Best Practices of Indigenous Pedagogy

Relationships — Teachers and students must invest in positive, respectful, egalitarian human relationships. Once these sorts of relationships have begun, teaching and learning are possible. Teachers should have a genuine concern for the whole person (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual). Avoid power struggles, offer choices, make humor a part of your relationship.

Relevance — Make the curriculum and/or lessons relevant to their world. Students will have more use for knowledge and skills that are relevant and are more likely to actively engage in such learning. Make it possible for students to learn in the context of family and community. More on relevance (pdf, 47K)

Holistic Thinking — Build and deliver curriculum holistically rather than analytically. The simplest way to explain this is to say that, while knowledge base is important, the entire base does not have to be taught before anything else. Knowledge does not have to be strictly divided into levels of advancement. Allow students to explore areas of interest and provide supporting knowledge and lessons as the need for them arises.

Reflection — Remember that students need time to reflect on and absorb what they have experienced. This reflection is critical, as people do not often fully appreciate their experiences immediately, but typically in greater depth after periods of reflection. Cultural traditions often teach this kind of reflection, so many students will want to more fully consider an event or question rather than respond immediately.

Asset-Based — Identify and build on students’ assets or strengths. Expect that all students have unlimited potential, while understanding that we do not always realize our full potential.

Experiential Learning — (Also called place-based, expeditionary and adventure learning.) We have to have faith that there is learning in experience. We must attempt to provide extraordinary experiences for students to help them overcome the tremendous challenges they face in this colonial world. (Extended bike tours, rock climbing, challenge courses, canoe trips, attending ceremonies, visiting sacred sites, camping, orienteering, etc.) Natives have spent 100% of their time outdoors traditionally, so we can be sure that they will not learn best spending 100% of their time indoors. Nature and associated celestial events are the first curriculum. More on Experiential Learning (pdf, 51K), Critical Pedagogy of Place (pdf, 89K) and Transformative Education (pdf, 191K).

Interpreting Behavior — Do not insist on making eye contact with students. Their eyes belong to them.

Cultural Competency — Become familiar with the local indigenous culture. Learn the creation and evolution stories, the star knowledge, other relevant oral traditions, and some of the language(s)

Community-Based — Engage students in the real work of building community through active participation. Work to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. See the article The Impact of Brown on the Brown of South Texas for an example (pdf, 1.7MB) and the Center School
Garden radio interview on KFAI

Learning through Discovery — At the root of the Learning Through Discovery (LTD) practice is hands-on, project-based learning that is respectful of the student’s existing knowledge. With that as its foundation, LTD builds the student’s curiosity through experience and inquiry, while providing motivation to pursue and uncover new knowledge.

The biggest difference between LTD and the idea of hands-on learning is the way in which the content is shared. In an LTD process, the role of the teacher is different. The teacher becomes more of a guide to point the student in the direction of the discovery. Like magnetic north, teachers can provide a field that will allow a student to choose their path, but through their interaction maintain a guiding force or attraction to the intended destination.