In an inclusive education model, do teachers have to build a one-size-fits-all curriculum, then do extra work to accommodate students with disabilities? Dr. Leyton Schnellert says no. Leyton, a lifelong inclusive education teacher, believes it’s not only possible for teachers to build a truly inclusive curriculum, it’s actually not that hard to do.
Open-ended pedagogies that focus more on individual student growth than achievement of specific targets is a core principle of Leyton’s teaching philosophy. Focusing on an end goal but figuring out the route as they go can be the way forward for teachers that want to embrace the diversity of strengths and abilities in their classroom. He stresses collaboration with other teachers and with the land itself as important to inclusivity, as well as decolonizing and indigenizing education.
Leyton is an Associate Professor in UBC’s Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy. His scholarship attends to how teachers and teaching and learners and learning can mindfully embrace student diversity and inclusive education. Leyton's community-based collaborative work contributes a counterargument to top-down approaches that operate from deficit models, instead drawing from communities’ funds of knowledge to build participatory, place-conscious,
and culturally sustaining practices. He has been a middle and secondary school classroom teacher and a learning resource teacher K-12.
I loved this chat with Leyton, who presents an exciting model for real diversity and inclusion in education.
Welcome to the Good Things In Life podcast. I'm Genia Stephen. Today, I'm excited to be having a conversation with Dr. Leyton Schnellert. Leyton is an Associate Professor in UBC's Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy. His scholarship attends to how teachers and teaching and learners and learning can mindfully embrace student diversity and inclusive education. Leyton’s community-based collaborative work contributes to a counter-argument to top down approaches that operate from deficit models. Instead drawing from communities funds of knowledge to build participatory place conscious and culturally sustaining practices. Dr. Schnellert has been a middle and secondary school classroom teacher and a learning resource teacher K-12. Welcome. And thank you so so much for joining me today. I'm really excited.
Thanks, Genia. I'm glad to be here.
Excellent. So we have to start by having you tell me what you just told me about your last name.
Um, so my last name, um, Schnellert. When I'm working with kids, I usually say Schnell, where do you, what country do you think I'm from? You know, where did my parents come from? From my dad come to Canada from and we get to Germany eventually. And then Schnell means fast or quick, and Schneller means faster and Schnellert means fastest. And so then kids call me, um, Mr. S, Dr. Fastest, um, but, um, as I've been in inclusive ed, my entire career, it also helped because kids just see my name and don't know how to say it. And I've been called some amazing things. I'm sure with the first letter and the lot, your name is Mr. Well, you can edit this out when kids said that your name is Mr. And I'm like, Nope, no, that's not it, but excellent. Use of your sounds. So kind of shows how, um, when you're working with any learner, meaning first, right? Not phonics, meaning first of course it does. Yeah.
Yeah. Well with a name like Genia, I completely appreciate the, um, you know, the creative minds, the way creative mind, see your name. So you just said that your entire education career has been in inclusive education.
What's, what's your background? What brought you to working with learners with disabilities?
I grew up in the disability community, so that kind of positioned me that way. My parents are both blind and I'm in the 1940s. They took kids from their homes and they who were blind and sent them to Bradford, Ontario. Right? That's from Steinbach, Manitoba didn't speak English was stuck on the train. Um, and ironically was probably on the same train as my mom, who's from Galahad, Alberta, 196 people. So they grew up away from their families. Um, they met each other and I can assure you never would have met or married had they not gone to the school for the blind, but my parents, my dad's, my dad's work was around advocacy. And so he was the director of the voice of the handicapped and Regina. And one of my earliest memories is my dad, because you can go to university if you had a disability.
Um, my dad had a group of five other folks with, um, diversabilities took the government of Saskatchewan to court and he got, I remember him getting his degree in the early seventies, um, with five other folks. And, um, so I kind of just was in already. I fought it, like I honestly fought, um, try to be something else, but everything brought me back to inclusion. Everything brought me back to, um, the idea of self-advocacy everything brought me back to, um, looking at the world, not just through my eyes, but on behalf of my parents in a way that challenges folks assumptions that my folks couldn't when my folks had so much to offer.
Yeah. It's interesting that you say that you fought it for a long time, because I certainly did as well. You know, my education background is in, um, health sciences. And, you know, I was a practicing midwife, I'm on a leave right now. So I guess I shouldn't say past tense currently, I'm not practicing, but I've been a midwife for more than 12 years, but I just kept getting pulled back to this work and the, uh, the gap between where we ought to be today versus where we are. Yeah. So I wonder, you know, we talked about the genesis of this conversation being, uh, um, Inclusion Academy member. Lisa who is really struggling with, how do we actually make it happen? So we've got all these really solid, uh, pedagogical ideas, processes. We've got decades of research and yet people are still really, really unclear, even when they're, well-intentioned about how to make inclusive education work in our schools. And Lisa really wanted to be a part of this conversation, unfortunately, wasn't able to, but that's where this kind of started, you know? And so I guess my first question would be why is this so hard? Why is there such a big gap between what we know to work best and what's actually happening?
Hmm. Well, we could really unpack this for a long time. It could do a podcast series just on this. Yeah.
You know what, that's an excellent idea. I'm going to write that down.
Um, let me try to pick it up from a couple of lenses, maybe three lenses, and then you can choose what you want and edit the rest out. Um, or use it some other time. So one underlying challenge and inclusive education, um, and making that real is, um, lived experience means everything. And so no matter who you are, teacher parent, um, child, community member, um, janitor, principal, if you have lived with a diversability or you are in relationship deep relationship with somebody, with a diversability, you understand through lived experience how to, um, as I say, design or experience life in ways that create pathways, um, that work for that person, it's very person centered. But if you don't have that background, then you don't understand how to think from that perspective and design from that perspective. And so those of us like me remember, I talked about fighting being in the work that was just that I understood and had experienced.
And so I was needed to do that. Whereas the majority of my colleagues, very well-intentioned the first staff I taught, I'll be no, I taught Shelly more in middle school. I do know that we were a very inclusive staff, but there were really only two of us who had deep experience with disability. And so we were needed to collaborate with colleagues to help, um, work with that. But to say to someone here's what you need to do is much different than having an understanding where you can plan from the perspective of that individual or individuals versus, uh, make an add on after. And that's probably the other big challenges. Um, we talk about it all fields of education with diversity. You can't just add something in and mix. You have to actually, um, work from that, um, diverse perspective, right from the beginning. And so there's a lot of historical great stuff that people were doing, but it wasn't sustainable because you'd make a change for that person.
