Tessaro, Restoule, Gaviria, Flessa, Lindeman, & Scully-Stewart, 2018

Tessaro, D., Restoule, J.-P., Gaviria, P., Flessa, J., Lindeman, C., & Scully-Stewart, C. (2018). The Five R’s for Indigenizing Online Learning: A Case Study of the First Nations Schools’ Principals Course. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 40(1), 125–143. PDF available


This article focuses on the creation, implementation, experiences, and research surrounding the first online professional development course for principals of First Nations schools across Canada, named the First Nations Schools’ Principals Course (FNSPC). First, we describe the contexts, goals, and designing of the FNSPC. Second, we outline the complexities of bringing Indigenous values into an online educational space. Lastly, we describe how using the Five R’s (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001; Restoule, 2008) of respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility, and relationships recasts the challenges of Indigenizing online education into opportunities for spaces of traditional and non-traditional Indigenous learning through the FNSPC.


Indigenous education; Aboriginal education; online education; First Nations schools on reserve; principals’ professional development course

Key Ideas

In 2016, Dr. Jean-Paul Restoule, along with a team of researchers, undertook a research project exploring the experiences of the course planners, funding agencies, and participants of the First Nations Schools’ Principals Course (FNSPC) during the phases of course design, implementation of a one-year pilot delivery of the course, subsequent course offerings, and the move towards accreditation of the course by the Ontario College of Teachers. ... This paper describes the story behind the FNSPC, its design and delivery, and provides some of the course experiences as examples. Notably, the course design and delivery were centred around the Five R’s of respect, relevance, reciprocity, responsibility, and relationships (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001; Restoule, 2008). (p. 125-126)

  • respect
  • relevance
  • reciprocity
  • responsibility
  • relationships
Indigenous education Online Education
situated in a specific community accessible across multiple communities
highly contextual very low context
experiential, holistic, personal, orally transmitted, narrative, metaphor technologically mediated, therefore difficult to align w/ indigenous education


  • qualitative
    • document analysis
    • interviews
    • surveys
    • what worked or not
    • what was valuable
    • how participants communicated during and after the courses
    • surveys sent several months after to determine what aspects continued to be helpful
    • focus groups
    • pilot participants
    • immediately following completion
  • Participants selected from across Canada except northern territories


FNSPC research employed a decolonizing theoretical approach as well as Indigenous research methodologies, informed and inspired by the work of scholars such as Linda Smith in Decolonizing Methodologies (1999) and Shawn Wilson in Research is Ceremony (2008). These frameworks meant that, similar to the course design, the research approach ought to be culturally aligned and based on respectful relationships (Styres & Zinga, 2013) (p. 129)


The goals of the research included understanding the challenges and opportunities of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into spaces of online education, the findings of which are discussed by Restoule (2017). Research also explored the ways that the course could provide new e-learning opportunities to invite all learners to engage with Indigenous knowledges, worldviews, and pedagogies in culturally appropriate, respectful, and meaningful ways. (p. 130)

Significance of the FNSPC

The idea for an online course was inspired by the pressing need for enhancing school leadership in areas where professional development opportunities are scarce, particularly leadership development for those working in a First Nations cultural context. (p. 127)

Challenges for principals of First Nations Schools
  • geographic remoteness
  • high staff turnover
  • dual goals
    • provincial curriculum
    • local culture and language
  • higher per capita rates of trauma, substance abuse, violence, and suicides
  • extra reporting and accountability c.f. provincial counterparts
  • less per student funding c.f. provincial counterparts
  • not necessarily members of the community
  • less training
  • no training specific to First Nations Schools
Advantages of Online
  • reduced geographical barrier therefore greater access from distance
    • ensures diverse participation across Canada and in remote locations
  • participants could remain active at work

Indigenizing Online Education

The decision to explore the processes and outcomes of the FNSPC is based on the knowledge that the content and delivery of these courses is inherently conflictual due to the opposing fundamentals of Indigenous education versus online education. (p. 130)

Indigenous education Online Education
community, place, context not situated, meant to be accessed beyond confines of one place
customized around awareness of learner teachers and learners may never meet each other f2f
holistic engagement (emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical) low context, easy access and interaction
The relationship a learner has to the teacher, community, and place where the learning occurs is of such great importance in Indigenous education that the community and environment tend to be synonymous with the sources and content of learning. (p. 130-131) community is a virtual construct, all communication mediated

The Five Rs

By applying each R to the course design, structure, and delivery, it was found that the challenges of bridging Indigenous and online education could be effectively mitigated and these could act instead as opportunities for new types of learning. (p. 132)

  • original 4Rs were a response to institutional approaches to indigenous university students that are likened to assimilation and require indigenous students to distance themselves from their culture and values
  • 4Rs required institutions to adapt to First nations students, Indigenous knowledge and Learning
  • opposition to 2Ps of "power and profit"


  • recognize and respect first nations cultural norms and values
    • indigenous worldviews are holistic
    • hierarchies and separation between beings is not inherent
    • attitudes about nature, community and education
    • universities are bureaucratic, highly-structured, and hierarchical
  • Incorporated participant feedback


  • emphasis is result of decades of exploitation
    • one-sided projects that ignore needs of the community
  • research must be mutually beneficial
  • student voices should be actively listened to and their needs and goals accommodated
  • not transmission model, but 'horizontal sharing'


  • learning should be relevant to First Nations culture and ways of knowing...beyond books
  • use of video for oral communication
  • tasks included hands-on activities in the community


In Indigenous education, both the teacher and learner have a responsibility to recognize and uphold First Nations values, practices, and ways of knowing (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001). Further, personal responsibilities and relationships, such as to family members, work, or community, are acknowledged for their role in the functioning of society and the shaping of daily experiences. (p. 138)

  • assignments and tasks completed w/i local communities and schools
  • flexibility of access allowed participants to maintain work and home responsibilities
  • also institutional responsibility of FNSPC towards bureaucratic structures of the university
    • these underlying responsibilities prevent a totally decolonized experience as the structures themselves are colonial


Relationships are the fifth R, as the other Four R’s of respect, reciprocity, relevance, and responsibility can only truly be realized through conscious tending and effort to relationships. Relationships between teacher and learner, and between community, culture, and school underlie all aspects of Indigenous education (Restoule, 2017). (p. 139)

  • direct communication can be too formal in online education and associated with assignments and course requirements this is a barrier for students
  • FNSPC provided a valuable support network for participants, some experiencing that support for the first time


These principles of Indigenous education (respect, reciprocity, relevance, responsibility, and relationships) seem to me to be directly parallel to the historical aims of open education. Paquette's three dyads, "autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation" (2005, trans.) are particularly salient with multiple points of connection between the two models. Paquette's phrasing as three opposing dyads captures the inherent conflict between Indigenous ways of knowing and learning and online education.

If open education is fundamentally concerned with increasing access to educational opportunities and improving the pedagogical effectiveness of those opportunities, then these 5Rs, as opposed to the 5R permissions enabled by open licenses (the right to reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, and retain learning materials), seem to me to be more foundational to open education than open licenses. Through the Indigenous 5Rs (i5Rs?) educators can ensure that all students have greater access to education and that the opportunities presented to them are of high quality.