Decolonizing Pedagogy: Using Student-Centred and Culturally-Responsive Learning to Support Indigenous Student Success
What is this Research About?
Indigenous students are under-represented in post-secondary classrooms. If universities and colleges do not strive to decolonize higher education, Indigenous students may continue to face barriers to making career and economic advances. Decolonized classrooms often include culturally-responsive and Indigenous pedagogy that offer healing. In order to implement these approaches effectively, transformational change of educational systems is required. This kind of substantial change was observed at a high school in Saskatchewan between 2010 and 2014. This high school has a large Indigenous and “non-traditional” student population. Student outcomes improved dramatically during the four-year study period. For example, student graduation rates increased from 3% to 55%, credit completion rates increased from 31% to 81%, and attendance rates increased from 52% to 77%. The researchers explored the changes in the school that may have contributed to these new outcomes. The researchers identify specific teaching strategies, attitudes, cultural considerations, wrap-around support services and physical features that were implemented in the school.
What did the Researchers Do?
The researchers used a case-study approach to understand which teaching strategies used and changes made at one Saskatchewan high school were most beneficial to Indigenous and “non-traditional” students. The researchers interviewed 7 educational faculty, 3 of whom identify as Indigenous. The staff discussed their teaching methods with the researchers, and the researchers analyzed the information to identify themes.
What did the Researchers Find?
The researchers identified 6 themes from the interviews: culturally-relevant teaching practices, student-centred education, teacher supports, positive learning environment and social system, relational pedagogy, active learning, and inquiry-based pedagogy. Multiple school-wide support strategies were used by all school staff. A wholistic, student-centred approach was used, including addressing spiritual, academic, physical, medical, social, housing, and financial student needs. The researchers found that teachers worked collaboratively to offer an inclusive and equity-based school environment, which differed dramatically from the students’ previous school experiences. The staff empowered students by supporting Indigenous culture and pride. The school provided childcare, Elders, and ceremonies to foster a sense of belonging and family. Teachers were considered healers and allies for the students. Teachers learned about inquiry-based learning through on-going professional development. These new school dynamics and the non-hierarchical approach were important factors in the decolonization efforts in the school environment.