‘The Truth About Stories’

Coming to Compassionate Pedagogy in a First-Year Program


  • Lisa Dickson University of Norhern British Columbia
  • Tracy Summerville University of Northern British Columbia




ways of knowing, whole student, first-year students, transformation, wellbeing


This essay describes the development of a compassionate pedagogy by way of three experiences the authors had as co-teachers in an experimental, first-year, integrated, cohort-based program in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. In attempting to build a curriculum to tackle the “fragmented and incoherent educational experience” (Marra & Palmer, 2008, p. 113) that privileges answer-mining over the understanding of scholarship as a conversation among “essentially contested ideas” (Gallie, 1955), we found that our program reproduced the very restrictive, top-down, positivistic paradigms we sought to overcome. In reimagining the program and our role as teachers, we took our cue from the story of Charm, or Sky Woman, as told in Thomas King’s Massey Lecture, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, in which Western hierarchical paradigms of creation are challenged by a First Nations story of collaboration and co-creation. Compassionate pedagogy, we learned from our experiences as co-teachers, cannot be developed in the abstract; rather, it must be grounded in the unique material circumstances of a classroom. Compassionate pedagogy arises from the contestation of and collaboration between ways of knowing that, if embraced, can be deeply unsettling and transformative. The experiences described here both incited change in our understanding of our vocation and provided us with a model of negotiation, accommodation and resistance that we have carried beyond the program into other areas of our professional and personal lives. Our encounter with First Nations ways of knowing, both in the King lectures and in a traditional Dakelh pit house, challenged our unexamined assumptions about education and pushed us toward a pedagogy that is flexible, that legitimizes the needs of the whole learner, and that resists an entrenched institutional paradigm of suffering by advocating for an alternative one: the right to be well.


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