Guelph teacher Monique Cadieux recognized for using First Nations concepts
Educator says children understand, appreciate aboriginal approach to life
A teacher from Guelph is being recognized by Canada's largest newspaper for her work with young students, which includes using First Nations traditions to help children learn about history and respect.
Monique Cadieux will receive an honourable mention from the Toronto Star, which presents a Teacher of the Year Award.
The Grade 4/5 educator at Victory Public School in Guelph told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris about how her past experiences helped shape her teaching style.
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Cadieux uses a concept known as the talk rock. Similar to the conch used in the novel Lord of the Flies, holding the talk rock indicates the bearer has been granted permission to speak.
"I use it to help students independently solve conflicts," the teacher said.
I feel very responsible for making sure that I'm involved in the repair that needs to happen in our country.- Monique Cadieux, Guelph teacher
The rock makes three passes around the circle when an issue arises. During the first time around, students will identify the problem. Next, they'll come up with potential solutions. Finally, they'll offer apologies to clear the air and bring closure to the conflict situation.
"It teaches the students to be active listeners and to be respectful," Cadieux said.
'A metaphor for wholeness'
The educator also adopted some First Nations symbols to help nourish the mental well-being for the youngsters in her class.
"I use the medicine wheel as a metaphor for wholeness," she said. "It's a circle divided into four parts that can be used to represent many things."
There are many uses for the wheel, but Cadieux said it works best at highlighting the things that may be bothering students going through a transition or change in their daily lives.
"When something is out of balance, we don't feel fully ourselves," she said.
'Moral responsibility' for teachers
It's no coincidence that Cadieux emphasizes the importance of aboriginal teachings. In order to move forward and truly understand Canada, the teacher said she believes it's "very, very important" to consider the history and present issues facing First Nations in our country.
"I believe that teachers have a moral responsibility" to discuss land appropriation and residential schools, among other aboriginal issues.
It also helps that children tend to gravitate toward First Nations concepts such as the sacredness of land, the educator noted.
"Those are things that I find children really warm to and understand deeply."
Cadieux said she became aware of these ideas through a combination of personal interest and during her anti-oppression work before she entered teaching. She added she has met with First Nations elders to share what she's doing in schools with them to get permission from them and to ensure they find it acceptable and respectful.
For example, Cadieux said she would never make a traditional dream-catcher in her classroom. That's something she would invite a First Nations person to come in and do.
"I feel very responsible for making sure that I'm involved in the repair that needs to happen in our country."
Cadieux will receive her honourable mention from the Toronto Star on Nov. 17.