For more than ten years, the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) Indigenous Initiatives team at UBC has supported TA’s by developing trainings using approaches for respectful engagement with Indigenous content in the classroom.
For more than ten years, the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) Indigenous Initiatives team at UBC has supported TA’s by developing trainings using approaches for respectful engagement with Indigenous content in the classroom. Over this decade, we have worked with more than 17 departments and thousands of Teaching Assistants (TAs). Starting this term, we partnered with the Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO) to work collaboratively and deliver TA Training that supports learning on Indigenous topics and follows up with equity and inclusion issues in the classroom.
The Indigenous Initiatives at CTLT develops and provides TA training, programming, resources, and consultations focused on Indigenous engagement in curriculum, pedagogy and classroom climate. The collaboration with the EIO is a valuable match to segue to understandings of conflict engagement through institutional initiatives to build a more inclusive, welcoming, respectful UBC campus. Our collaborative work with campus and classroom climate supports the development of skills, resources, and capacity around Indigenous engagement, equity and inclusion in teaching and learning.
The Classroom Climate and EDI TA Training workshops were peer-facilitated by Graduate Student Facilitators who supported graduate students and TAs build capacity on topics such as discussing Indigenous and other socially contentious issues in the classroom, classroom climate, and where our teaching and learning takes place. The Graduate Student Facilitators provided classroom climate and EDI workshops accompanied by materials and approaches to learn about power and privilege within learning environments, awareness of UBC policies and guidelines that frame TA work, and how best to support students as TAs navigate ethical dilemmas and potential conflicts.
Our TA training approach in Classroom Climate (CC), equity and inclusion considers classrooms as contextual places where the social and institutional position of instructors is a critical matter to learning. Supporting TAs is particularly important when teaching and learning about Indigenous histories, anti-oppressive approaches and contemporary contexts of equity and inclusion. As the roles of TAs include delivering course content, leading class discussions, and grading student work, these responsibilities require TAs to acquire a particular set of competencies and skills to respond to knowledge gaps and difficult conversations about Indigenous topics, equity and inclusion with care and responsibility. Our ultimate goal is to generate a climate inside the classroom where students’ learning is wrapped in reciprocity and lifting each other up.
The following section presents our TA training facilitation process, from our collaboration with departments to support TAs to implementing feedback by revising and updating our curriculum:
- Working with Departments to Assess Needs
We work closely with departments and TA Coordinators to adapt our curriculum to the unique needs and contexts of the TA Training programs. First, we receive a TA training request from a TA Coordinator or department and set up a meeting to assess needs. In this meeting, we cover the duration of the workshops, how our session fits with the department’s TA training goals, and number of new or returning participants interested in our training.
- CC TA Training Session Asynchronous
Since the start of the pandemic, the Indigenous Initiatives developed and implemented a blended format TA training consisting of an asynchronous component. TAs are invited to self-enroll in a Canvas course that contains two required learning modules. These must be completed by TAs before the synchronous workshop. Modules 1 and 2 each consist of several sections containing learning activities about land acknowledgments and classroom climate.
- CC TA Training Session In-Person
Upon completion of the Canvas course, TAs attend a 90-min in-person workshop in which they work with facilitators from our team, and other TAs to reflect on their experiences with territory acknowledgements and discuss the contexts for acknowledging Musqueam lands at UBC. TAs had the opportunity to identify the factors that play a role in classroom climate and formulate strategies for addressing these factors in their role as a TA. The in-person training creates a space to explore and discuss Indigenous students’ experiences in the classroom and how this is relevant to establishing an inclusive learning environment for everyone. With the development and use of case studies, sometimes based on situations that happened in real classrooms within their field, TAs engage in a more reciprocal, respectful and meaningful manner to learn from real and relevant situations, share their own experiences, and learn from each other. The case studies also allow TAs to practice new approaches in a low-stakes environment.
- EDI TA Training Session Online
This EDI online synchronous session (offered through Zoom) is foundational to supporting an equitable and inclusive learning environment while enhancing department and program-specific TA training. Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is not just about the content that you teach; it is about how the class is set-up and conducted. This online workshop helps TAs set expectations, manage online and in-person classroom interactions, and approach evaluating student work. TAs had the opportunity to learn about power and privilege within learning environments, the policies and guidelines that frame their work, and how best to support students as they navigate ethical dilemmas and potential conflicts.
