Education · Introverts · Multiple Intelligences


“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.” – Susan Cain

Picture this scenario:

It’s the first day of school, and you’ve spent the last week setting up your classroom. You’re really proud of how it looks, and you smile as the students walk in and sit in the groups of desks, each trying to see if they’re sitting with their friends. You have each of the students introduce themselves – their name and their favourite memory over the summer. Then you introduce today’s project: they will make a list of possible classroom rules. You explain, “I will make notes on participation, and remember, this is my first impression, so make it count!” You see natural leaders emerging, and you love the buzz in the air as your class actively participates in discussions. After a while, you call on students to share what rules they came up with.

It’s finally lunch time. The students grab their lunches and excitedly discuss their day so far with their friends. You pat yourself on the back for a successful morning and head to the staff room with a new skip in your step.

Now picture this same scenario from the possible perspective of an introverted student:

It’s the first day of school, and you’ve spent the last week thinking about how that first day will go – planning it out in your head and thinking of possible scenarios. You walk into the class and see that the seats are in grouped tables which you don’t really like because you can’t concentrate, and you also note that none of the people you feel comfortable with are at your table. The teacher asks everyone to introduce themselves, but this is always really awkward for you because you never know what to say. Your palms become sweaty. Then you hear the dreaded words: group work. The teacher explains, “I will make notes on participation, and remember, this is my first impression, so make it count!” Uh oh. You panic as the pressure of the situation takes over and your mind goes blank. The other members of your group quickly take over, and there’s no point in trying, and even worse, the teacher calls on you to speak when you didn’t raise your hand and the Rule List isn’t really even yours anyhow.

It’s finally lunch time. You grab your lunch bag, hear the class get noisy and realize that though this is considered your break, there’s no escaping the stimulation. You just wish you could have some time to yourself.

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Have you ever made one of these missteps? Have you ever seen a quiet student in your class and wrote on their report card that they needed to ‘speak up more?’ Have you ever sat a noisy class clown or disruptive at-risk student beside the quiet girl in the class because you think she will balance his behaviour and put him on the right track? Are you helping the quiet student in either situation?

Merriam-Webster defines an introvert as someone that “concentrates or directs upon oneself” and an extrovert as “a gregarious and unreserved person.” Studies have shown that 1/3 – 1/2 of people will identify as introverts, with the reminder being extroverts. That’s certainly more than I thought!

Does the classroom structure really support extroverts more than introverts? The simple answer is yes. North American society and schools prefer and cater to extroverts. And many introverts find it’s better just to fake it.

If you haven’t read Quiet by Susan Cain, it’s a must-read for understanding introverts: the definitive text for understanding these personality types. I remember reading it when it came out; it blew my mind. I also haven’t found an introvert article that doesn’t mention her or her book. In Cain’s chapter, “On Cobblers and Generals,” she argues that schools are built for extroverts. She explains it simply at first – why do we have classrooms of thirty students? Thirty students isn’t ideal to ensure every student is learning, but it’s cheaper. The extrovert ideal, Cain argues, is the American ideal: outgoing, vivacious and risk-taking. Many careers favour this ideal persona. Schools try to shape this ideal in their students because they believe the ideal to be ensuring the student’s future success, as I tried to demonstrate in the introduction scenario.

Interestingly, some societies have less of an extrovert ideal. In a comparison of Southern Ontario students and those from Shanghai, China, the results showed that more reserved children were “shunned” by Canadian children, but Chinese children preferred the shy peers to be both their friends and leaders.

I am certainly not saying that basing teaching and learning on extroverts is wrong. The goal for this blog is to have everyone feel accepted, and about 1/3 of your class, at minimum, would define themselves as introverts. Introverts can’t just change who they are. Therefore, how can we, as teachers and as a class, ensure that there is balance between the extroverts and introverts?

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What’s My Perspective?

You may be wondering what perspective I am coming from… do I identify as an introvert? I decided to take a few quizzes. I came out with my usual results – slightly more introverted. In Susan Cain’s Quiet, I got 12/20 for introverted, and Buzzfeed’s (very unscientific quiz) said I was a Mild Introvert.

This reminded me of when I taught Careers last year and I had my students take the Myers Briggs test (see ‘Social Theories’ below). In my personality type, INFJ, the ‘I’ represents introverted. When I put that up on the board with my student’s results, one girl came over to question my result.

Student: “You’re an introvert?”

Me: “Yes!”

