Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

An Impact Assessment of the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network (AESN)

2.4.3 Constraints on teacher learning

Before ending discussion of the implications of the above literature, we want to draw attention to a potential gap in how these scholarly fields consider professional learning; that is attention to the pre-existing, dominant discourses that teachers bring to his/her practice. Discourses are powerful semiotic markers that allow us to ‘see into’ how teachers conceptualize and practice their craft, as they serve as frames through which the act of teaching is delivered, enacted and understood. There are many powerful discourses that shape teachers’ beliefs and practices; one worth highlighting in the context of the literature reviewed for this study is that of ‘deficit thinking’, and the inter related beliefs about Aboriginal students.

As the Aboriginal scholarship in particular notes, deficit discourses permeate teachers existing practices and approaches to working with Aboriginal students and communities. As such, they are often naturalized responses that enable the construction of personal and professional narratives that explain the attributes or limitations of particular classes of learners or communities. The tendency to label and categorize students is also reinforced through institutional systems that use categories to construct approaches to teaching and learning. Recall the earlier discussion about how Aboriginal education was initially delivered in school districts through separate programming: such responses are examples of systematic approaches to service delivery targeted to specific populations, in this case, Aboriginal learners. While rationalized as ‘support’ or ‘help’ for targeted students, as Williams (2000) points out, such approaches act to ghettoize or isolate learners, and also fail to influence the practices of mainstream teachers. What can be drawn from this scholarship and analysis is the need for approaches to Aboriginal education that dismantle deficit discourses and builds in structures and processes that continually seek to deconstruct naturalized discourses that reinforce professional tendencies or predispositions to approach education through the lens of homogenization; that is, where students are grouped or described as a category of same featured individuals, a feature of the colonizing processes of schooling. In other words, a move from “othering” to “respecting and embracing difference” must be a fundamental feature of teacher approaches for how to create enabling learning environments, essentially a strength or asset based approach to thinking about students and their communities.