TRANSCRIPT: 3 Strategies for Providing Culturally Responsive Education to Native American Students (feat. Tan-A Hoffman from JKL Bahweting Anishnabe School)
6:55PM Jan 11, 2022
federally recognized tribe
It wasn't until in my early 40s that I finally got rid of my "Pocahontas complex." Understanding that I am enough, even with my blond hair and blue eyes, that I am enough. I am Indian not because I'm Native American. I am Anishnaabe not because of the way I look but because of my heart and the things that I know, and because of the cultural beliefs that I then follow. And so that's a big deal. And so when we think about a classroom, erasing those stereotypes is super important. Because we are invisible in your classroom. That's one of the things that I do for sure: I wear my beaded earrings on purpose in my classroom, so my kids know who I am. I make myself visible in spaces where people need to hear the Anishinaabe perspective. It's uncomfortable, especially for somebody who does not like talking in public. So it makes it difficult but as teachers, it's our responsibility to break down those barriers to break down those walls.
I’m Nikki Herta, and this is BRIGHT: Stories of Hope & Innovation in Michigan Classrooms, a podcast where we celebrate our state’s educators and explore the future of learning.
BRIGHT is brought to you, in part, by Meemic Insurance Company, insuring the educational community for more than 70 years. Teachers and school employees, visit Meemic.com/Quote to see how much you can save.
In today’s episode of BRIGHT, I chat with Tan-A Hoffman — a 2nd-grade teacher at JKL Bahweting Anishnabe School and a 2020-21 regional teacher of the year, representing her geographic area in Michigan’s upper peninsula.
Tan-A shares some incredible stories, a brief bit of history, and 3 strategies for providing culturally responsive education to Native American students.
Well, thank you for joining me for this episode of BRIGHT, Tan-A. It's a pleasure to have you on the podcast.
Miigwech for having me. I'm so excited.
So we're trying a new thing this season, and we're going to start off by asking everybody: Can you tell me about the most interesting thing you're doing in your classroom right now?
Absolutely. So right now, I believe the most interesting thing that I'm doing in my classroom is I have a preservice teacher that I am mentoring through her internship, and that is with Lake Superior State University. So we're collaborating together to get that next group of Michigan teachers ready for the field. So I find it to be really exciting.
What is the most exciting part about that?
Okay, so the most important piece that I find is that it's that practical application, they've spent all of their time in the classroom, trying to, you know, learn theory and understandings. And now it's time to put everything that they've learned to practice. And it doesn't come naturally for them. Like, you know, 21 years and teaching, and it just, those the on-the-spot decisions that have to be made in the classroom aren't easy to get to. But for them, it's not. And so guiding them through that process of okay, this is, you know, something that you think you see, what's your evidence?
Well, thank you for sharing that. It does actually transition really nicely because I wanted to ask you about, you know, what really drew you to teaching and if you could remember a moment that you fell in love with it?
You know, this is kind of a hard question, because I was the kind of kid that had a difficult education. I had a large chalkboard in my bedroom as a child, because I was diagnosed with dyslexia. And so creating opportunities, my parents thought it was really important to create those opportunities for ocular therapy, which for you know, in the 80s was like a huge deal. Even through all of that I always played school. You know, it was for some reason, it was just something that I always did. I lined up the dolls, got the old math books out and and sang the the reading songs or sang the songs and did the things and it was fine. It was really though, during my fieldwork, I spent a couple years at Central Michigan University that I was able to work in an after school program with Mount Pleasant Public Schools, and I was given a task of educating or working with a young man who had many differences, a difficult student, and I I don't know, it was just the ability to create a relationship of mutual trust and respect between the two of us and then be able to actually do the work and get the work done with him. And I don't know, just make those small differences in a kid's life that I realized that, yeah, for sure teaching is definitely my journey and my passion.
It makes me think just because you were just talking about, you know, that preservice teacher to teacher, kind of that transition. And it makes me wonder, I guess, like, was that profound for you, you know, going from learning about it, and what you imagined it to be, to kind of like embodying it?
