Focus Question Responses (ECS 101)

Focus Question 1: Teachers, Knowledge, Building Relationships: Invitation and Hospitality

Core Questions: Using your own educational experiences to date, how did you see teachers honouring different ways of knowing and doing in the classroom? In what ways did teachers build a sense of community in the classroom? In what ways can teachers build hospitable and invitational educational environments and relationships with all students?

With past teachers, most of them did not bother to honour different ways of knowing and doing in the classroom. For the most part, classes were always set in solitary lines and students were rarely allowed to speak without being acknowledged., However, some teachers did honour different ways of knowing and doing in the classroom by accommodating those who did not learn in the “I-It” way of teaching. My grade eight teacher was exceptionally good at recognizing this, and she adopted new teaching habits to connect with her students. To reach out to students who did not conform to the assumed way of knowing and doing, she would put aside time in class to practice the knowledge we had gained and gauge where we were individually. She would devote time to illustrate what we learned in an artistic, analytical, and verbal way. Because of her willingness to adapt to her unique students, she built a strong sense of community within the class. It feels as though that many classes have “outcasts” or people that don’t “fit in”. In her class, it was never like this way. We were all able to bond with each other despite being on very different roads of life. Students of different ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations and genders came together in her class while also appreciating differences. Only because she exposed the fact that we are all so different were we able to come together.   

I think many teachers can learn from her. All teachers should recognize and understand that every student is unique. Adaptation to another’s learning is necessary, and no one should be left behind. Success within the classroom is a communal effort and not solely based on the individual. With this understanding, teachers can build hospitable and invitational educational environments and relationships with all students. 

Focus Question 2: Students & Learning Environment: Focus on places, spaces, and boundaries 

Core Questions: Using your own educational experiences, what did the learning environment look like? Describe and draw a sketch of what your classrooms looked like as you went through the grades. How did your classroom space indicate power relationships in your classrooms? Did the space in your classrooms provide you with opportunities to engage with all students in your classrooms? How did this space make you feel? What could teachers do to make classroom spaces more relational?

Throughout my academic years, my classrooms often followed the same formula: teacher desk at the front right corner, whiteboard spanning the entire front wall, motivational quotes on the off-white walls, and student desks in vertical lines facing the front. I presume most teachers resorted to this format as it was simple and easy to keep an eye on all students; however, I always felt that it did no justice to the minds that did not work well in that environment. Not all students can adapt to an environment that makes no effort to adjust to them. In my eighth-grade year, my teacher, Ms. Richter, turned this formula on its head. In our classroom, we had a sectional couch in the center of the room with a matching coffee table, bean bags littered around the room, fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, and the occasional table in some corner of the room. Her formatting of the classroom worked phenomenally well. Many students who preferred the standard arrangement had the option to work and study at the provided tables. Those who wanted a bit more freedom could sit on bean bags and the couch. This setup allowed students to collaborate without someone over their shoulder and invited new ways of being. 

Additionally, Richter would spend time sitting on the sofa, working too, and she welcomed us to sit with her. By doing so, she immersed herself as part of the class rather than being separate from us. Through her method, Richter provided a sense of community, freedom, and trust in our classroom. She trusted that we knew how we wanted to learn and put ourselves in a space that optimized our educational experience. That trust was fundamental to getting other students to communicate with each other and collaborate.  

I think many teachers can learn from Richter. She put herself in a position that allowed her students to trust her and talk to her. It was understood in our class that vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness. She took every opportunity there was to learn from us, and we did the same. Knowledge within the class was a group possession and not inherent to one person. Through this, we grew beyond what we could imagine. Many teachers should always maintain that attitude to ensure that their students have the best educational experience possible.

Focus Question 3: Indigenization Core Questions 

Core Questions: Describe what you learned in your K-12 education about Indigenous history in Canada. Based on your learning in the course, what new understandings have you gained and what would you do for the call to action?

In my K-12 education, I learned a lot about Indigenous history, but I don’t necessarily think I was taught enough. For the most part, Indigenous history was introduced to us as we sat at desks and absorbed facts and statistics about the atrocities committed against the Indigenous Peoples. Facts such as what residential schools were built to carry out, the sixties scoop events, and the infamous starlight drives. Although these were essential pieces of knowledge to obtain, they did not do justice to true history. I believe that what we learned about the past needs to be more illustrative. Without proper illustration of events, students will not fully understand why these crimes were heinous. A good solution would be to have Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers speak to students about what they know and experienced. It is clear that students, specifically younger students, can understand Indigenous peoples’ pain and past through this method, as evidenced by the Truth and Reconciliation booklet.  

Based on my learning in this course, I understand now that what I do and what others do will never be enough to reconcile for the attempt of genocide made by the Canadian people. Even though this is true, it does not mean that I should not put in the effort to understand and empathize with Indigenous peoples. Additionally, I have realized that I owe much of what I take for granted to the Indigenous peoples. I live, eat, sleep, and work on their homelands, and I am merely a guest they have continued to welcome. To make amends for the ignorance I held for so long, I plan to incorporate Indigenous history into the lessons I teach my students and to educate others when they wish to learn more of Indigenous history. It is only through education can any attempt of reconciliation be made.