- Implementing Feedback
Once TAs have completed their TA training, we ask for their feedback and reflections on the workshop experiences. Their assessment informs our approach to TA moving forward. We implement feedback by revising and updating our curriculum and hold a follow-up meeting with the department’s TA coordinator to gather their feedback and discuss possible collaboration in the future.
Four Impactful Practices
The Classroom Climate Equity and Inclusion TA Training approach supported TAs in these four impactful practices:
- Where Our Teaching and Learning Take Place
Situating where our teaching and learning take place is a core piece of our TA training programming. Our facilitators start the TA training sessions by acknowledging their positionalities on xʷməθkʷəy̓ əm (Musqueam) territories in which UBC is situated. Acknowledging Indigenous host nations’ territories is a practice for honouring their knowledge, rights, and ongoing presence. In our TA training workshops, we invite TAs to be grounded in understanding the long presence and histories of Musqueam people as well as their own historical, social, and physical locations. Through the process of engaging with territorial acknowledgements, TAs become aware of how their social positions in relation to teaching about Indigenous perspectives can have an impact on classroom climate.
- Acts of Witnessing and Reciprocity
Once TAs have a grounded understanding of their location and acknowledge their positionality, they can then begin to understand ways that they are responsible for creating learning environments that are sensitive to the social and institutional contexts that inform classroom climate. The expanded classroom climate framework we utilize identifies practices of reciprocity and witnessing as contributing to a responsible approach to learning (Tsukada & Perreault, 2016). These acts of witnessing and reciprocity hold instructors, TAs, and students accountable to contribute in creating safe learning environments and sharing knowledge for the wellbeing of the communities around them.
- Navigating Difficult Conversations and Socially Contentious Topics
What knowledge is “difficult”, or discomforting is going to be varied for each individual, even if that difficulty or discomfort is informed by external (cultural, societal, familial, etc.) factors. Our TA training embraces the idea of “difficult knowledge”, to trouble what it frames, and to reflect on why it is understood as difficult learning. TAs are encouraged to think about how to navigate educative spaces that often focus on difference and controversy rather than leaning into difficult knowledges as sites of engagement. In our workshops, we explore the idea that our encounters with knowledge (and learning) can be difficult, and that topics involving trauma, individual and systemic violence, discrimination, inequity, etc. can be difficult to undertake, in part because of the ways in which they discomfort the learner. At the same time, we acknowledge that those difficulties and discomforts beg for complexity, without diminishing the lived experiences they represent.
- Experiential Learning – Case Studies
By bringing students’ stories into our programming, we seek to raise awareness about the need to have these difficult conversations at UBC and learn from them.
Throughout all our workshops we provide case scenarios and stories for TAs to discuss the challenges of having difficult conversations about socially contentious topics. The case studies are built from real students’ experiences involving equity and inclusion inside the classroom. Students’ stories include experiences of microaggressions, tokenization, and conflicting worldviews, among others. By bringing students’ stories into our programming, we seek to raise awareness about the need to have these difficult conversations at UBC and learn from them. We use case studies in our TA training using a participatory and capacity-building approach where TAs reflect on common issues that arise in the classroom and learn from each other. They do this work in small and larger groups by contextualizing and unpacking controversial topics. Case studies help us to co-create strategies to navigate Indigenous content, equity and inclusion with care and respect in the classroom.
As part of UBC’s commitment to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion across its campuses, the Equity Enhancement Fund (EEF) supports community-based initiatives to create respectful and safe environments. Through the EEF, the CTLT Indigenous Initiatives partnered with the Equity & Inclusion Office to work collaboratively and deliver TA Training that enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion at UBC. Our TA training supports learning on Indigenous topics and follows up with equity and inclusion issues in the classroom to promote a respectful environment through education, dialogue, and peer-based learning. As this project follows UBC’s commitments to inclusion as identified in UBC’s strategic plan and the Inclusion Action Plan, we work to sustain and build capacity on TA competencies and understandings related to issues of equity, diversity and inclusion through Intersectional ways of knowing. The support of the EEF, gives us the opportunity to enhance TA capacities and skills to succeed in and advance inclusive environments that benefit historically disadvantaged groups within the UBC community.