Witness In The Classroom

I decided to transition my learning experience from a solely personal entity, to a relational journey alongside my students. My time spent with my pre-internship class navigating through our ‘shared history’, as well as coming to understand how one bears witness and honours gestures of reconciliation, was an emotionally powerful experience. Our essential questions were as follows:

  • Why are we all Treaty People?
  • What does it mean to be a Treaty Person (past, present and future)?

Focused Outcomes: Our learning mainly surrounded Social Studies and English Language Arts; however, was also connected to additional subject areas (i.e., Mathematics, Health Education, etc.).

          Social Studies 6:

Outcome: DR6.4 – Relate contemporary issues to their historical origins in Canada and a selection of countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

a. Construct a timeline or other graphic or digital representation to associate contemporary events with their historical origins in Canada and in a selection of countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

b. Analyze the historical origins of a current issue affecting youth in Canada and a selection of countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean by tracing the evolution of the issue over time (e.g., slavery, colonization, migration, and indigenous peoples’ relationships with colonizing peoples).

          ELA 6:

Outcome: CC6.1 – Create various visual, multimedia, oral, and written texts that explore identity (e.g., Your Choices), social responsibility (e.g., Looking for Answers), and efficacy (e.g., Systems for Living).

a. Represent ideas, opinions, and facts about identity, social responsibility, and efficacy for specific purposes (e.g., to explain, to narrate, to describe, to persuade) and audiences.

b. Create speeches, written compositions, and other representations that feature the following qualities:

  • Message Content or Ideas (Meaning):Focuses on straightforward ideas and information; provides relevant details, examples, and explanations; generally is accurate and complete; uses own words.
  • Organization and Coherence (Form):Introduces the topic and purpose; may provide some context; sticks to the topic; provides easy-to-follow sequence with related ideas grouped together (sequence is logical); uses a variety of connecting words; creates a logical ending; includes appropriate, required text features (e.g., titles, headings, diagrams, illustrations); uses paragraphs that have main ideas and supporting details.
  • Language Conventions (Style and Language Choices): Uses clear purpose and language; contains some description and variety in diction; contains a variety of sentence lengths and some varied sentence beginnings; demonstrates the use of several different conjunctions; formulates simple, compound, and complex sentences; applies the conventions of oral and written language, including very few spelling errors, correct punctuation (including use of colon, dash, and hyphen); uses syntactically complete and correct sentences (avoiding run-ons and fragments); uses legible cursive handwriting and other clear representations which are visually accurate and legibly and neatly presented.

c. Create a variety of visual, oral, written, and multimedia (including digital) texts including personal narratives, responses or reactions to reports, articles, instructions, explanations, letters, illustrations, diagrams, leaflets, stories, poems, storyboards, cartoons, skits, or short video scripts.

d. Create a variety of meaningful personal and impromptu communications (e.g., story, poem, visual representation) characterized by some insight, development, and originality.

e. Use speaking, writing, and other forms of representing to respond to experiences and to texts.

Additional Outcomes (that connect in a cross-curricular manner, but were not necessarily included in my unit):

Health Education 6: USC 6.2 – Appraise the importance of establishing/maintaining healthy relationships with people from diverse backgrounds who may or may not express differing values, beliefs, standards, and/or perspectives (i.e., people of various ages, cultures, socio-economic status, faiths, family structures, sexual orientations, and cognitive/physical abilities).

Arts Education 6: CH 6.1 – Investigate how personal, cultural, or regional identity may be reflected in arts expressions.

Treaty Education 6: SI (Spirit & Intent) 6.2 – Analyze the importance of the preservation of the preservation and promotion of First Nations & Metis languages.

  • Express how one’s cultural identity is influenced by language.


  • Describe how the loss of language impacts cultural identity (e.g., importance of ceremony, song, dance, storytelling).
  • Explore initiatives in Canada that contribute to the preservation and restoration of First Nations languages.


We began our experience with a pre-assessment learning activity a few weeks before my three-week teaching block began; I handed each of the students a post-it note and had them answer the question ‘What is a Treaty?’ – to my surprise, very few of them had an understanding of what this meant. We then engaged in an exercise where they ‘voted with their feet’- I read aloud statements regarding Saskatchewan Treaties (relationships and promises). Their goal was to move around the room as reflective of their current understanding of said concepts. Again, I was a little surprised at how insignificant their background knowledge and prior experiences were (afterall, Treaty outcomes and indicators have been mandated for a majority of their schooling experience – why had they not learned any of this as of late?). I knew at this point that there was a lot of work to be done in terms of building a strong, sound foundation of understanding for these students to be able to move forward with. Although my outcomes were focused on the contemporary issues in relation to their historical origins, I knew that I needed to head back in time in terms of content taught – beginning with the signing of the Treaties and moving forward. I knew that it would not be an equitable, meaningful learning experience if I jumped into a discussion of contemporary issues without teaching the ‘basics’ (i.e., how can students fully understand the current implications of intergenerational reverberation existing today as a result of Residential Schools if they have little to no understanding as to what ‘Residential Schools’ involves).