And then you'd just go back to what you were doing the next year, because you didn't have that in your class anymore. It's very different than designing from a diversity or a universal design approach, which is, you're always designing from diversity versus, Oh, I have this student this year and I'll make this change for them. That's quite different than an approach to teaching and designing and planning. That's always from a diversity perspective, who do I have this year? And so what's, what are the pathways for this group that I offer to everybody versus this kid needs, this, they'll do this for them. So it's quite different thinking and that's historical,
Right? And that, so it's every year, it's an iterative process.
Well, and it's also an approach, right? It's this iterative, but it's a real belief that I'm designing for the diversity of my group versus I'm teaching them curriculum. Right. We have to break that notion of, uh, who do I, I can teach what I want this year versus we're always designing the, how about this. The students are the curriculum, right. I plan with the students for these students. And I bring my content in to what I'm teaching versus how am I going to make this work for these kids this year? It's these are, this is my class. I'm designing with them in mind. I use the curriculum with them. And so that's a mixing. And then my last one, I know I'm talking, I'm a professor. Um, please lecture on. My last one, um, would be something that you and I were talking about before we started, which is, um, the system is inherently designed from a kind of like a capitalist perspective, which is everybody competes to be the right thing. And the right thing is white male. Um, probably, um, Christian, um, you know, so this colonialist kind of approach that's at the heart of our system also is very tough to understand. We're just coming to understand it now, but if we're really thinking more about how can I move every kid forward from where they are, that's quite different than everybody has to get to this outcome. And I don't know how to get them there.
Right. Okay. I want to give a little shout out to my friend, Faith Clark. I was listening. She has a podcast called the Peak Performing Team, which is really great. And she, I was just listening the other day to an episode, and she was talking about bringing on new team members and what you were saying, but you can't just add and stir, like there's a fundamental, you know, you add a new team member. You, you really are sort of fundamentally needing to rework the culture of the team across the team. Um, so that's, yeah, it's a great podcast episode. Really interesting speaks to what you're talking about. So I don't want to get too far. There's some things I want to ask you about, and I they're really important to me, but I want to, so you've talked about the lived experience, which in some ways I think we have individual people have the ability to change that, right?
Like you can, you can choose to only associate and have relationships with people who look like you talk like you have similar backgrounds, you know, etcetera. Or you can be really intentional about creating opportunities in your life for relationships, with all kinds of different people. And relationship for example, with somebody, with a disability then means that you are through time going to overcome that one hurdle. Whereas the systems piece, I feel like come on, it's been effin decades here. And I know you're saying we're just starting to understand that, you know, we're and I don't think I understand to, to be honest like that, the systems level stuff. I'm definitely, um, I don't have good lived experience to help me think about how to decolonize the system and come at, you know, come at education a different way, and I'm not an educator. So, but when you say the kids are the curriculum, I get one, a little confused, you know, and, or, yeah, I guess confused. And two, I get a little like, Oh, come on. Like that's so far away from anything that anybody is living right now. So how again, how where's the gap? How do you close the gap? If you're a parent or if you're a teacher and you are on the ground right now, trying to make a difference.
Sorry, I just dumped a whole bunch in your lap. They're in terrible, terrible interview technique there.
I gave you a ton. So you give me back a time. Uh, where do I start? Okay. I'm going to start in the middle. Um, so I'm a middle ear specialist, right? I embraced middle years, philosophy and pedagogy. I started as a middle school teacher in Edmonton. Um, I chose to be at a middle school. We had one middle school in Edmonton, the rest were our junior highs. And so middle school philosophy is about identity development of kids. It recognizes that kids are on all different places and development and our job is to nurture them in healthy growth. And that that's the work that we're doing. So I will say, first of all, um, this isn't like the system's broken though, it is. This is, there are approaches that really make a difference when you're part of that community. For example, in middle school, working for middle school philosophy, you're already taking a diversity inclusion perspective.
And so, so there's that structural piece, which is like, how can we approach our teaching? Um, and so it's not like, no one's doing this. It's like, where is this happening? And how do we more of that? Right. Okay. That's really helpful. I work a lot with, um, intersecting with parents. We have the amazing family support Institute here in BC. Um, I went up kick parents with kids with diversabilities in middle school are struggling. I often say, well, let's start by saying, so how, how to explain to me how this middle school works is this based on middle school philosophy? There's not a middle school. That's gonna say, no, we're not based on middle school philosophy. And so then he say, so I, my understanding is this is really about mentorship. Like your teachers, mentor children, and have relationships with children. And there'll be like, absolutely.
And so I'm like get to know my kid, you know, here's who they are. Here are their strengths. Here are their interests, and here are some things to work on. And that really moves the conversation away from this kid. Does it fit in this classroom to who is this child and how can we help them thrive and what can they contribute to this classroom? So I will say that working in the middle of years, community, um, schools, um, I, I it's, it, it, for me, it's easy to take that place to start. Um, and then when you asked me, like, how do you say kids or the curriculum? Well, for my entire career, and I don't need to like age myself entirely, but I'm definitely 30 years in. Um, I have always been drawn to pedagogies that are open-ended right. Pedagogies that have a low floor and a high ceiling pedagogies that activate kids' prior knowledge to say, what do you already know?
Or what does this make you think of? And then grow from there. And so there are many, many pedagogical or teaching approaches that, um, aren't one size fits all or a worksheet to fill in, but instead they're a chance to kind of show what you know, or see what you have. And so you build your teaching from each previous lessons. So I don't plan 20 lessons ahead. I say, here's where I hope to end. And here's kind of what we're going to try to do at the end. We're going to make a podcast. We're going to go and build shelters
That are accessible for everybody.
