One of the most significant philosophical shifts currently underway in K-12 education is the move to intentionally recognize and incorporate indigenous understandings within K-12 school systems. Increasingly mindful of the ways in which the forces of colonialism and imperialism have wreaked havoc on indigenous communities for generations, jurisdictions across North America are taking formalized steps to ameliorate these effects. With reconciliation between First Nations communities and the broader society as a shared objective, First Nations leaders across Canada have stepped forward to give greater voice and agency to these aims.
One of these voices is that of Wab Kinew, son of a residential school survivor and currently the leader of the New Democratic Party of Manitoba. In The Reason You Walk, Kinew retraces and celebrates his ancestral indigenous roots while thoughtfully exploring the challenges faced by First Nations communities in Canada. With his father’s own healing journey as a backdrop, he also discusses some of the key values that must become broadly institutionalized in order to achieve lasting reconciliation between First Nations communities and society at large. K-12 educators across the post-colonial world would do well to integrate these principles into their own practice as they seek to inculcate indigenous principles of learning.
One of the themes that appears in The Reason You Walk is the crucial link between safety and vulnerability. As Kinew puts it, “My father was raised by people who didn’t love him, and he was punished when he showed any vulnerability. And so the pathology is transmitted to a new generation.” This lack of safety at home bears obvious implications in educational contexts as well. Learners become reluctant to take risks that will contribute to their growth if they do not feel safe and loved. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2016), Carol Dweck addresses the importance of safety in the classroom. “We as educators must take seriously our responsibility to create growth-mindset-friendly environments — where kids feel safe from judgment, where they understand that we believe in their potential to grow, and where they know that we are totally dedicated to collaborating with them on their learning. We are in the business of helping kids thrive, not finding reasons why they can’t.” A sense of safety must be paramount in our classrooms.
Another important principle that Kinew addresses is the value of meaningful work, or — applied in the classroom context — authentic learning. Kinew states that “… going to work each day provides structure, discipline, and a little more meaning to life. It offers an answer to those who ask themselves, “What am I doing here?” … You are contributing to your family, your community, and the world to some extent.” If meaningful work is an important aspect of identity formation, it behooves today’s teacher to allow students the space and opportunity to do work that matters, studying that intersects with the immediate community, and learning that recognizes the interests and passions of the individual. This philosophy lends credence to inquiry-based models of learning that place greater value on student agency and ownership and less value on the ritualized coverage of externally prescribed curriculum outcomes.
A third observation made by Kinew is his critique of the capitalist narrative so deeply embedded in western mindsets. Commenting on his experience in a Roman Catholic church, Kinew writes: “During the singing, I looked around at the immense church riches on display … It is a very different way of looking at the world and the spirit than is our own. One focuses on the accumulation and preservation of things in a static condition; the other embraces flux, motion, and constant renewal.” Western education systems must recognize their bias toward a cultural narrative steeped in individualized competition and consumption versus indigenous narratives of interdependence and sustainability. As a logical application, they must take intentional steps to move away from traditional rank and sort models of education towards structures that emphasize collaboration and shared outcomes. The language of sharing, helping, and sustainability must become so deeply ingrained in the culture of the school that they become synonymous with its identity and mission.
Reconciliation and Relationship
Finally, healing relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous communities in Canada must take place on a micro scale, writes Kinew. “Reconciliation is not something realized on a grand level, something that happens when a prime minister and a national chief shake hands. It takes place at a much more individual level. Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different about them needs to be respected.” Today’s schools can strengthen this value by maintaining a climate of grateful appreciation and respect for the unique contributions of every member. It is only when school communities learn to fully embrace diversity that deep reconciliation can occur and meaningful friendships are born. Canadian schools — particularly those with small nonexistent indigenous populations — must also take practical steps to partner with indigenous communities in tangible ways. True empathy for the other does not appear outside of authentic relationship.
