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Pedagogical Approaches

Indigenous Student Success requires strong school leadership willing to create conditions that foster the holistic development and well-being of First Nations, Inuit and Metis learners. The following are key strategies in creating environments to ensure success:

  • Ensure that the school community is familiar with the goals of the Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement (AEEA) – and fosters the development – of  Belonging, Mastery and Culture and Community
  • Relationship building between the Indigenous community (Elders, traditional teachers, parents and community members, etc.) and public school system (administrators/educators) in all aspects of education
  • Developing partnerships with Indigenous Education department members who can share their culture and can identify with Indigenous students and vice-versa
  • Creating a school culture based on respect where Indigenous students experience a positive sense of belonging
  • Understanding and incorporating Indigenous perspectives of learning that is: holistic; lifelong; experiential in nature; rooted in Indigenous languages, cultures, spirituality; community based involving family, Elders and other community members

Best Practices for Teaching Indigenous Students

Identity: Knowing who you are and where you come from

  • The importance of relationships in forming connections with Indigenous students is foundational for Indigenous educators.
  • Understanding the relationships with human beings and with all living and non-living things. Knowing who you are in the Indigenous culture means knowing your community, and knowing where you come from is based on your connection with the earth.
  • Best practices with Indigenous learners are grounded first in relationships.
  • Important for Indigenous learners to find a sense of place and belonging within schools.
  • Space can also be created in the ways that a teacher approaches subject matter in the class. 
  • Re-naming can create spaces of belonging within the curriculum: sharing conversations, versus public speaking, leadership versus at-risk student program.
  • Values central to Indigenous Education: trust, autonomy, confidence, encouragement and acceptance.

Political Consciousness:

  • Indigenous Education should not be seen as a single activity, or a token preservation of folkways. 
  • Indigenous Education is more than Beads to Bannock, Aboriginal education must be woven throughout the curriculum.
  • Teachers must be sensitive and aware to the loss and grieving that is historically and politically a significant part of the Indigenous student’s lives.
  • Teaching resides in the distance traveled between the head and the heart.
  • Develop political consciousness in the very young students.
  • Combine critical challenge with issue of importance to Indigenous students and their communities.
  • A critical investigative attitude deploys skills such as inference, direct observation, or identifying bias and angles of vision.
  • Critical challenges help non-Indigenous learners develop a new appreciation for indigenous sources of knowledge and to discern how the truth is portrayed to the media.
  • The ability to relocate: this involves being able to question one’s own cultural background.
  • Seeing the act of teaching as a journey toward learning in itself.
  • Becoming aware of the privilege that participation in a dominant literacy confers.
  • The journey involves creating a new home for the self to dwell in.

Teacher-Student Interactions:

  • Acknowledging the existence of a community beyond the classroom to which the teacher is responsible.
  • Participate and initiate activities outside the classroom, many involving the local Indigenous community.
  • Rely on high, yet attainable expectations.
  • Effective teachers demonstrate an openness to other ways of knowing and other ways of valuing how they teach and handle the materials they use in the classroom
  • Broaden teacher-student relations outside the classroom to embrace the community.
  • Effective teachers were involved in student’s lives.
  • Emphasized the importance of forming relationships, making connections and generally being there. 
  • Involved students in thinking and valuing what they learned.

Observing the Importance of Relationships:

  • Acknowledging the relationships that exist in young people’s lives (family, friends and community).
  • Acknowledge the need of students to find a place of belonging within school and community. 
  • Recognizing the student’s desires to connect with the curriculum, or how it is being taught. 
  • Providing students with opportunities to participate in culture.
  • Honoring the many Indigenous ways of knowing and learning. Being there for students: acknowledge them as individuals. Having faith and confidence in them as learners.
  • Building on their strengths.
  • Participating in extracurricular activities.
  • Being a teacher who is easy to get along with.
  • Creating a relationship with the local Indigenous communities.

Best Practices of non-Indigenous Teachers

  • Develop relationships with students but do not try to co-opt or represent their perspectives. 
  • Challenge students to think critically, model this kind of thinking in lectures and class discussions.

