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University of Idaho Receives Grant to Support Future Indigenous Teachers

The University of Idaho (UI) has received a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S Department of Education to support the second cohort of its Indigenous Knowledge for Effective Education Program (IKEEP), which prepares and certifies culturally responsive Indigenous teachers to meet the unique needs of Native American students in K-12 schools. The first IKEEP cohort began in 2016 with nine students. The new grant will allow an additional eight scholars to begin training in the summer of 2019.

“I am so very pleased that the University of Idaho’s College of Education, Health & Human Sciences (CEHHS) is home to the IKEEP program,” said CEHHS Dean Ali Carr-Chellman. “This U.S. Department of Education grant will help some of our highest needs schools in the state of Idaho to have not only highly qualified teachers, but teachers with a clear sense of culturally responsive curricular approaches. I am deeply impressed by the dedication and perseverance of Drs. Vanessa Anthony-Stevens and Yolanda Bisbee in their pursuit of the IKEEP program for the betterment of all of Idaho.”

Anthony-Stevens and Bisbee, along with Christine Meyer and Joyce McFarland recently shared insights into the IKEEP model in the following Q&A:

Q. What is the education model that serves as the foundation for IKEEP?

IKEEP is informed by frameworks such as culturally sustaining and revitalizing pedagogy (McCarty & Lee, 2014) and Castagno and Brayboy’s (2008) concept of Culturally Responsive Schooling. Both these frameworks position Indigenous culture, language, and community as the central pillars of schooling, rather than secondary “add-on’s” or after school clubs.

Both/and Indigenous educational models are built upon the evidence that when Indigenous students have access to, and preparation in, knowledge of their home/community culture and academic/school culture, the school experience of Indigenous youth/children is improved. IKEEP understands that teachers play a critical role in facilitating the development and growth of both/and educational opportunities. IKEEP uses these models to guide how we provide Indigenous teachers with the opportunity to become knowledgeable about, and comfortable with, both mainstream educational theories/content and Indigenous theories/content to design and facilitate effective learning experiences for Indigenous youth.

Q. What does the IKEEP curriculum include?

In addition to the approved UI teacher education curriculum, IKEEP offers its scholars one cohort specific class per semester to ground students in Indigenous pedagogies. An intensive Indigenous pedagogies experience is offered each summer and includes Indigenous focused courses and professional development credit. Through these summer institutes, IKEEP scholars network with Indigenous scholars and teachers from across the country who can help them develop knowledge and skills related to sustaining and revitalizing Indigenous languages in curricular content. The 2018 cohort will participate in the American Indian Language Development Institute at the University of Arizona. This opportunity will help IKEEP prioritize Indigenous language revitalization, which we are very excited about!

In the applied work of teacher education, IKEEP works closely with tribal serving schools to ensure scholars complete meaningful practicum experiences in partnership with Tribal serving teachers/administrators. IKEEP also has a mentor teacher partnership program, where each of our scholars is paired with a master Indigenous mentor teacher from the region. 

Unfortunately, all IKEEP students are measured by the same mainstream accreditation standards as all teacher education candidates in our state. We say unfortunately, not because these standards are totally inadequate, but because they are designed by and reflect Euro-centric, monolingual norms that center learning around decontextualize knowledge rather than relational and place-specific ways of knowing.

Q.  What does a “culturally responsive” classroom look like?

A culturally responsive classroom honors and reflects students’ cultural and linguistic heritage, as well as students’ contemporary experiences. Culturally responsive classrooms are dynamic in nature. They are changing as the students who they are designed to serve change. On a practical level, teachers need to consciously prioritize space in their classrooms to validate the life experience of Native students, through curriculum selection, community participation structures, and collaboration with community members. Every family is a source of rich funds of knowledge. Teachers need to build classroom within communities, not as if communities don’t exist. This also means abandoning stereotypical representations of Indigenous peoples, and replacing them with accurate representations, both past and present.

Q. Why is it so important to have a program like IKEEP?

Across the nation, Tribes are working hard to self-govern education to reclaim their voice, and to have their knowledge systems, history, culture and language recognized and honored. Decades of research on socially, culturally, and linguistically relevant education offer many successful models of community driven, community-controlled education for Indigenous youth. Broadly, the work to interrupt a century of assimilationist school policy, and to develop schools that honor tribal knowledge, are sources of power and cultural reclamation. IKEEP is necessary to contribute to these processes of community reclamation through the preparation of Indigenous teachers as leaders and nation-builders.

Socially, culturally, and linguistically relevant education is not prioritized enough in teacher education, and as a result, most Indigenous youth are denied opportunity to thrive in schools through limited teacher knowledge and histories of racist policy and curriculum. Indigenous student achievement data and reports on school climate reflect these injustices.

In our region, the work of the Nez Perce and Coeur d’ Alene State Tribal Education Partnership (STEP) programs are urgently working to counter the marginalization of Indigenous knowledge from classrooms and curriculum. IKEEP is important because it supports teachers to build reciprocal school-community relationships and draw upon Indigenous knowledge and language(s) to effectively educate Indigenous youth.

Q. What have been the major outcomes to date?

We have four students approaching student teaching and/or graduation in fall 2019. Each of these students has done teaching internships in their home communities, or a nearby tribal serving community, such as the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal School, Lapwai Middle School/High School, and the Coeur d’ Alene Tribal School. Seeing how K-12 students respond to our IKEEP scholars in the classroom, offers us so much hope. There is so much need for American Indian youth to see themselves in their teachers. Teachers who can come into the classroom seeing their students, noticeably begin their work from a place of respect and relationships that value Native students and can foster effective pedagogy in the future.

Q. Have you experienced a shortage of American Indian students eligible for the program?  If so, what are some strategies you have used to combat this issue?

Recruiting for our programs is challenging. Many wonderful candidates exist, but they may not have enough college credits to complete a teacher education degree in the short timeline required by the Department of Education. Many other brilliant potential Native educators are immersed in familial and communal responsibilities, which make it difficult for them to quit jobs and go back to school fulltime. We rely a great deal on our regional partnerships with tribal departments of education and tribal serving schools to identify potential candidates for the program. We live in a rural state and our partners are often in rural areas between 50 and 200 hundred miles away from our campus. We know our Indigenous communities thrive through relational frameworks, and as such, we try to tailor our recruitment through face-to-face meetings and relationship building with each potential candidate. Recruitment in the manner that best serves our audience is both time consuming and costly. However, it is essential.

These factors challenge the conventional frameworks for teacher education candidates. One strategy we use to address the complexities of recruitment is through campus wide education, maintaining open and frequent communication with our campus student services and faculty. We also draw upon our campus resources in Tribal Relations to network with state level Indian education groups and representatives of the 11 MOU tribes. We have learned that if we would like to see our institution and others like us embrace a greater number of Indigenous preservice teachers, we need to start early and communicate often with Indigenous communities. We also recognize universities have a great deal of self-education to do in order to build effective relationships with potential teacher education candidates from non-dominant groups. IKEEP is humble to be leaders in this type of change for our region.

Contributors to this article include Vanessa Anthony-Stevens (assistant professor/IKEEP director, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Idaho), Yolanda Bisbee (chief diversity officer and executive director of tribal relations, University of Idaho), Christine Meyer (director, Coeur d’ Alene Tribe Department of Education) and Joyce McFarland (manager, Nez Perce Education Department).

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Katrina Norfleet

Content Strategist, AACTE