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How can you decolonize a lesson?

Working alongside educators who want to step into the work of Indigenous education and decolonizing practices, is always a joy for me. I can see that educators are shifting and great work is being done all over this province. Having the opportunity to speak with educators about what they are doing and how this work has shifted over time, is really one of the greatest gifts I receive when working with educators. I love it when the light bulb turns on and they make connections to what they are doing and how it is making a difference in the classroom for their students.

As I continue in this work, I am always thinking about, how can I support educators in building their understanding and skills in decolonization? One thing that has been helpful for this, is showing educators how to use their own critical eye in lessons that they already use. How I approach this with preservice educators, is take a lesson plan, any lesson plan, it doesn’t really matter what it is. We then as a class go through the lesson line by line to figure out:

1. Whose voice is prominent in this lesson?

2. Whose voices are missing from this lesson?

3. How can I make sure that more than one perspective is heard in this lesson?

These are beginning questions that we can ask ourselves as we look to decolonize and bring in other voices into our curriculum. As a class we engage our critical lens and talk about who is at the center of the work, and how we could include other voices that could be missing. This process is building on including historically silenced voices from our curriculum. Doing this work as a group or even in small groups, helps to supports everyone’s critical lens in how to see the gaps of what has been missing in the curriculum.

Once we as a class have gone through the lesson, we then talk about what are the voices that are missing from this lesson? How can we include these voices within the lesson? This helps us to make sure we are sharing the whole picture of the topic that we are talking about.

Adding in the whole story is what is needed in our education system, since it has been made upon the single sided narrative of the western colonial story.

Once we have included a wide variety of voices and world views into the lesson, the last piece of this work is making sure that if we are going to use this lesson, what is it that we as the educators need to know about this curriculum? This part of the work is how we as educators hold ourselves accountable in the work of decolonization, knowing that we all are learning and unlearning in this process of decolonization. It is critically important for us to take the time needed to educate ourselves in this process

I thought it might be helpful to see a lesson that I have included missing voices in to show you how we do this work. In the following there is a lesson about dams. After the lesson is the decolonizing process of this lesson. The following two pages show the original lesson in white and the decolonizing questions in red. This is how we can change this lesson to include more voices and more perspectives of dams. Know that this is not the only questions you can add or ask, just some examples of things you can ask.

The original lesson:

Questions to decolonize the lesson:

My hope with this work with preservice educators, is for them to be able to use any lessons they find and build upon them with a critical lens. Having the critical lens will then allow you the opportunity to not always feel like you need a resource to support you in this work. You will have the resources, which is a critical lens and an understanding that it is possible to do this work with any lessons you find.

The reflection process in this work is the work, to continually ask yourself questions about how you are engaging with a decolonized lens. I thought it could be helpful to share some reflection questions to help you build your critical eye in how you show up as an educator in the class, including how and what you teach.

  • From what perspective am I using (social norms, values, worldviews) to inform my selection of curriculum? (Thinking about voices that could be missing, as well as voices that are present, whose voice is at the centre of the knowledge and whose voice is on the margins)

  • How do I communicate my own social and intellectual position, from which I speak when teaching, how does this reflect in the curriculum and how I personally teach?

  • Who are my students and what assumptions do I make about their backgrounds, culture, languages and schooling?

  • Does my curriculum reflect where I am located? (my city, the nations around me, BC and/or Canada) To what extent does it draw on the multiple histories, voices, cultures and languages of this land?

  • How does my teaching recognise and affirm the agency of Indigenous and non-white students? How does my teaching honour and respect their experiences and cultures?

  • How does the curriculum level the playing fields by requiring all students to acquire the intellectual and cultural resources to function effectively in a plural society and support the understanding of racism and oppression?

These are just some questions that I thought would be helpful to think about when you are creating and bringing in curriculum to your classroom. Know that this is a process and a practice. I use the word practice intentionally because work in decolonization is a practice that you do every day. The more you practice, the better you will get at it. So keep up the good work!


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