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.