Three Teacher’s Guides for Leading Conversations on Indigenous Issues

Did you know we have teacher’s guides for many of our titles? These guides are a great help when it comes to tackling tough themes. If you’re a little nervous about discussing Indigenous issues in your classroom, these resources are worth checking out!

Each teacher’s guide below makes an excellent companion to its respective book. You can use these guides to ensure heavier topics are hitting the right mark with your students. Best of all, each of these guides is free.

A Teacher’s Guide to Student Inquiry: For the Graphic Novel Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story

Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story is a graphic novel by David A. Robertson and illustrated by Scott B. Henderson that tells the true story of Helen Betty Osborne. Known to friends as “Betty,” Osborne was a young woman from Norway House Cree Nation who dreamed of becoming a teacher. One night, while Betty was walking home, four men abducted and murdered her.

Betty’s story is important, but it deals with mature themes that can be tricky to navigate in the classroom. A Teacher’s Guide to Student Inquiry, written by Connie Wyatt Anderson, is a handbook for using Betty as a learning tool. Wyatt Anderson offers thoughtful tips for teaching the sensitive content in the book, including helpful discussion questions for constructive dialogue. Leaf through to the appendix to find suggested readings for further research-based student inquiry.

When We Were Alone: Parent/Teacher Guide

Written by David A. Robertson, When We Were Alone is a children’s book illustrated by Julie Flett. This beautiful picture book won a Governor General’s Literary Award in 2017. The book explains the residential school experience in language young children can understand. In the story, a curious young girl hears from her kókom (grandmother) about the pieces of her identity that residential schools tried to take away.

The parent/teacher guide can help you lead small children through the book in a way that promotes critical thought. Inside, you can find age-appropriate talking points on Indigenous perspectives and residential schools.

Since students often learn best by doing, the guide contains in-class activities to help young readers understand the concepts in When We Were Alone. There’s even a Cree word list to help you teach your students the Cree words used in the book!

Teacher Guide for K.C. Adams’s Perception: A Photo Series

K.C. Adams’s acclaimed photo series, Perception, came out in book form earlier this year. The project first gained attention when Adams’s photographs appeared on bus shelters and billboards, and projected on buildings in Downtown Winnipeg. Each of Adams’s photos is a portrait of an Indigenous person that trades harmful stereotypes for statements of truth. The emotional expressions of her subjects, the stark black-and-white images, and the striking text invited onlookers to “look, then look again” at stereotypes about Indigenous people. Perception: A Photo Series collects a selection of Adams’s photographs into one book.

The Teacher Guide for K.C. Adams’s Perception: A Photo Series was written by Reuben Boulette for high school teachers. You can use the guide to empower teens to question harmful stereotypes about Indigenous people. This guide has ideas for teaching the painful topics the artist’s work addresses. As a bonus, each module has suggestions for assessing your students’ takeaways from Perception.

While these three books and their accompanying guides make great tools, this is only a short list. You can find many more titles for teaching Indigenous history and perspectives in our catalogue. Browse our full collection of free teacher’s guides on our For Teachers page—and don’t forget to bookmark it! As we release new titles, new teacher’s guides will be sure to follow.

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Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: Faye Brownlie on What’s New in the 2nd Edition

All kids should have the opportunity to fall in love with reading. Faye Brownlie’s acclaimed guide, Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses, has offered teachers a powerful set of tools for engaging young readers since its release in 2005. Now, the second edition is almost here, and it’s filled with new strategies and updated tools for today’s classrooms. We caught up with Faye to get her take on the new edition and give teachers a sneak peek at what’s inside.

Faye Brownlie on the New Edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses

“The response over the past 15 years to the first edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses has been overwhelming. I have been humbled and honoured by the feedback and success stories that teachers have shared, and am so pleased to present some of what we have learned together in this new edition.”

The Basics: Literature Circles

“I’ve made significant updates, but have remained true to what is unique to this approach to literature circles.

  • The groups are fluid.
  • Students have choice in what they read.
  • No roles. The Say Something strategy initiates and sustains the conversation.
  • No limits are placed on the amount read.
  • No leveled texts.
  • Responses to text are open-ended and reflective.
  • Formative assessment strategies are infused with the goal of creating readers who read.

This empowers kids to exceed expectations, foster curiosity, and develop better critical thinking and discussion skills.”

What’s New?

“Teachers can also expect much brand-new content. Here’s a sampling of what’s inside:

  • Michelle Hikida and Lisa Schwartz show us how to create communities of readers with literature circles in grades 1-3.
  • Lindsay Holliday shares her grade 6/7 readers ‘I can’ statements, created to support powerful response writing, and then extends this as they are guided by their co-constructed  ‘good, better, wow’ examples.
  • At Highland Park, the 4/5 team and I strengthen response writing with a modeling sequence that begins with an exploded sentence and students critiquing our writing.
  • Neetu Dhaliwal capitalizes on the power of social media and uses Snapcha
    t to create thoughtful, engaged discussion around student-selected quotes with grades 8-12.
  • The Kamloops Literacy Team presents a step-by-step, non-fiction version of literature circles called “inquiry circles.”

