Truth and Reconciliation Part 2

Boozhoo, Aanii, Amanda Hardy ndizhinikaaz; N’Swakamok ndi-daa, Teme-Augama ndonjiba; Mukwaa Dodem, Anishinabekwe nda’awi.

Identifying myself in my language acknowledges my family, my clan, my culture and my history. It fosters a strong sense of belonging, something I sought for so long. This is not something I have always had in my life. I feel immense gratitude for the people, experiences and lessons that have afforded me the confidence, pride and the capacity to identify as an Anishinabee Kwe (Native woman).

When I introduce myself in my language, I am honouring the work of those before me who made this possible for me and so many others. Those who preserved and shared our language and culture successfully resisting acts of genocide committed against Indigenous Peoples.

Learning and sharing the truth of the impact of residential schools and other horrific acts committed against Indigenous People is a vital first step in reconciliation. Additionally, deepening our understanding of how intergenerational trauma occurs and how it manifests in our students may help us in developing a broader understanding of the current barriers our students experience. These can seem overwhelming or even unattainable tasks.

For me, I try to look at one piece at a time. I ask myself, “What is one action I can take today that might make a difference?” Speaking my language, learning and sharing my culture, and acknowledging my Indigenous identity is not something that Indigenous People across Canada have been always able to do. This seemingly simple act of identifying myself holds deep meaning for me and many others, illuminates my sense of pride and supports community healing. It is incredibly powerful to acknowledge who I am, and to speak my truth as we work towards reconciliation together.

As a suggestion for addressing difficult conversations, I’d like to offer one of my favourite ways ~ picture books. Picture books offer teachers opportunities to introduce topics, generate thinking amongst their students and to teach many concepts over the course of a unit. Below you will find the titles of some from my personal collection. Check them out:

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes by Wab Kinew
When We Were Alone by David Robertson
Not My Girl and When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokaik-Fenton
I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kasser
Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell

In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation I continue to develop my self-understanding and I hope that as an Anishinabee Kwe, an educator and a mother, I may encourage Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and educators to embrace who they are and reflect on the actions they may take towards reconciliation, however small they may seem.

Truth and Reconciliation Part 1

As I reflect on the meaning of Truth in relation to the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, I recognize the privilege I have had in being able to discover, understand, speak and align with my truth. I am left to wonder though: 

How many remain silenced? And What can I do to help others uncover and align with their truth? 

Where do I belong?

As a young girl of mixed heritage, growing up with my mother, father and one older and one younger sister in a modest home in Northern Ontario, I felt out of place amongst my maternal Indigenous family, with my white skin, blue eyes and blond hair. My sense of belonging was also challenged amongst my French Catholic paternal family, as my English tongue and questioning beliefs screamed that I did not belong. Accordingly, for most of my life I tried to find my place.  Where did I belong?  

As a white passing person I have often overheard racist, stereotypical remarks made by people, further challenging my sense of identity. I did not feel Indigenous enough to retort. Even I questioned my Indigeneity.  

They belong

Early September is often spent on Getting to Know You activities. We ask our students about who they are, what their interests are, favourite subjects and much more. We strive to create learning environments centred around students feeling as though they belong. We aim to foster feelings of safety and care. We spend countless hours throughout the school year talking and connecting with our students. We decorate our classrooms in ways to create comfort and foster positive feelings. Our class becomes a family for ten months. And they all know we belong. 

Hands On: 

Over the years I’ve used a variety of methods attempting to create a sense of community and helping students get to know one another. The following is one of my favourites. It allows students to reflect on their interests and express themselves in a non-threatening way. The activity is ongoing throughout the year and highlights a number of abstract concepts we want our students to grasp.  Self-awareness, self-esteem, and interconnectedness are just a few. 

In this activity each student writes their name on an envelope then decorates it with favourite colours, interests, family members, or anything that is important to them. Students then take turns telling their classmates about their envelope. We notice things that make us unique and some things that are similar. Afterwards the students each write a note about something they like about themselves or draw a picture. Examples could be I am kind, I am a good friend, I like to help my teacher or a picture of a heart showing they are loving. The notes are placed into their envelope. Next, we hang a rope across a wall and use a clothespin to attach each envelope. A conversation about how we, just like the envelopes, are all different, but there are some things that are the same too follows. We notice that all the envelopes are connected to one another on the string; just like we are all connected. Finally, we talk about the feelings that came up while we were doing the activity. Students generally express positive feelings arising and as class we come to understand that we can generate more positive feelings every day by reminding ourselves of all those great things we wrote about ourselves. As the year goes on, we write more notes to ourselves, fostering a strong sense of self-esteem; and also to one another, building positive relationships and a strong sense of community. 