Um, and then my teaching, I start with a provocation. What do you notice? What's the issue what's going on? And then my lessons I teach are based on where my kids are at. And so I'm still teaching what I would have taught before, but am I teaching it in a way that moves my kids forward from where they are to the next place, to the next place. But in my experience, because I work with student teacher, teacher candidates, um, I try to say to them, don't plan every lesson for your unit plan, the end ish, planned the beginning, and then have things ready. But don't, don't plan too far ahead because you don't know what's going to happen. Right. That's what I mean by the kids or the curriculum is my teaching is actually guided by who my students are and what they do. And then I already know what I'm going to teach. Um, but kind of the skills I focus on the competence as I focus on what I do with the content always comes back to my kids and moving them forward and forward.
I think I was, that makes a lot of sense. And I think I was equating curriculum to like state or provincial standards. And so I wonder if you can talk a little bit about that, you know, like the, the, I know a lot of educators, good, good educators, um, who feel backed up against a wall. Because of the way their state or provincial standards are written or, you know, how the ministry of education or department of education is expecting them to quantify and qualify students along the way.
Yeah. Um, I can definitely speak to that again. It looks like we're going to do a series together here.
Excellent. I'm totally down for it. Be careful. Be careful what you say. I'm recording this.
Um, so I'm gonna, I, I can speak from so many perspectives around this. I'm going to speak to, so in British Columbia, I was on, uh, we have a newish curriculum in British
Columbia, very excited about
It is on that design team. So there were four academics then reps from all our partner groups. Um, but it's a competency based curriculum and a concept based curriculum. So what do we mean by competency based curriculum? The majority of the outcomes in the curriculum are things you do and you get better at, so it's mastery based. You can always get better and they actually build from year to year to year. If you look at our math curriculum, they're the same competencies each grade. And so that means you can get better and better, but it's less about, um, get to this point. And it's more about keep growing in this area. And so we can be building number sense for everybody and, um, communicating your mathematical thinking is something you continue to get better at. So what's great for this is, you know, it's really the sense of, um, teaching and moving forward and teaching and moving forward.
But kids aren't all at the same place. We already know that. And I was to take a bird walk for a moment. Um, that conception of grade based curriculum is artificial. There is no group of grade fours that are all at the same place. So again, back to this designing for diversity, it's kind of like, well, what am I, what am I, what are we going to work on? And then we're going to move. We're all gonna move forward. This kid doesn't need to wait for that kid. We're all getting better at these competencies. And then concept based cooking, which is quite different from probably what you and I went to school. And is this, I have been kind of like big idea curriculum, which is like, we're learning about this big idea and continue to uncover and uncover it, but it's not about memorization and facts.
It's more about learning about something and using like, I'm going to use the word literacy now. The literacies of that discipline. So thinking like a scientist, thinking like a mathematician, thinking like a writer, so that's exciting for SMBC. And it does certainly, um, help us engage in inclusive teaching and planning more. We can kind of say, so what are we going to work with and what are we going to do? But there's less of a like tick, tick, tick, have I covered these things, right? That said I'm a science guy. And so it does help to understand what you do need to know that electrons carry the charge, right? And so then when you're doing your different kinds of, um, equations, neutralization and decomposition and single and double replacement reactions, so exciting, so exciting. Um, that is very foundational to when you get to organic chemistry and stoichiometry, which is organic chemistry, but like, so you do need to learn certain things, but it really takes you away from, I need to know it now and do it this way to get it right. And it's much more, what am I working with? How does this work? What can I do with this? And when you're approaching teaching in that way, um, our most diverse learners are able to engage with the big idea and build skills from where they are to the next place. But it's not about keeping up, but engaging with what's the big idea that we're working with and building skills within that.
So then let's talk about that in some ways I'm circling back, but really trying to move forward from exactly what you just said. You talked about every, Oh, wait, I think this might've been before we actually really started recording. So you were talking about, um, every year, starting with thinking about your learners and designing for your learners when you're thinking about, and you, you are or have been for, for many years in your career, a classroom teacher. So, and that's the present, that's the perspective I'm thinking of right now is that classroom teacher is like, okay, well now I've got 30, you know, maybe 25 to 35 learners. And I've got, you talked about having, um, being a fan of pedagogical approaches that have a low bottom and a high ceiling. Now I'm not an educator. So, but to me that sounds almost unattainable. Do you know what I mean? Like how do you, how do you do that? Like again, how do you close the gap? How do you actually do that?
Oh, wow. I have a lot of answers. Um, okay. So let's begin from, so, uh, two things, I've been a classroom teacher, my career, but I've also been what used to be called a special educator or a support teacher. My career is my entire career as well. So let me speak from kind of the happy medium. Maybe that's not the right word, the intersection, um, which is, um, collaboration. So when I was a secondary support teacher, it took one year to make a bit of a shift, but, um, I focused almost my entire work on co-teaching. And so that allowed me to sit down with my grade 10 math partner, science partner, english teacher, and social studies teacher, those partners. And we plan together. We created what we call a class profile, um, which is something fade brownie and I have written about in our books.
And so what we say, and so we do some formative assessment. That's what we call it, which is, um, and I have this little, I'm getting to know you thing, um, that I do. And so we ask kids like, what are your favorite things to do? What's your favorite way to show your learning? What do you do with your friends? What do you do at your parents? What are your goals for your, what are your dreams for yourself? Like what are you scared of? What are you worried about? And so we do that. We do a little literacy assessment to see kind of what it's open-ended to see what kids can do with a piece of text. Um, and we observe and we do community building games, and then we build a class profile to say, this class here are the strengths for this class.
Here are the stretches. Overall, here are their interests. Um, also what are the specific needs in here that we need to be accounting for? And then we set maybe three goals for the term. So here are three things that this whole community can benefit from thinking. And then if you want to go to an IEP level, hopefully IEP goals, incorporate those goals or use those same goals so that kids are working the whole classes, right? And then we also make some decisions. So how would we teach this class based on what's going on? Cause some classes need more visuals. Some classes need more step by step instruction. Some classes need a chance to choose their own thing to work with. Um, some classes need certain kinds of working in groups or partners based on kind of foods in the class and what's gonna work for them.
