The Medicine Wheel is a representation of all things connected within the circle of one’s life. There are many different variations of the traditional teachings given to the Medicine Wheel. Each teaching has its own meaning and purpose, so when discussing the Medicine Wheel, it is important that you recognize which teachings you are deriving from. Today I am talking about the Medicine Wheel as it relates to the Ojibwe teachings, as these are the closest to my own understanding. The Medicine Wheel usually focuses on the numbers 4 and 7. Commonly, the medicine Wheel teaches 7 aspects within each of the 4 quadrants that represent life in specific stages; The four directions, the four elements of life, the four medicines, the four seasons, the four states of well being, the four colours of man and four stages of life.
The Eastern doorway represents the rising of the sun (fire), the spring which is a time of rebirth and new beginnings. In the beginning, we are all in a good state of mind while learning and growing. This quadrant is yellow because it is reflective of the element fire or the sun. It is connected to the Eagle as the Eagle represents freedom, creation, renewal, healing, and risk-taking. At this stage in life, people are given basic needs and are recognized as having no knowledge, and therefore the opportunity to grow when given what they need. This is why we recognize it as the mind. Feeding the mind with healthy new thoughts and experiences.
The Southern doorway represents growth and nurturing. The element connected to this is the Earth and noon because at this time of day the sun is shining down on the world, nurturing life and helping them grow. This is why we recognize summer as the season for this doorway because it is a time of growth, prosper, and longer days. Summer is a time for becoming active and thus this doorway promotes physical well-being. The stage of life here is adolescence as this is a time for searching, growing, and finding your path. We see the deer as the spirit here as it represents peace, intellect, kindness, innocence, and adventure.
The Western doorway represents change, understanding, death, and clarity. The element connected to this is water because as the sun sets and the day ends, we cleanse ourselves of the days past events. Autumn is the time of year where the Earth begins to change colours, harvest is ready, and we prepare for Winter. There is much change going on during this time and so we recognize this doorway as emotional health and well-being. The stage of life represented here is parenthood and adulthood as we too change in respect to mind, body, and spirit and we begin to respect and fully understand our place in life. The animal represented here is a buffalo as it represents consistency, blessings, life, and stability.
The Northern doorway represents reflection, wisdom, and sharing. In the North, the nights are long and cool. They remind us that our bodies and the Earth must rest in order to be renewed. We use the element of air to represent life and the sharing of wisdom. Winter is a time for rest and sharing. As elders, we rest and take the time to reflect – therefore this doorway promotes spiritual health and well-being. Elders represent the stage of life from the Northern Doorway. Our elders carry the wisdom of life as they have walked through all stages and watch others as they experience their own trials. The animal here is the bear as it represents self-preservation, guardianship, healing, power, courage and is seen as a watcher or protector.
Lastly, we look at the centre of the Medicine Wheel. This is where the teachings come from. The middle represents yourself and a perspective of yourself from the inside working outwards. You are the centre of your being and each aspect that surrounds you works together to create who you are as a whole. Each of the four parts represent your life’s journey. We need all four directions (physical body, spirit, emotions, and mind) to create and find balance within the realms. Once we find this balance of self, we are whole.
The Medicine Wheel can be related to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow discusses that a person’s basic needs must be met for them to be able to reach their full potential. He states that these needs must be met before they can achieve self-actualization. This relates to the Medicine Wheel as all four directions and teachings must come together before a person can be unified and a functioning person in life. Both ideologies recognize that a person is less likely to reach their full potential if their basic needs go unmet.
We can use both Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Medicine Wheel to reflect on how to meet the needs of our students. As teachers we have limited influence on our student’s home lives but once they are at school, we have the opportunity to assess the needs of our students and then work to adapt our environment, instruction, assessment, and assignments to meet their needs.
Both the Medicine Wheel and MHN recognize four key areas of needs – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Physical/Physiological is questioning if our student’s basic physical needs are being met? Are they eating, sleeping, drinking water, etc.
Next is Safety or Mental needs. How safe and secure do our students feel in their home? What about in school? And specifically, how safe do they feel in our classrooms? Students need to be met with a sense of security that they will accomplish what they want in life.
Emotional well-being can be viewed as Maslow’s Love and Belonging and Esteem. Within Love and Belonging – do students feel welcomed, represented, and valued in our classrooms? Do they have strong peer relationships? And with Esteem, do all students feel good about themselves? Do we work towards building positive peer relationships and peer outlooks, so students feel that peers think positively about them?
The final stage is Self-Actualization in which Spiritual well-being could represent this from an Indigenous perspective. In an ideal situation – students have all of the previous stages met, they can achieve and create at their full potential. However, we can not assume that all students should be achieving at their full potential once they enter the classroom. This is not a reality, and so we need to reflect on our own practice and how we are impacted by our needs and how we can use this reflection to understand our student’s needs and how to meet them.
