Aboriginal Inquiry: Lifting All Learners

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

8.5 An initiated impact on culturally responsive teaching practice

The AESN has made significant inroads into developing a space for how one goes about shifting teachers’ practices in ways that decolonize their approaches to teaching and learning. The AESN was an outgrowth of the NOII , as noted earlier. It provided an important early platform for introducing inquiry-based research into teachers’ daily practice. But it was when the idea of culturally responsive teaching and Aboriginal ways of knowing were incorporated into a second network, that significant changes in teacher’s beliefs and attitudes began to shift.

As the cases and narratives illustrate, there were many teachers for whom this introduction to thinking about Aboriginal ways of knowing and culturally inclusive practices was completely new. For non-Aboriginal teachers in particular, the familiarity of schooling and the idea that as teachers they played a largely positive role in the lives of the children and families they worked with was the norm. To have this challenged; to see themselves as part of the problem and not part of the solution was an enormous shift. The powerful stories individual teachers shared with us show the extent of the dissonance they experienced. But it also shows their perseverance and willingness to embrace new ways of being and teaching. We think there have been some immense successes; but we are not all the way there yet. As the stories from some Aboriginal educators makes evident, there are still patterns of privilege that exist in schools around the province. And the voices of Aboriginal teachers, while strong, isn’t always enough to end decades of settler thinking. We think that this is a powerful role that the Network can play; to model deconstructive thinking—by this we mean deliberate and ongoing efforts to unpack assumptions about education that serve to continually marginalize Aboriginal learners—and to promote what has been described in our literature review as anti-oppressive teaching practice. A focus on this, when coupled with the existing emphasis on understanding the holistic nature of teaching and learning with Aboriginal communities will ensure the impact builds towards sustained transformation.