Doctor Sean Lessard, Indigenous Education Champion

Doctor Sean Lessard, Indigenous Education Champion

Doctor Sean Lessard could be labelled a productivity guru the way he manages the various roles is his life, but he is best known as an indigenous education champion.

His major work-related roles include the following:

  • Associate Professor of Indigenous Education & Core Studies at the University of Regina.
  • Co-Founder of Growing Young Movers, a non-profit youth development organization which focuses on helping young Indigenous youth reach their full potential in education and life
  • An eloquent and entertaining speaker
  • A published writer, and an award-winning researcher, the most notable award being the Pat Clifford Award for his research work on emerging education.

Early life

Doctor Lessard was born in Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Northern Saskatchewan. A non-Aboriginal rural family, however, adopted him. He lived most of his early life enjoying the best of both worlds. Growing up, Doctor Lessard developed a strong attachment to both communities.

His Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal experiences made him realize there are numerous stories about identity, a realization that formed the basis of his research on aboriginal education.

Doctor Lessard pursued his studies at the University of Alberta. He taught in kindergarten at Woodside Institutional Services, and high school at Jasper Place High School in Edmonton before settling on a job at the University of Regina.

Interest in Indigenous Education

Doctor Lessard has had an interest in Indigenous Education from an early age. His early life experiences, coupled with his experiences as a teacher, made him develop an interest in indigenous education issues e.g. why Indigenous students had higher school dropout rates compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts. According to his research work, the key to understanding such issues is listening.

“We think about school as a knowledge place, but if we think about it as a place for conversations with kids, what might they share with us and what might they teach us?”
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His research work reveals that the kind of knowledge and experiences valued in and outside classrooms affect the attitude of students toward school. According to Doctor Lessard, the knowledge, and skills valued in typical school settings put Indigenous students in a disadvantaged position since most of them are passionate about traditional culture, music, art, and dance, which have little to no place little in modern school settings.

“The young people I worked with had this deep passion for music and art and dance, and a lot of them had a lot of traditional knowledge from their communities. They had these unbelievable gifts there was no space for in school, the subject matter did not call it out.”
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Growing Young Movers

Doctor Lessard’s unmatched commitment to Indigenous education made him co-founder a non-profit organization called Growing Youth Movers while working at the University of Regina.

Growing Youth Movers focuses on youth development from an early stage. The Growing Youth Movers youth program targets students from treaty home communities as well as their families. One of the leading roles of the program is to help students and their families transition into an urban setting.

Growing Youth Movers enhances the physical, social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal students and their families through three main approaches namely: programming, knowledge mobilization, and support.

Growing Youth Movers aims to create a connection with the youth first which then creates a space for learning regardless of all other factors that contribute to Aboriginal educational problems.

“It’s a neighbourhood with a story, that’s probably the best way to say it. Some people would say it’s poverty- and crime-ridden, but I try to remember there are lives there and families,” Lessard says. “It’s my same philosophy—create a space in the community where I can connect with young people and we can learn in that space, no matter what the activity.”
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Growing Youth Movers Approach

Growing Youth Movers hires Indigenous students to facilitate the program. The organization also employs pre-service teachers and academics from various disciplines who are passionate about Aboriginal education.

Growing Youth Movers also has volunteers from the University as well as well as family members. Growing Youth Movers focuses on non-Aboriginal students and families who've had poor school experiences.

The program’s research work is centred on those experiences to formulate suitable remedies.

Growing Youth Movers has been around for more than three years now. According to Doctor Lessard, the program has evolved, grew, and received support throughout Canada. He also acknowledges that his research work in the program played a tremendous role in earning him the Pat Clifford Award.

Summary

Doctor Lessard is among the few educational scholars with a research agenda aimed at supporting Aboriginal students, their families, as well as classroom teachers, to foster the success of Indigenous learners.

Through his organization, Growing Youth Movers, and educational career, Doctor Lessard has helped discover significant socio-economic and cultural challenges faced by Aboriginal students in formal and informal learning settings.

His work already has the potential to transform how Indigenous learners should learn in Canada and around the globe. There is an emphasis on eliminating situational barriers present when Indigenous students pursue education. Learning starts with trying to understand Indigenous student's background and experiences and making sure Indigenous students are taught by educators who try to understand them.

Links

Doctor Lessard is interviewed in a question and answer format (PDF)

Growing Young Movers article

Red Worn Runners A Narrative Inquiry into the Stories of Aboriginal Youth and Families in Urban Settings by Sean Lessard (PDF)

Doctor Lessard at Superior North Catholic

The photo at the top of this post is of Cara Figliomeni, Native Language and Culture Teacher at Holy Angels; Crystal Gionette, Student and Community Engagement Lead at Superior North Catholic School Board; Doctor Sean Lessard; and Kim Figliomeni, Principal at Holy Angels' Catholic School.

A session with Doctor Lessard at Superior North Catholic School Board November 2016
Photo of Doctor Lessard sharing his knowledge at the PA Day, November 2016