And so, um, we built class profile. We set goals for the entire class, including everybody and sure some kids need some additional goals, but the point is, if we're working on the same things, then that makes it manageable because here's our target and it cuts across everything we're doing. So it's not the goal for the unit on teaching, it's a goal that cuts across units. We're all going to get better at explaining our thinking all, going to get better at making connections between ideas, all going to get better at expressing the main idea. And so those are goals that you can work from, that can work into your assessment in terms of whatever you're doing. And then we explicitly teach those things in our unit. So it's not like a secret curriculum where you're supposed to guess at how to get better, getting better at what we're working.
Right. You know, what's really interesting to me anyway, as you talk, is that, that I'm not sure how long you were just answering my question. Not, not very long, right? Like, you know, a couple of minutes, but what's my point. I think a lot of people, a lot of educators that I have spoken to, again, really good teachers feel like this is esoteric. And what you described is highly practical, not difficult to access and kind of straight forward. So the, um, and not more work than a lot of work that teachers do in preparation before ever meeting their students like different work, but not, not necessarily more,
Not more work, but it's a shift. How's that? That's a big shift for sure. Um, to be able to step back and say, who are my kids we're going to do, but then there's also the, I keep using the word pedagogy, which for our parent audience might not be the most friendly term. Let's call it the practice piece or the teaching strategies piece, which is, um, as educators, you're filling your toolbox with pedagogical approaches. And so these open-ended things that sounded so scary and undoable, um, they have names like writing workshop or reading workshop and writing workshop. Every kid is an author. Every kid you write about, you write about what, you know, we start with a heart map and you do core all the people I care about, right? Where are all the places that are important to me? What are experiences that only I can tell stories about?
And when you start from kids, there's the kids or the curriculum again. If you start from what you know, and then you're writing about something, you care about it, you're invested with it. Plus you can tell your story. So then you're not looking at your neighbor to, well, what are you writing about? Cause you're a better writer. They're like you, they, you gotta tell your story. And then I teach many lessons to help kids shape their thinking, come up with a good beginning to wrap things. But that idea of writing workshop, can you say that it's, open-ended in that you can find your own way, but you've to be in. And then our reading workshops similarly is every kid's reading their own book that they're interested in. And then they, um, you know, you've got a goal with your, your reading in terms of where we're focusing on, but we end our reading workshop with a circle and we have three kids sell their books to the others.
And so that allows me to be reading. I don't know what I want to read. I want to read the Handmaid's Tale again. And you're like, I'm reading Michelle Obama's autobiography. Fantastic. And somebody else by the way, and somebody else is reading News For You. Do you know News For You? I don't know that one. The News For You, Um, it's for kids with developmental disabilities, um, it's packed with, um, visuals, right? Um, PECS symbols, right. Um, so you can say, I've been reading about that. Susan's um, Joel Biden's decision about vaccines and everybody else in the class has not been reading about Joe Biden and you look to that child to developmental disability. You're like, tell us about that. And that's going to lead kids to be like, maybe I should be reading about vaccines right now. And so it's really this idea that how do we create spaces where you can work with something that, you know, and that you have something to share with others. And so I, you know, I talked about being a science teacher, you know, um, I use open-ended strategies, those low floor, high ceilings where, you know, you're activating prior knowledge and you're using lots of scaffolding, but, um, it's a whole kind of, there's so many approaches. Um, but just because we have them doesn't mean that people use them. Um, and it takes a while. Like anything you got to use them for a while before you get comfortable.
Sure. Of course. Yeah. So I'm going to ask a question that makes me feel like within our circles, I might get, um, hung up just a little bit. But I've always kind of thought of not collaboration among educators, but this whole, like co-teaching idea as being, um, probably very effective, but like a temporary necessary tool that ought to go away at some point, like this whole, the matching of the classroom teacher with the special education teacher or resource teacher or whatever, am I completely wrong on that? Oh my goodness. It's not collaboration, not collaboration among educators that, that I think is a good idea always, but this whole idea that you need to have a, that the co-teachers are the classroom teacher and the special education teacher.
Cool. Well, this is one of my research areas. So again, I could spend a long time and then there's the whole American piece. So do you know, IDEA, are you familiar with the States? For instance IDEA, one of their five Heller strategies is collaborative teaching, right? So there's a ton of research on this. Now the tates are designed a little different, right? So it plays a different, but, um, I just want to kind of just acknowledge that there's a, a pretty solid, um, research based, including our own research. Um, and so I can describe this kind of go practically again, my apologies, my apologies to the parents who are like, he tells a lot on middle and secondary examples that's cause I taught middle and secondary
And people are always more worried about middle and secondary than they are about elementary anyway. So I think it's perfect.
Okay. So let me go back to secondary and because I'm a, cause I'm a middle school teacher, I'm a generalist. So as a special educator, I'm kind of this cool guy because I can co-teach Math. I can, co-teach Science. I can co-teach English. I, I did, I can. I also co-taught PE one year, which was humbling. Um, I've never co-taught foods, but I would love to because that is Science. Um, but what we did was I wasn't there for every class. I can't be there as a, as a support teacher. I can't be there for every class, but I can co-plan and we can decide what class I'm going to be there for. So I was often there for a class a week. Um, and so I've done some elementary as well. I have a great example in my book, student diversity with some say Brownlee where there's a beautiful example of how I worked.
I came once a week. Um, and I worked with all the grade six, seven teachers. So we plan together, but then I taught each of those classes and taught, what do we call it? An Anchor Lesson Genia. And so the Anchor Lesson was some approach that I introduced and then they use that approach all week. They kept using it. So the teacher tried it in different ways, but kind of my job was to bring the next thing, what's this I want, I want support with this. Let's see what that could look like. And so we did that all year and they were my Wednesday, Wednesday mornings. That was my Wednesday mornings was, um, uh, we taught then we had, um, lunch together and at lunch we debrief how it went and we said, what do we want to work on next week? And so, um, they were rolling with what they were doing in between, but my job each week was to come back, come with a cool here's the next thing we're work working on.
And I was always whatever strategy I was bringing. I was planning with all of the kids in mind. So that's just, that's just an example. But we started with impromptu writing and then we moved to informational writing, um, in secondary. Let me give you a social studies example. Um, cause there's three kinds of co-teaching too. So I have to say to my co-teaching partner, so I said to the staff here are different things I could work with you on. And so there's, co-teaching, I'm sorry, team teaching. Team-teaching where, if you walked in, you couldn't tell who was the classroom teacher, who was the special education teacher. Right. And so Kim Bentley and I very much had that in our English class. And so, you know, um, I'd be explaining something on the board and she'd be moving around between the kids. And she was like, just a second, Mr.
