Full Circle


The circle has special meaning in many First Nation cultures. We often sit in circles at Seventh Fire, an alternative secondary educational program for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students. I feel as though I have come full circle in my educational career.

I have just taken on a new role for one period this semester. It is to support an already established professional development program within the school (SSSSI). My role is to act as a resource to teachers in integrating culturally sensitive pedagogy, instructional strategies, tools and structures responsive to the needs of First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students.

As I began to gather resources and jump start my own learning, I started to write a blog post about Russell Bishop’s research and work in New Zealand with Maori students. His work has fascinated me for years. As I began to write the blog post, I had this feeling that I had already written something familiar. Sure enough, I found a blog post I wrote in 2010 that was nearly identical to what I was thinking. Dr. Bishop’s work has fascinated me for many years and I have never really done anything with it. This new role will give me the opportunity to further explore his work and how it may relate to Ontario and supporting FNMI students.

Most importantly I am interested in how does one support teachers in an effective way to empower them to adapt instruction to meet the needs of their FNMI students. I feel almost like I’ve been “off course” for the past few years while I took such a strong focus on educational technology (as much as I’d like to think I was focused on good teaching, not the technology). My heart has always been with at-risk students and more importantly First Nations students. I always saw technology as a way to support changing how our classrooms function, empowering more students to direct their own learning.

It is now time for me to merge my passions. How can technology, more specifically “1:1 Bring Your Own Device” (each student bringing a device) support teaching and learning practices that meet the needs of the Aboriginal learner?

In the video below Russell Bishop talks about six things that make teachers effective in supporting Maori students.

1. They reject deficit explanations. They do not turn to things like home life, genetics, socioeconomic background to explain low Maori student achievement.  They believe that every Maori can meet with high success in the right environment and feel that it is their responsibility to try to create that environment.

2. They demonstrate that they care for Maori students as Maori and have high expectations for them.

3. They create a learning context where Maori students can draw on their own previous knowledge.

4. They are able to manage classrooms in a way that the pedagogy provides feedback to students in a way that directs learning. Negotiated co-construction of learning. learning among learners. Opposed to simple transmission models.

5. They use a range of teaching strategies well.

6. Evidence of student performance is used to guide where they take their teaching. Ensuring that students know about their outcomes in a formative way, in a way that can help them know where to move next.

He states relationships are paramount to educational performance. Its about caring for people, caring that they learn and creating environments where they can learn. He terms it as culturally responsive pedagogy.

Lastly, Dr. Bishop highlights the fact that teachers need to be supported. They need a structure around them that is fully supportive of their work. They need high-quality professional development. I believe that this is of the utmost importance. This will not happen overnight. I cannot even visualize what the “perfect”math class looks like. What is the perfect balance between direct instruction, inquiry, investigation, collaborative work, students teaching students, etc.? The professional development needed around this is huge.  We need to push ourselves. Try new things and take risks. That requires a great big support system.


A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations from EDtalks on Vimeo.


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