Curriculum is Common Sense: My Summary of Learning

Over the semester, we have learned, discussed, and reflected on what exactly curriculum is. Mike and Katia lead us through some challenging lessons which allowed us to grow personally and professionally as teachers. As I reflected on this class, I realized the positive impact ECS 210 truly had on me personally. I have been able to identify and become more mindful to the unsettling realities of my white privilege, place of power as a teacher, and common sense ideas are for my students. The class also allowed me to reflect on my personal experiences and turn the negative experiences into positive connections.

I am thankful for the teachings received in this class; I know they are essential to my growth as a teacher.

Here is my  longer than required video of my ramblings about what resonated with me through the course.






Beyond the Classroom: My Personal Experience with Treaty Education

Repeatedly, we are asked to blog why Treaty Education is important, implemented and now mandated to teach. My personal experience as a student in a rural community did not include any Treaty education or First Nations content, leaving me no school experience to reflect on.

The University of Regina’s Faculty of Education has responded to the Calls to Action. As a result, our classes immerse us in the content, force us to face difficult realities including our white privilege, and learn from our First Nations’ peoples what they need from us as educators.

Resistance? I have heard enough to write a book, rather than a blog. Perhaps, like myself, there has not been enough experience to truly understand the trauma forced upon First Nations’ people. Until this week, I had not experienced a personal interaction outside of the University to truly have the necessity of Treaty Education hit home. My professor’s personal experiences shared had opened the door to understanding, but I still needed my own personal account to make the feeling my own.

I attended the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s performance of Going Home Star. An emotional performance telling the pain of two First Nations’ people fighting the demons of Residential School experiences, and working towards healing the deep, scarring pain. The imagery was powerful; a mix of visuals, audio, and choreography strongly sent the message of pain, suffering, torment felt within the walls of Residential Schools. The experience sitting amongst Residential School survivors was surreal. As an educator, in this moment, I acknowledged what I have to do not just in my classroom, but with my families. It is important I create an open, welcoming space to ensure any hesitations caused by a painful past dissipate when family visit my classroom. I want all individuals to feel comfortable and safe in my classroom; I must work with my students and families to create a space of inclusion, learning, and understanding for all.

Beyond the ballet, I was asked to read a grade eight’s project about his identity and what makes him who he is now. Unexpectedly, the student shared his inability to understand his identity because the culture and language was stolen when his granny attended a Residential School. “My Aboriginal roots were stripped, and is now being restored through education.”

Restored through education. Education. That is my role. This student’s personal account translated as a plea to me. There was no more questions left to ask about Treaty Education, how to teach it. There was no more anxiety or discomfort as a white girl about inviting First Nations’ Knowledge Keepers into my classroom upon reading this project.

Our professors at the University of Regina have pushed us outside of our comfort zones for excellent reason. As a result of the pushing, we have met and created an excellent network amongst many First Nations’ Knowledge Keepers and motivating, strong role models our First Nations’ students need. It is vital that we acknowledge the teachings provided, and properly utilize the opportunities professors have worked hard at providing to ensure we can help students restore their culture through education.

Treaty Education: Essential Education for Everyone

Today, there is value in our children knowing and understanding how and why we are all Treaty people. There has never been a better time to teach Treaty education, not only has the Ministry added Treaty Outcomes in 2013, but we finally have ample resources and support to aid us through the difficult change, topics, and conversations we need to have with our students and colleagues.

There is no question, fellow colleagues are going to be hesitant and resistant; it is us, the young, pre-service teachers, that are entering this profession with a strong foundation of Treaty education- stronger than what has ever been provided to teachers- who can lead the change, provide education and comfort to those who are uncomfortable, and include this newly mandatory teaching. Ensuring all of our students understand we are all Treaty people, ensuring our students understand who our First Nations’ people are and what their true role in Canada’s history is, is essential to help our nation step forward together towards healing. It does not matter what the diversity in the classroom is, or if there are no First Nations’ students, Treaty education is necessary for every student, every adult, of every culture and background. In order to avoid another cycle, a further divide, we must bring this education into our classroom; we must teach our Treaties and our history to change what we teach in our current events.

