What are Indigenous Pedagogies and how can we use them to support all learners?

The “living teachings” of the Ojibwe people, also known as the seven good life teachings, or Seven Grandfather Teachings, nurture the physical, emotional-mental, intellectual and spiritual self-esteem of our students.

  1. Minwaadendamowin – Respect

    • Valuing all others, and considering their needs before yours.
  2. Zaagiidiwin – Love

    • Caring for self, in order to be able to care for others.
  3. Debwewin – Truth

    • Considering others’ perspectives and not judging.
  4. Aakode’ewin – Bravery

    • Strength and clear thought in the face of challenges.
  5. Nibwaakawin – Wisdom

    • Receive, process and express ideas with accuracy.
  6. Miigwe’aadiziwin – Generosity 

    • Acting in response to the needs of others.
  7. Dibaadendiziwin – Humility

    • Be humble in your actions with others.

As teachers in Ontario, we are held to the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession, as prescribed by the Ontario College of Teachers.


OCT members demonstrate care for their students through compassionate empathy, acceptance, interest in, and insight into their students’ potential. They approach their work with Love and Generosity, practising empathy and professional judgement.


Teachers model Respect for the values of their students, and maintain confidentiality in all their work.  They honour human dignity, emotional wellness, and cognitive development while supporting freedom, democracy and the environment.


This ethical standard embodies aspects of Truth and Wisdom, through fair, open and honest relationships with students, colleagues, parents, guardians and the public.


Teachers practice Bravery and Humility while speaking Truth in their teachings. They are reliable and moral in their actions, commitments and responsibilities.

These four standards underpin the practices of all Ontario teachers, and map directly to the seven good life teachings.

Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework (2007) is grounded in principles of:

  • Excellence and Accountability
  • Equity and Respect for Diversity
  • Inclusiveness, Cooperation, and Shared Responsibility
  • Respect for Constitutional and Treaty Rights

This thread of Respect also manifests itself in the classroom and school through necessary characteristics that support students (Bascia, 2014):

  • Differentiated learning
  • Learning linked to students’ lives and experiences
  • Focus on community building and relationships
  • Use of data, not perceptions, to drive professional learning and policy decisions
  • Vision of inclusion
  • Shared leadership
  • Deconstruction of the hidden curriculum
  • Engagement plans which honour difference
  • Global citizenship and environmental stewardship connections

Some of these characteristics are also shared with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), where learning is designed to meet the needs of all students. UDL is the basis of the Ontario document, Learning for All – A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12

When teachers’ work is grounded in the principle that “what is good for one, is good for all”, they are freed to address the needs of a single student, and in consequence better serve all their students. Incorporating Indigenous Pedagogies benefits all their students. There are strong similarities between UDL and the pedagogical strategies of Indigenous peoples. Experiential activities, group talk, connections to real life experiences, differentiated instruction and differentiated assessment, concrete and abstract examples of subject expectations and multileveled questions support a range of learners and are good for all. (Toulouse, 2016)


The four areas mentioned in the introduction as supportive of self-esteem are drawn from the medicine wheel. It begins with the physical domain on the right, which is connected with spring and birth. In the south is the emotional domain which is connected with summer and adolescence. The intellectual domain is on the left, and is connected to fall and adulthood. And the final, north, is spiritual and is connected to winter and our Elders. Within each of the four quadrants are also aspects of the other four. For example, Physical and Health Competencies have an obvious physical basis, but they also include emotional (mental illness), intellectual (making healthy choices), and spiritual (well-being) components as well. Emotional Competencies include physical (self-management), emotional (interpersonal relationships), intellectual (decision making) and spiritual (self-awareness) components. Within the Intellectual and citizenship domain are physical (civic knowledge), emotional (civic dispositions), intellectual (civic skills) and spiritual (civic engagement).  And within the spiritual and creativity domain are physical (generation of ideas), emotional (evaluation of ideas), intellectual (improvement) and spiritual (consideration of possibilities). This holistic model honours the whole child, and supports both Indigenous and settler students. By reconceptualizing student achievement to include all four aspects we support all students. (Toulouse, 2016)

By attending to the four domains, and ensuring that the seven living teachings are incorporated, Ontario teachers’ practice can truly be “Learning for All”. And Ontario classrooms will be closer to achieving the eight goals of Equity and Inclusive Education while closing the achievement gap for all our students. 