Interesting question because now as I reflect, you know, I just think the spirit of my being is one of a teacher. And I think that is constant, not.. I think that's a reflection of my Anishinaabe culture, in Anishinaabe culture like teachers are that we're kind of like that the aunties of the community, teaching the things that have to get done in order for the community to survive, right? I mean, although it looks different in 2021, school is one of the things that we still have to do. It's just, you know, instead of tanning hides, we're teaching math out of a book. So strangely enough, no, teaching was very intuitive to me. I didn't actually realize that until you just asked that question. And, yeah, the only connections that I can, you know, really make to that is that that's who we are. As Anishinaabe, like the aunties of our communities, it's, you know, we're in charged with teaching the culture teaching, teaching the lessons and making sure kids grow up knowing what they need to know. And I suppose maybe that's the connection with innately within me that I just didn't realize was there.
So neat. I appreciate you, yeah, sharing that reflection, and maybe just even having that realization. How did that lead you back to where you are today? Just a little bit of a story of how you got to where you are today in education.
My own personal journey, you know, I was the kind of student that was held back in third grade diagnosed with dyslexia. And it really kind of gave me a perspective and education that made me want to be the teacher that I needed growing up, be the teacher that could empathize and understand because, you know, I have reflections or memories, sorry, of, you know, being in my first round of third grade, because I was retained in third grade, with my name on the board and 20 worksheet pages on the board, sitting at the back of the class, completely clueless of you know, what it was that I was missing, when I was missing it, and of course, then because I had all of that work to do, I was missing out on recess and that social interaction time. And that didn't help me be the most successful student, I could be, right? You know, that just kind of continually made me believe that I wasn't smart enough, that I wasn't good enough. And that was hard. That was really hard. It wasn't until that second round of third grade, and then off to fifth grade that I was able to, you know, I think made me missing having a teacher that really saw me for who I was and accepted that and was able to do her best to try to teach to it, which was eye opening for me. So that whole full circle of being the student that couldn't read now being the teacher that teaches reading.
Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I mean, I know you said when I asked about what made you fall in love with teaching, you said it was a hard question, and I can understand that given everything you've described, but it's a it's a good story. Because I've heard this from teachers before that I've interviewed, you know, a lot of teachers love school growing up, you know, and it sounds like you did, too,, but there were some significant challenges you had to face that shaped the way you see it.
Absolutely. I think it gives me a different perspective, especially when I have students with differences. You know, it gives me the opportunity and I think it gives me a little more heart. Because school was hard. And so I know what they've gone through. And what's really nice in class, too, is that I share that story with them, so that they understand that no matter what your differences are, you aren't your differences. You can be more than that. But that just because you're different, it doesn't mean that you can't learn the same things your friends are learning. It's just the teacher's job just to do it in a different way.
Beautifully said. Can you tell me a little bit about JKL Bahweting School.
JKL Bahweting Anishnabe Public School has a very unique mission. It is to provide education for students based on their individual abilities. It is their mission to provide educational excellence through rigorous and relevant programs, whether they be, of course, through our Common Core state standards. But the unique part is that it is also to provide a culturally rich environment with the Anishinaabe culture including our language and our traditions. And so JKL Bahweting is what we call a Dual Bureau of Indian Education School, it has what's called dual status. So not only are we a school, a charter or a public school, chartered through Northern Michigan University, which makes us also a Michigan public school. But we are also a Bureau of Indian Education School with a connection to the Federal Department of Interior through the Bureau of Indian Education. So yeah, it started in 1994. And it opened specifically just as a tribal school, paid for sponsored by the Sioux Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and later than was chartered through Northern.
I know it, you know, it's impossible to give any sort of rich history, but I was just wondering if you could give us just a little tiny bit of background. I'm sure there's so much more that we could go into, but if somebody who's listening who isn't as familiar with Anishinaabe culture and the history in Michigan, or even maybe doesn't even know that word means.
