Workshop advances reconciliation movement

June 13, 2017 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor
Participants in a recent Train the Trainer workshop spread blankets on the floor in preparation for a session on how to deliver a blanket exercise. (Cory Hare)

A recent series of workshops provided teachers from around the province with valuable tools that will enable them to impart indigenous learning to colleagues and students.

Dubbed Train the Trainer, the workshops took place in five Alberta locales and were attended by approximately 278 participants comprising central office staff, administrators and lead teachers. The daylong series of workshops included sessions on the legacy of residential schools, how to conduct a blanket exercise and activities known as professional learning pebbles. Elders were also present to answer questions.

The effort was part of the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s ongoing Walking Together project. Announced last year, the project responds to calls for education by the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

“People are super positive. Some people are [saying] this is the best PD they’ve ever had,” said Andrea Berg, an executive staff officer who oversees the Walking Together project.

The idea behind the Train the Trainer series was that participants, bolstered by knowledge and confidence gained from the workshops, will be involved in training other educators in their home jurisdictions. However, unlike most workshops, this one includes a commitment from facilitators to be available on an ongoing basis to answer questions or address concerns.
“I think that’s unique compared to what has happened in the past,” Berg said.

That ongoing support will be important to participant Waleed Najmeddine, principal of Timberlea Public School in Fort McMurray.

“They were very accommodating and expressed a strong desire to support us as future trainers for other educators,” he said. “I’m still a little nervous about that, being a non-aboriginal educator. However, I feel the subject matter is critical for every educator.”

Workshop participant Holly Crumpton, a teacher and First Nations, Métis and Inuit liaison at Peace River High School, said her main takeaway was that it’s important to find specific, concrete actions that an individual can take in order to advance the reconciliation process.

Crumpton is involved in developing a regionally contextualized version of the blanket exercise, so she found that portion of the workshop to be particularly helpful.

In general, she said she’s detecting a high level of interest in reconciliation and a desire for empowerment around how to make it happen and incorporate local voice, so she’s hopeful that the movement is heading in the right direction.

“I just would want to continue to see our school continuing to develop the culture where First Nations perspectives are part of what we do on a day-to-day basis so it’s not something we just bring out for special occasions,” she said. ❚

For more information
Walking Together information and resources are available here.

What is it?
Blanket exercise

The blanket exercise is a participatory workshop in which participants experience more than 500 years of history by taking on the roles of indigenous peoples in Canada. Standing on blankets that represent the land, they are engaged on an emotional and intellectual level as they walk through time and explore the impacts of colonization, treaty making and modern legislation.

Professional learning pebbles
Participants are introduced to a set of 24 distinct activities designed to be conversation starters for groups of educators engaged in reconciliation. Through the short, interactive activities, educators localize the process and create effective initiatives that best fit their local context.

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