Student: “But you’re a teacher…”

Me: “Yes, but it’s still possible to be a teacher and to be an introvert. I enjoy interacting with all of you, but then I like going home and having some quiet time to refresh myself as well.”

She just couldn’t fathom that her teacher, who stood at the front every day and talked, could be introverted just like her.

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Social Theories

Carl Jung popularized the terms ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ in his 1921 book Psychological Types. He believed that each person had a tendency to either retract in toward their unconscious or face outward towards others. Another way to put it is that Jung concluded that people had different amounts of outside stimulation that they needed to function well. Jung came up with four ‘functions’ that humans use when they are faced with conflict: sensing, thinking, intuiting and feeling. Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers created the Myers Briggs test using these functions, and further popularized introvert and extrovert terminology. I won’t go into too much detail on the Myers Briggs test, but it does group people into 16 categories of personalities.

The Multiple Intelligence theory by Howard Gardner is also useful to understand introversion. He proposed a list of 8 different ‘intelligences’ instead of the standard IQ test or what schools usually test for: Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Musical, Naturalist, Kinesthetic, Spatial, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal. The final is the category which many introverts might fall into. Intrapersonal intelligence “is the capacity to understand oneself and one’s thoughts and feelings, and to use such knowledge in planning and directing one’s life.  Intra-personal intelligence involves not only an appreciation of the self, but also of the human condition.”

Understanding the different intelligences can help us as educators to know that identifying as an introvert does not necessarily mean someone is intensely shy or disengaged. Instead, they are equipped with an intelligence that they might be stronger in than their peers, and they bring something new to the table just as their peers bring their sets of skills to the table.

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There have been some intriguing medical studies done about introverts in the last few years which compare how the brains of introverts and extroverts are wired.

In 2005, Cohen et al. did a study titled “Individual differences in extraversion and dopamine genetics predict neural reward responses,” which researched dopamine levels in introverts and extroverts. Dopamine helps control the brain’s pleasure and rewards. The study, which used gambling as its method, concluded that introverts responded less strongly to the positive results of gambling, which might explain why they take less risks and respond less to social interactions.

In 2012, Holmes et al. researched differences in the pre-frontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that determines social patterns, cognitive thought and decision-making. They found that people that consider themselves to be introverts have differences in the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex than extroverts, which might explain why extroverts are able to live more in the moment and introverts take more time with decisions. Furthermore, introversion has been found in species ranging from the fruit fly to monkeys!

Behaviour might differ in introverts and extroverts, but these theories and studies demonstrate that introversion is not just a social construct. It’s built into the chemistry of people’s brains and has a stronger impact than one might think.

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Ideas for the Classroom

If introverts feel too vulnerable in the classroom, this will not be conducive to learning. They cannot focus on critically thinking if they feel on edge. There are things that we can do as teachers, but also things that we can encourage our students to do so that both extroverts and introverts feel comfortable. How can we help them succeed?

  • Support a classroom environment that doesn’t surprise or single out people, but instead gives them time to prepare

When you ask a question to the class, give them at least five seconds to think about their answer before you call on anyone, even if their hand is raised and they’re bouncing in their seats. Think / Pair / Shares are also a fantastic idea. A question is given to the class, and first, the students think by themselves, possibly writing down their answers. The second step is to share your answer with a partner, and the third step is sharing in a group or with the entire class. This gives all students a chance to express themselves, while also providing precise and interesting answers with the whole class. For speeches, give students adequate time to prepare in smaller groups as well so that they are comfortable.

  • Expose students to new situations gradually, and take care to respect their limits

It’s important for introverted students to have opportunities to grow in areas where they might have difficulty. Get to know which students might have trouble with certain areas, and then have them create their steps and goals in order to get to that point. Be there to guide and support, but let them take the steps.

  • Give ALL students a time for intrapersonal reflection

This exercise in metacognition is not just for your introverts, but it certainly plays up their strengths. One idea I’ve tried to implement from my time in the UK is a weekly journal. I have students reflect on an open-ended or opinion question that has to do with that week’s topic. Then they hand it in for formative assessment, not for marks, and I respond to them. The neat part is that when they hand in next week’s journal, they also can respond to my comments from last week. This allows for feedback and a continued discussion between the student and the teacher, which gives quieter students the ability to write about any issues they may have, allowing you to better support them.

  • Notice their interests

Because introverts are often in their thoughts, they can fixate on something easily. They may have intense interests that you or their peers don’t know about! Take the time to ask them when it’s one on one, and find ways to fit these interests into the class, or for them to feel confident to be an expert on a topic.