Schnellert , let me add to that and be like, hold on, Ms. Bentley, let's try this. And so we were really, um, keeping track of what was going on for the kids, adapting our teaching for them, clarifying things, setting things up by social studies partner. My first son was Peter Coyle, amazing guy. Um, and, and I had my part of the lesson ready. Um, and we never got to me. You just talked until I'm like, when do I get in here? So I started making a graphic organizers for kids. I started drawing things on the board events that he said to me, why don't you go first? I'm like, that's a great idea. He's like, but you have seven minutes. And so my whole job for that three or four weeks was to introduce activating prior knowledge strategies that had those lower floors and high ceilings.
Again was only there once a week. I bring something, I'd introduce it and he'd be like, that's a good one, Leyton . And then he'd use it all week. He's like, I'm ready for another one. Now I need this. And so it really came from, so there's team teaching where you're both kind of, then there's, um, complimentary instruction. That was me and Peter, right? This is your part Leyton . And you bring this part of the lesson. And so I know the part that I'm doing and then there's supplementary instruction where I'm teaching with Ken Long Moon who, my science and partner. And we were teaching a unit that I'd never studied. So it's really hard for me to like really plan much if he's like, so here's how you could help. You can, you can organize the groups and the group activity. So he planned the content. I'm like, okay, so now who are the groups? I had three students with developmental disabilities in that class. I'm like, but the key was that they weren't working as one team, right?
Yeah, honestly. Yeah. I think that the thing that rubs me the wrong way is that it seems, and again, I'm not a teacher, but it seems like we've got this sort of dichotomy. Instead of like, okay, so who's the person in the district who, you know, is, is the academic or who's keeping up on the latest ideas and then helping teachers implement them. So everybody is raised up, it feels like the co-teaching approaches really like, well, a classroom teacher can't be expected to teach to the whole class. And so instead of velcroing a, um, educational assistant to a student with a disability, well now we're now going to think about co-teaching because we need the person who understands disability to be there as well. Now I'm not saying that's the way it's supposed to be, but it's feeling to me and I could be wrong, but it feels to me like there's still this dichotomy between the, um, classroom teacher and this sort of disability deficit specific specialist who's bringing, you know, who's required in order to have a whole class approach to classroom teaching. Which is why I'm wondering if it's sort of a time, hopefully a time limited, um, approach as opposed to collaboration, which is what you're talking about, which I think is, Oh, it's useful.
There was a whole, there's lots of ways to answer that. Right. Both practically. And, and, um, research-based so team teaching that partner, I talked about typically team teaching works really well because the, you can't, you have like that teacher has a skill set of things. They don't really need me to be bringing things in. And so what you're kind of doing is you're moving things forward and you're making things together. I will say that in that, um, complimentary instruction example, um, it's not that Peter didn't have great pedagogy going on, but he wondered about this. So instead of cause what I used to do as a secondary support teachers, I give teachers things. This would be helpful for these kids. This would be helpful for this, for this class. It moved me to, um, you're not sure what to do with that. I, I was already bringing resources that they weren't using because they couldn't figure out how to fit them in there.
Like I I'm looking for this. I'm like, I will find you that. And then let's introduce it together. Some teachers don't want me in their class at all Genia, some teachers like, I need this like great, here you go. But there's just different ways to kind of approach that. And then I also need to say though, that there is no one teacher who can do it all. That's a bit of course. Right. And so, you know, you are going to encounter kids in your career and not just kids with developmental disabilities, all kinds of kids where you're like, I'm just not sure what's going to work for this kid. And so having somebody else to cope plan with and even introduce something with, um, is really helpful. I see a lot with, um, you know, like teachers are trying to take up indigenous perspectives in their classrooms without really any background knowledge.
And so when that add in stir, I'm going to use some content in my class. I noticed it's supposed to, it probably makes more sense to have an elder or a community member or an indigenous educator or a first nation support worker come and introduce one thing and then use that thing over time, versus I need a whole bunch of stuff. So it's kind of, it's kind of like triple fold there. One is that teachers are skilled, but we're always still learning then there's, this is my jars. Anyway, like I know the file and I, and I, and I have access sometimes to information like direct information. And then the other one is just, um, you're always trying to get better. So I'm a support in a lot of ways that the key word that's in the co-teaching literature that I should really highlight is that there's this idea of parity. So the glass one teacher and the special educator are both professionals and they're working together. I'm not there to fix anything right there to collaborate with you to interact.
Yeah. Hey there, do you find IEPs kind of agonizing? I do. Or at least I did. You can end the AME of navigating IEPs by becoming really well-informed about what an excellent curriculum based IEP looks like. We have a free video series, so you can know your stuff, advocate with confidence and ensure your child has supports that they need to succeed at school. You can access it for free at goodthingsinlife.org/iep. Now let's get back to the show. So let's talk about decolonization and incorporation of indigenous knowledge. Um, can you talk to me about place. But start with, just for people who don't know what we're talking about. When we talk about the importance of place, how would you help somebody understand that?
Okay, let me take a couple steps back. I'm glad you asked. First of all, I am a white male German settler child, the two parents with disabilities. Um, formerly straightish less, much less straight now. Um, but like being able to be in the world and pass and have access to most things. Um, and I live and learn, um, on Syilx Okanagan Territory. That's the local nation where I live. Um, I teach and work primarily in Nelson, which is five and a half hours to the East, um, where the Sinixt, um, people were declared extinct by the federal government in 1956. Um, and my office is four and a half hours to the West in Vancouver, um, on masculine territory. And so I need to acknowledge, first of all, that, um, I'm an uninvited guest on unseated status. So when I come from a place perspective, I'm going to start from a knowledge keeper.
