Honouring Students’ Expertise

As experts, students will have areas of knowledge outside of our own realm of expertise. When adults assume a position as authority figures based on notions of adult superiority, it can be threatening to discover areas where our students have more knowledge than we do. When instead we approach our students as people of equal value we can delight in the opportunity to learn from them.

Saying It
This is new for me and I may be limited on this subject so let’s be patient with each other. I am looking forward to learning from you.

For example, the fast-paced field of technology and social media can stump many adults, providing an opportunity for youth to show leadership.

As another example, First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures in Canada are varied and diverse. Students from any of these cultures have knowledge that is very specific to their own experience. Our attempt to seek and integrate information about Canada’s indigenous cultures into our students’ learning is important and relevant. We can do so respectfully by humbly acknowledging our ignorance and the wide range of Aboriginal experiences and cultures in Canada. Without singling out any individual, we can invite anyone who wishes to teach us and share other perspectives.

It will be a huge help for teachers working with Inuit students if they understand where kids are coming from in terms of their culture and background. At the same time, teachers need to find a balance between placing students in their cultural context while still seeing them as individuals. For example, it’s more characteristic of Inuit culture to be more quiet, but for individual students it would depend on how long they’ve been in the south. And we all deviate from our cultures in some way. It’s important not to generalize. Not all Inuit are the same, they don’t have the same history, they weren’t all brought up the same way. And not all Inuit are quiet—some Inuit are very outspoken and direct.

– Inuit educator

Trying It
We can make the effort to learn and share with all of us what languages our students speak, and more about their context. (Keep in mind that there are many Aboriginal languages.)

When we discover that our students’ skill or knowledge level has outstripped our own in any field or subject area, we can reverse our traditional roles by welcoming their input. We can demonstrate our willingness and openness to learn from our students.

Trying It
We can make the effort to learn a word from each language spoken by our students.
For example, we can learn a word from a First Nations, Métis or Inuit language spoken by one of our students, or another language that represents the cultures in our school.