Here are three ways in which teachers can take first steps to incorporate Indigenous pedagogies in their classrooms:

  • Connect the six Ontario Learning Skills to the seven Good Life Teachings, and provide examples that bring them to life.
  • Examine the curriculum, and incorporate meaningful First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultural
    perspectives and activities when planning instruction and assessment.
  • Develop a more holistic approach, integrating physical, emotional/mental, intellectual and spiritual perspectives in planning and instruction. This should be done intentionally, much as the four achievement categories were embedded two decades ago.

Here are ways in which school leaders can take first steps to incorporate Indigenous pedagogies in their classrooms:

  • Co-construct a Land Acknowledgement with students and staff that will be meaningfully used each time the community gathers together.
  • Invite participation in School Council from families who bring an Indigenous perspective.
  • Replace current Character Education initiatives with new school action teams which focus on the seven teachings.
  • Replace current Grade 11 English courses with NBE3U, NBE3C and NBE3E, and ensure that school library resource centres are sources of contemporary literature to support these courses. Showcase your students’ work on your school website, as Jean Augustine SS has done with its NB3U podcast 63Three: A Podcast.
  • Build understanding of the strong connection between the seven teachings and Ontario teachers’ Ethical Standards of Practice, with use of resources such as Exploring the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession through Anishnaabe Art. Frame and display this artwork in your school (you can see me in the reflection, taking this picture of my “display in progress” at Cawthra Park SS).

At-Home Learning – an initial reflection

Four weeks ago I embarked on a new journey in a new school board and in a new model of online learning. In a board with a large geographical area, much of which cannot reliably access the Internet, the model is very different from that which I experienced earlier this year. While many of the students are engaging in a synchronous model of learning, others are participating in asynchronous learning, and a few must be provided with packages on paper, due to their remote locations.

While the arrival of Starlink in our area is likely to be a game-changer, access to the Internet remains a huge impediment for our families. And so decisions were made at the beginning of the school year to provide the best education to ALL of our students

Our At-Home Learning teachers are, for the most part, teaching from their local schools. They participate in the school supervision schedule, and have the benefit of social interaction with their colleagues. Their students either participate synchronously through MS Teams and access their class materials through Edsby or our D2L/Brightspace LMS, or they use only Edsby, the LMS, and email to connect with their teachers. The few who require paper resources function much as “correspondence courses” would have in the past, with packages created weekly, and which are delivered via the student’s home school.

Synchronous Learning

It is fascinating to visit the classrooms of these teachers. Due to bandwidth, many of the students remain “cameras off”, but that hasn’t limited their participation.  You can hear the excitement in their voices, and in their contributions to the chat. The use of many tools such as Dreambox and

Asynchronous Learning

For many families, having the flexibility of anytime/anywhere learning is working for their children. The daily content is provided via Edsby or the LMS, and families can work at their own pace to access multimedia resources. Some “asynchronous” students will join into daily Teams meetings, then head off to work independently for the balance of the day. Others depend upon daily emails to connect.

“Paper Packages”

The third option has been problematic for some of our teachers, as they have to translate rich multimedia resources into single-dimensional paper versions.  However, for some families this solution is working well. The distractions that accompany use of an iPad or computer are removed, and parents are comfortable assisting their children to work with paper worksheets. We continue to look for ways to bring some of our richer resources “offline”, and provide them to families in a downloaded version on a device, so that they can make use of audio and visual content.


Rather than attending school for two semesters in a year, all of our Secondary students, both remote and in-person, are attending eight octomesters. They have one class for about 22 days, then move to their next course.  This has allowed us to be very flexible, and move students into our programs, or back to their home schools, where necessary. However, planning a program for fewer than 400 students, with a limited team of teachers, is becoming more and more challenging as the year progresses. We have offered most of the compulsory courses, except for French (due to a lack of qualified teachers). And so now we are looking to provide engaging courses that will support a diverse group of learners. As with our observations in the quadmester model in the fall of this school year, student achievement seems to present as an inverse bell curve. A group of students are doing very well in the model, and a group of students are finding it very difficult.  The group in the middle is very small, but are likely meeting similar success to that achieved in face-to-face settings.

Moving Forward

Over the next while there will be decisions to be made regarding the 2021-2022 school year. It’s likely that a version of At-Home Learning will need to continue, and there will continue to be students for whom this model is preferred. What that will look like is still to be determined.  I look forward to our conversations, and to the creation of a new system.