  • Add in creative thinking circles like accountable talks

Accountable talks are student-centred learning at its best. I believe a positive classroom culture needs to come from both the teacher and the students, and this is a time where that balance shines. Accountable talk “refers to talk that is meaningful, respectful and mutually beneficial to both speaker and listener.” Implementing the talks takes modeling from you as the teacher at first, but then students can lead them by themselves. It makes all students accountable for their learning, but in a comfortable and safe environment led by the students themselves. Accountable talks ask students to defend their knowledge, unpack how they arrived at their conclusion, link to their peers, and listen to others. It stresses the need for listening as learning and redefines the assessment of participation.

  • Just as speaking frequently in class doesn’t mean you’re smart, not talking doesn’t mean you don’t know the answers

I asked my friend about being an introvert in school, and she said, “I try to avoid answering questions even when I know the answer so sometimes it’s so frustrating when they don’t get the right answer and you’re basically shouting it out inside your head.”

Give other ways for students to answer – through exit cards or smaller conferences.

  • Create a quiet zone

 Teachers often create spaces to encourage creative discussion, like couches around a table in the library, but it’s also important to create a space for introspection and less stimulation. This could be desks by themselves, a zone slightly cut off from the rest of the class, or other methods. Go outside and let them sit where they’d like! In my university course on Music and Geography, we discussed how headphones can change our perception of space. If you’re on a city bus with headphones, you become more isolated from others. You can use this to your advantage by allowing students headphones when appropriate. There are also noise-cancelling headphones available when stimulation is high. When I was in third grade, there was a bathtub in the back of the room filled with pillows. Thinking back, it was a little strange, but we each were so excited to get quiet time in the bathtub.

  • Notice and highlight the advantages of being an introvert

Too often, they are seen as being less than an extrovert. But in general, there are great advantages. Introverts listen intently to what others say. They have rich inner worlds, and they usually read and/or write well. They tend to think before they act, which makes them good planners. They’re the dreamers, the artists; they’re the ones changing the world while you don’t even realize it.

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is full of tips about how to positively interact with others. They’re very helpful to introverts, because Carnegie gives advice about behaviours that may not come naturally, but can be easily implemented and are ultimately quite useful. He also reinforces positive behaviours that do come naturally to introverts: he advises, “Let the other people do a great deal of the talking.” Being a good listener and making others feel heard usually makes you a better friend and a good person. What greater advantage is there than that?

Like my introverted friend told me, “You’re sort of more observant. Slowly you’re able to pick up strengths and weaknesses of others just by watching so you learn to use that when you have to do group work with them.”


–          Switch between different types of activities and levels of peer interaction, so that all students can learn better.

–          Don’t assume all introverted students have anxiety.

–          Remember that intrapersonal is considered by research to be an intelligence, not an inability to be social.


In an era and geographical area where being extroverted is seen as successful, it can often be difficult for introverts to feel as if success is within their reach. Hopefully these tips and ideas can help you ensure your introverted students feel comfortable, confident and capable in your classroom!


Follow these links for further information should you wish:


Susan Cain’s Quiet (highly recommended!) –       Amazon     Chapters

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People –          Amazon     Chapters

How to support introverts in the classroom:

Edutopia: Embracing Introversion

Introverts Have it Rough

More information on introverts:

Quiet Revolution: 6 illustrations that show what’s in an introvert’s head

Psychology Today: Introversion

Tips for introverted teachers:

The Atlantic: Why Introverted Teachers are Burning Out

Understanding the limits of introversion:

Thought Catalog: 10 things being an introvert is not an excuse for


Adoption · Crown Wards · Education · Family Structure


“We should not be asking who this child belongs to, but who belongs to this child.” –James L. Gritter

In Canada alone, 2000 children are adopted each year, mostly through international adoption. There are over 30 000 children waiting to be adopted within the country. When you think of diversity in the classroom, your mind may go to diversity of cultures or languages or religion, but I believe that diverse family structures constitute an important part of inclusion too.

Granted, there are big differences in adoption situations. For example, you can have an open adoption that took place harmoniously when the student was a newborn; an overseas adoption; living with grandparents, whether by their choice or not; single parent or same-sex parent adoptions; or a foster family situation. The circumstances vary, and some students will have survived unhealthy situations. In addition to these adoption situations are Crown Wards, which I will discuss further down.

