Summer Enrichment Program July 21, 2020

Trauma-Informed Classrooms and Land-Based Learning – Summer Enrichment Program

Teach For Canada’s Summer Enrichment Program brings teachers together with Indigenous leaders, northern teachers, and education experts to prepare them to support student success in northern First Nations in Ontario and Manitoba. This year, the Summer Enrichment Program was fully digitized in response to the pandemic. Emily Blackmoon and Bryan Bellefeuille are two presenters for the 2020 program focusing on trauma-informed classrooms and land-based education, respectively. We asked them about what they hope teachers will take away from each of their sessions.


Teach For Canada’s cornerstone Summer Enrichment Program prepares teachers to support student success in the North.


Emily Blackmoon – Trauma-Informed Classrooms 


Emily Blackmoon (French/British/Algonquin) (She/Her) is a Registered Social Worker and holistic psychotherapist. She has worked for over 10 years as a therapist and case manager specifically within the urban Indigenous community of Toronto, supporting parents, families, children, and youth. In 2014 she completed a four-year training in Gestalt therapy and is now a supervisor. In her therapy practices, Emily combines Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppressive, and Feminist principals of social work with Gestalt therapy and Indigenous worldviews. Emily is currently one of two Indigenous social workers at the Toronto District School Board and focuses her work on advocacy for Indigenous students, as well as creating professional learning opportunities for staff at the intersections of education, Indigeneity, trauma, and mental health.


Emily Blackmoon will present on trauma-informed classrooms for Teach For Canada’s 2020 Summer Enrichment Program.


Tell us about the approach you are taking to engage teachers online during this session.


In this session, I am looking to take a holistic, birds-eye view of what grows the heart and soul of an Indigenous child in an educational setting. I will review some understandings of Intergenerational Trauma and Intergenerational Resilience, and how teachers may tap into those experiences and strengths to understand and support their students who are struggling with trauma. I’ll also be giving a developmental and attachment review of the brain that is impacted by trauma, and offer examples on how staff can best support themselves, their students and their school environments in working with students who experience trauma.


Why is it important that teachers have a better understanding of how to create trauma-informed classrooms? 


Today’s generation of Indigenous children are some of the first to not be exposed directly to the horrors of the Residential School system. However, we know through our teachings, and through our understanding of psychology and family systems that our children are still feeling the echoing impacts of Residential Schools, as well as the historic and on-going realities of colonial violence. We know our children carry a lot, and that our children are sacred – therefore, how can teachers be best equipped to help guide this generation through the educational experience so that (as Cindy Blackstock often says), our children do not have to continue to heal from their childhoods.


What are you hoping teachers will take away from your session?


I’m hoping they’ll consider how they can bring a holistic lens to building relationships with their students and the communities they serve. I hope they will feel more confident in understanding how trauma may present itself in Indigenous children.


If other teachers were interested in learning more about how to create trauma-informed classrooms, what would you suggest they do, learn, or read? 


First, I always say go to the Elders, the Knowledge Keepers, the Grandparents and parents and the community and band leaders – they know their children best. Beyond this, great books like “Ensouling Our Schools” by Jennifer Katz and Kevin Lamoreaux is a great resource, as is the Trauma-Informed School Report by the OFIFC (2016). Indigenous authors such as Durant, Linklater, Dr. Suzanne Stewart and Suzanne Methot are wonderful.  From a western lens, books by Peter Levine and Bessel Van Der Kolk are helpful. But also, teachers will want to consider how they can support themselves emotionally as they are supporting their students, as it’s important to note that a strong caregiver can be there wholly for a struggling child.


Bryan Bellefeuille – Land-based Learning 


Bryan is the father of three and is Anishinaabe of Nipissing First Nation. He is a firekeeper, a grass dancer, and a traditional fisherman. Bryan graduated from the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University after completing an undergraduate in Mathematics. During his time enrolled he was invited to speak at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics regarding Indigenous Mathematics, as well as attend a session of the same topic at the Fields Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Bryan is currently an Ojibwe Language Teacher on the North Shore of Lake Huron. He previously worked with Indigenous people within the Ontario and Canadian Criminal Justice System as a Gladue Report Writer. During that time Bryan was part of the team that edited the Ontario curriculum for Grade 10 History in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Actions numbers 62 & 63.


Bryan Bellefeulle facilitates a session on land-based learning with Teach For Canada teachers by a creek

Bryan Beullefeuille leading a session on Indigenous mathematics with Teach For Canada teachers in 2019.


Tell us about the approach you are taking to engage teachers online during this session.


Attempting to teach land-based learning to a group of 50 learners over a Zoom session is a tricky task. Normally we would be outside feeling and smelling trees, we would be interacting with expected and unexpected events with nature. We should be learning the traditional way, which my family has done since time immemorial.


Having made some Ojibwe Language videos using clips from a video game, I decided to take a similar approach to my session. The core of my session will be guided by me live. There will be prerecorded real-life moments of me in natural settings to assist students in being grounded in the moment and understanding the processes that are occurring. There will be prerecorded video game moments, this will help recreate moments for students that would normally be in the bush. You can watch a highlight reel here.


Why is land-based learning so important to integrate into children’s education?


Land-based learning has countless benefits when educating children. Much research has been done under the term “outdoor experiential education”, and when we combine those researched benefits with the understanding that this land-based learning is knowledge being passed down for generations to these students, then we realize that the benefits become immeasurable.


What are you hoping teachers will take away from your session?


I am hoping that teachers understand that Indigenous people hold such powerful knowledge that it can save lives in a modern context. I want them to know that it is important to teach that their family knowledge is important and valuable. I want them to know that to make space for Traditional Knowledge in unconventionally thought subjects, like mathematics, is not only worth their time but can change the world through the future actions of those students.


If other teachers were interested in learning more about land-based learning, what would you suggest they do, read, or learn?


At the end of my session for the Teach For Canada teachers, I provided a small guide. It is difficult to be one person to teach land-based learning with Traditional Knowledge and teachings. The guide asks teachers questions like, “Who would know historical teachings about it?” and “What places have Indigenous Knowledge holders about this topic?”. I remind teachers to have tobacco ready to gift to any knowledge holders and I remind them that information you learn from Traditional Knowledge holders may be sacred, which means you should not distribute it without its traditional context or permission from the teacher.


Traditional Indigenous Mathematics is a great place to start. Math in a cultural context was examined and written into books that teachers can use as a resource. Here’s an example. I myself would love to create a book for my own peoples and teachings.