There are so many more exciting ideas—for self-assessment, personal reflection, and more integrated summative assessment! Read on, find a colleague (because it’s just richer and more fun to be collaborative), and find an idea that sparks your curiosity and is waiting to be personalized, by you, for your students.”

The second edition of Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses will be released on October 24th. Pre-order your copy today.

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Orange Shirt Day: Guiding Conversations about Residential Schools in the Classroom

September 30th is Orange Shirt Day—a nationally-recognized event to acknowledge the harm inflicted by residential schools. For educators, this day represents a special opportunity to engage young people in important discussions about residential schools and other structures of systemic racism. 

There’s no way around it; these conversations are hard. They’re painful, delicate—and necessary. So, where are we to begin?

We spoke to three prominent Indigenous authors to get their take on the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day, and how educators can participate in creating a more equitable future for residential school survivors and their families.


David A. Robertson on the Origin and Importance of Orange Shirt Day

David A. Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and the author of several award-winning books for children and young adults, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for When We Were Alone. His work focuses on creating captivating works that reflect the cultures, histories, and contemporary issues affecting Indigenous peoples in Canada.

PMP/HWP: Where does Orange Shirt Day come from?

DAR: Orange Shirt Day originates from an experience of one residential school survivor that is common to many, that is the attempted elimination of cultural identity. 

A student, Phyllis Webstad, on her first day at residential school had her new orange shirt taken from her by school administration. We know today that Phyllis’s story is representative of the experiences many Indigenous children had while attending residential school, and we recognize it to both remember what happened, and honour survivors, but also to ensure we do not repeat history. 

I think, as well, we should use it as a day to keep our eyes and hearts open, because it is a history that is still happening, through systems like child welfare. Ultimately, Orange Shirt Day is a day of reflection and awareness.

PMP/HWP: You’ve written several books that address the impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples. Your children’s book, When We Were Alone, also frames loss of identity through the school’s control over Nokóm’s clothing. Why do you think clothing is such an effective touchpoint for talking to young kids about residential schools?

DAR: You have to find ways for children to relate to Indigenous children who attended residential schools. If children can relate, they can empathize. And empathy is powerful. 

Any child can understand the expression of identity through the way that somebody dresses, or how they wear their hair. Any child, as well, can understand the impact of what it means to not be able to express identity. If I tell a child, in a safe environment, to imagine that the shirt they are wearing, perhaps a team shirt, is not welcome in the room, because in the room, only the shirt for one certain team is allowed, that child can understand the concept of assimilation. 

If I tell a child the same thing about their hair, they can likewise understand the concept of assimilation. It allows me to have a conversation with students about their individuality, the importance of their uniqueness, and how it might have affected children to not be able to express who they are. To have to be the same as everybody else. 

Kids can understand sophisticated concepts if we are able to meet them at their level, in an age-appropriate way.

PMP/HWP: Why do you think Orange Shirt Day is important?

DAR: I think it’s important because it is an entry point to have an important conversation. More than that, it brings people together to have that conversation. That coming together is an important step in the path to reconciliation. We cannot heal a broken relationship in a vacuum. We need to do it together, and we need to do it through listening, and sharing. 

What I don’t want to happen is for this conversation to happen on just one day, so a vital piece of this is to build on this day, by making each day one where we discuss reconciliation, in one form or another. Because that conversation will shape where we go tomorrow. 


Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse on Leading and Enriching Classroom Conversations on Orange Shirt Day

Dr. Pamela Rose Toulouse is an Anishinabekwe (Ojibwe/Odawa woman) from Sagamok First Nation and a full professor in the Faculty of Education at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Over the past 25 years, she has taught at all levels from elementary to post-secondary and published over 50 educator resources. Dr. Toulouse is a 3M National Teaching Excellence Fellow.

PMP/HWP: Do you have any suggestions for classroom activities teachers can try with their classrooms on Orange Shirt Day that support the message behind the event?

PRT: There are so many classroom activities that can happen on that day, such as KAIROS blanket exercises, Project of Heart events, and learning from local Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and getting out on the land. 

The key is to reach out to the Indigenous community and form a relationship that goes beyond the one day. Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity to fulfill our truthful relationships and responsibilities as caring two-leggeds. 

One of the primary activities is to engage in truth and reconciliation by finding out “who you are.” Being Canadian will be so much more meaningful when you can connect to your own ancestral stories of challenge and hope. This exploration of the past from a personal stance will give students and educators a greater appreciation for “why” Indigenous peoples are so connected to traditions, ceremonies, and the land.

PMP/HWP: You suggest inviting an Elder or Knowledge Keeper from a local Indigenous community to visit the classroom as an extension of learning. If an educator wished to do this but isn’t acquainted with an Indigenous Elder, what can educators do to respectfully make contact with a community?

PRT: Nearly every school board in Canada has an Indigenous Lead who has been entrusted with many roles in K to 12. These Indigenous Leads are the connection between educators and Elders, Metis Senators, and other Knowledge Keepers. 

There is so much diversity across the country in terms of the protocols in how to approach Indigenous resource peoples— the Indigenous Lead can assist educators with this. In the absence of an Indigenous Lead, contacting a local Friendship Centre or a local First Nation or a Métis organization is the best approach.

The gifts and the experiences shared by Indigenous Elders and Metis Senators with classrooms will leave a head to heart impact on the students—and this is something that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

PMP/HWP: How can educators continue to help young people understand the scope of residential schools beyond September 30th?

PRT: Orange Shirt Day is acknowledged once per year, but residential school survivors and their families live with the effects daily. This is why it is so critical to continue to implement the Calls to Action from the TRC and do so in relationships with Indigenous communities.

For me, Call to Action #63, “Building student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect” is foundational here. It’s one thing to offer classroom lessons on the history and effects of residential schools and quite another to truly feel the depth of these impacts.

The most respectful outcome is for school communities to take that additional step and do something about it. There needs to be action beyond acknowledgments.


Christine M’Lot on Making Progress Through Discussion on Orange Shirt Day and Beyond

Chistine M’Lot is an Anishinaabe educator and curriculum developer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Christine is the co-founder of Red Rising Education, and works to create Indigenous education resources for teachers. She has an extensive background working with young people in multiple capacities, including child welfare, children’s disability services, and Indigenous family planning. Christine currently teaches high school at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.

PMP/HWP: In many Canadian schools, there are kids in the classroom who have been directly impacted by the intergenerational harms of residential schools. They might be sitting right next to kids who have no knowledge at all about this painful time in history. How can educators gently guide conversations about residential schools in a way that is constructive for everyone, and not harmful? 

CM: This is a very real scenario that most educators face while teaching about Indigenous topics. One thing that I’d like to remind teachers is that it’s important not to make any assumptions about the level of knowledge that Indigenous students may have about their histories or culture. I’ve definitely made the assumption that because a student is Indigenous, they must already know about residential schools or the direct impact that they had on their families and communities, but this has not always been the case.

   In my classroom, I try to ensure that our conversations around Indigenous topics are not always focused on the negative aspects of history. While learning about residential schools is hardly positive, I always make time to recognize the resilience and beauty in our communities. I think it’s important to show students examples of Indigenous resistance and political action that our communities partake in. It’s important to be mindful of not inadvertently showing Indigenous people as victims all the time but rather as people who continue to fight for equal rights in Canada. 

PMP/HWP: What are some discussion questions early years educators and middle/high school educators might ask their classrooms on Orange Shirt Day to keep the focus on healing?

CM: Some questions I like to ask my students include: 

  • How can we honour residential school survivors as a school and community? 
  • How can we ensure that the legacy of residential schools is never forgotten? 
  • What are some Indigenous theories and practices around wellness and wellbeing that we can utilize in our own lives?
  • How can we ensure that First Nations children get the same level of education and healthcare as the rest of Canadians?

PMP/HWP: Which resources would you recommend to educators to help them facilitate meaningful conversations about residential schools in their classrooms?

 CM: I would recommend the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Canada website as a great resource for teachers to learn about residential schools and gather teaching resources appropriate to their students’ grade level. You can visit their website here. 

I also recommend Red Rising Education for our authentic Indigenous educational resources. We created a special-edition magazine and accompanying unit plans to teach educators how to include Indigenous topics into their curricula. Our unit plans are centred around the themes of identity, community, land and water, and resistance. You can reach us by email.

For more information about Orange Shirt Day, including Phyllis’s story, upcoming events, and resources, visit the official website at


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Books for Teaching Sustainability, Ecology, and the Environment in BC Classrooms

Sustainability is more than a trend; it’s the initiative our world depends on. As our world reels from climate change, our mission must be to place environmentalism at the heart of our culture. Educators like you have the unique opportunity to engender young people with the desire to live sustainably.

With that goal in mind, we have a lot to learn about sustainability from Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The Grizzly Mother, part of the Mothers of Xsan series, and the Hands-On Science for British Columbia classroom resources make these lessons accessible.

How The Grizzly Mother Teaches Kids About Sustainability

The Grizzly Mother, written by Gitxsan author Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)  and illustrated by Métis artist Natasha Donovan, is the second book in the Mothers of Xsan series. The book was released September 1, 2019.

The book follows a family of grizzly bears along the Xsan, or the “River of Mists.” The life-giving River of Mists is the heart of the Gitxsan Nation, an unceded territory in the Northwest Interior of British Columbia. 

Through Huson’s poetic language and Donovan’s captivating full-colour artwork, readers learn about the ecosystem that binds the rivers, forests, and people together—and how the bears’ survival hangs in the balance.

The story builds beautifully on the first book in the series, The Sockeye Mother, which introduces readers to the life cycle of the sockeye salmon, the grizzlies’ primary food source.

The third book in the trilogy, The Eagle Mother, is coming soon. You can start your collection by ordering your copy of The Sockeye Mother today.

Teaching Sustainability with Hands-On Science for British Columbia

The books in the Mothers of Xsan series are a great introduction to the bridge between sustainability and Indigenous knowledge, but these quick reads only scratch the surface. For more comprehensive lessons on sustainability, the Hands-On Science for British Columbia series goes even deeper.

The series is split into eight modules for each multi-age grade level, each aligned with the new BC science curriculum and grounded in the Know-Do-Understand model. The content of all eight modules integrate First Peoples’ knowledge and perspectives, along with in-class activities and assessment tools.

