Supporting indigenous students in the classroom

Acknowledging that the University sits on Coast Salish ancestral lands is an important step in fostering an inclusive UW community. Beyond this land acknowledgement, instructors can adopt classroom strategies that support UW’s indigenous students. Here are a few strategies that can make indigenous students feel welcome and supported.

Reflect on your assumptions and design for inclusion

Predominantly white universities are often “normed around White middle class students, making it an alienating environment for Native students” (Perez). Indigenous students often encounter messages that invalidate their histories and values. Indeed, as Brayboy (2005) notes, educational efforts in the United States have historically tried to eradicate “Indianness.” Here are some strategies to make your classroom more inclusive:

  • Reflect on the experiences and values that inform your teaching. The UW’s Well-being for Life and Learning Guidebook suggests reflecting on what and who was valued or in the communities in which you grew up, and thinking about the values and gaps in your own educational upbringing. How might shape your teaching, for better or for worse?
  • Create community standards that prioritize respect and inclusion. Community agreements can create connection, foster trust, prevent microaggression, and make it possible to explore challenging or uncomfortable topics. Learn more about creating an inclusive classroom culture.
  • Design assignments that invite students to draw on personal experience. Studies note the important role family plays in motivating many indigenous students. Allowing indigenous students to build on their histories, family life, and values can increase the inclusiveness of your course and the relevance of your content. 

Build indigenous students’ sense of self-efficacy

Researchers have found a positive relationship between indigenous students’ self-efficacy (the belief in one’s ability to succeed) and their intention to remain in school. Pedagogical strategies that boost self-efficacy include:

  • Collaborative learning. Students can gain confidence by observing peers working through challenges.
  • Progress-oriented assessment. Compare students’ performance against stated goals, rather than each other.
  • Quick “win” assignments. Schedule a low-stakes assignment early in the term to build student confidence.
  • Self-reflection and self-assessment activities. Reflection helps students assess their own performance and identify changes they can make to improve.
  • Frame failure as a part of the learning process to reduce anxiety and encourage intellectual risk-taking.
  • Share words of encouragement with students.

Attend to the needs of first generation students

College enrollment and graduation rates among indigenous students consistently fall below the national average. This is due to many factors, including racism, poverty, and underfunded schools. When indigenous students do make it to college, they are often the first in their families to do so and may struggle with challenges associated with being a first generation student. Here are some resources designed to support first generation students that may benefit the indigenous students in your classes:

Connect indigenous students with peers

Affinity groups can create “a place for connection and recognition” and opportunities for indigenous students to meet in settings not dictated by dominant cultural expectations (Myers, et al, 2019). Here are some resources you might consider sharing with students: