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Aboriginal educators' experiences as learners and as teachers in schools of social work

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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How can Canadian Schools of Social Work improve school climate in order to enhance outcomes and success among Aboriginal students and faculty? I interviewed14 Aboriginal faculty members from seven Schools of Social Work about their experiences as students and as faculty, and, they gave recommendations regarding needed changes. As learners, respondents were affected by individual, academic and relational factors, as well as teacher behaviours. The impact of negative experiences included: loneliness and isolation, and feelings of not belonging. Coping strategies included leaving, seeking safety, or simply being quiet. Positive relationships with teachers, advisors and peers were reported to be critical. As faculty, the respondents’ approaches to teaching are influenced by ‘who the students are,’ their beliefs about learning, and their perceptions of their responsibilities as educators. Use of the talking circle in the classroom was reported as popular, and congruent with their beliefs. Challenges relate to: curriculum resources; content which challenges the status quo; maintaining community connections; workload; marginalization; ignorance and closed-mindedness; triangulation; boundary issues; and authorship. The impact of these challenges includes: feelings of not belonging; being faced with peoples` complaints; extra work to accommodate colleagues` emotional needs; stress; and burnout. Institutional challenges include racism, inconsistency, lack of commitment, not being heard or listened to, intrusion, paternalism, rigid implementation of policy and one-way accountability. Internalized colonialism and decolonization are certainly relevant, and fighting for change, finding allies, and achieving self-determination are pertinent strategies. Recommendations to educators include having knowledge, personal characteristics, and teaching strategies that would be helpful. Recommendations to SSW include strategies aimed at supporting Aboriginal students and educators. Institutional changes must include attention to overcoming the colonial dynamics which underscore academic life. In order to create healthy environments, respondents recommended providing: a welcoming and safe place; reflections of Aboriginal people; healthy boundaries and leadership; physical, cognitive, emotional space, as well as space for ceremony and for community; and, supporting self determination. Ultimately, I argue that attention to power, place, process and philosophy, can facilitate needed changes.
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