It is not an easy task to bring forth these ideas, with colleagues; this will not be the only time hesitation will be seen amongst colleagues. It is a valuable learning opportunity for both involved. It is the opportunity to professionally express the need and interest of providing students with Treaty education, and it is an opportunity to demonstrate how to teach Treaty education to fellow colleagues. It is important to learn how to handle yourself in such situations, and it is important to maintain your stance, provide thorough explanation, and exemplary lessons to emphasize why Treaty education is important to you and your classroom.

It is important everyone understands what it means to be a Treaty person; it is important we educate students what it means, the history of our Land, the meaning behind the promise. As long as we are inhabiting Treaty land, it is vital we understand the meaning of the Treaty we are a part of. As we share the history of our land, our ancestors, and our First Nations’ peoples, healing will begin, and our nation will bridge the unfortunate divide.

Image Source

Paying Attention to Place

“Learning from Place” demonstrates excellent use of place in pedagogy. Through the narrative, the positive experience for the Mushkegowuk Cree people being on their land, practicing their traditional ways, learning in their traditional ways provided a special, engaging experience for the students and adults who participated in the canoe trip. This experience is an excellent example of reinhabitation. Individuals were able to identify with each other, with Elders, the land, and gain a strong sense of identity, culture, and pride. Through the narrative, decolonization occurs as these individuals come together on their land, experiencing it together traditionally, discussing and travelling using their Cree language.

It is essential to be aware of place when teaching. I have learned the importance of fostering a relationship with nature and the positives that come from the relationship. Further, there is great knowledge that is only available outside the classroom walls. As a teacher, I am able to provide the opportunity for students to develop and respect the land and environment.

I believe to further develop a relationship between my students and nature, it is important to invite First Nations’ Elders to participate and provide authentic teachings of why it is important and how we can foster this relationship. In providing these teachings from Elders, and bringing the traditions to my outdoor classroom, I am taking a step towards assisting in the decolonization of the classroom. To simply stand in front of a group of students and regurgitate text book information in the classroom does not provide enough; in fact, it maintains the colonial mindset. It is time to step outside of the box that is the classroom, and allow place to influence the education provided to students.

Out of Hiding: Bringing Hidden Curriculum Front & Centre

The curriculum has played a vital role in shaping who I am, the knowledge I have, and the views I maintain. I am aware of the written formal document; the document that provides the outcomes I must reach, the indicators I can use. My experience with curriculum, as a student, did not only provide me the mandatory lessons taught because the teacher had to, but it also taught me hidden values, beliefs, and reactions through the curriculum the teacher is not always aware of- the hidden portion of the curriculum.

I learned gender roles- the boys were always chosen to help move and lift furniture, the girls were always chosen to help with the kindergarten supervising and soup making in winter for the town hockey rink. I learned racial profiling- in a town of 368 white people, the understanding, accepting, and inclusion of other races was nonexistent because it did not exist in my town. Any crime was blamed and assumed to have been done by the only First Nations individual living in the town. I learned that “special” kids shouldn’t be with us “normal” kids and they had a special segregated room- endearingly named the “Retard Room” by other students.

I learned the role of the good student, and I learned how to maintain that act to ensure I succeeded. My role as the “good” student was my ticket out of the small town, and into the big city.

Based on this personal experience and growth, I am able to value the importance of the hidden curriculum. It is important to be aware of the influence I have, and to be mindful of what I present to my students. With an open-mind, being knowledgeable while taking risks, I can ensure I place “front and centre” the values and beliefs to promote growth, understanding and acceptance amongst my students. I must model consistency, level-headed reactions, and empathy and inclusion of everyone no matter where they are from, what they believe, what culture they come from, or who they love. It is essential I am mindful of the way I present, encourage, assist, and educate students about difficult personal experiences and tough subject matter including our history and current affairs. Everyone deserves a sense of belonging and identity and it is important I, as a teacher, within my hidden curriculum, provide that to each and every beautiful being that takes a seat in my classroom.