We belong too.

As educators we strive to ensure the optimal environment for student growth. By creating and working in a loving, positive environment, our students aren’t the only ones that grow. In all the nurturing we do, we sometimes forget how much growing we do alongside them; How we gain confidence in our teaching abilities; How we learn different ways to manage challenging emotions amongst our students; How we understand curriculum more clearly; How relating to our students gets easier; How our communication with guardians/families changes. As we teach our students to love and accept themselves and each other, we realize we are worthy of that same love. And it is important that we model self-love and self-acceptance. By fostering the development of a classroom community, where everyone feels like they belong, we realize we belong too. 

My hope is that by sharing my truth with you today, you will find the courage to discover and speak your truth. Share yourself authentically with your students, your family and friends because everyone deserves to be heard, be seen and belong. In my next post you will learn other ways to take action towards reconciliation.

More Than an Educator

Who are you? How do you identify? What makes you, you?

You are an educator. Maybe a parent, a son or daughter; maybe you’re a partner, or sibling; perhaps you’re an auntie or an uncle.
We play a lot of roles throughout our life’s journey. Sometimes these roles carry many specific tasks and responsibilities. Oftentimes these roles begin to blur and overlap.
You might be a teacher and a parent, bringing your own children to your school’s fun fair; or perhaps you’re a parent watching your child play a sport with a current or former student. Maybe you are transitioning from being taken care of by your parents to being the caregiver of your parents.

For many years, my sense of identity came from the roles I played in the lives of those around me: teacher, wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend. I strived to be the best at each of those roles. However, what the best teacher needed to do for her students, school, colleagues, principal or community didn’t provide me with adequate time or energy to also be the best mother or wife; or to fulfil any of the other roles I played. Perfectionism consumed me for years. The pressure that, in hindsight I realize I at least partially put on myself, led to burnout, resentment and strong feelings of inadequacy on all fronts.

As a new teacher, I often was reminded of the importance of ensuring self-care was a part of my routine. Sure, I went out with friends, had the occasional spa day or enjoyed family time on Saturday mornings; but what I needed extended beyond bubble baths and the occasional child-free shopping trip. What I needed was better day-to-day balance.
What I needed was the time, space and place to breathe. And I needed it everyday.

Breathing, meditating, reflecting, slowing down or stopping, provided me with the opportunity to truly care for myself. Mindfulness became the best mode of self-care for me. Mindfulness taught me that I am worthy; that I am enough. I reconnected with my “self” and relearned what it means to be me; Now I choose me everyday. I have learned to say no to things that drain me. I learned to no longer let myself down; and I continue to make efforts to let go of the guilt associated with feeling as though I’m letting other people down.

In being still and letting go of unattainable expectations I became much more than I was. I began to better understand all that made me me beyond the roles I filled in the lives of my loved ones. I became Amanda. Not mom, not daughter, not teacher; not anything else but myself. I reconnected with the Gardener, the Chef, the Yogi, the Painter, the Musician, the Writer.

So however you identify, remember to take time to be you, for you, everyday.

Here I Am

I am so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s 2022-2023 Heart and Art blog. For many years I have worn more hats than I can count. “Writer” is not a hat I’d thought I’d see myself in, yet here I am!

As a student, my favourite subjects were mathematics and science. I swam competitively and played soccer, and did not consider myself the least bit artsy. However, once I was introduced to arts-based methods, and began using the arts as a way to express my thoughts, feelings and ideas, the more I found them to be beneficial to my reflective teaching practice and supportive of my contemplative practice. As the years went on writing became a concrete form of self-expression alongside the arts-based practices. Writing also provides me with the opportunities to track my thoughts and ideas and personal growth in a concrete way.

This year I hope to share some of my experiences and my learning as a long-time Ontario educator and ETFO member, and to inspire and support you, my readers and fellow educators as we navigate a brand new school year.

Whether you’re new to the profession or a long time educator, you have chosen a rewarding, yet challenging career. I hope by sharing some of my ideas and experiences, you will be inspired to incorporate new ideas into your teaching practice as you continue growing and learning on your journey!