The four modules for K-2 are Land, Water, and Sky for Grades K-2, Living Things for Grades K-2, Properties of Energy for Grades K-2, and Properties of Matter for Grades K-2. Each module contributes to an overall understanding of sustainability by exploring the core Big Ideas within each book.

Land, Water, and Sky for Grades K-2 focuses on the observable patterns and cycles in the sky and landscape. Students learn how daily and seasonal changes affect all living things, and how water is essential to all of them.

Living Things for Grades K-2 teaches kids to identify plants and animals while thinking about how their characteristics help them survive in their environment. Students learn about ecology with themes like adaptation and the life cycles of living things.

Properties of Energy for Grades K-2 gets kids thinking more about the role that energy plays in our lives as well as in the natural world. Students learn how forces influence motion, how an object’s motion depends on its properties, and how light and sound can be both produced and changed.

Finally, Properties of Matter for Grades K-2 explains what matter is and how it’s central to everything we do. Students learn how and why matter is useful. Hands-on activities illustrate how physical and chemical processes can change different types of matter.

With comprehensive content that helps students understand their world, you’re better equipped to guide discussions on how it can be changed for the better. These topics segue easily into questions like:

  • Why is pollution dangerous?
  • Why do we need bees and other pollinators?
  • What is ‘clean energy,’ and why is it important?
  • What happens to all the plastic from the grocery store?

Each of these modules has the power to engage young learners with the biggest challenge our world is facing today. 

The Hands-On Science for British Columbia modules for kindergarten to grade two are available now. All four modules for grades three to five are now available for pre-order, and Living Things for Grades 3-5 will be ready to add to your bookshelf on September 16.


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Authentic Indigenous Content for Middle Years and High School Classrooms

With the new school year just around the corner, we’ve heard from teachers like you looking to include Indigenous perspectives in your curriculum.

If you’re looking to incorporate more great literature from Indigenous authors into your classroom, this list is for you. These stories make great reads for older students with powerful touch points for learning.

Books for Bringing Indigenous Perspectives into the Classroom

Grades 7–12 are tumultuous years for all students, and a time when kids are especially vulnerable to bias. These titles help Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth process tough concepts while offering a more multi-dimensional understanding of Canada.

Surviving the City

High school is tough enough. On top of class work, best friends Miikwan and Dez must also struggle with grief for missing family members and the threat of being placed in a group home. When Dez doesn’t come home one night, Miikwan is distraught. Both girls must lean on their communities and the spirits of their ancestors to watch over them.

Surviving the City deals with the prejudicial treatment experienced by Indigenous teens. This eye-opening graphic novel is written by Tasha Spillett with captivating artwork by Natasha Donovan. 

Will Dez make it home? Find out by ordering your copy here.

The Reckoner Trilogy

Cole Harper is the hero Wounded Sky First Nation needs. In David A. Robertson’s page-turning trilogy, Cole and his friends must fight against the mysterious evils that threaten their community. 

The Reckoner trilogy can help spark a discussion on mental health. With a brilliant portrayal of what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder, the three books—Strangers, Monsters, and Ghosts—are a superhero origin story like nothing you’ve read before. Look out for forthcoming graphic novel series, coming soon.

Once you meet Cole Harper, you won’t want to rest until you’ve learned what happened at  Wounded Sky First Nation. Start with the first book today.

Perception: A Photo Series

After a racist, high-profile tweet surfaced in artist KC Adams’s hometown, she decided to challenge people to “look, then look again” at Winnipeg’s Indigenous people. This brilliant collection of portraits was first displayed on billboards, buildings, and bus shelters around the city. Each image aims to replace dehumanizing assumptions with positive truths about the subjects’ identities.

With a foreword by Katherena Vermette and a critical essay by Cathy Mattes, Perception is a valuable resource for dismantling stereotypes and guiding conversations about bias and racism.

Look for yourself—then look again—by ordering Perception in hardcover.

A Girl Called Echo series

Thirteen-year-old Echo Desjardins is adjusting to her new reality; separated from her mother, living in a new home, and navigating the first few days of middle school. Her reality is hard enough—until she’s suddenly transported back in time. In this graphic novel series, Echo struggles to make sense of the present while learning more about her Métis heritage. 

With absolutely stunning artwork by Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk, author Katherena Vermette’s series brings the history of the Métis Nation to life. 

The first two graphic novels in the series, Pemmican Wars and Red River Resistance, are available for purchase on the HighWater Press website. The third volume, Northwest Resistance, is slated for release in February 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

This Place: 150 Years Retold

Indigenous broadcaster and film critic Jesse Wente has called This Place: 150 Years Retold  “the graphic novel I’ve waited for my whole life, and the graphic novel Canada has needed for 150 years.” 

This Place is a groundbreaking graphic novel anthology that re-frames Canada’s history, present, and future through the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. Through the anthology’s 10 beautifully illustrated stories, young readers will encounter Indigenous wonderworks, psychic battles, and even time travel.

Get a new perspective on the past 150 years—and beyond—by ordering your copy today

Recommended Teacher Resources

It can be daunting to communicate the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in the classroom. To better understand these perspectives before you approach them with your students, we recommend adding Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning Through Ceremony by Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson, as well as Truth & Reconciliation in Canadian Schools by Pamela Rose Toulouse to your own reading list.

