This post reflects on the article The Five R’s for Indigenizing Online Learning: A Case Study of the First Nations Schools’ Principals Course and how the reading connects to our own personal and professional experiences. We then provide an overview of our proposed research question and broader topic, problems, and our purpose in choosing this topic.

A note on terminology: Throughout this paper, we use “Indigenous Peoples in Canada” and “Indigenous” to describe the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples in Canada.

“Our children are our future. We have a tremendous responsibility to ensure that future. The need for radical change, a complete overhaul of the education system for our people is the basis of the required change. To do this, we must look within ourselves, our communities, our nations for ‘the answers are within us.” (Kirkness, 1999, pp. 14-30)


The chosen article describes a case study of  a one-year pilot program, engaging in online learning platforms, offered to principals with the goal of becoming an accredited course from the Ontario College of Teachers. The program, titled “The First Nations Schools’ Principals Course” (FNSPC),  was offered specifically to principals of on-reserve First Nation schools across Canada. Participants included principals of on-reserve schools across Canada, and these schools were limited to those identifying as First Nations. Qualitative methods were used, specifically document analysis, surveys and interviews. Surveys were the preferred method, and involved gathering data about participant perception through online platforms. The authors first explored challenges and complexities of integrating indigenous knowledge systems into online, educational environments. They posit that due to indigenous knowledge being rooted in community, context, and the place-based nature of these experiences, traditional online environments tend to not foster these connections. The authors then offered solutions in the form of embedding the “5Rs” of indigenous knowledge — respect, relevance, relationship, responsibility, and reciprocity— as the backbone of the course pedagogy in order to address this conflict between online and First Nations learning environments.

The 5Rs “can serve as useful tools for educators going forward across a range of contexts: from those working in First Nations schools, to those designing online courses, or simply for those who are interested in Indigenizing learning environments.” (Restoule, 2018, pp. 125-143)

Defining the 5 Rs

Respect:  Respect refers to the need to recognize and respect Indigenous cultural norms and values

Reciprocity: Reciprocity should frame course design and relationships between instructor and pupil. Student voices should be actively listened to, and their needs and goals should be accommodated.

Relevance: Learning that is relevant to Indigenous culture should be based typically in community and oral communication

Responsibility:  Both the teacher and learner have a responsibility to recognize and uphold “First Nations values, practices, and ways of knowing”(Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001, pp. 14-30). Further, personal responsibilities and relationships, such as to family members, work, or community, are acknowledged for their role in the functioning of society and the shaping of daily experiences.

Relationships: Are meant to be reciprocal on behalf of teacher and pupil, and education should foster growth of personal relationships to community. In a school setting, relationships between the students themselves also need to be fostered.

(Restoule, 2018, pp. 125-143)

Key Findings 

Online education offers enhanced accessibility and removal of geographical distances. Embedding the 5Rs not only mitigated challenges, but strengthened learning. Researchers found that the aspect of “relationships” was most successfully integrated into the online learning program. Principals commented that they had “made new connections and networks” (Restoule, 2018, pp. 14-30). Because the pilot program was deemed a success, further programs have been offered, with full enrolment and a growing waitlist. Furthermore, the application of the Five R’s will become an essential component for all First Nations schools’ principals courses going forward and is now becoming part of the accreditation requirements.


Joanna: For me, this article highlights the importance of embedding Indigenous Knowledge into my daily teaching practice. On a personal level, I have experienced online learning as a detached system accompanied by a downloadable PDF version of a course outline and accompanied readings. Assignments were emailed directly to the instructor. The layout and design was boring, I was unmotivated, and frustrated to be paying so much money for a course. I felt isolated from my peers and was unable to form meaningful connections to the instructor or my classmates. My current experience with an online learning course is the opposite: We have built a networked community by communicating in person, over video conferencing, and through audio capabilities. We have also used Whats App, Twitter and Slack to build our PLN and connect further with each other; sharing resources, relevant findings, and some very funny jokes. When I reflect on these two different experiences, I notice that EDCI 568 actively practices embedding the 5Rs into the course design. I wonder how I can successfully incorporate the 5Rs into my daily teaching practice, in order to indigenize my learning environment.

