School Interrupted

A Shift in Mindset: From Saviour to Ally

November 14, 2022 Debbie Pushor Engagement Group.
School Interrupted
A Shift in Mindset: From Saviour to Ally
Show Notes Transcript

Within the broad field of parent engagement, this episode zeroes in on a topic that may make some people uncomfortable. The topic of white Privilege. White privilege is something that our hosts, Randi and Andrea, grew up with and had no idea existed. As young learners who struggled, and were later diagnosed with ADHD, both hosts wanted to help students who were often forgotten or who did not receive differentiated programming. These feelings were what led both Randi and Andrea to teach in a core community school with a high Indigenous population. Their intentions “to help” were good, they discuss, but nonetheless damaging as they were unawake to the fact that systemic racism created multifaceted issues for their students and their families, issues outside of their own experiences.

Their hope for this podcast is to share their experiences over the course of their Master’s journey that have enabled them to move from being saviours to allies. Wherever you are in your journey, we encourage you to listen to the words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.” 

DiAngela, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.

Gebhard, A. (2012). Pipeline to prison: How schools shape a future of incarceration for Indigenous youth. Briarpatch Magazine.

McIntosh, P. (1989). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Peace and Freedom.

Pushor, D. (2015). Walking alongside: A pedagogy of working with parents and family. In C. Craig & L. Orland-Barak (Eds.), International Teacher Education:  Promising Pedagogies, Part B (pp. 233-253). Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.

St. Denis, V.(2011). Silencing Aboriginal curricular content and perspectives through multiculturalism: “There are other children here.” Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 33(4), 306-317. 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action

This podcast is sponsored by Debbie Pushor Engagement Group Inc. 

Welcome to school interrupted. Join us in rewriting narratives surrounding parents engagement in schooling and education. Let's talk about making a shift to family centric schools.

I'm Randi Bender,

and I am Neufeldt-Rodda and today we are coming to you from the treaty six territory and the traditional homeland of the maytee. As we speak about our journey as white settlers, we pay our respects to the First Nations and maytee ancestors of this land, and acknowledge that the first peoples of this land continue to endure and thrive. In spite of the continued systemic oppression and racism. We recognize that the abuses of the past continue to persist in our education system, and we commit to do our part to effect change and work toward dismantling the systemic oppression, which exists in all levels of our society today,

Andrea and I teach at a school in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada with a high indigenous population. We are white settlers who teach Indigenous students. This episode is about our journey as white teachers of Indigenous students and what that means to us as educators, our students, their families, and their education, please understand that the following conversation is of our thoughts and experiences, and is not reflective of all teachers in Saskatchewan, we understand that we are all on our own learning journey into our traveling at different paces. We know that we are still learning and growing, still making mistakes, we just ask that you listen to this podcast with an open mind and an open heart.

So for the sake of this discussion, Our journey begins when we started working at a school in accord neighborhood in Saskatoon where we both came in with grand ideas of how we could help our students. And I guess, for me, I really went in as kind of in a white savior role. And I didn't realize how much I was in that white savior role until I reflected on it later. And didn't realize how damaging that could be to want to fix them or help them or make them what they weren't. I guess Does that make sense?
Yeah, I'm not gonna lie up until this year, like partway through this year, I think I still had that white savior mentality. I knew what a white savior was. And I understood the damage that it had. But I didn't think that I was still having that mindset, I guess until I don't know if it was when our intern came in, and grade six, seven, or if it was before that. But basically, there are certain students that I didn't want them to struggle, like I struggled when I was growing up, but for different reasons, like not wanting to ask for help, and being shy and things like that. And I didn't want them to struggle like that. So I guess, I still kind of felt some pity for them. And maybe it was when our intern came in, and I got to see her teacher and I realized that that's that's not what they needed to be successful. Like they need someone to push them so that they can overcome those obstacles on their own. Because at the end of the day, we're not going to be there to hold their hand nor, you know, should we be there to hold their hand because that's not our job as teachers.

Yeah, well, and I think as teachers we are often even when we go through school and everything, we're kind of taught that we're the experts, and that we we come into our jobs, kind of assuming ourselves as the experts in all things. When we come in teaching our students, especially when we're teaching students that come from a different culture than us without even realizing it, we're coming in, and assuming that our expertise is what they need, if that makes sense. That's definitely where I have really started to reflect on why I get to decide what is the most important thing for them to learn and how they learn and how just because it's what the way I've learned or the way I've grown up, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's what my students need.