We also recommend Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation for actionable guidance on creating an inclusive, supportive learning environment. The book focuses on developing a classroom that accommodates your students’ mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Read more about these fantastic resources here, along with some of our recent titles for early years learners.

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Authentic Indigenous Content for Early Years Classrooms

As you prepare for another school year, curriculums across Canada are changing to include thoughtful, high-quality Indigenous content. This is a critical shift in Canadian culture, in which you—as an educator—have the power to spark important discussions about where we’ve come from, and where our future may lead.

Written by Indigenous authors, these books give teachers the language and tools to introduce students from kindergarten to grade 6 to Indigenous perspectives.

Books for Bringing Indigenous Ideas into the Classroom

Stories help young children understand the world around them. These books use a storytelling approach to teach elementary school students about traditional and contemporary ways of life in Indigenous communities.

Mothers of Xsan Series

The Gitxsan Nation are Indigenous peoples whose homeland surrounds the Xsan, or “River of Mist,” which is also known as the Skeena River. In the Mothers of Xsan series, author Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) and illustrator Natasha Donovan guide young readers through the life cycles that nourish the land and people. 

The first book, The Sockeye Mother, follows a sockeye salmon fry from its nursing waters, to the Pacific ocean, and back. The second book, The Grizzly Mother, has readers joining a mother grizzly and her cubs as they journey through the Gitxsan territories. Both are available on the HighWater Press website.

Look out for the third book, The Eagle Mother, coming in 2020.

Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock

When Awâsis’s kôhkum (grandmother) asks Awâsis to deliver a batch of her world-famous bannock to a relative, a mishap takes her on a detour through her community. As young readers follow Awâsis on her journey, they’ll encounter the Cree terms that describe her world.

Written by Dallas Hunt and illustrated by Amanda Strong, this charming book uses traditional Indigenous methods of storytelling to help kids practise common Cree words. It also includes a recipe for kôhkum’s world-famous bannock!

Available for purchase on the HighWater Press website.

Nimoshom and His Bus

Nimoshom loves driving the bus for the school children in his rural community. This accessible children’s story brings kids aboard Nimoshom’s bus to learn basic Cree words.

Written by Penny M. Thomas with beautiful watercolour illustrations by Karen Hibbard, kids from all backgrounds will fall in love with Nimoshom. You can purchase Nimoshom and His Bus on the HighWater Press website.

Early-years learners are filled with curiosity about their world and the people in it. With colourful artwork and kid-friendly language, these books can help foster healthy dialogue about Indigenous peoples in your elementary classroom.

Resources for Teachers

In many ways, the methods of teaching are just as important as the content being taught. These resources can help engaged teachers create inclusive learning environments for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning Through Ceremony

In 1884, the Canadian Government passed a law to ban the potlatch, the foundational ceremony of the Haida people. However, the ceremony—which was a time to share stories, knowledge, and resources—was too important for Haida Elders to let it die. The potlatch lived on through generations of oral tradition.

Author and educator Sara Florence Davidson grew up learning Haida traditions from her father, Robert Davidson. While Potlatch as Pedagogy isn’t a licence to borrow Haida traditions, it is a robust framework for holistic learning. The book offers an approach to contemporary education that focuses on the relationship between teacher and student.

Order your copy on the Portage & Main Press website.

Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation

We want our schools to be places where students feel safe, capable, and supported in their pursuit of learning. The reality, for many students, looks very different. Ensouling Our Schools author Dr. Jennifer Katz believes educators can change our approach to education to foster better outcomes for students. To get there, teachers need the tools to understand and talk about mental health, identity, and diversity.

With an approach that focuses on accommodating differences, Ensouling Our Schools is a roadmap to reconciliation and well-being in our schools. 

You can purchase a copy on the Portage & Main Press website.

Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued their final report, they included 94 Calls to Action. These action items are necessary for healing the wounds left by Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples. In Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools, author Pamela Rose Toulouse asserts that educators have a unique opportunity to take part in this healing process.

With lesson plans for all grade levels, Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools is an accessible book for incorporating the TRC’s Calls to Action into school curriculums. Each lesson contains background information, strategies, and step-by-step plans for restorative learning. 

You can purchase a softcover copy or download the ebook on the Portage and Main Press website.


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Here’s Your Reading List for Labour Day Weekend

The dog days of summer have begun, and the fall term is just around the corner. We can hardly believe it either!

With a few weeks left before you meet the new faces of the 2019-2020 school year, there are just days to go to prepare your materials. While there’s undoubtedly a long list of supplies to get ready, your mindset is the most important one.

This Labour Day weekend, get ready for another amazing year with these weekend reads—each with takeaways you can bring with you to class.

1. Catch a Fire
Fuelling Inquiry and Passion Through Project-Based Learning

Hot off the presses, Catch a Fire is a new and enlightening look at the transformative power of project-based learning. In each chapter, contributors to the book offer insights into how project-based models benefit learners. The book is packed with intriguing and useful information for educators, and yet it’s a quick and engaging read. Perfect for reading on the patio the weekend before fall term begins.