Reasons for adoption can include (but are certainly not confined to):

  • Parent is young
  • Lack of resources or support
  • Single parent
  • Culture or religion
  • Unable to care for the child
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Wanting a better life for the child

Common reasons people adopt children:

  • Infertility
  • Being adopted themselves
  • Religious reasons
  • Environmental reasons
  • Single parent
  • Same-sex couples
  • Desire to help
  • Foster care first

As always, be aware of terminology, as ‘birth parents’ is a far better term than ‘real parents,’ though the reality is that both are used.

Adoptive parents tend to be wealthier than the average parents “both because of self-selection and because of the adoption screening process,” and more educated. They also tend to be more involved in their children’s lives. And yet their adopted children are more likely than children living with their birth parents to get into trouble in school, no matter when the adoption took place. This really surprised me! Adoptees are also less likely to pay attention in class, less likely to want to experience new things, and less likely to perform well on a math test (just slightly less on literacy).

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I certainly was interested in knowing why adopted children struggled with these issues. One theory I have found is Bowlby’s Attachment Theory. In his Attachment Theory, John Bowlby conducted research into the early years of a child’s life, believing that period to be crucial in the development of a healthy individual. Attachment does not necessarily mean a positive social bond, but rather the reliance of the child on the parent for safety and survival. Attachment Theory has an “emphasis on continuity of the caregiving relationship and sensitive and responsive care.” A disruption in the continuation of caregiving can cause some feelings of anxiety, anger or loss. In a similar manner, adoption can link to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as seen in the above illustration. Physiological needs and safety have to be met before people are able to move up the triangle to love and belonging (achieving deep and meaningful relationships) or esteem (confidence and achievement). Only when the physical and emotional well-being of a person are met do they concern themselves with personal achievements and development. This can explain some of the trouble that adoptees may face in the school system. Teachers and adoptive parents can help by continuing to encourage the child and letting them know that they are there for them.

Keep in mind that while the statistics may be higher for behavioural issues of adoptees, in my opinion it isn’t strikingly so. 88% of adoptees exhibit positive social behaviours compared to 94% of non-adoptees – I think both are quite high. They just might show themselves differently than others depending on the nature of their early childhood or current family situation.

According to the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents, 75% of adoptees are read or sang to every night by their parents in comparison to 50% of non-adoptees. 90% of adoptive parents said that they are ‘very close’ to their children, and again, 90% said that they would ‘definitely’ make the same decision to adopt again. This very strongly suggests that adoptive parents are highly involved in their child’s life.

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Crown Wards

A Crown Ward is a youth who has been permanently removed from their home and put into custody by the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). CAS is responsible for finding foster and permanent homes for children. 30-40% of Crown wards are Indigenous students in Canada (more information on Indigenous students can be found in my previous blog post). According to the Ontario College of Teachers, there are about 18,000 Crown Wards in Ontario right now. About half are in provincial care until they turn 19, and half are in temporary care

Students that are Crown Wards have likely been between different foster care homes for years of their lives. Their education has not been continuous, but rather splintered. Crown Wards are 3x more likely to drop out of high school than the average Ontario student. The Ontario College of Teachers’ Magazine outlined a feature article on Crown Wards. These are some of the most vulnerable students that you will have walk through your door. A study from 2011 of Durham Children’s Aid Society found that nearly 82% of the 875 children in care “had special needs, almost half had behavioural problems and 40 per cent risked not being promoted to the next grade.” Ron Tansley, a former principal who now works with Durham CAS commented, “These kids have already gone through hell… They do not present as the warm and cuddly ones.”

So how do we specifically support Crown Wards? Here are some ideas:

  • Early intervention in elementary school to set up opportunities for them.
  • Strive to help them fit into the classroom and school community.

It’s possible they will be at your school for a long time, but it’s also possible that they will switch from school to school and lose friends and communities along the way. Be aware of this possibility, and how it might impact the student. Because the student could just have a brief time in your classroom, it is important to make them feel welcome and at home quickly. You can make a difference by showing them they are part of the school community, and that they have support.

  • Look after the whole child:

In addition to challenging them and engaging them in the classroom, make sure to check in with their mental health and feelings of safety – what you should do with every child, but distinctly important in more vulnerable students.

Ideas for the classroom

  • Be aware that some assignments you may love to teach might need tweaking

The family tree is the best example of such an assignment. A traditional family tree may not work for every student, especially an adoptee. They may not know their birth family to, or they may be confused about where to start. Or what about when teachers ask for a baby picture to be brought in, or for the student to write an autobiography when certain stages of their lives might be less pleasant than others? Providing the whole class with alternatives, so as not to draw attention to students with different family structures, is important.