Uh, Oh, did I mentioned the Sinixt were declared extinct in, in Nelson. So I start my program with my students. I'm working with Sinixt knowledge keeper who clearly is not extinct, not extinct yet in a pit house and that no let's keep her. Has gifted us with knowledge, which is the first thing you do on this territory is you go to the water and you thank the water, the water gives us life, the waters, how we were connected, um, our, our physical geography, our social geography, um, and then find an elder, you know, find an elder and, and learn about why the water is important and, and, and start learning and so place, um, and taking up indigeneity and decolonization, um, in terms of partying, that's just people I've come to understand that. There is no pan indigenous pedagogy, there are colleges and local languages.
And so we're learning in our place. Um, a lot of what I do in my teaching with adults and kids is, um, called place conscious education, where we are learning about our place from multiple perspectives. Isn't that exciting, something, a place, the water, why we are here, why we have this bridge who was here, who was here before here's, who now from multiple perspectives. And that already recognizes that there's not kind of one way to understand this, and that's actually great learning for everybody cause that welcomes in the local indigenous perspective. Um, again, in the, in the Kootenays where I primarily work. Um, we have a lot of draft dodgers, um, Oh, sorry. Well, former draft are just their, from decades now, but we're quite close to the States. Um, we have Duke, the Duke bore came. So again, um, folks who refuse to, um, engage in war and so came to Canada to escape that and have their own culture and identity.
Um, we have the Sinixt perspective. And so, um, you know, when you look at our place, there, there are a lot of freedom lovers, right? And so that really helps us look at freedom from lots of different perspectives and making space for each other and understanding what that means. And so we can go to a location pretty much anywhere and say, so, um, what's your now? What was here before? And what do we need to restore here? Or what do we need to honor here? Or what do we need to respect here? And so a place really becomes, um, back to the curriculum. Place is part of the curriculum or how we take up the curriculum. Because when you take up learning in context, it's more meaningful, it's more relevant and you can be more of us. Can I use the word Stuart, right? You can take care of this place because you feel some responsibility and you can also have a bit of agency, like what needs to happen here? What can we do? You know, who who's here and whose voices are absence and you know, what's our responsibility and how can we take care of this place? And so place becomes really central in our learning and that already opens the door for that is a decolonizing practice, right? That's recognizing that there's knowledge here, um, prior to settler folks coming here and we can learn from that knowledge and that knowledge can teach us.
I I've been doing some reading lately about, um, sort of the co-optation of allyship and, um, the proposal of accomplice for folks. Such as ourselves who are settlers on the lens in which we live and, um, you know, white, and as you said, sort of passable in some of the significant ways in which people gain in our society. And there's something about what you're saying and education and the ways in which we can use place as a context, you know, part of the context for education. That also seems in my mind to give invitation to kids and families, to be an accomplice in deconstructing the, you know, the hyper capitalist education system and decolonizing education. I'd have to think more about, more about that, you know, and probably my question when I think more about it will be okay. Yeah. But how, you know, getting back to that kind of closing the gap between good ideas and an actual practice.
Yeah. So I'm going to stick, I'm going to hang out in place for a little bit, if that's okay. Still please make that connection. Um, David Sobel talks about, you need to love the place you need to learn to love the place before you can change it. Right. And so part of this is just being outside, being in your community, thinking about your community again, as the curriculum. Um, and then, um, Dana, David Greenwalt, who also writes is David Greenwood. Um, use those questions that I was just using a minute ago, which was like, you know, um, what needs to be protected here, you know, what needs to be cared for here? You know, um, how does, how do we live in this place now and how could we live in this place? And so that's a perfect example for us as family members to be like, so we can be having that conversation all that time, all the time with our kids, which is like, how do we take care of this place?
How do we restore this place? How do we be respectful in this place? And so there's a beautiful connection there between home and school, which is, it's a way of living, right? It's actually about citizenship, right? It's, uh, it's about the sense of responsibility. Um, and in my experience with the magnificently diverse self advocates that I have taught and now work with as adults and my theater company, um, is that they really care about things and they want a chance to make a difference. And we often don't give folks a chance to make a difference and to have a voice. And so when you're actually taking action, like how can we take care of this? What can we do then you, then that's where we see that urgency in that feeling like a sense of you can make a difference. And that's important for us at home. That's important for us in the community and that's important for us in school. And so it's less about being taught stuff. It's more about being empowered, feeling like you're learning about something that you can do something about it. And
Then growing into citizenship
And giving kids power, right? De-centering ourselves as the teacher and saying, I'm more of a facilitator of learning and I'm creating these opportunities that are helping you build your skills. But my goal is to help you be a self-determining adult for you to be able to make choices.
But respectfully right in community, in relationship. So a decolonizing approach, um, is also one that's really kind of focusing on culture, culturally sustaining pedagogy, which is helping all folks and back to identity again, aren’t I, right? We all come as whole beings and we should be able to grow as who we are. We don't need to take the culture out of kids. We need to nurture everyone's culture with themselves and recognize that we all have different aspects of our identities. Right? And so, um, that, again, I'm back to my open-ended pedagogy again, too. Which is like, I don't want you to be something different. I want you to be a better you. I want you to grow yourself. I'm going to help you grow through developing your competencies from learning different things, from thinking from different perspectives. And I can do that with PCS symbols. I can do that with a choice board. I can do that with visuals. Um, I just build those things out, but it's, it's a stat, I guess, as a teacher. Um, and as a parent, which is, I don't know everything, and, uh, we're all learning together and let's see what we can learn and said, see how we can make a difference and see what we can do here to make a difference.
So which justice goes back to one way to summarize that is the kids or the curriculum, the kids
Curriculum, the places, the curriculum, all learning is contextual. All learning is social, right? Cause we're learning. Um, and then I'm not indigenous. So this is not my pedagogy, but I, um, collaborate with folks who, with whom it is indigenous folks, but, um, land-based kept pedagogy suggest that we learn from the land. We're not just taking care of the place, but the land can teach us. And so there are these beautiful pedagogies, like I'm walking pedagogies or adopting a tree. You go visit your tree once a week and you see what's going on with your tree and you chat to your tree maybe, or you write two to three, but you can see the seasons change. You can see what's going on. You can see what's living in the tree. You can see how, you know, deforestation has had an impact. Um, at some point you go, I don't think the grass on the playground is native to this place, right?
