Decolonizing Educational Institutions

Dec 29 2022

As Canada continues to work towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities, the authors of this article invite non-Indigenous educators to engage with Indigenous pedagogies as a means to decolonize educational institutions. The purpose of this study was to highlight the value of Indigenous frameworks in effective teaching practices and methods. More specifically, this article focuses on talking circles as a way for Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators and students to “engage in a reciprocal and relational learning process,” prioritizing relationship building and creating diverse learning environments.

Healing Through the Use of Talking Circles

Previous research shows that talking circles, or what has also been referred to as “sharing circles,” can serve as an effective means to encourage “safe communication, specifically sharing and empathy” in various contexts, including public health, community, and social contexts. However, there has been less research conducted around the impact of talking circles in educational settings, emphasizing the significance of this study.

Co-Creating New Expertise

This study attempts to offer theoretical based scaffolding to assist non-Indigenous educators in the practice of talking circles as a pedagogical framework within educational systems. In this way, Barkaskas & Gladwin seek to provide alternatives to traditional, colonial educational practices in Canada’s K-12 and post-secondary educational institutions. Barkaskas & Gladwin emphasize that talking circles serve as a concrete way to decolonize education. Canada’s education system has historically been built on Eurocentric values, where there are only a select few “experts.” However, talking circles recognize expertise as something that is “collectively co-created, held, and shared through reciprocal sharing and learning,” serving to shift the traditional educational paradigm. 

The article then outlines the Indigenous knowledge systems in which talking circles are built – situated relatedness, respectful listening, and reflective witnessing. Situated relatedness calls on all participants in the circle to consider their personal histories and how this is connected to the land they live on. The next phase, respectful listening, asks participants to listen without judgment so that all voices feel seen and heard, therefore fostering compassion and empathy. Lastly, the stage of reflective witnessing requires that all participants focus on their own experiences and use the voices of others to critically reflect on one’s own ideas and perspectives.

Integrating Indigenous Education Into Curriculum

Overall, this study reveals that talking circles can be a strong way forward on the path toward decolonizing education within Canada. As Barkaskas & Gladwin note at the conclusion of their article, “pedagogical talking circles create spaces for exchanging ideas and views, whether similar or dissimilar, with the intentional commitment to meeting each person where they are at in their learning journey.” However, it is also important to acknowledge that Indigenous education must be something that is integrated across all subject areas and viewed as foundational in effective teaching and learning in order to result in transformational change.

Notable Quotes: 

“One of the many catastrophic effects of the Residential Schools, and why both truth and reconciliation remain vital for transformational change, is that Indigenous knowledges were suppressed through a systemic process of devaluation and discreditation (Cote-Meet, 2020). They were replaced with Eurocentric forms of “cognitive imperialism” (Battiste, 2000, p. 198). Reclaiming education through Indigenizing frameworks supports the TRC’s Calls to Action as an immediate response to a legacy of colonialism and as a way to reconsider building sustainable educational futures with Indigeneity and associated knowledge systems as a primary focus.” 

“Including talking circles in classrooms also serves to decolonize institutions by normalizing Indigenous pedagogies and methodologies even in the context of teaching non-Indigenous content. This breaks down the normalized violence of colonial education and supports Indigenous faculty in their work to decolonize and Indigenize universities and schools. Regardless of the challenges it may present, this development can be gradual and still provide impact.”

“We do not imagine that this work is without significant challenges. Educators must be prepared to feel uncomfortable and, as a direct consequence, integrate generative ways of addressing their own discomfort — without relying on Indigenous people as their primary supports—as they come to acknowledge their part in colonization. It is also expected that mistakes will be made, and it is essential for educators to learn from their mistakes in doing the work of decolonization.”

Personal Takeaway: 

When used together, the key elements of Indigenous talking circles (sharing, listening, and reflecting) serve as a strong relationship-building tool and are very similar to the approach that MARIO Practitioners apply to their one-to-one learning conversations. As the authors of this article emphasize, knowledge-building should be a collective process. By placing students at the center of their learning and equipping educators to become better listeners, I believe that the MARIO Framework actively encourages this collaborative learning process and inherently challenges “traditional” approaches to education.—Taryn McBrayne

Barkaskas, P. & Gladwin, D. (2021). Pedagogical Talking Circles: Decolonizing Education through Relational Indigenous Frameworks. Journal of Teaching and Learning, 15(1), 20-38.

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