Attributes of Successful Instruction:

  • Setting high expectations: Kleinfield states that high expectations means a teacher’s genuine presumption of acting as if students are fully capable of being autonomous learners.
  • Showing students how to learn.
  • Maintaining self awareness: The instructor does not represent himself as seeing through Indigenous eyes. Instead, identifies and critiques his position within a dominant culture. The teacher makes a distinction between the critical tools to be acquired and the perspective or purpose though which these tools can be filtered.
  • Encouraging students: when evaluating assignments, the teacher provides concrete, positive and immediate feedback.
  • Supporting autonomy: the teacher’s purpose was focused on the independence of the learners. The student’s develop pride and confidence in themselves.
  • Develop a warm supportive environment where learning can take place.
  • Willing to negotiate.
  • Cultivate supportive relationships with students by attempting to see reality from an Indigenous perspective

Personal Characteristics:

  • No recipe for success in teaching.
  • Taking the time to get to know the Indigenous community. Recognizing students for who they are and where they come from. Acknowledging students as individuals.
  • Knowing when and how to let go.
  • Communicating confidence in a student’s ability to learn.
  • Faith in the student’s inherent worth as an individual and as a learner. 
  • Demonstrate an attitude of respect.
  • Enjoy being there.
  • Personal attributes: kindness, honest, flexibility and persistence.

Understanding Teaching as Living:

  • For Indigenous educators, teaching is often a political act.
  • Teaching models a consciousness and awareness of educators as Indigenous persons.
  • Living the values, belief in forming relationships and modeling the belief in the classroom. non-Indigenous educators speak about being genuine.
  • How we teach will communicate how we choose to live and reflect on our lives.
  • David Rattray: Abandon the assumption that living and teaching, private and public are separate.

Showing Respect:

  • Value respect in relationships.
  • Establish a classroom of respect, instances of disrespect are directly addressed.
  • Model respectful behaviour and interaction.
  • Be sensitive to who your students are and where they are coming from.
  • Respecting the complexities of Indigenous identity.
  • Accepting where the students are at in relationship to their identity.
  • Respect extends to daily interactions, knowing when to let go and when to show concern.


  • Educators accept as a given that teachers should try to connect curriculum to Aboriginal learners. 
  • Teachers in this research project stated that teaching critical thinking to Aboriginal students was essential.
  • Teachers need to model a questioning stance toward the subject matter by demonstrating their own self knowledge (cultural identity) and an open spirit of inquiry.
  • Understand the political nature of knowledge and the political nature of curriculum. General or tribal knowledge comes from a particular perspective.
  • Knowledge comes from many sources, which includes emotional and spiritual ones.

Dealing with Conflict:

  • Be aware that sometimes outside teachers often bring rules and protocols that don’t allow for backing down.
  • Conflict can be inflamed by an inflexible model, and appeased through understanding and openness. Operate on a presumption of trust.
  • Be aware of local protocols and processes for resolving conflict.

Evaluating as Part of Instruction:

  • Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers practiced similar approaches to evaluation that included evaluation as an extension of classroom practices.
  • Collaboration and student involvement were the guiding principles of most classroom activities. 
  • Students who devised their own project so perspectives on projects through active engagement provided evidence of their own learning. This is sound practice.
  • Evaluation wasn’t treated as a separate practice but as an ongoing feature of classroom life. Communication with parents is also critical.
  • Feedback needs to be positive and consistent rather than negative and intermittent. Provide students with meaningful choices.


Seeking out ways to turn classrooms into spaces of belonging: those ways may include paying close attention to:

  • Instructional approach
  • Subject matter
  • Critical questioning
  • Collaborative evaluative practices Modeling respect

Combining high expectations, particularly of critical awareness and research skills, with a belief in the importance of relationships in establishing trust and respect.

Acknowledging that teachers are also learners...

Adapted from: Best Practices in Teaching Aboriginal Children: From an Aboriginal and Non- Aboriginal Perspective. By Theresa Wilson, (Master’s Thesis: Conversations with First Nations Educators) 2001 UVic

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