I think one of the most frustrating things for me, once I finally landed my own classroom, and not just subbing was that people would say like, oh, well, you're the teacher, like, you know, you should know everything, right? And there's a lot of pressure, and especially being in a classroom where I was only on a temporary contract, like there's a lot of pressure to teach the curriculum, to, you know, check certain boxes. And so, instead of asking for help, I thought that I had to do it on my own and I thought that you know, we'll all just go find resources on the internet or all look onto Teachers Pay Teachers and then try teaching things that were out of my realm of knowledge. And I understand now that it's still important for me to learn things on my own. So that I can come back into the classroom and say, This is what I've learned from other people, I for sure can't take that knowledge and call it my own. And it's definitely Okay, at some parts throughout the year to, to get people to come in and work with you and ask families to you know, share about their knowledge, because it's just as important as what we have to share.

I've had my own classroom for a long time, and I still have had times where I feel like I have to do it all. And then in that way, I've also struggled with, let's say, teaching indigenous content, feeling like I didn't know how to do it, right. Or I would be disrespectful, if I did it so that in the past, I just wouldn't do it, and didn't realize how damaging that was. And like you said, bringing someone in doesn't mean that we're less of a teacher. Until this past year and a half throughout our masters journey. I didn't realize, or I guess consider parents are our partners in this journey. And they aren't just someone that people that are there to drop off their kids and pick them up at the end of the day. Yeah, but they are their resources for us. They are people that are the experts on their children and the experts on their own culture and the experts on what their kids know,

there's been times where we've asked parents to come and do things, because we're required to have an extra body with us or because, you know, we just need a little bit of extra help with a certain group of kids. But really, there's so much more valuable than that. And I think in a lot of cases, unless they have that invite, most parents aren't going to come out and say like, Hey, you know, I could come into your classroom and teach about this today, or I have a lot of knowledge about this. And until I started working, where we are now, like home visits was not a thing for me. And the thought of home visits was like very intimidating. But now that I've been on a few, like, the deep connection that you can make with families, even just in it, like a small, small amount of time can be pretty, like impactful on their child's education. And, you know, everyone in their classroom as well.

Yeah, and for me home visits were a huge piece of me understanding the importance of listening to family stories, rather than telling the stories of the families, right. And so I know that when I first started our school, I, when I was kind of really in that Savior role really in that I'm going to help them and I'm going to teach these kids and I'm going to, I'm going to save them, I would make assumptions about their lives, I would make assumptions about what they know what they care about. But what about just their culture as a whole. And as I started doing more home visits, and really working to connect with families, I tried to move away from making assumptions and move toward listening and really listening to their stories, and then building my teaching from there, going back to that whole expert, realizing that trying to be the expert meant my students were losing out. And I was missing out on these relationships that I now have,

I haven't think about just like family dynamics and like growing up without a mom, well, it would be really hard if we were doing certain family nights, or there are certain assignments where you had to talk about that. I've seen it with our students too. Specifically, in my grade, this year, where a student was like, Well, I don't know how to answer this survey question because they're not describing my living situation in this question. And the only option for her to pick was other, you know, so for her to say that she's just her family, family situation is other is really sad, because she just wanted to like, had there been a box where she could have typed out who she lived with and who her her guardians were like that probably would have made her feel a lot better than saying that she just clicked a box that said she she lived in like a different household.

Those home visits are just so amazing. And I'm lucky because I teach kindergarten. So I've been able to do home visits for many years. But it wasn't until more recently that my home visits are changed to be I tried to go without an agenda and just go with the sole purpose of building relationships. And I've just seen so much value in it. And I know there are kids that I taught years ago that I feel like I wouldn't have the relationship with their parents. Now if I hadn't done that home visit the beginning of the year just to break the ice just to just to let them know that we're allies here. We're working together. We're not It's not like I'm the boss. So they have to do what I say. Yeah, if that makes sense, but, but like, that's where I feel like, I feel like it's just so important for us as teachers to work with parents not work. Like we're the leaders. And and I feel like so many, the way I grew up in the education system, and even as a parent, now, it's often, the teacher tells us what the child our child is learning. And then we just have to listen, we can ask questions, but it's very much everything is about, it's a school centric, teacher centric relationship, and not no bad intentions. But that's just the way our system works, where everything is centered around what the teacher thinks is best for the child, or what the script does best for the child or what the curriculum thinks is best for the child. And in doing so we're really missing out on that partnership that we can have.

