Web Conference Learning Conversation with Sarah Panofsky

My learning partner, Sarah Panofsky, lives in Terrace, BC, where aboriginals make up approximately 23% of the total population.  She spoke about the trends in aboriginal adult education and the roles of the adult educator. She made the point that in order to teach these people well, one must first understand the history that has crafted their present reality.


My biggest takeaway from our talk was that because of their history with missionaries, traders and residential schools, aboriginals have an understandable mistrust of the traditional western education model. Pre-contact, their education was not institutionalized, but instead focused on the “look-listen-learn” model. Youth learned from elders through the utilization of humor, storytelling and this was done in a culture of freedom, enabling learners to move through the process at their own pace.

After the residential school movement stripped aboriginals of their native culture, they struggled to regain the traditions, lessons and stories they had lost. In the 1950s, there was a grassroots movement “Indian Education for Indian People”. Friendship Centres were set up and resources were allocated to enable aboriginal people resources to educate themselves. Aboriginals realized, though, they needed outside assistance to help set up the infrastructure, so people were brought in from off-reserve to assist.

The role of the educator, as Sarah explained, is to become both a learner and a teacher to those in aboriginal communities. To break down the barriers of mistrust, she suggested teachers become involved in the communities, learn the stories and traditions, show respect and gain an understanding of who they are, individually and as a people. Only when they feel heard and understood will they begin to trust what you have to say. Another way the educator can have a role is to encourage community leaders to become involved and demonstrate buy-in for the learning process. A blended model of e-learning whereby the platform is supported by facilitators on-site to step students through what they are seeing and hearing online is a teaching model that is being considered.

Her talk demonstrated a clear understanding of the topic and an empathy for those she teaches. I realized much of what she said would apply to any of our learners, namely that in order for them to trust and listen to us, they must first feel heard and understood.

Thank you, Sarah, for taking the time to share this lesson with me. It is a valuable one.


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