Changes to these assignments could include many options: A family forest where many trees can be included, which also works well for students with divorced parents. This way, every child in the class can draw their own forests and the adoptee can fit right in. There are also the Roots and Branches option to include all family members, a Family Wheel to explain people of importance in their life, or for older students, they can make a genogram.

It’s important to think about the learning goals of the assignments, and design an inclusive way that students can achieve that goal that may be different than the original assignment. This way, hopefully none of the students will feel that they can’t participate and the class’ learning goals will still be achieved.

  • In addition to the point above, don’t just cater the assignment to one student. Make it applicable and useful for all students.
  • Mention adoption as a form of having children and building a family.

I don’t know about you, but when I learned ways to build families in sex ed, I certainly wasn’t informed about adoption. But adoption has always been a part of families, and it continues to be, with a great increase in same-sex couples and international adoptions. This is a legitimate way for people to have children and grow their families, and should be discussed amongst everything else. Having the class show an accepting attitude towards adoption will go a long way in creating a positive classroom environment, and can empower adoptees.

  • Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Birthday: Days of celebrations may also be days of reflection and questioning their identities for adoptees

Again, be aware of the differences in family structure in your classroom! I know there are many controversies about schools having activities for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but I still view them as important… I just think you need to be aware! If you’d like to have these activities, encourage making cards for important people in the student’s lives, so they are able to make multiple, or one for a friend. Try not to ask too personal of questions in front of the class on birthdays, such as “What time were you born?” or about their parents, especially if they might not have positive experiences. Understand that not every family and family history are the same.

  • For elementary school teachers in particular, sending a questionnaire at the beginning of the year, and having a section for parents to write about anything that may help you teach their child, provides an opportunity to learn more about issues to be sensitive about.
  • Watch for bullying in the classroom

This is especially common in transracial adoptees as it may be more obvious to other students that their parents may not be their birth parents. Watch for appropriate language and be aware of culturally significant issues.

I remember a family at my elementary school when I was a child, and their daughter passed away after a short medical battle. They adopted a daughter from China afterwards. Other kids at my school were a little too forward in asking questions, possibly because they had never known someone adopted from another country before. I do remember the questions sometimes being a little awkward – asking the her about her ‘real home’ in China or her birth parents. While the students were likely curious and not intending to be invasive, I’m sure it most certainly felt that way for her.

  • Expose children to many different types of family structures, so each student can learn to accept everyone else.

If my ultimate goal from this blog is creating a positive classroom culture, then one of my goals has to be to help teachers take steps to make each student feel welcome. If students are accepting of each other and of different types of people, families and lifestyles, then they will help create an environment that students can feel safe and secure in, and students will ultimately be able to succeed in their learning goals.

  • Remember the positives of adoption.

In many cases, being adopted by their family was a positive change for the adoptee, and there are many positive statistics to reinforce that statement. Remember from before when I mentioned that adoptees are more likely to be read to or sang to at night? What about the adoptive parents being wealthier and more educated, which leads to a higher number of extracurricular activities? It is noteworthy that today, more than 97% of adoptees know by the age of 5 that they are adopted, and that 68% of them have post-adoption contact with their birth parents. This can lead to a better self-understanding and identity formation as well as more positive feelings about their adoption. As a teacher, adoptive parents are great allies for you in helping your student and their child to grow. They usually have the means and desire to be involved in their child’s school life, and this support and partnership can be significant. Adoption isn’t to be treated as something shameful! Remember that adoption is usually a positive step and that it is an increasingly common family structure.

You can also visit the links below to see the opportunities that there are for adoptees. The Ontario Government has specific grants and funding for families, both while children are young, and while they are applying for post-secondary school.

Have more ideas? Let me know in the comments!

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Follow these links for further information should you wish:

Teacher Resources:

Adoption UK: Let’s Learn Together

Rainbow Kids: Creating a Classroom for adopted and non-adopted children

Adoption Parenting: What does adopted mean to a teacher

Adoption Basics for Educators

Government Support for Adoptees:

Ontario Government: New Supports for Families who adopt

Ontario Government: Adoption Supports

Toronto Star: Education Grants for adoptive families

Culture · Education · Indigenous

Indigenous Students

“Zaagi’idiwin: The eagle teaches us to know love. To know love is to know true peace. In the Anishinaabe language, this word indicates that this form of love is to be shared with others mutually.” – Seven Grandfather Teachings

Today I will be discussing Indigenous students. Far too often in Canadian classrooms, Indigenous students are overlooked, and I want to challenge this oversight.

