Gabriel Dumont Institue


DTI Boosts Student Self-Confidence and Success

By James Oloo

Jul 7, 2020

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DTI is the Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Skills training branch of GDI. It has been delivering programs across Saskatchewan since 1992. Under the strong and effective leadership of Brett Vandale, DTI has recorded growth in partnerships, programming, enrolment, and completion rates.


For example, DTI is the second largest training provider for practical nurses in Saskatchewan by number of graduates. Over the years, DTI has partnered with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice to deliver ABE programs to inmates thereby playing a key role in enabling inmates to transition to life in the community after serving their sentences.


In this article, we examine what DTI has been doing right relative to some of the best practices suggested by renowned educators Debbie Zacarian and Michael Silverstone in their latest book, Teaching to Empower: Taking Action to Foster Student Agency, Self-Confidence, and Collaboration (ASCD, 2020).


Zacarian and Silverstone identify strategies that if employed by educational institutions, could empower individual students and give them “tools to become an active learner, thoughtful community member, and engaged global citizen.” These include creating inclusive and empowering physical learning spaces; establishing self-directed learning and promoting positive interdependence; promoting student self-reflection; teaching the skills of collaboration; and partnering more effectively with families and the community to support student empowerment.


But first, student agency is used here to mean that students have a voice, and in most cases, choice, in what and how they learn. Student agency, together with guidance from instructors and counsellors, as well as a positive learning environment are highly valued at DTI.


Empowering Spaces

DTI has long recognized the importance of a stimulating physical classroom environment to learning. Classroom environment affects student morale, the feeling of classroom community, and provides students with a sense of familiarity and empowerment. DTI classrooms not only provide these and more (such as learning resources, small class sizes, and beautiful spaces that make our students feel good to be at school), but they also affirm and celebrate Métis culture, heritage, and language.


Self-Directed Learning

Like many Indigenous students in Saskatchewan, many DTI students, especially in the ABE program, were ‘pushed out’ of the regular K-12 school system before completing high school. As adult students, they bring with them to DTI not just various strengths and funds of knowledge, but many are juggling life commitments such as family, work, and school, and are back in school to acquire specific skills.


Self-directed learning is a common instructional strategy used in DTI programming. GDI programs, including those offered by DTI, prioritize teaching the student, and so create space for student voice, interests, and initiative to be acknowledged and nurtured.


Promote Self-Reflection.

Taking time to reflect is important for everyone as a way of creating greater self-awareness. When applied to an education setting like DTI, self-reflection involves allowing students opportunity to take a moment and think about what they are doing, what they are learning, and how that is contributing to their overall goal. It enables the student to identify how things are going and areas that may need improvement.


Speaking with instructors at DTI, at least one thing stands out. It is always about the students. “Our job involves teaching,” an instructor told me, adding that, “But our focus is on learning and student success, not on teaching.” That focus involves encouraging active participation by every student. DTI students are often asked to write self-reflection assignments (reflective writing), and during exit interviews at the end of their education, they complete questionnaires that ask them to reflect on their time at DTI and their plans for the future.


Collaboration Skills

From classrooms to playgrounds and organized sports, the importance of engaging our students in collaborative activities speaks for itself. DTI is intentional in promoting effective student collaboration. With smaller class sizes and instructional design that incorporates teamwork; DTI encourages student collaboration through group projects, and helping students to understand importance of active cooperation among themselves and what an effective collaboration looks like.


As well, remote learning that has been necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has created further opportunity for student collaboration beyond the classroom. The Institute awarded over $192,000 in emergency bursaries to 408 students under the COVID-19 Emergency Bursary for Métis Students, and approximately 100 students borrowed laptops or Chromebooks from DTI to support their at-home studies. DTI instructors have leveraged digital tools to enhance student collaboration by creating interactive walls for discussion and student engagement (such as Flipgrid and Wakelet) where students can share ideas, give each other feedback, and create resources.


Family Engagement

Historically, many Indigenous families and communities have not always had positive school experience. Education, and particularly residential school system was a tool for colonization, abuse, and pain inflicted on Indigenous peoples (see for example: Residential School Shame: The TRC Report). One of the reasons for the ongoing disparities in educational outcomes for Indigenous (versus non-Indigenous) populations is that schools have not found effective ways to build positive and meaningful relationships with Indigenous students, families, and communities.


DTI is owned by the Métis of Saskatchewan and offers community-based programs. The Institute values community partnerships that support student empowerment and success. It is not uncommon to find DTI students who are the second or third generation in their family to attend DTI.


DTI has implemented most of the strategies identified in Zacarian and Silverstone’s 2020 book. It had a student population 940 last year, and the future looks bright.

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