Mm hmm. And we have a wealth of resources in our school, you know, and in the community that we could be accessing. And oftentimes, that gets kind of left in the dust because we're so caught up and needing to, like, follow our agenda, like you said, Yeah, or not having time. Like, for me, that's been a big thing is like, there's never enough time to do this. Oh, I would love to call his parents after school to chat. But I don't know if I have time. But I think an important thing is like you make time for the things that are important. And in the long run, you know, setting aside even half an hour to an hour each week, just to, to put in that time has been more beneficial. Because now like I remember trying to call parents when I first started out in grade four or five, and I would call and I'd let it ring for a few minutes. And I'd be like, well, sorry, I guess right? And then you're like, Okay, well, I'll try one more time. Oh, didn't answer. I guess I'm good. And yeah, and then
you could check off that box and say, Okay, well, I tried to call it an answer. That's, like, something you were scared of. Right? I was the same, right? Yeah, try to avoid at all cost. And then I, I'd say I tried. And then whereas, whereas this past year, I I still feel like I didn't do enough. But teaching through a pandemic was not the easiest thing. Yeah. But I tried to make an effort this year to call not just when there were problems call just to check in.

To it now, like I like now when when you know, a family doesn't answer or you get like a busy signal, it's like, I actually get a little bit sad, because I wanted to have that conversation. And I want to check in and see how they're doing. And you know, like, If so and so I was feeling better this week, like, whereas the old me would have been very scared to have those conversations,

we always have all these ideas, as teachers as a division as a province, just as a whole, we always have, we always want to try new strategies, we want to try new initiatives we want to there are always these great new things coming out. And while I don't disagree, that we need to keep things fresh, I really feel like parent engagement is at the core of it all that that without that relationship piece, none of the rest of it matters. That if if we just continue to have schools as these institutions where the teachers are the experts and parents are on the outside looking in, I think we're just going to continue to kind of repeat cycles and not have the growth that we could
you saying that reminded me of Debbie pusher telling us that we are just guests in the community. And that was huge for me to hear, because that's the truth. Like, the communities that we teach in oftentimes are not the communities that we also live in. Essentially, what it boils down to is like we are coming in as guests, and, you know, to make these huge changes and impacts in the community aren't really our decisions to make, especially not to make a loan.

Yeah, we're not just guessing the community, we're really guests in their child's life. Like, it's a little different at our school because we have split grade. So you may teach the Teach shell for a couple years, but you're still only in that child's life for a year or two. Totally. And we are the parents are the experts there. They're the ones that are there from beginning to end. And we're just guests for a year. And we're there's no way that we can learn what we need to about a student. Yeah, that 10 in those 10 months,

I have a prime example of that. That actually happened to me this year with a student. And we had been working on this social studies project, ideal societies. The students were asked to create their ideal society like basically from scratch, what are their what things do they value and what would they want for their society if they could create anything that they wanted? And this one girl was having such a hard time just being able to articulate that and we could have some pretty good conversations about it. But really, at the end of the day, the project just seemed overwhelming to her and like she did She, I think she wanted to do it, she just didn't really know how to get started on it. And so finally after about like three weeks of us, you know, really trying to get started on it with her, I messaged her mom, and I just said, Hey, like, we're having some trouble getting started on the social studies project did I explained what the project was and the conversations that we had had, and not even kidding you to text messages later, like, the mom had just brilliant ideas of how to get her daughter engaged in this ideal society project. And she said, like, well, we used to live in BC. And you know, I think that she would have some really great ideas from living in BC what her ideal society could look like, feel like that kind of thing. And she's like, You know what, I'm going to have a conversation with her tonight. And I'll let you know how it goes. But I really think that we could do something with this. And I'm not even kidding you the next week. By the end of the week, this girl had brought in like a full size diorama of her ideal society, like handcrafted it with her mom went out and bought the supplies, and was able to explain what her ideal society would look like, what would it sound like, you know, how the people treated each other? What kind of like environment situations there were, and I was like, blown away, because there's no way had I not reached out to her. But we would have got that.

That's incredible. And I feel like, I tried to just make an effort this year with when I called a parent, it's a little different, my examples more broad, but when I called a parent, I wouldn't even if it was even if I did have to call because there was an incident at school, I called and I tried to check in, we would have a conversation. And if I would have to discuss an incident, I would be calling for advice I would be calling or kind of like we were partners, but also I feel like we aren't equal partners, because the parents are so much more important in the child's life than we are.

