“S0, Why Are You Here?”

As I prepare for an exciting new semester, I also prepare for an exciting new leadership role with UR S.T.A.R.S. A group dedicated to anti-racist/oppressive education; a group of inspiring, influential, and incredible colleagues and faculty members from the University of Regina. As I began introducing myself to the Executive Director role I will share with Cassandra Hepworth, I was asked about my journey here: How did you end up here? Why did you end up here?

I believe Indigenous peoples of Canada should not have to mentally prepare how to act around Caucasians; I believe we should be able to share smiles, handshakes, and equal education and career opportunities. I believe all individuals should be able to apply to any educational opportunity-there should be no exceptions made to the individuals with autism. I believe the stigma surrounding mental health needs to be removed; no one deserves to be labeled “crazy” or “pathetic” because they are fighting an invisible illness. I believe new Canadians should be welcomed with open arms, and not expected to meet the arbitrary “Canadian” list of values defined by the same government who maintain “The Indian Act.

It is the work UR S.T.A.R.S. does for these oppressed groups in society that drew me to join and work, and now lead, alongside great colleagues to provide resources, professional development opportunities ,and open panel discussions to make these topics less awkward and to influence others to provide anti-racist/oppressive education.

My obvious passion for education, an inclusive learning environment and society provided a strong foundation to my path. As my awareness of our history and relationships with First Nations peoples increased, so did my interest in learning and working to share this important information- sharing these truths to work towards reconciliation. The wise words “once you see it, you can’t un-see it” stuck with me, and I believe this is information and learning that must be seen.

Furthermore, as a friend it is an important component of my relationships. I do this work as the work of a friend. I work towards reconciliation and and inclusive society with the constant thought of my friends who, with their ancestors, have fought for this for hundreds of years; my friend whose transgendered child was terrified to share who he really is; my friends and family who refuse to be labeled “crazy” so they silently deal with anxiety and depression.

There is a strong personal element behind every step I take; these personal relationships continue to push me through the roughest terrain on the journey. While I know my steps are small, and I will be wrong and make mistakes, “if it is worth doing badly, it’s worth doing.” If our message positively affects one person out of 1000, that is one more person taking our message to 1000 others.

There will no doubt be difficult days with resistance and frustrations; it is in these moments we must remember to continue to learn. I look forward to building and forming many new relationships, as well as sharing many opportunities to learn and grow with Cassandra, the UR S.T.A.R.S. team, and each and every one of you!

 

 

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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.

C’Mon, Teacher Light My Fire

“Education is not the filling of the bucket, but the lighting of the fire.”

From the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, this quote reminds me what education truly is- not “drill and kill” and standardized testing but inspiring, motivating, and creativity. Emphasis is placed on the nurturing and cultivating of a student’s interests and creativity; teaching becomes the guided experience in the subject area, and not the reciting of materials and need for right answers. In a classroom where the teacher is lighting the fire, the students are problem solvers, independent thinkers, interested researchers: they are engaged learners, no matter the topic.

A teacher is not teaching to the test, and a student is not simply regurgitating information to be lost in mere days. A teacher is providing and guiding students down a path of engaging, self-driven learning that teaches all involved. When one teaches in this environment, two will learn.

An environment focused to light the fire in the students is lead by a teacher who knows the match is made of respect. Respect for the student, his/her interests, and his/her way of learning- no matter the pace, presentation, or learning preference. Respect is a two way street and once it is received, it is often soon returned. The focus on respect in the classroom allows strong relationships to form amongst teacher and students and a welcoming, safe learning environment to develop.

This quote resonates with me because it exemplifies my beliefs. Students are not buckets to fill, they are fires to stoke. In order to be able to stoke such fire, it is key to light it first with respect and positive relationships which allow students to feel safe to take risks, to engage, to guide their learning. Most importantly- to take their learning further, to be the action and spread their fire beyond the classroom. Teaching curriculum is a praxis-we learn together, and we apply it even further. Take action. Be change. This is what lighting the fire looks like.

I believe this is how education is to be, and I look forward to a classroom where I can build, light and spread the fire in my students.

 

 

 

 

La Loche: My Call to Action

Today, I am at a loss. Motivated by social justice and bringing forth awareness to my classroom, yesterday’s school shooting in small town Saskatchewan resonates with me.

La Loche, Saskatchewan- the most recent site of terribly violent acts. A town riddled with deep rooted issues, most notably addiction and suicide, which are both three times higher than the rest of the province. Importantly, as media has not failed to strongly note, the community is “overwhelmingly Aboriginal.” 

These issues should not come as a surprise; these stark facts should not be ignored. Are they scary? Yes. Should they trigger an emotional response? Yes.

Should they motivate us to respond in a helpful manner? Yes.

But will they?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has been shining light on these serious issues- they should not come as such a surprise as they have been the last two days. Recently issuing their Calls to Action, our nation has been told it is time. It is time to acknowledge the history, the pain, the wrongdoing and work together in assisting our First Nations people towards regaining their culture, their language, their place in the country they too call home.

Yesterday’s shooting puts things into perspective. I see the hashtag: #prayersforlaloche. And, yes, I am praying for Laloche: the devastating loss of two teachers and two brothers and the families, friends, and community. I am also reading, learning, pushing myself to understand why. Pushing myself, as a future educator, to respond to the TRC and act. Spread and provide knowledge, awareness, support, respect, and assistance- not just the information, those basic facts, those chilling statistics.