To start, I think it’s important to be aware of terminology with Indigenous students so that you can best understand how they identify themselves. I experienced this lack of understanding of terminology while in England, when a student mentioned the ‘Red Indians’ that lived in Brazil. It led to a teachable moment about where the term Indian for Indigenous peoples came from, the myth of Christopher Columbus, and the implications of the term Indian. I will be using Indigenous (though Aboriginal is acceptable as well), and then the more specific identifications of Metis, First Nations and Inuit.

Many of the issues facing Indigenous communities throughout Canada tie directly to understanding the Indigenous students in your classroom, so it’s vital to have some background on these topics.

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Indigenous Issues

Some issues facing Indigenous students today in Canada include:

Indigenous students are more likely not to feel connected to their school environment. Much of this stems from the cultural trauma of residential schools. Furthermore, in Nunavut, many females drop out due to the staggeringly high rate of teen pregnancy in the territory.

  • Indigenous students are 2.1 times more likely to be unemployed than the national average.

With less education usually come fewer employment opportunities. More than two times the national average is a considerable number, especially in a time where youth are having difficulty attaining stable employment, even with a widening array of letters after their names.

  • Indigenous ancestry is strongly correlated to youth incarceration. In a 2015 study, 24% of youths were reported to have Indigenous ancestry, compared to Indigenous peoples consisting of 4% of the general population.

I couldn’t believe the high rate of incarceration. There are many possible factors including racism, the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system (30-40% are Indigenous), and a long history of distrust for police stemming from years of colonization. What remains clear is that Indigenous students are at a far greater risk of going to prison than the average youth in Canada, and as Maclean’s pointed out, it’s even a higher percentage than African Americans in the United States.

  • Suicide rates are high for Indigenous youth – 5-6 times more for First Nations, 11 times for Inuit, and 28 times more for Inuit males.

One of the main causes is a lack of services to Indigenous communities, which tend to be in more rural areas with less access. In turn, this increases the problems of self-medication; there are higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse. Many Indigenous students may experience a higher rate of mental health issues, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress syndrome.

These issues are interconnected and important to be aware of. In general, the Indigenous students you teach are statistically more vulnerable. However, none of this means that you should make assumptions about an Indigenous student.

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There are some really promising statistics to be aware, of as well – though, problematically, the media reports them less often.

The Globe and Mail says that “Canadians are increasingly aware of the challenges faced by the country’s indigenous peoples and most agree it is time for action that will lead to reconciliation.”

  • In 2009, 12% of respondents said they pay attention to Indigenous issues compared to 22% in 2016.
  • The number of Indigenous students in post-secondary continues to increase, especially females. 
  • 8% of Canadians with mental health issues sought help from professionals, compared to 17% of Indigenous peoples.

These numbers are promising because they show the cultural willingness to grow, learn and heal.

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Group Identity

Theories continue to hypothesize that identity is more external than internal. Tajfel and Turner’s Social Identity Theory proposes “that a person’s sense of who they are depends on the groups to which they belong.” We categorize ourselves based on what groups we identify with, and we start to act like we perceive these groups to act. Ones self-esteem is augmented or diminished by how one views their in-group. It is important that we help students gain a positive and strong understanding of the groups they belong to, especially their culture. What I understand from Social Identity Theory is that for teachers, it is important to help students look after all parts of their social identities, self and group.


Policy vs Reality

The Ontario government has taken measures to increase both opportunities for Indigenous students and awareness of their culture in schools across the province. But government policies and initiatives are far from the realities of the classroom.

I remember talking to a high school History teacher who had to reconfigure how she was teaching the Grade 10 Canadian History course. She said she had never had an Indigenous student in her class before that she was aware of, and now that she did, she was becoming increasingly aware that she didn’t really teach about their history in her class. And this lack of awareness doesn’t end at this one teacher.

A report done by the People for Education Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools in 2015 discusses the gap between the Ontario education policies and the reality seen in schools. The report said that over 92% of schools in the province have some Indigenous students. Additionally, it found that teachers are not very educated on Indigenous issues or history. I’ve read both the grade 8 and grade 10 history curriculum in detail (in Ontario, only grade 10 history is required in high schools), and each has had a positive increase in the required expectations of learning Indigenous history in the latest edition. But if individual teachers are not well-informed on Indigenous issues and history, these curricular changes alone will not rectify the situation. The policies and the reality will still differ until the teachers themselves become better informed.