Yeah. And like what a great like, respectful approach, right? Because who are we to say that what we're doing is more important than what they're doing at home? Yeah, yeah, I feel like that's really the start of working together, as opposed to working with a child in two different situations.

Like, I feel like parent engagement is not the be all end all. But I think that, for me, it's the key to really breaking through and really changing things in our education system, especially with Indigenous students who overall grad rates are lower, who haven't done well in school, in Saskatchewan. And I think that the education system is not built for them. And historically, there's, there's been so much negative, there have been so many horrible things that have happened, I think we're still not listening, if we could just figure out how to listen to parents to learn from them to grow for them. I think that and to the community as a whole, I think that there can be huge change in schools, it is difficult when parent engagement is something that's an extra. And so I would really like to find a way to make it. Yeah, an embedded part of our schooling. In the same way that the holistic education needs to be a part of it. Parent Engagement is a part of that. Yes, spiritual piece, the social emotional piece, it's a part of all of it, but
and it can't be a separate entity, like you said, like it doesn't, it can't be an extra, it can't be something that we fit into our school day, like it really needs to be the focal point of our school day is parent engagement and that holistic well being.

Yeah. And as long as it's an extra, I think there are many, many teachers that won't do it, not because they don't care, not because they don't love their student aid. But because it just feels like too much.

I love the idea of just something as simple as putting out coffee in the morning and saying like, you know, feel free to take a coffee and sit down and have a conversation for the next half an hour.

Yeah, well, and that's like you said, that's kind of my plan for next year. I know, we've talked a lot about how as a teacher, if we try to change too much at once, we end up failing because it's overwhelming. So yeah, a colleague years ago, talked to me about never changing more than 10% of your practice at a time. Because otherwise, it's just it's too overwhelming. Yeah. And so for me this year, I think that's my plan is have Yeah, just a table at the door with coffee. And it would be great if you could if we could do it as a whole school, right, have coffee set out and the doors are just open, have cut have a soft landing and doesn't mean learning isn't taking place in every classroom, the learning would be different. But hands on learning is taking place during that time where parents can just be a part of it or not. Or maybe parents just want to take a coffee and go ready. Sometimes they stay sometimes they don't. But I love that opportunity for us to chat with parents. Maybe some parents want to just hang out with their kids. Maybe parents want to talk with each other and build relationships with each other. But yeah, I really liked that idea of it being just Part of the day and an open invitation. So it isn't something that parents feel forced to do don't force a relationship if they're not ready for it, but also really understanding that parent engagement means different things with different parents. Yeah. And if we say, oh, parent engagement is home visits, and force everyone to have a home visit and are comfortable, that's also not beneficial. And then we're going back to not listening to them, we're making it our agenda.

And it opens up the doors for two way communication, right. Whereas now instead of, you know, like you said, you don't want to schedule a time and then that's, that's really no better than if you just closed your door all together, I feel like it is obviously a little bit better, but you don't want anything to feel forced, you don't want families to feel like they have to do something, or they're, you know, if they don't show up that now, now, they don't care, or just a little bit of advice that's helped me anyways, like from when I first started to where I am now, just being vulnerable, and, you know, showing families that you to have a life outside of, you know, your, your career, and, you know, like I was a kid once and I did experience certain things. And I can relate to some degree in different ways, obviously, but like the loss of a parent, or, you know, just feeling a certain way at school and being very shy and not being able to open up. I've had conversations with parents about that, and just being vulnerable. And I think letting them know that you're willing to open yourself up a little bit more helps. And maybe not in all situations, but from my experience that's been helpful. And
almost like an understanding that teachers shouldn't share about their personal life or that we have to stay professional and in staying professional means we can't be vulnerable. And I think that's such a missed opportunity to build authentic relationships. Because if I don't hide who I am with my friends, right, with my husband, with my parents, you know, with people I have relationships with, they know the good and the bad, and well, I don't feel I'm not gonna tell all my life's problems and stories to parents. I know this year was the first time I ever told a parent my journey with ADHD. And I had never, I had never even told a colleague I had ADHD until last year, because it was something I was always embarrassed about. It was something I tried to hide, because I saw it as a flaw and saw it as a weakness.