Because it is time we actively answer in a helpful manner.

 

 

Duh, It’s “Commonsense”

“It’s common sense. How don’t you know that?”

A common phrase we hear in regards to common sense. Often, it leaves one feeling embarrassed, possibly stupid, for not identifying this common ‘everyone knows it’ knowledge. While we are under the impression common sense is what we need to survive, Kumashiro presents an excellent reason to avoid boasting common sense knowledge, particularly with respect to teaching, in “Against Common Sense.”

Kumashiro defines common sense as oppressive. Marginalizing. It limits the possibilities because of it’s common defined expectations for the classroom. Furthermore, he emphasizes common sense varies from culture to culture, country to country. What we view as acceptable, common sense approaches to teaching in Canada, does not look the same in the next country, like Nepal. Our common sense approach of fun, engaging, student lead does not match the common sense approach of lecture-practice-exam in other countries. Our strong opinions of our way being common sense results in our knowledge becoming oppressive, negative, and we, in turn, look like monsters as we force our way as being the right way.

Common sense does not equate to right. Common sense, perhaps-upon reflecting on Kumashiro’s writing, is not at all what we want when we enter our classroom. Rather than focus on what research drills as the effective, acceptable methods, it is necessary to focus on all the common sense teaching approaches in the world to teach our students. In accepting the vast “common sense” approaches students across the world succeed with, it is then we can be accepting, successful teachers in our varied classrooms.

It is important we focus on common sense to work towards avoiding oppressive education. In being self aware of our use of common sense, we are able to effectively teach our diverse student body here in Canada. We must be mindful and accepting of other approaches in order to succeed in front of our classroom. We must approach teaching with an open mind, aware of the vast different learning styles and teaching approaches success can be cultivated from.

Is one common sense approach better than the next? Do our assumptions of common sense ensure there is no one left behind?

 

Feedly Finds: Spreading Awareness

It is no secret my passion is working with individuals with special needs. For 15 years, I have worked alongside some of the most amazing individuals; the past three years, I have dedicated my self to working, learning, and spreading autism awareness. Looking at my Feedly account, it is clear working with these students is exactly how I want to spend my teaching career.

This weekend I read two outstanding blogs about other individuals dedicated to spreading this same awareness,

The first article shared the story of a young student with autism who spent the month of April educating his fellow peers who bullied him about why he is different. He believed “they say weird things to me ’cause they don’t know what autism is.” He shared facts every day during announcements to educate everyone in his school. The result? He won the Everyday MVP Award” in his community and local news station.

This is so important to me because not only is this autistic child stepping up socially to stand up and make others aware of why he is how he is, but the community also realized the importance of his message and spread his message beyond the school walls.

The second article shared the innovative changes a social worker and EMS personnel are making to educate first responders on how to assist individuals with intellectual disabilities. This is outstanding and inspiring. The past few years working with autism, I have been surprised at how little fellow colleagues and friends know about this disability. While I do my best and I share all the information I can when asked, this article motivated me. It is this professional development that we need in education. With the increasing numbers of children with intellectual disabilities, it is vital that educators have an understanding of how to approach, include, and teach these children.

I am thankful for the individuals in these articles. It inspired me to get working on a similar project with the autistic student I work with in the final few weeks of school. The second article inspired me to start asking questions and suggesting developing a similar program for our city.

Feedly- thank you for again motivating me to be the change I want to see.

Random Reflections on the Day it Began

November 9, 2012. The day it all came together. The day I hesitantly accepted a contract as an educational assistant to pass the time as I worked my way into nursing. Little did I know that day, that hesitant first step into an elementary school would also be the first step onto the path of education I am now cartwheeling down excitedly. This week, as staff and students excitedly prepare for new fall placements and the summer holidays, I can’t help but feel somewhat sad as my days at this school, in this position dwindle down. It is a fact, at twenty nine, I am retiring from my first career to complete my degree and fulfill my career dreams as a middle years teacher.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I did not expect 50 crazy seven year old students to jump into my heart and ignite my passion. Nor did I expect the many colleagues to spark the fire beneath me to return to university to just do what I am meant to do and teach.

But it happened. Not a day goes by where I am not told “Jasmine, you are a teacher in every sense of the word.”  How is this so? Well, my teacher voice is phenomenal. As are the tears that well when I celebrate a student’s success, or when I identify with the student when they are frustrated.I share the excitement when a student receives an A, wins a trophy at a tournament or reads their first chapter book. I beam with pride when students include the special needs student, or when that impulsive, defiant student finally identifies with the emotions of another child. I realize the full potential each student has and I research as much as I can to ensure I can unlock that potential in each student. If it means brushing up on my hockey trivia, or watching Star Wars for a weekend, I do it. I value the importance of relationships to foster a learning environment and I stop at nothing to ensure I can reach all the students I work with.

As I reflect on my past three years as an educational assistant and prepare myself as a teacher, I am thankful for the experiences, memories and colleagues I have had the pleasure of spending the last few years with. I have gained beautiful insight working with various teachers and I have developed my education philosophy from watching my colleagues as I assist in their classrooms.

Despite feeling emotional about my departure from the staff and students I have spent the last three years with, I am also excited to think the next time I work alongside these great people I will be in my own classroom.

To think of where I would be now, if I had never taken that first step.