Doctoral student Jenni Conrad discusses her case study exploring how non-Indigenous teachers can honor Indigenous ways of teaching and knowing in their classrooms.

Growing up in Seattle, Jenni Conrad remembers being fascinated by Native Northwest histories as a student and later as an outdoor educator. As a non-Native person, however, she wondered what role she could play in advancing Indigenous education.

After starting her PhD in social studies education at the University of Washington College of Education, a course on Indigenous pedagogies proved transformational for Conrad and prompted her to embark on a case study of non-Indigenous teachers and how they honored Indigenous ways of teaching and knowing in their classrooms.

Over the course of a school year, Conrad observed two teachers in their classrooms and on field trips, conducted interviews with both the teachers and their students, and analyzed lesson materials, curricula and student work.

The resulting paper, "Unsettling History: Understanding Non-Indigenous Teachers’ Practices, Resources and Tensions in Centering Indigenous Knowledges and Pedagogies in Hyper-Diverse Schools," earned Conrad the Kipchoge Kirkland Social Justice Award from the National Council for the Social Studies.

Most importantly, Conrad said her study suggests that non-Indigenous teachers in public schools can enact culturally sustaining and revitalizing pedagogies meaningful to hyper-diverse student populations. For non-Indigenous teachers, learning how racism and settler colonialism work together is a critical need and creates a foundation for building respectful, reciprocal relationships with Indigenous peoples and knowledges.

Conrad said the teachers she observed were intentional about choosing indigenous voices and narratives and centering those in their classrooms.

“They also explicitly recognized textbook accounts and traditional or dominant accounts of history as having a particular perspective, rather than being objective,” Conrad said. “So every time students would use those accounts they would recognize that this was a colonial or settler perspective rather than ‘the truth.’”

Another practice of the teachers that Conrad noted was how they promoted multiple ways of knowing simultaneously as valid.

“This was kind of the key: using teaching and learning methods that engaged students in interpreting and developing their own analysis experientially. So they used theater, they used art, they had guest speakers who could facilitate experiences, they took field trips — and all this really helped students simultaneously look at two ways of knowing.” 

Conrad plans to continue exploring the subject in her dissertation research, which will focus on how novice teachers incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing and learning in their classrooms. Through her study, which will example how novice teachers take up Washington state’s tribal sovereignty curriculum, she hopes her findings will benefit other states exploring how to add tribal history and sovereignty to their curriculum.


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