Respect - Connect - Reflect - Direct
The title of this blog post seems simple enough, and yet, after reading Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta, he pointed it out, we get it all backwards.
At the very end of Yunkaporta's book, he offers his Indigenous perspective of an interaction practice that continuously transfers knowledge, energy and resources. This practice starts with Respect, moves to connect, then reflect, then direct, but I thought to myself: "Self, this applies to our education system in Ontario too." He demonstrates how colonial systems approach their interactions with indigenous people starting by directing them how to live, and how to know, and when that all fails, they reflect on how they can make things better. Upon further reflection, they decide that maybe they should connect with the people they are trying to direct, and if indigenous people are lucky, the colonialists will gain some kind of respect for them.
What if we approached destreaming Ontario's compulsory courses from this Indigenous perspective. What if, when our students walk into our classrooms, instead of telling them what they need to know (directing their learning), we first respected the fact that they already know a lot of things, and all of them have very different lived experiences from our own? Let's stop treating them like they are empty vessels waiting for us to dump our brains into theirs so that they can memorize a bunch of "stuff" and regurgitate it onto a test. What if our mindset shifted from "You need to respect me, because I have the information you need to be successful," to "I respect you because you know a lot, and have a lot to offer in this classroom and I look forward to learning from and with you."
With our new mindset of respect first, we can start to make connections with our students. But I don't just mean connecting with them by asking what's their favourite food, or favourite colour, or what they like to do in their free time. Let us find ways for us (teachers) to allow our student to see themselves and show themselves in their work. Let's find ways to allow our students to bring their lived experiences into our classroom and share those experiences with us. Let's connect with them to find out what social issues are important to them, can we find ways to let our students address those issues in their own ways with the courses we teach? Let's connect with them to find out what barriers are in their way for deep learning. Maybe, as teachers, we can help our students address some of these barriers, or cope with them, or even just give them a safe space to talk about them.
Once we have allowed our students to connect themselves to the classroom, the work they are doing, and to us (teachers) by providing opportunities for them to see themselves, we can reflect on how their lived experiences, and their ways of knowing and worldviews might affect their experience in our classrooms. It's going to take some creativity, and it really helps if you have (a) colleague(s) that you can bounce some ideas off. It's going to be important for teachers to have the humility to make and own mistakes. It's also going to be important for teachers to be able to give and take constructive criticism. If we want to be successful in our practices and particularly in destreaming, it's going to be really important for educators to have a safe space to discuss new ideas and pedagogical approaches. We need to have space to talk about our students and to reflect on our own practices so that our students can make, or find, meaning in the work that they are doing.
And finally, now that we have demonstrated to our students that we respect who they are, where they come from and what they bring to our classroom, and we've given them opportunities to connect with the work, and we've connected with them on a deeper level than just their "likes and interests", and then reflected about how to get the most out of our students (instead of trying to get the most "stuff" into our students), we can help direct, but maybe a better word is guide, their learning. We can be responsive to their needs (as opposed to being prescriptive). And if we're really good, we can create situations that bring out a need in our students, or just let them happen organically and be there for them when they need our help or intervention.
Our students need destreaming to be successful this time around. If we are destreaming our compulsory courses through an equity lens, I think it makes a lot of sense to flip the education system upside down...that's why I wrote this post about it. I think we need to stop thinking about teaching and start by thinking about learning. Instead of asking "how am I going to teach this?" we need to ask "what is the enduring learning that we want our students to leave our classes with?" and then let them show us how they've learned it.