Where did this pavement come from? What was here before? Um, so it's, it's very cool in terms of this idea that I'm learning from my kids. We're seeing our questions come up. I am still taking up content. I want to be clear that if you can sneak in somewhere that, you know, concept based curriculum is important. Like we use the concepts from the curriculum, but much different than I need to create a test on something too. We're going to demonstrate our learning. And as soon as you say, how can we show what we've learned about this that opens the door to whether our kids to show what they know in a way that works for them.
And that is often even if you have a restrictive state or provincial standard as well. Like, I I've looked at quite a number of them and even the most restrictive still provide for that opportunity to say, you know, what is it that we have learned? And what are the ways in which we can show what we've learned?
Yeah. I've been doing this work for quite too long, I guess at some point I have to retire. Um, but you could probably tell I'm not ready for that yet, but long before we had changed our curriculum and BC I've been working with an approach called backward design, backward design says, what's the big idea here, right? That's, that's a concept based, you know, and then you say, how are we going to demonstrate our learning at the end, based on the students I have, how am I going to start? And then let's see where the teaching goes. So that approach works with any state curriculum is just looking at that curriculum, um, to help guide your teaching. And then the other thing that you're talking about that we should just name one more time is universal design for learning. And so universal design for learning suggests that you can engage kids in a variety of ways with that content. Um, they need a variety of ways to engage with the content different access points, but they also need a variety of ways to show what they know. And so when you build those two together, backward design and universal design together, um, I've been planning units that way with groups of teachers for two decades, I've been writing about that for. And so it was very like novel when I started writing about it. Now our BC curriculum does that, sorry, offers that you still have to do it. Yeah. That nobody's planning the units for you.
Yeah. Yeah. So lately I've been doing some reading on indigenizing education, but I imagine that for lots of people who are listening, that that's not a familiar term or concept the, um, you know, the, not in my experience anyway, kind of mainstream. And I wonder, I also recognize that the two of us having this conversation, like I need to make sure that I'm in fact, um, you know, just as you said, you know, first you think the water and then you go find an elder is, um, really good advice for this, for me on this conversation on the podcast. So recognizing that and committing to going and thinking the water and then finding an elder. Um, I wonder if you could just explain what indigenizing education means.
So first I start by giving a reference. So Niigaan Sinclair, who's a professor at, I believe the University of Winnipeg he's he's in Manitoba, who is the son of chief justice Sinclair, um, is a professor. Cool, beautiful podcast that he participated in through Brandon University, um, where he does a really nice job of talking about decolonization, but also talking about, um, indigenization. He clarifies really nicely that, um, white folks role is not to indigenize white folks role. So settler role is to decolonize, right? And that's our responsibility to, um, deconstruct the power balances, recognize our own power, make access for everybody, recognize and value each kid, their culture, their knowledge, see them and communicate to them that you see their potential and their competence and give them opportunities to grow and, and have healthy identities. Um, but then indigenization happens in partnership with indigenous peoples. Right. And that's our opportunity to say, sorry,
I'm sorry to interrupt you. I didn't mean to, I just wanted to let people know that I'll make sure there's a link to that podcast in the show notes. So if you're listening to this and trying to furiously figure out how you're going to find that, don't just go to the show notes. Sorry.
Great. Um, so then there's doing the work in partnership. Um, I've been part of this gorgeous projects in, um, the South Okanagan that's the region I live in, um, with school district 67, that's Penticton as the main community there, but they have many communities in school district 53, which is a more rural school districts, Oliver. And so saw use lots of great wine making communities, um, and the Penticton Indian band. And so together we end, um, cause I'm a settler researcher. I have a, an indigenous research partner, um, Sarah Florence Davidson whose work, you might also know she has a beautiful book called Potlatch as Pedagogy. And so we've been we're in our 10th year of a project called through a different lens. And actually I thought that was probably what we're going to end up talking about today based on, um, your community members, um, thoughts, which is in that project, we've had often a hundred teachers, um, participate every year in this project where they learn from one of their students who, um, may not thrive.
Um, if they don't actually say, how can I learn? So they learn from that child about their strengths and their interests. They interview them, they learn from them and then they redesigned their teaching in their classroom based on what they learned from that kid. So it's universal design for learning informed by a kid. And that whole project came from the fact that, um, indigenous kids, particularly indigenous boys and especially indigenous boys who had been identified as having behavioral challenges were not graduating from high school. We're not finishing high school, we're disappearing after grade nine. And so that really came from, um, not let's indigenize, the curriculum that came from, how can we actually learn who this child is to actually make this place a successful place for them. And then how do we make sure that, that, that pathway, that, that kid needs is a pathway that other kids need too. And so people did more hands-on learning or outdoor learning, showing, learning in different ways, um, integrating the arts, like all kinds of super cool things.
So that was my mom calling. Um, so sorry about the ring there. Um, so anyway, in our last two years of the project, we have actively moved to learning from, um, indigenous, um, educators and community members as part of our learning, um, as anti-racist work in these last two years. And that really has been interesting cause people were changing their practice before, which was cool. But it's different than understanding fundamentally that the system is biased, understanding that the way that our system is, um, we already see some kids coming in as being disadvantaged and maybe has struggling, which is not how the system should be. It should not be, if a kid from a different background comes in, they're going to, they're less likely to succeed. It should be whatever we're making is so that you can all succeed. And so that's a real break in a shift in terms of what we've been doing.
And so that has been incredible because we've been learning with, um, a known a campy who's our cultural coordinator for the school district. And so she's been sharing, you know, open, not Okanogan knowledge. And she talks about from a local Okanogan knowledge perspective, how it's drip by drip. You need to hear the same legends that are not legends, the same stories over and over again, to kind of understand what they mean and what a really interesting approach to curriculum. Isn't it, instead of speeding through the curriculum, we need to spend more time with an idea, more time building a skill so that we can master it so that we can go deeper with it so we can spend more time so we can explore it from more than one direction. And so there's a beautiful synergy between local indigenous ways of knowing, um, backward design and universal design for learning. And so instead of forcing them together, we're learning, but we're also unlearning, um, or coming to realize our own biases and how a lot of what we do in our situations are, um, kind of based on a Western idea of success.