Our three-week learning experience sparked many questions and inquiries and I was continuously inspired by the empathy and thoughtfulness displayed by the students on a daily basis. Their passion for learning this content emotionally moved me – I knew that I was making a difference in their experiences. As students continued to become intensely invested in the learning, I started to realize how little I actually know (and how much learning I still need to do – I am in no way an expert). It was humbling for me to admit this to my students and this vulnerability brought us closer together – we were on this journey together.

We wrapped up our learning experience with a (brief) discussion surrounding contemporary issues; this was exciting, as students were actively engaged in the inquiry and discussion process. Students brought current events into the classroom, which was the starting point for our discussion regarding stereotypes, racism, and intergenerational effects (as well as what is fact versus what is opinion). Students were able to make strong connections between prior content learned in the three-weeks (i.e., broken Treaty promises, the Indian Act, Residential Schools, etc.) and contemporary issues occurring in our community, city, and country. Some students were appalled that the effects of Residential School are still prevalent in the lives of First Nations Peoples today – this sparked aggressive emotions within them and allowed for a smooth, and empathetic, transition into our discussion of reconciliation. We took our learning beyond the classroom walls and into the community by spending the day at the University of Regina alongside the Witness Blanket exhibit. We began by watching the project video on the Witness Blanket website, as well as a video my peers had created for a course assignment (the video featured information about Residential Schools, as well an interview with Elder Joseph regarding the significance of the Witness Blanket in support of reconciliation). At this point in our journey, the students had a strong foundation of background knowledge to authentically experience the Witness Blanket – their hearts were open and ready to feel.

Our tour of the Witness Blanket began with an exploration – the students were able to experience the artifacts individually, while being cognizant of the artifacts that they connected/resonated with. The students were so excited; taking pictures to show their families at the end of the day, and asking questions with immense excitement – the overall energy level was through the roof! We then experienced the Blanket collaboratively; we walked along the Witness Blanket, while students shared and asked questions about certain artifacts – I shared as much knowledge as I possessed regarding certain artifacts, but did not have answers to all of their questions. We used this as an opportunity to further our learning – we researched, collectively, what we did not know! It was truly powerful.

witness blanket tour 1


In order to unpack our time spent with the Witness Blanket, we participated in a sharing circle by which students expressed their thoughts, emotions and understandings surrounding content learned throughout the unit in connection with the Witness Blanket – powerful words were shared during this time. I could not believe some of the things they were sharing – I was at a loss of words. Their thoughts were filled with empathy, respect, and authentically genuine hope for a better future for all people. Despite living in a overly critical, oppressive (stereotypical and racist, as well) world, these students continue to show acceptance and love for all people – they give me hope for a future of reconciliation, Our day ended with a discussion of what ‘reconciliation’ means to us, as well as an art making experience. Students had a choice as to how they were going to represent their learning in a visual, creative manner – using symbols, words, images, etc. This process was therapeutic for the students – they were able to continue to reflect on their experience, while also unpacking the ‘uncomfortable’ information at a level appropriate for their own personal wellbeing (independently, in small groups, with myself, etc.).

bear witness 3


As a cumulative way to conclude and represent the learning that took place during our time together, we have created a video as a gesture for reconciliation (for more information, visit the Project of Heart website). When reflecting on my experience alongside these inspirational individuals, I feel as though I have accomplished one thing: providing them with a meaningful learning experience. Would I have liked to dig deeper into my outcome (contemporary issues)? Of course. Was three-weeks enough time to do a ‘good job’ (provide an authentic experience)? Definitely not. Do I think that I at least provided the students with somewhat of a foundation to build off of moving forward? Of course – if anything, my students now have an understanding/foundation of knowledge surrounding our country’s ‘shared history’, as well as where their responsibility lies moving forward (bearing witness and reconciliation). I am proud of the risks these students were willing to take on a daily basis, putting themselves through some overtly uncomfortable learning experiences. They are strong, resilient individuals who have shared this strength and passion with me – I have hope for their bright futures and the things they will make possible for all people as a result of their willingness to move forward, but never forget. 


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