Hayley: As a teacher at a First Nations school, this article has emphasized the divide that occurs between Western education and Indigenous Knowledge systems. My undergraduate degrees are in marine Biology and Secondary Education, so I have always related learning to research reports, lectures, and analyzing data in a statistical, unbiased way. Mastering and completing an online course meant you completed assignments, followed the structured research paper outlines, and memorized the information in order to get the right answer on the tests and quizzes. In a traditional online course, there is no option to take your learning outside of the prescribed curriculum, and very few options to personalize your own learning or assignments. The most common level of personalization of the online courses I have taken included an introductory assignment, that was not usually for marks, to write a short bio about yourselves to share with other students in the course. After a year in my current school, it is clear indigenous learning is rooted in personal story, community interest, and requires conversation between people who share the roles of teacher and learner. A one-sided approach to learning, where there is a set teacher and set student role, cannot be extended to indigenous learners. I see the 5R’s as interwoven in my teaching due to the students I have in my classroom, the community in which my school is located, and the breadth of knowledge that exists from the members of my school and the surrounding community.

Research Topic

Essential Question

What are the obstacles perceived by educators when it comes to incorporating Indigenous (First Nation, Inuit, Metis) content into their practice?


The broad subject matter addressed in the project will address settler-educator set-backs involving embedding Indigenous content into their practice. This will include pre-service, established, and new teachers responsible for delivering curriculum in the classroom environment whether online, blended, or in-person. Also included in this research will be administration, schools, the ministry of education, school districts, professors in the faculty of education, and other individuals or educating bodies responsible for or influencing educational institutions and curriculum.


The problem is that there has been a call to action from the Government to include Indigenous education into the new BC curriculum. The issue that isn’t being addressed is that research suggests that teachers do not feel comfortable, authentic, or ready to incorporate this content into their practices. This could be due to their own feelings of being a settler in Canada, a lack of authentic resources, and hesitation of doing it “wrong” or offending these nations and communities. Rather than curating their own resources from their point of view, it is common to rely heavily on current Indigenous educators to be accountable for all of the knowledge and resources.

We need to do the work and gather our resources ourselves, rather than depending on Indigenous community members. In order to fully engage, we need to bring our own background knowledge into the conversation to be able to talk about deeper topics. We cannot depend on the Indigenous community to be the only keepers of knowledge; burn-out, sensitivity, and tokenism could occur if we do not do some of the research ourselves. In conversation with Shauneen Pete, she expressed her exhaustion and frustration with teachers who were not taking the time to first learn the truths of our shared history. She urges settlers to first do our own research on the topic, then come back and  engage in a critical discourse. She stresses the importance for settler-educators to form their own personal learning networks in order to talk about their fears and to make spaces that provide safe environments to express this vulnerability.


Change requires knowing the why and the how. We would like to understand how to encourage educators to incorporate Indigenous  content while acknowledging their own biases and backgrounds. To us, it seems like reciprocity is the how, and relationship is the why – each person should bring their own sources to the conversation, rather than it being a one way sharing of knowledge. Each individual has the ability to be both the teacher and the learner. Along with creating a resource bank for educators, we hope to engage in critical discourse with other settler-educators, as well as begin self-study in order to reflect upon our own biases and understand obstacles preventing settler-educators from fully engaging in this curriculum.


First People’s content is included in almost every subject in the new BC curriculum. However, many teachers are hesitant to embed this content with authentic resources. Online or outdated resources can also be a source of conflict, and can lead to feelings of self-doubt.

The resources we have compiled reflect the First Peoples Principles of Learning as well as the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the plea to “integrate Indigenous Knowledge and teaching methods into classrooms” and “build student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect.” First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC)

Click here for a full list of resources


First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC). (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2019, from First Nations Education Steering Committee FNESC website:

Kirkness, V. J. (1999). Aboriginal Education in Canada: A Retrospective and a Prospective. Journal of American Indian Education39(1), 14-30. Retrieved from

Kirkness, V. J., & Barnhardt, R. (2001). First Nations and Higher Education: The Four R’s – Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility. Knowledge Across Cultures: A Contribution to Dialogue Among Civilizations. R. Hayoe and J. Pan. Hong Kong, Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong, 30(3), 1-15. Retrieved from

Tessaro, D., Restoule, J.-P., Gaviria, P., Flessa, J., Lindeman, C., & Scully-Stewart, C. (2018). The Five R’s for Indigenizing Online Learning: A Case Study of the First Nations Schools’ Principals Course (Vol. 40), 125-143. Retrieved from’s_for_Indigenizing_Online_Learning_A_Case_Study_of_the_First_Nations_Schools’_Principals_Course