Understanding educator, parent, and community expectations in a First Nations school context

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University of New Brunswick


There is an achievement gap between Indigenous students living on reserve and other students in Canada. The Auditor General of Canada (2018) reported that the gap has widened in the last 15 years. Indigenous peoples see academic education as a pathway to participate actively in society, both as individuals and in community. This research examined expectations—a driver for school success—through the lens of cultural capital. The research questions were: How do teachers understand the cultural capital that First Nations parents transfer to their children and how does this understanding affect their teaching practices, particularly practices linked to expectations? What spaces are created to cultivate teachers’ understandings and actions upon cultural capital understanding? The literature revealed aspects of cultural capital that matter across ethnicities when it comes to achievement: literacy habits and parental involvement. Secondary questions included elder and parental expectations. Findings revealed that cultural capital theory does not sufficiently encompass the interdependent layers of institutional, family, and community beliefs and pedagogical practices that link classrooms, band-operated schools, public schools, and homes. Learning environments, Indigenous cultures, and the very purpose of education challenged the theoretical context of this research: social reproduction and cultural capital theories. This study found there is a lack of alignment and trust between educators and parents/caregivers. Years of oppression and racism in the school systems mean that parents, caregivers, and the community do not trust the school. The purpose of education in a band-operated school needs to be commonly understood as being both academic and cultural. A learning context where Indigenous and Western knowledge and worldviews are equally valued would foster more student success. A trusting learning environment and stronger relationships with families and communities are necessary to align expectations and close the achievement gap. Participants said their schools are becoming more inclusive of their culture. They proposed strategies to keep building trusting relationships with families. My findings will contribute to Indigenous leaders advocating for a more effective education for their children by ensuring that culture is part of that education.