Workshop shows educators how to teach about residential schools

Teachers from across Ontario are in Ottawa this week for a workshop on how to effectively teach about residential schools and Indigenous issues in the classroom.

'I want to experience something meaningful, and pass it on to my students in any way that I can'

Teachers from across Ontario are meeting at Algonquin College this week for workshops on how to teach about residential schools. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

With the new school year just a month away, teachers from across Ontario are in Ottawa this week for a workshop on how to effectively teach about residential schools and Indigenous issues in the classroom.

The three-day session is called "Stolen Lives: The Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the Indian Residential Schools". It is part of the Ontario Teachers' Federation's summer institutes for professional development being held at Algonquin College.

"I was not taught about the residential schools in my own education. Now how are we bringing that into our classrooms?" said workshop facilitator Leora Schaefer, who is from the non-profit educational organization, Facing History and Ourselves.

Leora Schaefer of the non-profit organization Facing History and Ourselves facilitates a seminar on residential schools for teachers gathered in Ottawa. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

"And so the teachers here with us this week are both learning the content ... but we're also bringing strategies. How do we build that safe space in our classrooms to delve deeper? And not simply sort of move through the teaching of the history without actually grappling with the more complex moments," she said.

Through hands-on exercises, teachers learn how to engage students in discussions about residential schools and their history and impact, while focusing on the experiences of residential school survivors and how to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, among other lessons.

'Do it justice for my students'

Shannon Mills, who teaches history and gender studies at Bell High School in Ottawa's west end, signed up because she wanted to learn new teaching strategies to approach topics like residential schools and missing and murdered Indigenous women in the classroom.

Alicia Salyi and Shannon Mills teach at Ottawa's Bell High School. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)
"Teachers have a role in making it part of the classroom, essentially," she said. 

"I find that Indigenous issues do get covered, but sometimes it's a little bit of, add this issue and stir, and then leave it. So maybe [I am} making sure that it's woven throughout the curriculum and more of the classroom."

I feel I learned a very white version of history, that very typical colonial history- Andrea  Hazenberg , teacher

She doesn't recall learning much about Indigenous issues when she was a high school student, and neither does Andrea Hazenberg, who teaches at an elementary school in Kitchener, Ont. That's why she and her husband Darryl, a high school teacher, made the trip to Ottawa for the workshop.

"I feel I learned a very white version of history, that very typical colonial history, and not a whole lot from the viewpoint of the Indigenous people — the First Nations people — that were already here, so it's opening my eyes to the other side, which I knew was there, but it's a hard reality to accept," she said.

"So I wanted to come here today to learn how do I start that conversation, and do it justice for my students."

Andrea and Darryl Hazenberg came to Ottawa from Waterloo for the session on residential schools. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Work inspired by TRC's calls to action

With a return to school just weeks away, teachers at the workshop believe this kind of learning is more timely than ever, especially given the work of the TRC, which wrapped up late last year.

Darryl Hazenberg considers taking this time out of his summer holiday a "relatively small sacrifice to improve my practice in this regard."

He sees it as an opportunity to educate himself.

"I want to experience something meaningful, and pass it on to my students in any way that I can," he said.

And by making students more aware, Alicia Salyi, who also teaches at Bell High School, believes the wider community will benefit.

"I think more teachers need to take the time to learn about these issues so that we can get this message out to our students, but also to the other people in our schools and our communities as well," she said.