2. Perception
A Photo Series

What began as an independent project by artist KC Adams has evolved into a powerful achievement of social action. Perception is an arresting collection of portraits that challenge readers to “look, then look again” at the stereotypes that Canada’s Indigenous people live with. First displayed on billboards, bus shelters, storefronts, and projected onto buildings in downtown Winnipeg, the collection is now available in book form.


3. One Without the Other
Stories of Unity through Diversity and Inclusion

As an educator herself, author Shelley Moore understands the challenges of working in diverse classrooms. One Without the Other explores the philosophies and practises behind creating a truly inclusive learning environment. A master storyteller, Moore uses her witty and empathetic voice to share and build on her experiences with learners of all needs and abilities.


5. This Place
150 Years Retold

You don’t have to be a comic book fan to get swept up in this graphic novel anthology. This Place is a journey through time that combines Indigenous retellings of history with stunning full-colour artwork. Don’t be surprised if this engrossing anthology sparks new ways of teaching Indigenous history to your students.



4. Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Schools

A must-read for educators seeking to enrich their classroom content with progressive, respectful Indigenous education. In Truth and Reconciliation, author Pamela Rose Toulouse puts relationship-building and reconciliatory action front-and-centre. This book is a complete framework for leading conversations with students about Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations.

5. Indigenous Writes
A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada

Among other things, the long history of genocide, racism, and inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people has caused a vast chasm of misunderstanding. In this bold, clear, and refreshingly accessible read, Indigenous Writes dismantles some of the most harmful myths about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. If you’re a non-Indigenous reader, prepare to find answers to questions you may never have known to ask.


6. Ensouling Our Schools
A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Reconciliation

Stress, marginalization, and isolation are real impediments to learning. In Ensouling Our Schools, author Jennifer Katz offers teachers the tools to support students’ mental, emotional, and spiritual health in the classroom. Contributor Kevin Lamoureux adds an Indigenous perspective on adapting this approach to address the TRC Call to Action.


7. Potlatch as Pedagogy
Learning Through Ceremony

The potlatch, the foundational ceremony of the Haida people, is a tradition that has lived on in spite of the odds. Banned by the Canadian government in 1884, the survival of the potlatch is a testament to the resilience of the Haida people. Author Sara Florence Davidson lists her late father, Robert Davidson, as the co-author of Potlatch as Pedagogy as the book explores how the traditions he passed to her can find a place in contemporary classrooms.

While summer may be on its way out, the incoming school year may be your best yet. May the stories and lessons within these inspiring titles stay with you all year long.

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8 Takeaways on Project-Based Learning from Catch a Fire

While project-based learning, or PBL, isn’t exactly a new concept in education, it also isn’t mainstream. Catch a Fire: Fuelling Inquiry and Passion Through Project-Based Learning, is a collection of insights edited by Matt Henderson. The book combines the perspectives of fourteen educators on the power of PBL. In every chapter, each writer presents a new angle on PBL—from the ways it can accommodate different learning styles to success stories. Here are eight intriguing takeaways for educators from Catch a Fire.

1. PBL can improve outcomes for students who struggle with traditional models.

The success of a PBL teaching model isn’t based on the method itself. It’s about how teachers can combine relationship-building, inclusivity, and engaging work. The frameworks at play in PBL are conducive to these experiences, but it still takes good teachers to drive results.

“All learners deserve the opportunity to be in the most engaging learning environment as possible,” says Catch a Fire’s editor, Matt Henderson. “As educators, it is our responsibility and obligation to include all learners and to ensure that we have high expectations for all learners. Good teaching, whether PBL or not, includes all learners. Good teaching allows all learners to see themselves within that community. Good teaching allows learners to have voice, to exercise agency, and to feel what they are doing has a purpose.”

2. The key strength of the PBL model is the relationship between student and educator.

In the essay “How Does Project-Based Learning Allow for the Development of the Whole Student?”, Bonnie Powers and Tom Lake describe the experience of a student named Julia. Julia transitioned from a traditional classroom setting to a PBL-modelled learning environment. The PBL approach, and the support of great teachers, motivated her to do amazing things.  

“Julia’s story is compelling because it reveals how critical the relationship between learner and mentor is, and how powerful learning is generated through passion, interest, and relevance,” says Henderson. 

3. An adjustment period between traditional teaching models and PBL is to be expected.

Julia’s story also draws attention to the challenges of being a PBL student coming from a non-PBL school. In the PBL environment, Julia is in control of the direction of her learning outcomes. This is challenging at first, as Julia finds this structure disorienting. With the support of her teachers, Julia succeeds when she’s able to pursue her talents and interests.

“Her story is less about the transition from a traditional school to a project-based school, and more of a testament to the transition from an environment where school was done to her to an environment that was loving, enriching, challenging, and about her,” says Henderson. “This speaks to the difference between schooling and education. One is a system and the other is a relational process of transformation.”

4. Traditional classrooms prepare students for tests, but PBL prepares them for life.

As students graduate, standardized tests become a distant memory. Relationship-building, problem-solving, and coordination become skills paramount to success. PBL allows students to build these skills before they launch into independent living.

“Properly conceived, PBL allows learners to do adult work,” says Henderson. “In helping to create this book, a bunch of us came together to develop a final product that we thought helped solve a problem. We collaborated, we researched, we thought, we wrote, we came together and created something that was authentic and created meaning for us. This is what experiential education and PBL can do. It can allow for learners to engage in deep inquiry that has purpose and meaning.”

