rate), and students with behavioural challenges (40% completion rate). Recognizing that this was an indicator that we were not meeting these students’ needs, TADL was formed with SD67 teachers forming inquiry groups that were connected as a network. We committed to teaching and assessing in more innovative ways and tracking the results of these shifts in our practice and for our students. Teachers identified a student who they felt was at-risk of not completing school, and included them as a ‘case study’ throughout their inquiry. It has been powerful work interviewing and learning from our case study students, developing pathways for learning based on their strengths, interests and/or passions, and offering these approaches to all students in the class. TADL has helped us to develop a welcoming attitude towards students whose funds of knowledge and identity are different from our own.
Over the past two years we have stepped back to reflect on and evaluate our efforts (Schnellert, King, Manuel, Searcy, Moase, & Moore, 2020). We realized that something was and is missing. If we change our practices, but not the system, we fail to recognize the structures that are marginalizing our learners. By traditional standards, do we even understand what success is and means for Indigenous students and from Indigenous worldviews? We need to transform our practice - and education - in tandem. Last year we took our first steps to partner with Indigenous educators to talk about welcoming Indigneous knowledge and pedagogies into our classrooms - to begin to decolonize our spaces. This year we want to go deeper, partnering with educators from the SD67 Indigenous education department, educators and knowledge keepers from the Penticton Indian Band, and my good friend and colleague, scholar-practitioner Dr. Sara Florence Davidson.
A Call to Action
In this work, we recognize that Indigenous communities and students have been marginalized by colonial practices, disproportionally referred to special education programs, and encounter systematic prejudice and discrimination in education systems that lack respect for their ways of knowing and being (Gravois & Rosenfield, 2006; Hare & Davidson, 2019; Hare & Pidgeon, 2011). Indigenous Peoples in Canada and throughout the world are experiencing tensions that emerge from being educated in a Eurocentric education system that dismisses their traditional knowledge systems (Battiste, 2013). Indigenous scholars point out that education for Indigenous students must be “viewed in the context of systemic barriers and inequalities inherent in the current education system that marginalize Indigenous knowledge systems and result in significant challenges to the educational success of Indigenous children and youth” (Hare & Davidson, 2019, p. 204). Therefore, reconciliation and educational and system transformation need to work in tandem if we are to disrupt hierarchical practices and structures that enact a hidden curriculum of privilege and racism.
Indigenous peoples have always honoured Indigenous knowledges in their pedagogical practices (e.g., Barnhardt & Kawagley, 2005; Hare & Davidson, 2019). A transformative approach to learning embraces “Indigenous knowledge, experience, and knowing while respecting mainstream knowledge and experience” (Battiste, 2013, p. 176). Following the release of the TRC Calls to Action (TRC, 2015a/b), many educators, school districts, and Ministries of Education are seeking ways to better support the needs of Indigenous students while recognizing that schools can reinforce colonial structures or be transformed into sites of change (Battiste, 2013). To meet Indigenous and all students’ needs, emerging research suggests the promise of collaboration between teachers and community partners (Canadian Council on Learning, 2009; Goulet & Goulet, 2014).
We believe collaborations with Indigenous community partners within educational change networks (like TADL) will support pedagogical transformation and ultimately redefine student success. ECNs are professional learning networks that engage teachers as collaborative inquirers into their practice, and co-authors of situated innovation (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Schnellert, Kozak & Moore, 2015). Promising findings suggest the capacity of change networks to improve educator engagement (Hadfield & Chapman, 2009; Schnellert, Fisher & Sanford, 2018) and ability to strategically and systemically disseminate innovative pedagogy (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2012; Stoll, 2009). However, questions about how change networks can best support teacher professional development that takes up Indigenous contributions remain. So, we will be seeking to learn more about how networks can support pedagogical innovation, seeking to take up Principle of Reconciliation 4, that requires engagement in “constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impacts on Aboriginal peoples’ education” (TRCb, 2015, 3). As part of our work together this year, we are exploring the following question: How can education change networks, where educators and Indigenous community partners collaborate to decentre colonizing education practices, develop culturally responsive pedagogies?
In this project we come together to address the pressing need to engage with Indigenous communities differently brought to light by the Calls to Action (TRC, 2015a) and curriculum changes in British Columbia. Together our objective is to collaborate as a network working to integrate culturally responsive practices into our classrooms, take up local Indigenous ways of knowing and being, bring to life curriculum change, and ultimately enhance student success. We recognize that each of us bring different experiences and identities to the project. To engage with one another in a good way we embrace Shawn Wilson’s (2008) concept of relational accountability with our focus on respect, reciprocity, and responsibility in this community-based collaboration. We also seek guidance from Willie Ermine’s (2007) practice of the ethical space of engagement, which is described as “a venue to step out of our allegiances, to detach from the cages of our mental worlds and assume a position where human-to-human dialogue can occur” (p. 202).
Making Meaning Together
So Through a Different Lens has grown into Welcoming Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Learning with and from the Okanagan/Syilx Nation! Our 14 person planning team consists of Indigneous and non-Indigenous educators from SD67, the Penticton Indian Band, UBC, and the University of the Fraser Valley. Our commitment this year is to build on what we have learned from TADL over the past 8 years. This year’s series will involve collaborative inquiry with Indigenous community partners and researchers to foster culturally responsive practices that recognize more holistic notions and indicators of student success (CCL, 2009; Pidgeon, 2019). Together, based on feedback from this year’s series, we have developed some shared goals for Welcoming Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Learning with and from the Okanagan/Syilx Nation. Our shared intentions are to:
• increase understanding of Okanagan/Syilx ways of knowing and being, and an increased understanding of local protocols
• discover and explore of the impact of the First Peoples Principles of Learning on student voice and school connectedness for all members of our learning communities
• engage in respectful dialogue about the historical and current systematic racism towards Indigenous people in schools and reflect on our own areas of growth regarding anti-racism
• focus on actionable shifts in our beliefs, actions, and pedagogy
• take up the First People’s Principles of Learning to inform our teaching
Welcoming Indigenous Ways of Knowing: Learning with and from the Okanagan/Syilx Nation will involve shared learning in the morning of 3-4 professional development days and participation in a small inquiry group where educators delve deeper into a topic of interest. After each morning together with local and provincial presenters and facilitators, participants join their small fires inquiry group. Small Fires will meet throughout the year, include self-reflection on our practice in the area of Indigenous Education, and allow participants to delve into a topic of interest.
We are very excited for this project, the opportunity to work and learn with you, celebrating work that’s already underway in your schools and practice, and moving forward together!
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