Jennifer Maxwell Transcript

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Welcome to another episode of Teaching Canada’s History Podcast. I’m your host Julia Richards and in this special educator’s series, we’re speaking with the finalists for the 2022 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching. Created 26 years ago in 1996, the award recognizes best practices in teaching Canadian history and is an opportunity to highlight the important work that teachers and students are doing to interpret and share the stories of the past. I’m sitting down with Jennifer Maxwell. Why don't we start by introducing yourself? You can tell us a bit about your school your classroom the students you teach.

Jennifer Maxwell

Yes, um, okay.  Uh my name is Jen Maxwell, and my pronouns are she/her and I teach in the traditional ancestral and unseated territories of the Semá:th, Mathexwi, and Stó:lō peoples. And, uh, this project was carried out in a really big school, with students of lots of different cultural backgrounds, as well as really diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. And so, one of — one of my colleagues and I were encouraged to co-construct a cross-curricular cohort that was Indigenous focused.

And so, with like enormous support from our school's teacher for Indigenous success, and our cultural support worker, and the Indigenous resource department, we started to build it. And so, the students in a double block with um, with the 2 teachers would earn credit for Contemporary Indigenous Studies 12, which is a social studies credit, English First Peoples 12 and Career Life Connections 12. And the students in the cohort were from like all different kinds of backgrounds. And then this project was the culminating project for that course.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

Awesome, that sounds really cool. Um, do you want to tell us more about your project?

Jennifer Maxwell

Yeah, so this project is about finding authentic ways to engage with reconciliation, and then how do we share that engagement with others? And so, there's this really incredible resource package by the First Nations Education Steering Committee in British Columbia and it's called English First Peoples Teacher Resource Guide for guides — for grades 10 to 12. And in a chapter about residential schools, it suggests creating like a culminating project that has students engage authentically with reconciliation and it's left like very open and up to you know how teachers want to interpret that. So, I used that idea, and I gave it a structure in which students chose a content area that we had explored in class. And that might be like an Indigenous teaching, or a part of worldviews, it might be something that's connected to the legacy of colonization, and then they would choose an audience and a project medium. 

So, for instance, one group chose to focus on the First Peoples Principles of Learning as their content area, and the First Peoples Principles of Learning is a set of principles articulated by Indigenous Elders, scholars, and Knowledge Keepers to guide curriculum development. So, the students looked at those principles and they created a presentation for teachers outlining why these principles should be the foundation of every course, and like ways for teachers to be able to use these principles as a lens for everything related to their teaching. And then they talked about potential impact on students. And so earlier in the year the students had all, um, taken part together in a project in which they petitioned for — they petitioned our school admin for a daily land acknowledgement in the announcements, and then ended up contacting the district to get the land acknowledgement permanently on the district website. So, the projects were encouraged to be about taking concrete action informed by the 94 Calls to Action. 

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

What inspired you to develop this project?

Jennifer Maxwell

One thing that our students had noticed was that they had encountered non-Indigenous Canadians that were both like peers, that were teenagers, and adults who were unsure about how to take first steps in reconciliation. And so, I wanted my students to be able to share the impactful things that they had learned in the course and to be able to communicate that allyship.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

So, what do you think is the greatest impact of your project?

Jennifer Maxwell

I think a really unexpected impact that was really positive was that some of our initial research involved looking at the 94 Calls to Action, and then evaluating where the government and the churches were at in responding directly to them. And students were shocked, um, at how some of the Calls to Action had like very little to no attempt had been made at responding to them. And so, students then had to explore how they themselves could make impact which really helped shape their projects.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

How do you keep your students engaged in history, how do you make it relevant for them?

Jennifer Maxwell

One of the First Peoples Principles of Learning is learning requires exploration of one's identity. So, we can look at our own personal histories and we can see things that have shaped who we have become. And similarly, when we look at history, we can always ask ourselves, how would I myself be fundamentally different if I lived at that time? Or like under that specific set of circumstances. I think that history often gets falsely represented as like an unmovable list of facts. But really, it's many, many stories and some are told, and many are untold and when students get access to really diverse historical perspectives, they can begin to see themselves and make deep connections to the people that lived before us.

Julia Richards, Canada’s History

I think that's so interesting because it's easy to think that, you know, history is inevitable, and this the set of events led to like World War I for example. Um but that’s not always the case. 

Jennifer Maxwell

And I always like start it as like as like as start that train of thought as like a zombie apocalypse, like kids love um, you know, like many people love the stories on TV, and so you know we're watching like a show about the zombie apocalypse, and we're wondering who would I be in the zombie apocalypse? Would I be fundamentally changed by these circumstances, and would my values and goals and beliefs shift as a result of those experiences? And so that's very easily applied to history, um, when you start with the zombie apocalypse.