Anishinaabe, when we think of that word is a very specific word. We have the word indigenous, which incorporates a lot of people, and then you have Native American, or American Indian by the federal government, which then kind of then brings the circle in a little bit. And then within that Native American group, we have over 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and so within that, then you need to start paring down how we refer to, well, how I refer to myself. And I refer to myself as Anishinaabe because I am Swan Creek Black River Band of Saginaw Chippewa Indians, but I'm also Grand Traverse, and I'm also a Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa. So although I don't have the Potawatomi from the three of fires, because I am of mixed Odawa and Ojibwe, I call myself Anishinaabe because of that. So many years ago, our stories tell us that we migrated from the east and that our job was to look for food on the water. In that search, we of course followed the rivers and made our way to the Great Lakes. When we came to Michigan, some of our families and, we call them "cousins," stayed in lower Michigan. The Potawatomi and they're considered our Fire Keepers. We all had different jobs. As people in our community kept moving, looking for that food on the water. Some then stayed, you know, in that Mount Pleasant area. We had some Ojibwe stay there. We had some Odawa stay up in the Grand Traverse area, the Odawa been the traders and the Ojibwe being our medicine or the the keepers of our faith. Some weren't satisfied with that and made it all the way to Bahweting, which is Sioux Sainte Marie, and then up into Canada. Up into Bahweting, of course, you find Mahnomen, which is the Anishinaabe word for wild rice, and some believe that's what we were looking for. Some weren't satisfied with that. And so that's why we also have Anishinaabe or Ojibwe in Wisconsin, Rice Lake, all of those areas. Yeah, that's where they they went, then further on into Minnesota, and then some even in North Dakota continued on. A lot of the ones in North Dakota were removed by the Indian Removal Act, and that's where they wanted us all to go. But we didn't. Some of us assimilated quickly. They saw what was happening in Indian country, and how families were being separated and or killed. And so, Native American communities, especially in the Odawa area of where, well, half of my family is from, assimilated as fast as they could in order to protect their families from that. but we do have, yeah, lots of Anishinaabe, Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Odawa through all of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and then of course up into Canada, so lots of cousins and relatives everywhere. But that is, I suppose, the short version of of who we are.
I’m Nikki Herta, and you’re listening to BRIGHT: Stories of Hope & Innovation in Michigan Classrooms. BRIGHT is brought to you, in part, by Meemic Insurance Company, insuring the educational community for more than 70 years. Teachers and school employees, visit Meemic.com/Quote to see how much you can save.
Today, I’m chatting with Tan-A Hoffman, a 2nd-grade teacher at JKL Bahweting Anishnabe School and a 2020-21 regional teacher of the year, representing her geographic area in Michigan’s upper peninsula.
Up next, we define some key terms and then dive into Tan-A’s top three strategies for providing culturally responsive education to Native American students.
Culturally responsive education is a buzzword, and it looks different for Anishinaabe students. So I try and because, you know, Anishinaabe is a very specific term, whereas Native Americans is a very general term, it looks different for all Native Americans. I think of culturally responsive education as knowing your students in doing something different to provide an equitable education, first and foremost. One, an education that is reflective of your student's cultural beliefs. But one that is also reflective of your own cultural beliefs and biases. It's really important that as an educator, that I am able to use those relationships and understandings to focus on the cultural uniqueness of the community. And that's how I address culturally responsive education. Once again, because it is such a general term but needs to be specifically molded to the community in which you you live and work in. I'm a big fan of Zaretta Hammond's "Culturally responsive teaching and the brain" because it actually takes the science of the brain and puts together the pieces of how to create positive successful situations for students to to learn.
Is there anything else that that you want to say about this, you know, to provide some context before we dive in, about why this is so important to you, or anything else? Any other basics that we would need to know I understand what you're about to tell us?