That was a long, yeah. So, no, that's good. No, it's good. It's, it's really helpful for me. Um, so I can see, so first of all, I'm uncomfortable with the dichotomy I'm about to create. So I just want to acknowledge that, but, um, so I don't have to try too many verbal gymnastics to think it through, as I'm talking it out, I'm going to allow the dichotomy. So we have in both, uh, you know, the inclusive education movement specifically for kids with developmental or intellectual disabilities. And within, um, the movement to, um, provide equity in education for kids, for indigenous kids, there really is sort of, and without saying that the experience and the histories are the same, because they're not. Some of the, you pointed out that there's, you know, there's decolonization, which is one group's responsibility and indigenization, which is a collaboration. And I can see that those, those kinds of cleric clarification's are really helpful when you think about kids with disabilities as well and where they are separate processes with separate, it's kind of like anti-racism in general, you know, racism is not, um, not a problem, not a black person's problem.
It's a white person's problem, you know, so, and I think within edgy inclusive education or special education, however people want to talk about it. The fact that the kids, you know, we're still not at a place where there's a broad acceptance of the fact that the kids don't have a problem. Like we're still, you know, um, or, and that it's not their problem to fix or to be fixed, you know? So, um, I guess, so that was sort of long and not, not long-winded and not very specific, but it just it's. So I'm really interested in we'll we'll continue to try and learn more and more about indigenizing education. Not because I think I can do that as a white person. Um, but because it seems to me that we're deconstructing a system that isn't broken. In fact, it works exactly as it was designed to work. Um, but that, we're not, I guess what's my point. We're not recreating the wheel, the wheel exists. Um, and that we really can look to indigenous leaders to help us recreate, as you were saying around place, like what can be restored that should exist in our places.
Yes. Yes. Um, and it's awesome. Just a couple ideas, um, which you can edit that are put in part three of our talks together. Um, there's um, I did, uh, I was involved in a partnership project between the Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship. So I'm the inclusive ed lead there and, um, inclusion BC. And so, um, this project was for inclusive education month, this, this February, 2021, and we made four little films. Um, and one of the films was about self-determination, um, which is kind of at the heart of what we're talking about here. Um, right. Not doing things for kids, but empowering them and helping them have control and voice in their lives. Um, which again, is another thing we could have gone into more deeply today. Another one has to do with, um, rethinking challenging behavior. Um, right. Um, and then a third one has to do with employment, right?
Thinking about helping kids coming into the world, seeing themselves as wanting to have jobs and, and deserving to have jobs. And then the third one was around indigeneity and disability. And when are those going to be released? Um, they were in this past February, but they were released, okay, we'll put links in here. I'm sure we will. And, um, anyway, the indigenous disability, when is so interesting, because we hear from folks from a variety of nations, three or four different nations, and all of them say something similar. There is no word in our language for disability. Every child, every child has gifts. And the responsibility of the community is to help that child grow in their gifts to contribute to the community.
And that, to me tells us a great deal about our deficit oriented approach and yes, disability justice is important. Folks have different abilities and have a right to support, right? So that's part of our system, but that's also, um, moving us to think about how we engage with our learners as, um, recognizing who they are and that they have something to offer and that we're here to help them grow. And as you were just talking about, um, if we don't see each child is having gifts that they bring and contributing to the community, then we're probably hanging out in some combination of the medical model or the charity model of disability. Um, and while the social model is important because the social model suggests that, um, we disabled people by how it's set up. Um, the disability rights or disability justice perspective just recognizes that we should be creating self advocates who are like, this is who I am.
This is who I am. This is how I learn. This is what I have to contribute. And look at me getting better, right? Look at me getting better. So we're actually, um, helping folks, all folks find their voice and you can have a voice. That's not a spoken voice, but we're really building everyone's capacity to communicate, to critically think to, to make a difference, to feel like they can make a difference. And so I really am struck by, um, the importance of, um, local indigenous perspectives and how they're teaching me, um, to while I have to plan for diverse abilities and understand what needs need to be accommodated. I also need to be engaging in a way that are not positioning. Some kids is this. And some kids is that, but all folks in my classrooms as, um, contributing individuals who have gifts
Wait, and I think that's a perfect, perfect spot to wrap up our conversation. First of many, I hope because I know you're probably thinking that our little mini series is going to be me editing this, but I fully intend to just keep knocking on your door. Maybe we can, you know, once everybody is vaccinated, we can, um, record a mini series in the Okanogan with some of that great wine that you were talking about. Thank you so, so much, I really am grateful. Um, it's been a really helpful conversation for me and, um, yeah, we just, we never, hopefully anyway, we never start stop, you know, deepening our understanding and our own, um, w you know, work on our, uh, what's our own anti-oppression work on ourselves.
Yeah. We're, we're slowly, like so much of what we just talked about today are things that I've come to understand in just the last two or three in some cases, five years. Um, and if we had done this before, and I've been a prof for 10 years, 11 years, you know, and, uh, and inclusion kind of whatever specialists for 30, um, what I know now is so different from what I understood before, and I went to kindergarten and Regina, and so in my class and my inner city, Regina class, we were very diverse immigrant folks, um, urban first nations, um, kids of families that came to Canada from a variety of places, two or three generations previously. And I thought I really understood, um, circle, right. And being, um, part of an inclusive community. And for, you know, for 1970s, Regina, it was pretty inclusive. But I, I also now understand that the majority of the kids who that were in that circle with me, that didn't come from, um, the dominant background didn't finish high school. And so probably
Didn't feel it was part of the circle.
Yeah. And so there is something to understand here around, we have to do this work, um, in our homes, we have to do this work in collaboration in our schools, but we also have to do this work to actually address the inequities in the system that are still built in that will only just continue to understand and identify them as we continue to do this work together.
Thank you very much, Leyton . Thank you. Thank you so much for me for this conversation with Dr. Leyton fastest. Um, I found this conversation really rich, really helpful, and really thought provoking. You can definitely look forward to further podcast episodes with, um, indigenous leaders and academics about indigenizing education and colonization. And I just wanted to, again, point you to the show notes where I am going to include as many of the links to the resources that Leyton mentioned as possible or collaborating to make sure that that's, um, available to you. And I hope to join you again next week on The Good Things In Life podcast. I hope you're well and safe and looking forward to your days and to The Good Things In Life.
Special thanks to Dr. Leyton Schnellert for joining me this week. Until next time!