Well, and because of you, I also had the courage to talk more openly about it and figure out, you know, how I was feeling. And I'm now also talking about having ADHD too. So if it had not been for you having the courage to talk about that I definitely wouldn't have, you know, I don't think I would be where I am today, actually, quite honestly, if we had not had that conversation. So you appreciate that a lot. And I know you've come a long, long way with that. Yeah, like it's pretty powerful, being able to open up while I'm talking to parents about this, like, with understanding without trying to say, Hey, I'm the expert on this really relating and showing that I can empathize. Yeah, I think that's a huge thing. I think there are a lot of things, especially with our indigenous students that we cannot empathize with, because we as as white teachers do not do not know what it's like to experience racism and to experience oppression. But I do feel like, as a mom, as, as someone who has had learning difficulties and struggled in school, I think there are ways that we can build a relationship and then in the ways that I can't emphasize that's when I really need to listen. Right? And, and, and with anyone that you have a relationship with, there are going to be things that you can understand and things you can't. And I think that if we want to have a two way relationship being vulnerable is such an important piece, because how can we expect our parents or our students to be vulnerable with us if we aren't going to be vulnerable with them?

Yeah, that's very true.

I think it's important that we talk about our own white privilege, especially as white teachers of Indigenous students. I know, I wasn't even aware of the concept of white privilege until recent years, that in itself is an example of the white privilege I've lived with my entire life. I've never considered myself to be discriminated against because of the color of my skin for any reason. I just, it's never been even something that I've had to think about. That in itself is such an example of white privilege, right? The not even knowing what white privilege is acknowledging white privilege is the first step and understanding that it's not something to necessarily feel guilty over. But it is something to acknowledge, learn from, if that makes sense. Yeah.
And now I'm at the point where when I talk to people about white privilege, I'm trying not to come at it in a way where I'm accusing anybody of anything, just because you are a white male doesn't mean that you are a bad person, it doesn't mean that, you know, you haven't earned the lifestyle that you have. It's just the fact that you have had privilege that maybe you weren't aware of. And now that you are aware of, we need to start making some different life choices so that people are on more equal playing fields, if that makes sense.

Yeah, it makes me think of my husband in with his work, he used to travel to different reserves, he traveled all over the province and reserves were one of the places he traveled. And he talked about how going to some of the Northern reserves, he felt uncomfortable being the only white guy there. And he reflected on this later. And it was even maybe even years later, when he really started to think about his own privilege in that. So he felt comfortable for one weekend, and then came home and could walk into any store and could walk go anywhere, without habit without being discriminated against without being followed around a store without people looking at him funny when he walked down the street, whereas so many people of color, their entire life is the suspicion or the disrespect, I think our next step, then in our journey, is to understand that if you are just living your oblivious life, you're not going to see racism around you. But you have to make a point to notice it when it happens. And when you do find it, when you do notice that you have to do something about it. Because that's kind of where I'm at in my career and in my life is understanding that I can't just recognize when when something racist is happening, I can't just point it out and talk about it. But that I have to take steps to either teach about it or disrupt the conversation. Yeah, and just that understanding that staying silent, and doing nothing about racism, systemic racism, individual racism, whatever kind of racism it is, is then choosing aside, and people think, and I think even a lot of teachers think, Well, I'm not comfortable teaching about residential schools, or I'm not comfortable teaching about racism, so I'm just not going to teach about it. They think in doing that you're staying neutral, right? Whereas it's so important to know that it's not neutral, to ignore racism and ignore these kinds of topics, you have to get uncomfortable, you have to speak up and point out when something wrong is happening. Yeah,
I agree with that. I'm also at that point, too, I'd say it's definitely a challenge some days. But just with my other position with following their voices. A colleague said it nicely that the why if you're following their voices in our school, which is supporting high achievement for First Nations, matey, and Inuit students is that this programming that we have the privilege of having at our school, and having support to implement into our school is that it gives us a platform to make some waves and disrupt the norm and not in a bad way. So one thing that we're going to do at our school this year is dive into some holistic assessment and really work on getting to know our students and our families so that when we are testing them, we're working on their holistic well being as opposed to just their intellectual well being, which I think is a huge part we are missing in our education system is we need more holistic assessment, we need more qualitative, more assessment that's focused on getting to know the families, the students their lives, so that when it is time to teach them, you know, different skills that they're able to actually be there with us be present, trust us feel like they belong. So in closing, let's acknowledge that this work is hard, but so important. On this journey, you will make mistakes, you'll have struggles and you will feel alone but know that the work that you're putting in is making a huge difference to your students and their families.

You even though this podcast is about our learning journey as teachers really this learning has helped us to become better people and as affected all aspects of our lives. Thanks for taking the time to listen. We hope you could take something away from our conversation.