Yeah, absolutely. So when we think about culturally responsive education, so not only is it important to those communities that may have been minoritized, but it's also important to everybody that's in the classroom as well. Because, you know, learning and understanding, education and growing and critical thinking is best for everybody period. So when teachers find ways to know their students and the community they serve, that gives us that opportunity to inform our instruction in that unique and empowering way that can accelerate learning. So for example, one of the things that I have done in the past to kind of work this angle is fourth grade. There's this huge, you know, social studies standard about how you know, you have to learn about a certain topic and then be able to do the research and then write a persuasive writing and have an opinion. And so, you know, one of the main pieces in our community is Pipeline 5, and what do we do about it? So let's go ahead and do that. And so the kids researched, we found, you know, different research from all over the Upper Peninsula, because pipeline five is just not between St. Ignance and Mackinac City, it stretches the entire length of the Upper Peninsula. We also read tribal laws, and included all of that into our discussions, Anishinaabe perspective, and why it is that we're in charge of caring for the water, and incorporating the grandfather teachings, and students took notes. We even attended a rally, a water protectors' rally in order to help them listen to our elders that were attending and give them yet another perspective and piece. And of course, then students wrote those persuasive letters to legislators, but it's finding that unique piece of the community and then incorporating all of the uniqueness to be able to build that culturally responsive education. I suppose something else that I think is really important for people to know is that due to federal Indian policy, Anishinaabe or Native Americans across the United States even are in a different process of healing and reclaiming their culture, their language, and their ways, and their connections to the land. So it's really important to be mindful of that, and understanding that what one knows at one time is fluid and ever growing. So we don't have necessarily people in our communities that know everything because of federal Indian policy, because of boarding schools, because of Indian removal acts, because of Indian reorganization acts. And it's really important, I think, for people to understand that we are slowly putting our pieces back together in the best way that we know how, or at least I know, I'm slowly putting my pieces back together the best way I know how. And to be mindful of that when you do chat or seek guidance from your tribal communities.
That seems to make the word, the "responsive"part of it really important, you know, like, culturally responsive, so it's more agile and adaptive to what could be an ever changing environment.
The other thing I really liked that you said, is that it's important to remember when we talk about, you know, culturally responsive teaching, that it's not just for the students who are part of a minority culture, you know, it's important for everybody. And I'm just wondering, maybe you could speak a little bit about that, before we dive in a little more.
I mean, absolutely. One of the things that, you know, I mean, let's look at our history books. If I'm not from a picture of the 1830s. I'm a caricature of myself. And so we have those two very different distinct biases that creates issues within our community. I mean, it wasn't until in my early 40s, that I finally got rid of my Pocahontas complex. Understanding that I am enough, even with my blond hair and blue eyes, that I am enough, I am Indian not because I'm Native American, I am Anishinaabe not because of the way I look, but because of my heart and the things that I know, because of the cultural beliefs that I then follow. And so that's a big deal. And so when we think about a classroom, erasing those stereotypes is super important. Because we are invisible in your classroom. That's one of the things that I do for sure. I wear my beaded earrings on purpose in my classroom, so my kids know who I am, I make myself visible in spaces where people need to hear the Anishinaabe perspective. It's uncomfortable, especially for somebody who does not like talking in public, it makes it difficult. But as teachers, it's our responsibility to break down those barriers to break down those walls and to get students or help students understand that we are not the past. We are the present. And that's just not for Anishinaabe students, but that's also for mainstream culture, in our classroom. Whatever your mainstream culture might be, it's really important that we educate students on I suppose the the real American history, right. I know it's being fought in Michigan right now with some of the legislation that is that is being discussed. But the real American history is really important and making sure that everybody understands where they come from, who they are, and that they aren't just pieces of the past. It matters. It matters to me, it matters to the students in my classroom, and it matters to the communities in which they live.
Alright, okay, let's dive in to our three ways to provide culturally responsive education for Native American students. So I'm gonna let you take the floor and start with number one.
