Thunder Bay·Audio

Making community connections key to student success in remote First Nations

When Melissa Oskineegish went up north to teach in a First Nations community she felt fully prepared. But she quickly realized her lesson plans weren't working.

Teaching practices need to be culturally relevant according to Lakehead University researcher

Melissa Oskineegish is a researcher at Lakehead University, who also taught in a northern First Nation. (supplied)

When Melissa Oskineegish went up north to teach in a First Nations community she felt fully prepared for her new role.

As a first time teacher she based the lessons for her Grade 7 and 8 class on what she'd learned in the teacher education program.

Oskineegish wanted to do well for her students, but she said within the first week of classes she realized her students weren't learning.

"They were not connecting to the lessons that I was making, they were not connecting to the instructions I was giving [...] I kind of had to just stop and say what am I doing wrong here, you know, I'm doing everything that I was taught," she said.

When she took a step back she realized she was not connecting the lessons to the community, said Oskineegish, who is now a Ph.D. student in education at Lakehead University.

"I was developing lessons from the curriculum, using curriculum resources that were all urban based."

To make that connection Oskineegish incorporated the lessons students learned during culture week, a one week excursion on the land where young people go out and learn about hunting and fishing.

"They came back and they wanted to share with me the stuff that had happened to them, some of them were funny, some of them were serious, some of them were interesting and so we created a space where they could share their stories," she said.

Oskineegish said she implemented those life lessons into the language/arts curriculum by having her students contribute to a newsletter that was shared with the whole community.

She said one of keys to success in teaching in a remote First Nations community is building relationships with your colleagues, students and their families, and getting to know the community.

Oskineegish said that means being an active member of the community.