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.

Care

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.

Respect

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.

Trust

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

Integrity

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. 

Action

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).

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