Case #20: Faculty Learning Community on Indigenizing the Academy


DISCIPLINE: Education, Educational Development, SoTL
RESEARCH AREAS:Faculty development, student experience, decolonizing practices in higher education


Like many institutions across Canada, Mount Royal University is working towards decolonization and Indigenization as called for in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. In practice, at the classroom level, many faculty members do not know how to begin this process. For two years, in partnership with the Office of Academic Indigenization, our Academic Development Centre ran a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) on Indigenizing the Academy.CASE EXAMPLE OF EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP FLCs on a range of topics have been offered for more than a decade at our teaching and learning centre. The FLC on Indigenization was led by Michelle Yeo, an educational developer and settler, and Liam Haggarty, a settler scholar and associate professor of Indigenous Studies. We also partnered with Siksikai’tsitapi, Îyârhe Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina communities in southern Alberta, Treaty 7 territory. Battiste, Bell, and Findlay (2002) argue that decolonization within the academy “requires multilateral processes of understanding and unpacking the central assumptions of domination, patriarchy, racism, and ethnocentrisms that continue to glue the academy’s privileges in place” (p. 84). The intent was to provide participants with opportunities for structured, collegial conversations around Indigenization that meaningfully incorporated Indigenous voices throughout the learning experience.


While we had not considered the Five-Pillar Model in designing this program, upon reflection it can be seen to incorporate the five elements outlined by Fields, Kenny, and Mueller (2019).

Affective qualities were paramount in the design and implementation of this FLC, for facilitators and participants. Aspects such as humility were required when learning from Indigenous community members. Mentorship and empowerment were found in the community created among participants, where 12-13 colleagues were brought together from across Faculties and disciplines to explore complex issues of decolonization. This aligns with Fields, Kenny & Mueller’s finding regarding the importance of an interdisciplinary community, and the experience of receiving resources from the institution in offering the program and support from the facilitators and other group members. Participants noted that after the FLC experience, they were more willing to speak up on issues of Indigenization with their departmental colleagues, and more likely to undertake appropriate advocacy and action. The FLC was action-oriented in the sense that part-way through the year, the focus shifted from thinking about the issues to exploring how faculty members’ classes could be decolonized or indigenized. Our discussion of teaching excellence was particularly focused on making the classroom more hospitable to Indigenous students.

Finally, we relied on the written work of Indigenous scholars such as Taiaiake Alfred, Shauneen Pete, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, John Snow, and Chelsea Vowel, along with the wisdom of Indigenous knowledge keepers and Elders in the local community. At the end of the first year of the program, we conducted an interpretive study on the experience of the participants. As pedagogical research, three of the FLC participants, along with two Indigenous knowledge keepers, co-authored a paper – “Unsettling Faculty Minds: A Faculty Learning Community on Indigenization” (Yeo, Haggarty, Wida (Snow), Ayoungman, Pearl, Stogre, & Waldie, 2019) – based on interviews conducted with participants.

Related to the idea of educational leadership is the significant role our Indigenous community partners held in terms of leading educational experiential components for our group. Full explanations of these experiences were contributed by the 2019 Indigenous educators within the paper. These experiences were chosen and facilitated by the Indigenous educators, in response to their assessment of what would be most beneficial. According to participants, these elements were the most impactful aspects of the experience. As one participant told us, “I think I knew that before, but the clarity you get when you start to spend some time with Indigenous people who are also working in the same area, that collaboration is probably the most important thing at the core…. When you ask about ‘sense making’ for me it brought clarity …that sole thing about collaboration, and about listening, and about how important it is to allow Indigenous peoples to lead the way in Indigenization.” Importantly, this may be seen as further expanding Fields, Kenny, and Mueller’s notion of distributed educational leadership as an “emergent and collaborative process” (p. 10) beyond the walls of the university into the community. They suggest that this kind of leadership “is core to building strong teaching and learning cultures that become suffused across an organization through collective action” (p. 10). In this case, the change we sought was on a broader societal level, and meaningful reconciliation that required making the ’walls’ of the institution more porous.

“The intent was to provide participants with opportunities for structured, collegial conversations around Indigenization that meaningfully incorporated Indigenous voices throughout the learning experience.”


Our interviews with participants demonstrated impact in terms of their ways of knowing, being, and practicing. Participants were surprised to come away with a different sense of place. Numerous participants acknowledged that the outcomes of this experience extended far beyond knowledge and practice relating to their roles as faculty. These experiences also influenced ways of being and identity. As one participant explained, “Having the opportunity to listen to the stories of Elders and experience ceremony in such a beautiful way definitely changed me.” Another participant expressed the impact of the FLC experience on their sense of what it means to live on Treaty land, in changing how they think about the community they live in and their personal responsibility to Treaty. Participants also described how their practice in the classroom has also changed. It is both about incorporating more Indigenous content, but also developing relational pedagogies as Lindstrom (2018) describes.


Battiste, M., Bell, L., & Findlay, L.M. (2002). Decolonizing education in Canadian universities: An interdisciplinary, international, Indigenous research project. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 26(2), 82-95.

Fields, J., Kenny, N.A., & Mueller, R.A. (2019). Conceptualizing educational leadership in an academic development program. International Journal for Academic Development, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2019.1570211

Lindstrom, G..(2018). How do we Indigenize post-secondary curriculum? Accessed June 21, 2019.

Yeo, M., Haggarty, L., Ayoungman, K., Wida, W. (Snow, T.), Pearl, C., Stogre, T., & Waldie, A. (2019). Unsettling faculty minds: A faculty learning community on Indigenization. New Directions in Teaching and Learning, 157(Spring), 27-41. DOI: 10.1002/tl.20328


Headshot of Michelle Yeo

Dr. Michelle Yeo is an associate professor and Academic Director of the Institute for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Mount Royal University. Michelle has a PhD in Language and Literacy from the University of Victoria. She conducts SoTL research on faculty development, student experience and learning, and decolonizing practices.


Michelle Yeo is Academic Director of the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Mount Royal University. In this role she works with faculty members on developing SoTL research, administers a grants program, and is the current president of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. She is also associate professor and faculty development consultant within the Academic Development Centre.



International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL)
Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE)
Educational Developer’s Caucus (EDC