Some ways to meet student’s Physical needs are providing access to water and having spare water bottles that can be washed and re-used. We can have a snack bin where all students can ask the teacher if they can have a snack. My practicum teacher had a snack bin and she had a little signature sheet where students had to initial beside the day before taking a snack – this way she could keep track of which students are consistently not bringing snacks. The snack bin should be filled with healthy snacks that can fuel energy and help sustain students. If students are coming to school tired, allowing them to take a short nap in a quiet space where they can re-energize and get ready to learn.
To support our student’s Mental well-being and Safety we can monitor our classroom and recognize when bullying is occurring. We can work towards creating positive classroom environments by conducting talking circles, group engagement and collaboration, and building trust. As well as monitoring home life – are students coming to school with signs of living in an unsafe environment? If so, being prepared for transitions in the morning and at the end of the day. Making them feel safe coming into school and giving them reassurance when leaving at the end of the day.
To support Emotional well-being and Love and Belonging we can consider our classroom seating arrangements – can we sit our students with other students who are encouraging, positive, and friendly? We can try not to pick groups at random but pick groups strategically that promote stronger relationships and give students a sense of belonging. We can recognize how we can make that student feel welcomed in the classroom by building positive relationships through inclusion, empathy, respect, trust, care, and representation. This can also aid with self-esteem needs as we can give positive compliments, good feedback, and build-up our students in the classroom and amongst their peers.
Lastly, Self-Actualization and Spiritual well-being. If we can put these various supports in place in the classroom then we can help students reach a state where they can be self-reflective and self-achieving.
For a long time, Aboriginal education and culture was not taught in our schools or in western society. Recently, the progress that has been made with the Truth and Reconciliation curriculum has been put on hold and so we felt that now, more than ever, it is important to continue to learn about, speak to, and educate others on this topic.
As teachers, it is crucial to be culturally responsive and learn about our student’s culture by speaking to students, talking to parents, and creating culturally relevant curriculum that makes our students feel included and represented. It is for these reasons and because of our desire to create inclusive and diverse classrooms that drive our interest in this topic.
Reflections of Research Process:
Before beginning the research process for this project, we felt we had decent background knowledge of what Aboriginal education was. Once we started the basic task of seeking a definition and/or characteristics of what Aboriginal Education is, we quickly became overwhelmed. Other than one Wikipedia definition, there did not seem to be a clear, concise definition available. Also, many resources regarding Aboriginal education were government documents and we wanted to seek less of a one-sided approach. We therefore contacted Paul Carl from the Queen’s Aboriginal Teacher Education program.
Paul confirmed that this topic was a huge undertaking. When we asked him what the characteristics of Indigenous education was, he informed me that it depends. It depends because characteristics of Indigenous education varies from band to band. Some of these places are more culturally based, whereas others are less. It also depends on what influence the residential schools and/or church had on each of these communities. First Nation schools are able to perform smudging and ceremonies whereas this is not allowed in the public and Catholic school systems. He informed us that education is a treaty right nation to nation and education for status people is the responsibility of the federal government through the Indian Act. Curriculum, however, is the responsibility of provincial governments and can therefore vary from province to province. Truth to Reconciliation for First Nations People is an effort for Indigenous people to have more control over their education in what they teach (i.e., language, culture).
After our meeting with Paul, we were surprised how much we did not know about the topic. We feel as though the majority of Ontarians share in my limited knowledge regarding Aboriginal Education. It is therefore imperative for Aboriginal Education to be included in the Ontario curriculum to bridge the disparity between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal students achievement.
As a result of our conversation with Paul, we sought out to discover how many other Teacher Candidates had the same experience as us. We were interested to know what other people’s experience of Aboriginal Education in schools were and how they varied. We conducted a survey that consisted of 6 questions (please see attached results for further clarification). 53 people responded to our survey and of those 53 people 92% of them identified as Non-Aboriginal and stated that they had limited knowledge of Aboriginal Education and how to move forward as teachers in the future, with the expectation to teach this topic in a culturally responsive way. We thought that this was very interesting as teachers are expected to teach this topic but some of us are uneducated ourselves. We also found it alarming the amount of Non-Aboriginal teachers compared to Aboriginal teachers which clearly shows the divide and the need for more Indigenous educators in our school system. (Olivia Rondeau, Survey Monkey, 2018)
MOE Achievement Gap Statistics:
Indigenous people are the original inhabitants of Canada. When Europeans arrived, early treaties were signed with the intent of mutual benefits. For some of us, these treaties made us prosperous – having land to live on and cultivate and water to drink. Generations built on the success of previous generations. These treaties did not bring the same success for Indigenous people. Instead, they became the target of colonial policies designed to exploit, assimilate and eradicate them.