5. Engaged educators make the difference.

Effective education isn’t a formula. Henderson says a teacher’s effectiveness relies on the “bring it” factor.

“Poorly designed projects can be just as oppressive or disengaging as any other methodology,” he says. “What is critical in any teaching is that educators fundamentally love kids, that they are passionate about what they are teaching, and that they have the “bring it” factor. That is, that they come to their learning community each and every day ready to bring it—to blow the minds of their learners, to cause disequilibrium, and to channel the inherent curiosity that exists in all our learners.”

6. PBL is a great tool, but not a fail-safe.

In the same way that no textbook has a 100% success rate at teaching a concept, PBL is not a foolproof method. While it’s a powerful framework for diverse student groups, it’s not a cure-all. High-quality supplementary materials and awesome teaching are vital for great results.

“I think another major misconception about PBL is that it is better than direct instruction or other modes of teaching,” says Henderson. “This is absolutely not the case. In my practice, good PBL involves direct instruction. It needs lectures. It needs essay writing. It needs novel study. It needs field experience. It needs research in libraries and archives. It needs mentorship, experts, effective assessment, and everything else required for excellent teaching and learning. There can be a tendency to create false dichotomies in teaching, but good teaching equates to expertise, passion, relationships, and bringing it every day.”

7. Projects allow kids to do their work, not “our” work, and the results can be incredible.

Sometimes, you need to witness a group of kids united in a shared mission to appreciate the power of projects. Henderson had such an opportunity while working with a group of local youth to develop CKUW’s Radio Camp. This was one of his first teaching experiences, and a pivotal moment in his understanding of PBL.

“Given my inexperience with kids and with formal teaching, I really had no expectations. But what transpired was amazing,” he says. “Through the practice of making radio on a daily basis, these incredible kids were able to tell their stories, work side-by-side with caring and passionate adults, and develop their literacy skills for a real audience. I was blown away by how much we all learned. I was struck by how when young people are allowed to do their work, not our work, they are able to go deep into relevant content, develop incredible literacy skills, and fundamentally become transformed. And all of this learning was predicated on relationships.”

8. There’s no limit to what can be achieved with engaged students and educators.

Projects are collaborative by nature. When students and teachers come together, they can build anything—even another school.

“Three years ago, 60 learners and five adults came together to start the Maples Met School,” Matt recalls fondly. “The kids were given the opportunity to make their own school. While the educators set high expectations, the kids found their internships and mentors, they designed their projects, they planned their field experience, and set the tone for their learning community. The connections we have as a school community are deep and allow for rich learning. Everyone knows we have each other’s backs, but we also expect the best from each other. This was the ultimate student-driven project.”

Get more ideas for using PBL in your classroom – order Catch a Fire today.


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How “The Reckoner” trilogy contributes to TRC

The Reckoner: Even in Fiction, There Is Truth!

If you haven’t been following Indigenous teen superhero Cole Harper’s adventures in Wounded Sky First Nation, now is the time to catch up. The third book in David A. Robertson’s The Reckoner trilogy, “Ghosts”, is finally here—and fans will finally learn the fate of Cole’s community. While the books are fun and riveting to read, the series also invites readers into some very real topics. We spoke to David about the series, portraying mental illness, and what the series could mean for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

You mention in the acknowledgments of Strangers that the stories were really born ten years ago, while discussing stories with a friend. What were the stories you discussed that compelled you to produce The Reckoner trilogy?

Originally, The Reckoner was envisioned as a television show. A friend of mine, Jeff Ryzner, and I were discussing TV: what worked in shows we loved, what didn’t. And from that conversation, the concept of The Reckoner was born. It was really a product of influences. I think those influences are reflected, even today, in the tone of the series. Shows like Lost, X-Files, the kind of claustrophobic mystery that The Reckoner can be at times. You know, what would happen if all these terrible things were taking place in a remote community, where there was nowhere to run? Of course, over time, the series became so much more than that, but that feel is still there. Now it’s about relationships, about contemporary issues that First Nations people face, about representation, etc.

Why was it important to you to create a protagonist, Cole Harper, who struggles with the effects of trauma?

I wanted Cole Harper to be authentic. I wanted him to be an authentic representation of a Cree teenager who had become detached from his community, and what would happen if he had to return, and I wanted him to be an authentic representation of somebody living with anxiety. We don’t have a lot of protagonists who live with a mental illness, and I wanted him to be somebody that readers of all ages could relate to, people who are going through what he is going through. I think it’s empowering to know other people are living with mental health issues, whether they are real or fiction. If the representation is real, that’s what matters. Because I live with it, I could write from a place of truth. And the whole idea of Cole being a superhero, accepting that he can be a superhero, that he can be strong, even with this perceived weakness, was very important to me.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report illustrates how “reconciliation” means something different to everyone, but many contributors agree that reconciliation must be preceded by a time of healing and learning to decolonize. Do you believe that the Reckoner trilogy plays a role in this process, and if so, how do you hope it can impact the lives of Indigenous readers?