This is the opportunity that excites. The opportunity to watch children learn from each other about each other’s differences to promote the creation of our classroom’s culture and identity, laying the foundation for a safe learning environment in which the formal curriculum can be presented.

Teacher’s “Free” Agency: Written in Sand

Education is political. The budget, the decisions, the curriculum is provided to you by the Ministry of Education, our representative in the Saskatchewan provincial government.

Teachers, while once given the opportunity to work together over summer to create the curriculum and earn their masters (as we learned from Mike in class Monday), have limited input with curriculum outcomes. Today, teachers are the puppets; we put forth our best, most energetic, engaging attempts to reach the outcomes in the curriculum provided by the ministry.

While this could, and does, cause outrage for some- is it really necessary?

At first glance, it is easy to feel there is too much, not enough, many marks completely missed- and what is with that new aged math curriculum!? When we are given curriculum by others that does not fit with what we want to teach, we, as teachers, feel we have no agency in the curriculum.

I feel it is a blurred line.

“Outcomes are written in stone, indicators in sand.” Mike shared this quote Monday and, upon reflecting on that quote in addition to what agency I have in the curriculum as a teacher- I realize I have more power with the curriculum than meets the eye. Because the indicators are in sand.

I can reach outcomes in anyway I want, as long as I reach that bolded outcome. Realizing the indicators are “helpful” suggestions, I also realize I am more than a puppet. I can teach the provided curriculum how I want; it is my discretion on what will indicate my students reached the outcome. Thus, if I feel outcomes IN5.1 and 5.2 are missing some key indicators to truly be able to demonstrate understanding of our Aboriginal heritage of Canada and our multicultural evolution, I can teach based on my own indicators. I do have the ability to ensure I provide students the knowledge I feel is necessary to demonstrate understanding of the outcome. Knowing I do have space in the curriculum to include what is important to me, provides a feeling of relief and empowerment in the classroom- I do have power as a teacher, I can mould the indicators to include the information I feel is important but is not found bolded or italicized in our handy curriculum document.

So, while I may not be provided the chisel and stone, I am provided the classroom and pointer stick to write in the sand- a powerful tool after all.

Johnny, Be Good

Sit straight, look forward, speak when spoken to, regurgitate answers-the answers the teacher wants. Repeat.

The definition of what a “good student” is according to Kumashiro’s Against Commonsense. 

Who is this picture perfect student? The middle-class, white privileged student. It is the student who the teacher was a mere five years ago. The student who aims to please, who is supported at home, who is provided the essentials and taught how to meet the expected expectations to ensure they meet success.

It is the student who is far removed from the realities the “bad” students know. The good student doesn’t live in a poverty stricken home, isn’t marginalized by his/her race or culture, doesn’t think outside the box, doesn’t step to the beat of his/her own drum. The good student is a carbon copy of all that is sadly defined as preferred, acceptable performance in the classroom.

When we define students this way, we lose our sight of the individuals we are teaching. We throw away the unique differences that provide exceptional learning opportunities for everyone. We become frustrated and annoyed with the students refusing to fit into the mould, and we allow these students to fall through the cracks. We are not able to define or understand the actions of “bad” students; we blind ourselves to this students needs by quickly defining anything outside of the acceptable “good” students. This not only fails our student in the classroom, but we fail ourselves as teachers when we choose to simply label behaviour rather than accept and learn from the behaviour.

It is important we look past labels of our students. As educators, we cannot allow a student’s behaviour or lack to conform to the lesson plan result in a negative label. Rather, we must learn from the student, and remould ourselves as teachers and mindful, accepting and inviting of different learning styles.

When we begin to welcome and learn from the students who challenge what is “good,” it is then we begin to truly understand what it is to teach.