Wednesday 12 August 2020

Educators and Indigneous Partners developing relational accountability and co-constructing practices

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

It is difficult for me to put into words my gratitude for the opportunity to learn with and in SD67 and the Through a Different Lens (TADL) family. Guided by the quiet, determined, supportive leadership of Judith King, I have been able to participate as an educator-researcher. It has been soul-filling work. Thank you Judith for your incredible leadership supporting us to embrace our diverse learners and transform our practice based on what our students can teach us. I still cannot believe that you retired last month!

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.


I was so excited to be invited to join this project. As a Haida/Settler teacher educator, I am very interested in the use of Indigenous education frameworks, such as the First Peoples Principles of Learning (BC Ministry of Education & FNESC, 2008) to guide classroom teaching. Through my collaboration with my father, Robert Davidson, on Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning through Ceremony, I explored integrating local knowledges into mainstream educational contexts with the Sk’ad’a principles (Davidson & Davidson, 2018), so I am particularly eager to learn from the local communities about their approaches to education. I look forward to sharing what I have learned about Indigenous education and supporting Indigenous (and all) learners as well. 

In one of our early conversations, Leyton and I began to speak about success and how that might look in the context of this project, as we did not want to reinforce narrow perceptions of success that did not reflect the priorities of Indigenous communities. The Canada Council on Learning (2009) indicates that key aspects of learning include the foundational role of Indigenous languages and cultures and connections to family, community, and Elders. Therefore we want our indicators to reflect these more holistic priorities such as maintaining cultural integrity, finding ways to engage in reciprocity by giving back to one’s community; and finding balance between intellectual, physical, spiritual, and emotional realms while also including mainstream understandings of academic success, such as coursework completion and a high GPA (Pidgeon, 2019). We see this as a starting place for learning more about broader measures of success that are meaningful to Indigenous and all students and their families and communities. 

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).

Collaborative Learning

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!


    Barnhardt, R., & Kawagley, A. (2005). Indigenous knowledge systems and Alaska Native ways of knowing. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 36(1), 8-23.

    Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Purich Publishing.

    BC  Ministry of Education, & First Nations Education Steering Committee (2008). English 12 First Peoples: IIntegrated Resource Package. 

    Canada Council on Learning. (2009). The state of Aboriginal learning in Canada: A holistic approach to measuring success.

    Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S.L. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research in the next generation. Teachers College Press.

    Davidson, S. F., & Davidson, R. (2018). Potlatch as pedagogy: Learning through ceremony. Portage & Main Press.

    Ermine, W. (2007). The ethical space of engagement. Indigenous Law Journal, 6(1), 193-203.

    Goulet, L. M., & Goulet, K. N. (2014). Teaching each other: Nehinuw concepts and Indigenous pedagogies. UBC Press.

    Gravois, T. A., & Rosenfield, S. A. (2006). Impact of instructional consultation teams on the disproportionate referral and placement of minority students in special education. Remedial and Special Education, 27(1), 42–52.

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    Hare, J., & Pidgeon, M. (2011). The way of the warrior: Indigenous youth navigating the challenges of schooling. Canadian Journal of Education, 34(2), 93-111.

    Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2012). The global fourth way: The quest for educational excellence. Corwin.

    Pidgeon, M. (2019). Contested spaces of Indigenization in Canadian higher education: Reciprocal relationships and institutional responsibilities. In H. Tomlins-Jahnke, S. Styres, S. Lilley, & D. Zinga (Eds.), Indigenous education: New directions in theory and practice (pp. 205-229). University of Alberta Press.

    Schnellert, L., Fisher, & Sanford, K. (2018). Developing communities of pedagogical inquiry in British Columbia. In Poortman, C. & Brown, C., Developing professional capital in professional learning networks (pp. 56-74). Routledge.

    Schnellert, L., King, J., Manuel, T., Searcy, N., Moase, J. & Moore, S. (2020, Apr) Through a Different Lens: Increasing success for "at-risk" learners through situated, collaborative inquiry [Conference Paper]. AERA Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA

    Schnellert, L., Kozak, D. & Moore, S. (2015). Professional development that positions teachers as inquirers and possibilizers. LEARNing Landscapes, 9(1), 217-236.

    Stoll, L. (2009). Connecting learning communities: Capacity building for systemic change. In A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan & D. Hopkins (Eds.), Second international handbook of educational change (pp. 469–484). Springer.

    Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015a). Calls to action.

    Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015b). What we have learned: Principles of truth and reconciliation.

    Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony. Fernwood Publishing.