So what do we do with this information? How do we support Indigenous students and create a positive classroom culture for them?


Ideas for the classroom

We should…

Show positive progress and role models

Too often we base our discussions of Indigenous culture on residential schools and colonization, and we prioritize the government’s viewpoint. Indigenous peoples are often shown with little agency when this isn’t true. Let’s share positive stories of artists or visionaries like Kenojuak Ashevak or WWII ‘code talker’ Charles Tomkins and of the progress of self-advocacy in organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations. Let’s focus on the Seven Teachings of the Grandfathers that can be discussed with youth of all ages.

Get to know what programs your school/board offer

Many boards have access to Indigenous Counsellors. Encourage Indigenous students to seek out this help should they need it. Your Guidance counsellor should be able to guide them to what resources are available for post-secondary school as well – funding / scholarships and mental health support among them.

Keep your expectations of Indigenous students the same as others.

Don’t lower them because of the statistics I provided. Again, Indigenous students are just as capable as every other student.

Use the curriculum

Read for ideas on what you can and should be covering. The curriculums have changed drastically in the last few years, so it’s worth brushing up on.

Understand cultural norms

I taught at a school last year for three months, and 40% of its population was Indigenous. When I was talking to a guidance counsellor about a First Nations student I was teaching, the guidance counsellor really opened my eyes about a few things I was misunderstanding that in fact were part of his culture. When he wasn’t meeting my eyes, it wasn’t a sign of disrespect. For him, eye contact is not a norm the way it might be for those of European descent. While many teachers rely on ‘question and answers’ format, it also may not work well for First Nations students as some are used to the elders’ storytelling – in other words, learning through listening rather than active participation. These ideas were new to me and helped me understand that student much better, and consequently I was able to make him feel more comfortable in our classroom.

In addition, I was helping out in a History class and was wondering how we were going to address residential schools, as I understood how sensitive an issue it is. I learned that residential schools were not part of this particular community of First Nations’ history. Be sure to get to know your student’s backgrounds individually! The history of one is not the history of all.

Increase student exposure to Indigenous culture

Read more Indigenous literature, or possibly more uniquely, read literature where Indigenous peoples and other cultures within Canada are interacting in a positive manner. Have your students discuss this!

Take advantage of Professional Development and self-education and ask your board to increase it

Luckily, there has been a push in secondary schools, especially, to increase PD, but elementary schools are still falling behind. You can be an advocate for your students. If you’re really interested, there are two three-part Additional Qualification Courses (AQs) called ‘First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies’ and ‘First Nation, Métis and Inuit Peoples: Understanding Traditional Teachings, Histories, Current Issues and Cultures’ that were developed with member of First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities. I don’t have any of the AQs myself, but I’ve been thinking about it recently. Reconciliation through education is so important.

Image result for secret path

Important Notes:

–          Check your classroom alphabet to ensure you don’t have ‘I’ is for Indian or ‘E’ is for Eskimo.

–          Check to see which students have self-identified, but understand not all have. In fact, the 2015 Policy Report says that only 44% have self-identified.

–          Let your students describe their culture to the class if they want to, but don’t ask them to on the spot.

Have more ideas? Let me know in the comments!

I believe that by implementing these ideas in your class, you can create a positive classroom culture. Students with Indigenous heritage can feel positive about their culture, and hopefully understood better by their peers and by their teachers. They will be better connected to the school which will hopefully combat some of the issues facing Indigenous communities throughout Canada. You can make a difference!

Follow these links for further information should you wish:

Great ideas for education:

CBC Opinion Piece: Bringing the history to the present

Using Escape Rooms as a tool

Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire’s Secret Path (about Chanie Wenjack)

Indigenous issues in Canada:

Maclean’s: Canada’s race problem worse than America’s

Queen’s Journal: The Gap in Indigenous Education

Indigenous Corporate Training: Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples

How to make changes yourself:

Teacher Guide: Safe and Caring Schools for Aboriginal Students

Ontario College of Teachers – Additional Qualification Courses

              Similar courses can be found throughout other Canadian provinces


First and Foremost – An Intro

 ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

– Maya Angelou

Think back to a time in school where you felt empowered… where the teacher or your peers accepted you despite and because of your differences, and you felt safe and comfortable. Likely this moment puts a smile on your face of a time where you felt secure as you elevated yourself to a new level. But it’s also possible that you don’t have such a moment, and that’s perfectly normal.

