With a guiding principle of being "open to all," Saskatoon Public Schools is creating welcoming classrooms and educating students about the powerful importance of citizenship education for the future of our society.
Through citizenship education, the school division aims to create empathetic, respectful, action-oriented students who will employ their learning in the classroom and carry it out into our community.
In recent years, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has led a citizenship education project that developed classroom-ready resources aligned with the existing curriculum. Facets of citizenship education can be found throughout the Saskatchewan curriculum in social studies, history and Native studies. Saskatoon Public Schools – with guidance from SHRC – has moved this educational focus beyond being kind and tolerant of others to developing deeper critical thinking and empathetic processes. This allows students to compare their own viewpoints and experiences with someone else's in a classroom environment, which supports analysis, questioning, and deeper understanding.
Sherry Van Hesteren, education consultant for Saskatoon Public Schools, said what students are able to create in the classroom is what our school division hopes they will bring into their world in the future.
"We want the classroom to be a robust, pluralist democracy," said Van Hesteren.
In the 2017-18 school year, Saskatoon Public Schools received support from the Concentus Citizenship Education Foundation to introduce a comprehensive learning resource in eight pilot schools. The resource aims to strengthen the knowledge and skills of students to participate fully in Canadian democracy by focusing on five Essential Citizenship Competencies: Enlightened, Empowered, Empathetic, Ethical, and Engaged. Developing these competencies in age-appropriate ways from Kindergarten to Grade 12 will help foster a respect not only for democracy, but our increasingly multicultural and diverse community. The resources place a strong emphasis on the rights and responsibilities inherent in the treaty relationship, and empower students to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
Key to introducing these lessons to students has been teachers creating the conditions for inquiry and cultural safety in the classroom. Van Hesteren said teachers want to foster environments where students feel comfortable expressing their diverse perspectives and seek out viewpoints that differ from their own, including those that are opposed or feel unfamiliar, in order to have mutually respectful, enlightening relationships.
"Citizenship education equips students with the knowledge, skills, and disposition to create cultural safety for one another," said Van Hesteren. "In the learning community, we learn how to treat others in ways to feel safe, reveal their identities, and reach their potential."
This level of trust allows all students to operate at "full power," she explained.
"Unless students can offer that cultural safety to one another, then the likelihood of them being able to do so as citizens in other contexts is very low."
Through citizenship education, Saskatoon Public Schools is developing strong, critical thinkers who have the ability to understand complex problems and multiple points of view, and who feel a commitment to take action to reduce inequities. These lessons are accomplished through inquiry-based learning from K-12, which builds deeper understanding of history and society through each grade.
"How you learn is as important as what you learn."