The residential school system removed many thousands of Indigenous children from their homes and stripped them of their Indigenous languages, cultures and rights. Children were physically, emotionally and sexually abused. These residential schools have seen been closed, but have only been closed for one generation. These events continue to have an impact on individuals, families and communities today. Many self-destructing behaviours resulting from this intergenerational trauma include depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, addictions and family violence. It is these barriers to learning that contributes to the Indigenous peoples’ achievement gap (The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous People, 2016).
Practical Teaching Implications:
To support this issue in their practise, teachers should teach using both Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction approaches. This will help make the class equitable for everyone, including Indigenous students. The teachers should get to know their students - their cultural background (band) and trauma they, their family and/or communities have experienced or are still experiencing. Teachers should also be empathetic to the barriers Indigenous people continue to face today (i.e. intergenerational trauma). Teachers can use this info to build relationships and to create learning environments (Indigenous literature, medicine wheels, tipi space, etc.) and curriculum (songs, activities, crafts, etc.) where their cultures are incorporated. Teachers can acknowledge the First Nations territory on which the school is located and can celebrate the Indigenous holidays (National Aboriginal Day/Month) and cultural traditions and invite elders to the classroom to share their history and knowledge. Lastly, teachers can complete culturally relevant training and workshops that can help them develop a deeper learning and understanding of Aboriginal Education and culture.
ATEP (Aboriginal Teacher Education) Verbal Conversations with Paul Carl.
Casey, Liam. “Ontario University's New Program Aims to Boost Number of Aboriginal Teachers.” Thestar.com, Toronto Star, 20 Jan. 2016, www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/01/20/ontario-universitys-new-program-aims-to-boost-number-of-aboriginal-teachers.html.
The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous People, 2016.
Land, Native. “NativeLand.ca.” Native-Land.ca - Our Home on Native Land, 2018, native-land.ca/.
Ministry of Education- Implementation Plan: Ontario First Nation, Metis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework. 2014.
Ministry of Education- Third Progress Report on the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework: Strengthening Our LEarning Journey. Published March 9th, 2018.
Rondeau, Olivia. “Teacher Candidates Knowledge of Aboriginal Education and Culture.” SurveyMonkey, 2018.
As a teacher, it is important to use your knowledge of youths needs and implement coping strategies that can help with resiliency and lowering students risk while re-enforcing student success. Here are a few coping strategies to assist student.
Diversion Coping Skills:
Social and Interpersonal Coping Skills:
Cognitive Coping Skills:
Physical Coping Skills:
The 4 C’s is a strategy developed by Jeanine Fittipaldi-Wert and Claire Mowling. The 4 C’s provide a loose framework for teachers by providing suggestions on how to engage with and meet the needs of all students. They also reinforce the importance of creating a safe environment that encourages cooperation, being responsible, motivation, and most important having respect, not only for others but for themselves as well.
In addition to the 4 C's consider the following:
WHAT DON’T YOU KNOW?
DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS
There are many factors that may cause a child to become or display signs and symptoms of being at-risk. Here is a list of some school, community, and home factors that may play into why students display certain behaviours at school and what you can be aware of as a teacher. It is important to build relationships with your students and understand that these factors are out of your control, but if you are aware of them, then there is much that you can do as a teacher to create a positive school environment for the student and help them succeed.
Examples of School Factors:
Examples of Community Factors:
Examples of Family/Home Factors:
In our society today, as a teacher you should make the assumption that you have one or more students in your classroom who are of indigenous descent. Due to this, it is important to, before you begin this lesson, take the time to sit your class down and give them a ‘trigger warning’ or ‘pre-talk’ that you will be giving a lesson on residential schools, culture, etc.
Since some of your students may have Indigenous parents, grandparents, friends, or other relatives, they may be struggling with intergenerational trauma. By discussing the lesson before hand, you give students the opportunity to open up to you about their comfort zone with this talk, it prepares them mentally for the discussion that is going to happen that may be a trigger for them, or it also gives the teacher the opportunity to ask students if they have any suggestions on how to talk about this issue and if they would feel comfortable talking about their heritage in addition to the lesson.
This is the first stepping stone in creating a safe-place for students in the classroom. Not only for Indigenous students but also for other students who may empathize with this topic and find it upsetting.
In addition, consider having a counsellor in the classroom when discussing Residential Schools for students to express their feelings after. One last thing to consider is having an Elder come in and speak about the topic or consult the school boards Indigenous liaison for further help.