So, the first thing in order to create a culturally responsive education in your classroom, especially for Native American students, is to educate yourself. Educate yourself about whose land are you on, and who is your closest federally recognized tribe, and get to know their culture department, their language department and what kind of services that they can provide you, as a teacher of their Anishinaabe students, as well as community. It's important to incorporate those not only traditional language, and of course, events, celebrations, ceremonies, and things of that nature, art. I mean, this is just all kinds of surface level items of responsive education. Programming, sports, but it's really it's still a starting spot, right? It's a place where teachers can do something without feeling intimidated by trying to present or teach Anishinaabe culture within that piece. The Confederation of Tribal Education Departments has just recently released the Anishinaabe Resource Manual, and this connects lessons and resources to the social studies standards within Michigan, and also will give you the links to all of your tribal communities. So, this is definitely something that all teachers need to use. Whether you teach social studies or not, that's not the issue. There just are so many amazing resources, so definitely use that. Facebook is also another great way to find connections to the people in our communities, especially with COVID. Elders, communities, everything is going online, and so it has been fantastic for a culture that always believed in face-to-face teachings and learning that they have stepped up and really helped our own tribal communities and spread culture and language through Facebook Lives, Zoom, you can sign up for Zoom classes or meetings, and learn tons of stuff. So definitely check out the resource and then get on Facebook and really start digging for your federally recognized tribe.
So, the second thing that I would really strongly encourage is the building of authentic relationships, not just with the students that are in front of you, but the families. Because once again, as Anishinaabe, we're all in our own individual space of learning and reclaiming our language and our culture. So what one family might do is not necessarily what another family might do, one family might go to ceremony in Wisconsin, whereas another one possibly hasn't had even a naming ceremony done for themselves, so they don't have an Anishinaabe name yet. And so, really getting to know your students and the families is imperative and being able to bring specific connections to who they are in how deeply they know or understand their culture into the classroom. I am a firm believer in overcommunicating with families. It sounds cheesy, but teamwork makes the dream work. It is imperative, super important that teachers are ready to listen to parents to families, not just parents because we have multi-generational families. But that you're ready to listen to your student's family, take suggestions on whatever it is that they have to say about that child or your student. Because ultimately, they know them the best. And being able to be a successful teacher for them hinges on whether you can make those connections and then be able to create those culturally rich learning environment or pieces for them.
The third piece that is super duper important is understanding and acknowledging your own social bias. It's really important that teachers acknowledge that they have work to do in the classroom. It's really important that teachers then work to change.
I see you puzzling with this one.
No, it's just really important that that teachers do what they need to do in order to make the changes in their classroom. Because ultimately, their students deserve it.
What I really appreciate about this list that you're giving us is it's a reminder that it's you know, you kind of had to do your own work first and your own heart work first, in order to have that kind of authentic relationship with your students. I guess it really is like, if you're going to ask them to share something with you, and if you're going to ask the class to be a part of these discussions, you know, you have to do some soul work on your own to recognize what's going on within you, so that you can better serve and facilitate those conversations. Am I catching that right?
Absolutely. 100%. Rita Pierson, I don't know if you've seen the the her nice little speech on YouTube. It's, "Kids don't learn from teachers they don't like." Kids know. And if you have those personal biases about a student in your classroom, whether it be their culture, whether it be their skin color, whether it be their religion, whether it be their sexual orientation, they know. And you know what? It's not going to get anywhere for you or the child. You're not going to be the best teacher for them. And I think they deserve the best teacher in front of them. Every year, all your long.
Yeah, what strikes me there is just that, you know, as you said, it could be an unconscious bias. It might not be intentional. I think for for many of us, right, we're human. And there's plenty of research that shows that we all we've all got them.
Implicit bias, they're there. Whether we like it or not.
Yeah, but you're saying you know, with having privilege, if it's unconscious on your part, your students may still feel it consciously, and that's the prickly uncomfortable part but probably the most important part.
