Teaching with kindness and care
Waterloo hosts annual teaching and learning conference with special keynote on Indigenous pedagogies
Waterloo hosts annual teaching and learning conference with special keynote on Indigenous pedagogiesBy Jon Parsons University Relations
What does it mean to teach with kindness and care?
That’s the central theme of the 14th annual University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference, taking place May 3 to 4.
Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) organizes the annual conference, which features sessions and speakers from UWaterloo and other post-secondary institutions.
The conference theme on kindness and care is noteworthy in the present-day context, given the disruption caused by the pandemic to the university experience for so many students and the rapidly changing expectation of what higher education should be.
There are significant challenges for students, and for instructors as well, with respect to stress, burnout and mental health. The conference sets out to explore approaches to teaching and learning that can create more compassionate and inclusive educational experiences, with mutual trust and respect between instructors and students at the foundation of this work
Indigenous pedagogies keynote
The conference’s keynote speaker, Dr. Barbara Moktthewenkwe Wall, applies an Indigenous pedagogy that embeds kindness and care.
Wall is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Shawnee. She is an assistant professor of Indigenous environmental studies and sciences at Trent University’s Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies.
“Part of creating kindness and care in the classroom, as I understand it, goes against the standard hierarchy of the academy,” Wall says. “Typically, it’s the instructor who is the expert and the only one that’s going to be sharing knowledge. Teaching with kindness and care is about acknowledging that we’re all learners, and that we all bring knowledge to the classroom.”
Rather than teaching and learning being about students as passive recipients and the professor as a fount of knowledge, Indigenous pedagogies are more about students being actively involved in the co-creation of knowledge. It is an approach that sets out to flatten hierarchies and empower students as agents in their own educational experience.
But Wall’s approach carries a broader systemic critique as well, in the sense that it is also about the types of knowledge that are valued in the university.
“We’re becoming a global society and our institutions need to incorporate ways of knowing beyond just European or Western systems,” Wall continues. “Many of our students carry those non-dominant cultural markers, perspectives and knowledge systems. And that’s why I think it’s so important that part of teaching with kindness and care is a recognition and inclusion of that plurality of knowledge systems.”
Bringing it into the classroom
Asked what instructors can do to begin incorporating Indigenous pedagogies into their own teaching practice, Wall says a great place to start is to connect with the Indigenous educational developers working in the University’s Centre for Teaching Excellence.
“But then what do you do next? As a non-Indigenous educator, how do you start to feel comfortable incorporating practices that might not be familiar to you? I think the use of narrative and storytelling can be a comfortable way to approach things,” she continues. “Rather than having a formal lecture, maybe you start by telling your own story, your own journey, interwoven with the information and the specific knowledge that you’re going to share.”
Another aspect that Wall sees as central to an Indigenous-informed pedagogy is experiential learning, which she says makes the educational experience more real for students.
Wall also suggests any instructors interested in Indigenous pedagogies need to create choices for students. But along with choice, “it’s also about setting clear boundaries and being transparent about expectations,” she says. “I try to be very upfront with students, not only about the purpose of any assignment, but by having clear rubrics. I think that’s not only kind to the students but also to myself as an instructor.”
“Indigenous pedagogy, as I see it, is all about having the educational experience be relational and built on relationships, and I think that same relational aspect is at the heart of teaching with kindness and care.”
Learn more about the sessions and speakers on the website for this year’s Teaching and Learning Conference.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within our Office of Indigenous Relations.