Ensouling our Schools is the third instalment in the Teaching to Diversity series produced by Portage and Main Press. It lays out a clear framework by which its authors, Jennifer Katz and Kevin Lamoureux, believe our schools can be re-envisioned to better address the mental, spiritual and emotional well-being of both staff and students.
The book attempts, with fair success, to connect modern educational theory with a more traditional world view of Indigenous teachings, and uses the medicine wheel as a basis upon which to build. Katz and Lamoureux present what they call “an alternative vision to the traditional industrialized version of schooling.” This is the Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning, which combines inclusive education practices, social and emotional learning, and the promotion of healthy schools.
Ensouling our Schools hooks the reader in Part 1 with some startling statistics around the state of youth mental wellness in our country, presenting a strong case for urgency. The authors include an excellent examination of the science around mental health issues, although the terminology does get a bit heavy at times. There is also a strong recognition of the importance of teacher mental wellness in regards to the broader conversation. When it comes to the interweaving of First Nations spirituality practices, the book does tend, on occasion, to wax a bit romantic or overgeneralize.
The real meat of the book is in Part II. Here the authors present some fairly easy-to-follow and practical ways in which schools can implement their Three-Block Model. They include a series of unit plans, covering everything from diversity to brain reactivity to lessons on Indigenous treaty rights. These lessons could be easily adapted to fit local curriculum, but there are some tense moments when the authors propose that teachers give lessons specifically on student mental health. If a jurisdiction were to adopt this model, it might be advisable to provide some specialized training before sending classroom teachers too far down that road.
Though somewhat ambitious at times, Ensouling provides an enticing view of how our schools could be better designed to address the social, emotional and academic needs of our students. What really sets this text apart is the way it intertwines this issue and the broader issues of reconciliation. Although perhaps lacking some universal adoptability, the work contains enough significant and thought-provoking information to be well worth the read.
Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, June 2019
Portage and Main, 2018 ISBN-13: 978-1553796831