Agreed. And, you know, it's the uncomfortableness. Be good with uncomfortableness because it's within that uncomfortableness that you learn and the kids learn what it means to be unconditionally loved, to have unconditional trust, to have unconditional respect. And, I mean, ultimately, I think that's what makes a good learning environment for all students.
Can you tell me about a student who touched your heart and change the way that you teach?
It's hard to just pick one. I mean, especially because I think if you're a good, responsive, reflective teacher, there's always one in your classroom every year that just really makes you puzzle and think about, okay, what do I have to do different this year in order to make this the best learning experience for this person? But oh, my goodness. I think it was probably in year one or two of teaching, and I had this student that just had this contagious smile. This giggle and laugh and just a funny, I don't want to say excuse, but a funny reason for everything in life. And the kid bounced forever, it never ended. It was, you know, the typical constantly on the move kind of kid, and he was so lovingly named to Tigger by one of our Title One teachers. Um, yeah, absolutely, just constantly on a spring. And he just really taught me to see children for who they are, in spite of what makes it difficult for them to learn, and just to really see beyond the difference into really just love and appreciate him for his silliness, and his sweetness, and his laughter before anything else. And so, that's one of the things that I like to, I don't know, I just I think I unconsciously do now in in the classroom is, you know, find what you love about even your most difficult student, and just really focus on that. And it makes any challenge easier to deal with when you can see the love in their eyes, even though, you know they're being very difficult. But it's definitely, I think, probably, yeah, he had an impact on my life and the way that I teach.
Alright, similar question, but kind of reversed, where you're in the student role. So can you tell me about a teacher who had an impact on your life?
I think probably the teacher that has had the most impact on my life as well as in the classroom and out of the classroom is actually my aunt Rita. Mhm, my aunt Rita Chapman. She was a Title One teacher for many years in the Mount Pleasant Public School system. And so not just as an educator, but as an auntie as well, she was able to really help me understand that the relationships with kids matter most and that it's that unconditional love, that trust, respect and kindness. That first you got to love kids before you can teach them, and they've got to know that they're loved before they'll learn. And yeah, gizaagi'in, it's the reason why I tell kids because gizaagi'in because gizaagi'in is "I love you" in Anishinaabemowin. Because everybody deserves to be told that they're loved, especially in their own in their own language. And so, yeah, she's the one that's touched me the most.
I want to thank Tan-A for taking the time and energy to share her stories and to give those of us listening a little bit more insight into the past and the present of Anishinaabe tribes in Michigan.
I want to thank her for the gentle reminder that the lands we live and teach on today once belonged to others who also lived and taught here (many of whom, as Tan-A shows us, are still living and teaching here today).
And of course, I want to thank her for sharing her top three strategies for providing culturally responsive education to Native American students, who are in our classrooms, whether or not their culture is outwardly visible to others.
Without a doubt, it’s challenging work, as educators and human beings, to confront our own cultural biases and provide students with an education that honors the uniqueness of their communities. But with leaders like Tan-A forging our path forward, if there’s one thing we’re certain of: it’s that the future is BRIGHT.
Do you know someone who is an inspiring Michigan educator who should be featured on our show? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know who they are and why they should interview them.
Thank you for joining us for this episode of BRIGHT: Stories of Hope & Innovation in Michigan Classrooms. This podcast is produced by Herbie Gaylord, is hosted by me, Nikki Herta, and is shaped by many of our passionate and talented colleagues. Big thanks to Christa Green, Anne Perez, Anne Craft, and Brandon Bautista for their contributions to this episode.
BRIGHT is brought to you, in part, by Meemic Insurance Company, insuring the educational community for more than 70 years. Teachers and school employees, visit Meemic.com/Quote to see how much you can save.
The BRIGHT podcast is made possible by Michigan Virtual, a nonprofit organization that’s leading and collaborating to build learning environments for tomorrow. Education IS changing faster than ever. Discover new models and resources to move learning forward at your school at michiganvirtual.org.