Province-wide collaboration deepens Indigenous perspectives in teaching programs

Ten post-secondary institutions partnered to develop culturally responsive teach
Ten post-secondary institutions partnered to develop culturally responsive teaching resources for K-12 teachers.
Werklund School academics join with nine other post-secondaries to help educators confront anti-Indigenous discrimination

Academics in the Werklund School of Education are partnering with colleagues from nine other Alberta post-secondary institutions to explore how teacher education programs across the province are addressing racism by integrating Indigenous knowledge into their curricula.

The project, named Combatting Racism Towards Indigenous Peoples Through the Inclusion of Indigenous Perspectives in the Classroom: Bachelor of Education Programs and Schools Working Together, came about because of the Alberta Education Teaching Quality Standard 5 (TQS5) requirement that teachers possess and apply a foundational knowledge of Indigenous peoples in their practice.

Teachers have been working to meet the mandate since it was introduced in 2018, but some questioned whether they were going about it correctly, or could be doing it better. 

"We noticed that our instructors and mentor teachers were saying they were not 100 per cent sure if they’re doing this right ," says Dr. Patricia Danyluk, PhD o, noticing that reluctance, we decided that it was important that we offer instructors and teachers the opportunity to do this and to create some resources."

Danyluk adds that helping practicing and future teachers to confidently fulfill this professional obligation also served the need to address Indigenous racism. "We believe that racism towards Indigenous people isn’t talked about much because it is so ingrained in our society. Teaching children this knowledge in the classroom is probably the most important tool we have to combat this racism."

Meaningful learning

The initiative began with a thorough examination of current teacher education programs to understand what work was being done and what improvements were required. 

One significant finding was that the TQS5 had acted as a catalyst, with seven out of 10 participating institutions reporting that the standard had prompted deeper integration of Indigenous knowledge into their programs.

The group also found that the post-secondary teaching programs  most commonly weave in this knowledge via course content. Examples include sharing information about Indigenous history, residential schools and treaties. 

Danyluk says content provides a foundational level of knowledge, but additional work is needed to extend learning in more meaningful ways. "W e need to do this through processes and pedagogies, such as getting students involved in things like land-based learning, storytelling and experiencing circles. Teaching them how to use these in the classroom."

Danyluk adds that encouraging teacher education students to create lesson plans and design resources that incorporate Indigenous perspectives are also valuable strategies. 

Following the internal review, the team reached out to Alberta teachers, with 247 responding to the survey and 30 participating in follow-up interviews. The results indicated that teachers are leading the integration of Indigenous knowledge in schools. 

"Teachers are being supported by their principals and school boards, but really, they are doing a lot of the work," says Danyluk. "They are doing work outside of the classroom, like reading books, taking courses, going to websites, just learning more about Indigenous knowledges, so that they have that information to take into their classroom."

Indigenous team leaders

In addition to "self-decolonization" work teachers are engaging in, a major factor in alleviating their fears about appropriating culture or using incorrect terminology was the presence of Indigenous team leaders in schools. These individuals are teachers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who colleagues can turn to for guidance when unsure how to proceed.     

"T eachers can go to them and say, ’Hey, I was thinking about trying this in the classroom. Is this appropriate? Is this respectful?’ And the Indigenous team leads are there to support them and say, ’You know, I would change it in this way, or I’d adapt it, or maybe go to this resource instead,’" explains Danyluk.

"We found this is critical, absolutely crucial, to doing this work."

Teaching resources

Based on the insights provided, Danyluk and her partners created culturally responsive lesson plans for use by K-12 teachers. Topics explore the differences between Western and Indigenous ways of knowing, conservation of biodiversity and patterning in math with traditional Métis sashes.

"The lesson plans are free," says Danyluk. "If you click on a plan, you have the lesson plan, you have activities, you have slides, you have assessment activities. So, everything a teacher needs is here. 

"They can just go in and use them, or they can adapt them to their classroom."

In addition, Métis, Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators from across Alberta shared their experiences, insights, and teaching strategies in a series of 10 podcasts. 

Additional lesson plans and podcasts are currently in development.

Reflecting on the project and the resources, Danyluk says she took inspiration from scholar and activist Dr. Cindy Blackstock who encourages academics to act rather than simply publish another paper.   

"That’s what we’re trying. We’re trying to do something that supports pre-service teachers, supports in-service teachers, and helps them to see how this is connected to combating racism towards Indigenous people."

The teaching resources are available on the project website. 

Combatting Racism Towards Indigenous Peoples Through the Inclusion of Indigenous Perspectives in the Classroom: Bachelor of Education Programs and Schools Working Together received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.