Unfortunately, so many of us can also recall times that we felt belittled, misunderstood, or misrepresented in class, and that either made us check out and not learn any longer, or vulnerable to self-doubt or any of the million other hurtful consequences that come from these feelings. I can certainly recall the grade 5 teacher who helped everyone else on their test but responded, “You’re gifted – figure it out” when I asked for the same help. Just because I had that label doesn’t mean I could figure out every answer for every question without clarification. I was still just like every other kid.

Now I have grown up to be a high school teacher. I’m still young (I think). I’m still growing and figuring it out (I hope). I’ll personally identify with some of the groups discussed, and I won’t personally identify with others. I’m not an expert by any means, but what I am is someone who is determined to continue educating myself and hoping to cultivate discussions with others around crafting a positive classroom environment. As Maya Angelou stated, people do not forget how you made them feel. Students may forget the quadratic formula, the parts of a cell, the reasons for WWI, or the themes of To Kill a Mockingbird, but they won’t forget the feelings that they felt being a part of your class.

First and foremost, this blog will be mainly about the goal of creating a positive classroom culture. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary (I chose them because they’re brilliant on social media), culture can be defined as “a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization.” This is the definition I use when I mean when I will discuss the classroom culture. What does that mean in terms of this blog?

Positive classroom culture can be defined as: A safe and accepting environment which supports the learning of all students. In order to create a positive classroom culture, the teacher, and in turn, the class, should have the following values instilled:

  1. A willingness to be aware of and celebrate the diversity of their classroom
  2. A willingness to create shared inquiry and dialogue that is about trial and error, not only about getting it right; they should be able to fail and be supported by everyone in there.
  3. A willingness to support a place of social and emotional safety – a positive space.

It is integral that these are cultivated by the class as a group and not just by the teacher.

How can this be achieved? Here a few ideas. We’ll go into more detail in the coming posts about specific identities and how to support them, but this will give you a brief overview to get you thinking!

  • Have opportunities for students to share their culture and lives with others.
  • Use critical thinking questions in which there is not just one right answer, but instead can be many if they are justified.
  • Use formative assessment to differentiate instruction.  


  • Take an interest in their lives outside of school – what is their favourite hockey team? What did they do last night? How is their sister annoying them lately? How do they feel about the latest Beyoncé single? How are they dealing with the struggles they’re facing?
  • Embrace mistakes – even your own! It’s important they know you’re human.
  • Create a classroom code of conduct

This blog will discuss different groups that teachers may or may not come across in their teaching lives. It will explain ideas and concepts that you may not be aware of when it comes to these students. Some will be expert’s concepts analyzed by me, and others will be my own thoughts and ideas. I also look forward to hearing about your own experiences, and these forums and comments will shape how the blog will look in the future.

I realize that this blog will contain some generalizations. I cannot stress enough that each student you meet in the classroom, just as with each person you meet in life, will be unique. You could say to push students who are gifted academically, but look how that helped me in that “horrifying math test of Grade 5.” Every person has their own identity. And identity itself is a tricky issue; what you may think a student identifies as, they may not, and vice versa. Group identities also change. The LGBT community of a decade ago has evolved to become the LGBTQ+ (or LGBTTTQQIAA), for example, and it is ever-adapting to the needs of its community. This blog will not be an A to Z definitions of groups. What I intend it to be is a compendium of ideas that will open your mind to thinking of students in new ways and hopefully challenge some of your perceptions.

I have taught in two different countries – Canada and the UK. Teaching in an extremely diverse area of London opened my eyes to the different experiences students might have gone through and I learned an incredible amount myself. I had students who escaped war-torn countries, and students who were used to suburbia; students from across Africa, Asia and Europe, and students who had never left London. As a Canadian teacher, I have taught in two cities and the surrounding rural areas; again, I learned about the differences between rural and urban schools, and regional differences between cities. I teach History and Geography, which have allowed for these concepts of identity and culture to flourish in my head as I plan lessons about our past and countries around the world.

I’m excited about what this blog could become. I want to cover as many various groups as possible – not just diverse cultures, but all different sorts of ways students might identify. I’m hopeful that the blog will be a resource for many teachers and anyone else interested in bettering others. I hope to connect with others who will, in turn, teach me as well.

Next week, I will be discussing Indigenous students. Stay tuned!