Sure I do. We need more stories like The Reckoner, because even in fiction there are important truths. If we read between the lines, this series addresses a lot. It has a lot to teach. It’s not for me to say what I want people to learn from it, but it’s there. You know, reconciliation is all about connecting with each other at a human level, through a lens of truth and respect, to listen and learn from each other, and to shove all the preconceptions and stereotypes aside. Books can facilitate that process very effectively. Maybe more effectively than anything else.

Did you receive any meaningful feedback from readers of the first two books in the series that stayed with you through the creation of Ghosts?

Mostly, it’s kids and adults who are living with mental health issues. And reading Cole and what he goes through, and listening to me talk about what I go through and have gone through, has helped them. This series has become a series that is at its most effective in the area of mental health awareness, and I’m proud of that. The theme of
Ghosts is really Cole accepting his anxiety as a part of who he is, and a part of what makes him a hero. That’s an important message.

Where there any scenes in Strangers, Monsters, or Ghosts that felt especially challenging to capture?

I think any scene that requires a significant emotional investment is challenging. Where you have to put a lot of yourself in it, and go places that will take something out of you. This book required a lot of that, but at the same time, it was cathartic. It’s healing to share, and I found that to be true. But, you know, writing about Cole having a panic attack can be anxiety inducing. But writing about Cole going through coping mechanisms reminds you of things you need to be doing in your own anxiety journey. 

And in terms of the subtext of some of the story, the contemporary or historical issues that The Reckoner addresses, like experimentation on kids, that can be hard, because you know it’s happened in the past, and you want to be respectful and do it in a subtle but appropriate way, with the right tone and message. So, yeah, all of that was pretty challenging. 

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Look, Then Look Again: Remarks on KC Adams’ Perception: A Photo Series

Art has always been a catalyst for social change. It’s one thing to bring awareness to a cause, or appeal for a change to the word of law. It’s quite another to use an artistic medium to dismantle harmful, pervasive stereotypes. In KC AdamsPerception: A Photo Series, she asks her audience to question their own prejudices with a simple, but revolutionary, request – look, then look again, at Indigenous faces. 

“Adams’ photo-based series Perception challenges racist stereotypes and remedies the aftershocks of colonization and its continuous and present hold on contemporary Canadian society,” writes Cathy Matthes in “The Perception Series: KC Adams, and the Value of Socially Engaged Art”, a critical essay included in the book.

In 2014, Adams came upon a viral Facebook post that had surfaced during the Winnipeg mayoral election. The racist post had been written by the wife of a mayoral candidate in 2010, but Adams knew the stereotype-laden tirade was no relic of the past. This was the inspiration behind the earliest shots in the series, which Adams debuted that August. Sadly, the series debut was shrouded in tragedy.

“I posted the images on August 18 at 12:01 a.m. because I was so excited to get this artwork out to the public,” Adams writes in the book’s preface. “Sadly, I found out later that day that the Winnipeg police had pulled two bodies out of the river the day before.”

One of the bodies belonged to Faron Hall, an Anishinaabe man who had saved two people from drowning in the same river that carried him away as he washed himself. The other belonged to Tina Fontaine, the murdered 15-year-old girl from Sagkeeng First Nation who went on to become the emblematic face of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. It was a dark time for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Winnipeg, but the right time for Adams’s images to enter the public conversation.

“One strength of this work is that it doesn’t point fingers at people—it emphasizes the injustice towards the original people of this land,” Adams continues, “The lack of confrontation allows viewers to react and ponder their own prejudices.”

Each subject of the series was photographed as they offered a genuine reaction to familiar, hurtful comments and labels. They were then asked to clear their mind before Adams captured them a second time. In the second set of images, Adams worked with her subjects to represent them as they wished to be seen.

“People from all walks of life volunteered to be photographed, including students, youth workers, singers, philanthropists, award-winning journalists, and community leaders,” Matthes writes. 

Among the subjects of Perception was Katherena Vermette, a Métis author, educator, and Governor General Literary Award Winner.

“I forget the exact words she used as she directed me, but it was something about remembering a time I was made to feel worthless, less than…a time when I felt like I didn’t belong or was unwanted,” writes Vermette in the book’s foreword. Vermette was then asked to recall an intimate moment she shared with her husband. “That’s what you see in my pictures—sadness, smallness, and wanting to retreat, and then joy, love, and pure relief. Both are true, and both are only parts of the greater whole.”

As more people participated in the project, Adams was contacted by Winnipeg’s Urban Shaman Gallery to help her adapt her series to reach a wider audience. The images were displayed on posters, billboards, and bus benches from March to June 2015. In 2016, the campaign was replicated in Lethbridge, Alberta. Finally, the collection has found a permanent home in print.

Readers viewing the series for the first time can expect to be confronted by arresting portraits, each accompanied by the subjects’ self-descriptions which Matthes describes as “..revealing, humanizing, and, at times, cheeky and humorous.” 

From the moment you see Adams’ own self-portrait on the front of the hardcover, Perception is bound to provoke thought, heartache, and even a few smiles. Above all, however, it should provoke self-reflection. In Matthes’ words; “working in a collaboratively, culturally grounded way, Adams reminds us that it is important that we all ‘look again’ before making up our minds.”

You can order Perception: A Photo Series now.

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