The Way Forward
Each of these four indigenous understandings — safety, authentic learning, shared outcomes, and reconciliation — are valuable additions to any school culture, and I seek to incorporate these values more intentionally and consistently in my own practice. Interestingly, each of the indigenous understandings mentioned here are strongly supported by the teachings of Christ and the early church, and as such they should be a complementary fit within the ethos of my Christian school. The principle that I believe is most noticeably absent from my current context, however, is the fourth: that of tangible relationship-building and active reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. With a large majority of Asian-Canadian students in my school and surrounding community, First Nations are so underrepresented that the vital work of reconciliation stays too often theoretical. I and my colleagues must work harder to go beyond symbolic measures of indigenous understanding and forge authentic partnerships with First Nations in our broader community. It is only then that we can fully realize the powerful reconciliation that Kinew envisions for this country. “A generation ago, education had been the tool of oppression used to hold us down. Now it [is] the tool of empowerment, and we [are] using it to lift ourselves up.”
In this little rant, I talk about the importance of using holiday times wisely. Engage in practices that restore your spirit. Do things that produce wellness. And for the love of God, don’t just stare at screens all day. Be a content creator – not just a consumer. Ask yourself: what can I create that would bring beauty or utility to the world?
How many are YOU guilty of?
Invite students into the learning process … and see what happens! Challenging ideas for my teaching practice from SCSBC’s Darren Spyksma. His talk is a good match for a book I’m reading right now called Leaders of Their Own Learning.
Stephen Colbert and guest David Tennant conclude that yes, he does. Watch the clip to see why.
The use of technology in education should always be about improving learning. It’s not simply about the adoption of the latest application or device, nor is it about trying to appear cutting edge. We know that digital technologies do not produce good pedagogy and student learning by themselves. But we also recognize that the judicious and strategic utilization of technology in the classroom can improve outcomes for today’s learners.
With that in mind, it’s worth reviewing some of the pedagogical and curricular principles that underpin the wise use of technology in today’s classrooms. How can learners benefit from technology?
- Technology can fuel creativity. Digital devices and a growing cloud of creative platforms allow students to build imaginative products to represent their learning. Following the nature of our Creator, we strive to contribute things of beauty and utility to the world, to be content creators – not just consumers.
- Technology can improve communication. Digital devices and applications can help students exchange information more clearly, confidently, and efficiently. Remembering the power of the Word, we learn to use technology to speak truth and light and love into the world.
- Technology can increase collaboration. It’s now old news that students learn better when they work together and engage with others around their learning. The advent of cloud-based applications gives students amazing options for real-time collaboration. Just as God calls us to live and work in community, we learn to study in partnership with peers to improve shared outcomes for every learner.
- Technology can help teachers check for understanding in real time. Interactive programs like Google Classroom, Quizlet, Kahoot, and a host of others can collect valuable formative assessments of student learning. These applications promote active student participation, build metacognitive skills, and give teachers real-time information about the learning progress of their students.
- Technology offers improved access to learning resources. What is the conversion rate between Celsius and Fahrenheit? How big was a portcullis? What does an intersection in Singapore look like? In the age of Google, learners can access facts and large amounts of high-quality information with incredible ease.
- Technology can improve organization. Gone are the days of disorganized binders, missed resources, or poorly managed student planners. Learning management systems such as Google Classroom can archive learning activity instructions and resources, sort student work, and automatically track deadlines and to-do lists. For many students, these services make a quantifiable difference in terms of their growth and learning.
- Technology builds essential skills. We know that our students will grow up in a world immersed in technology, from automated nurses to self-driving cars. To make contributions of value in the marketplace, in relationships, and in all spheres of life, our students will need the digital literacy and computational thinking skills to utilize technology effectively and wisely.
Of course, we know that technology use is not without its risks and pitfalls. The cacophony of voices in the world’s marketplace of ideas seeks to stoke shallow interests and distract our attention from our heavenly mission. The darker narratives of idolatrous narcissism, empty consumerism, moral relativism, and toxic amusement that run throughout our culture employ technology to serve their agendas and draw us into their corrupting influences.
Mindful of this context – and of our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, Christian parents and educators must walk in partnership with young learners as they gradually develop the skills and attitudes of digital citizenship and spiritual discernment. As they engage with technology at home and at school, at work and at play, we know there will be occasional forays into foolishness. Without a doubt, this journey we take with our children will require courage, grace, and wisdom. But through faithful investment in relationships, strong partnerships with community stakeholders, and much prayer, this is a journey that can be very rewarding.
Sometimes we just need to start writing. The ideas will come in time.