Expanding Perspectives: A Journey with Two-Eyed Seeing

By: Scott Smalley

Scott Smalley

Education Consultant

Scott Smalley is a researcher and OCT certified classroom teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board. He has a B.A. in History and French Studies at Huron University and a B.Ed at Western University (2023). Scott previously worked on Defining Moments Canada’s Insulin 100 project as a researcher and curator of the Sir Frederick Banting exhibit (2020). At Huron University he has worked as a Research Fellow under Dr. Tom Peace, and as a Research Assistant under Dr. Amy Bell. He was awarded the Huron Community History Centre’s Prize for Public History (2020), and the Gary Owens Prize in British History (2022).

Entry #1: Positions of Incredible Responsibility

What is Two-Eyed Seeing? And how might it be relevant to and helpful for students and teachers? These are some of the questions I had when I was first asked to work as an educational consultant for Defining Moments Canada’s 2022 Summer Writing Project, facilitated as part of a larger project commemorating the 100th anniversary of Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce’s seminal and self-published pamphlet  The Story of a National Crime. Bryce’s pamphlet exposed the poor health and living conditions of Indigenous children living in residential schools in Canada—schools run by the Canadian government and by Christian churches—and it continues to influence our understanding of the cultural and physical genocide of Indigenous peoples at the hands of the Canadian government, the churches involved, and of colonial ideology. Resulting intergenerational trauma and inequities persist today, and include legislative and systemic impediments installed against Indigenous people, as well as problematic stereotypes and ideologies that are still prevalent within settler society. Even though the last residential school in Canada was shuttered in 1997—which is more recent than many people realize— it’s important for educators to identify barriers that continue to persist in the education industry, to confront the reasons why only 40% of Indigenous youth graduate high school today, and why students in the BIPOC community continue to struggle to feel seen, validated, and represented.

As educators today, shouldn’t we understand the importance to the individual of community, of family, of socialization, of acceptance, of diversity and accessibility, of nutrition from traditional sources, of visibility, authenticity, and of the relationship the global community has with Mother Earth? Isn’t it long past time to explore and accept long suppressed and diverse ways of learning, knowing, and being? This is where Two-Eyed Seeing, or Etuaptmumk, comes in.

Before we go further, I feel it necessary to introduce myself. My name is Scott Smalley, and I’m a settler and new-service teacher in Ontario. At the time of this writing, I’m 39 years old, in the process of completing my B.Ed at Western University, and quite looking forward to the future as I welcome this career change. After years of working in industries that underpaid and under-appreciated the worker, I decided that I would put my skills to better use, and embark on a career that both pays a living wage and allows me to support the growth and success of others. I understand the role I will play in shaping the perspectives of both my students and colleagues, and I don’t take the responsibility lightly. I previously worked for Defining Moments Canada (DMC) in 2020 as a research fellow while in my undergrad at Huron University, and I curated the StoryMap exhibit of Sir Frederick Banting for DMC’s Insulin100 project. If you haven’t already checked out the project on the DMC site, I highly recommend that you do!

As teachers, we are in a position of incredible responsibility. Yes, there are the obvious reasons as described in teacher’s college: the legal and ethical framework in which we are operating, continued professional development, classroom management, etc. In the Faculty of Education at Western there has been a significant focus on inclusion, diversity, accessibility, acceptance, and Indigeneity. From what I understand and what I’ve seen so far, the education industry as a whole in Canada is trying to move toward more diverse ways of understanding and supporting student success. Since I have always believed strongly that diversity, accessibility, and acceptance are strengths in society, I feel that there is no better time for me to become a teacher.

Entry #2: A Wholly Collaborative Process

This blog post explores my experience participating in the Summer Writing Project, learning about Two-Eyed Seeing, and thinking about how I will implement Two-Eyed Seeing in my professional practice going forward. My desire for this blog series is to provide a deeper understanding of what went into the creation of the lesson plans and educational material during the project, how Two-Eyed Seeing can guide our pedagogical choices and philosophies, and to connect with those who didn’t have a chance to participate in the project directly. I would think that by virtue of you, the reader, being on the DMC site and reading this and other content pertaining to Bryce and Two-Eyed Seeing, that you at the very least desire to position yourself as part of the solution —to support student success by simultaneously confronting the practices of the past while forging ahead constructively in a drastically changing post-pandemic world.

The Summer Writing Project was timely for me. I had just finished my first year of Teacher’s College at Western, and the faculty focused significantly on things like classroom management, diversity, Indigeneity, and other aspects of professional development. In my own life, I already felt strongly about the strength of diversity, and of supporting people’s right to live as their authentic selves. I adopted this perspective through my lived experience: I grew up as a queer kid in a mixed-race household, in a family that didn’t have a lot of money. My family always shared a lot of love, but I struggled with my identity and mental health issues, while also working dead-end jobs for little pay as an adult. Part of my family was raised Christian, part was raised atheist, so I always thought critically about the universe around me and of the diversity of existential perspectives. My mental health struggles led me to think critically about ability and disability, and how we can make the world more accessible. My distaste for capitalism made me think critically about different ways of living and being. Finally, I reflect often on how societal, systemic and institutional perspectives and practices affect certain populations—for example, those who are displaced, immigrant populations, etc. My conclusion was that the breadth of lived experiences is enormous, and that we are better served as a global community by understanding a breadth of perspectives, the depth of ways of knowing and being, and by allowing diverse communities to connect, share, and thrive.

I entered Teacher’s College in 2021 at the age of 38, and while it’s difficult to recall the landscape of my educational experience in high school 20+ years prior, the things I was learning at Western were new ways for me to think about the possibilities of what school could be. I learned about the importance of universal design when planning our courses so that there was diversity in the ways in which students can demonstrate their learning. I learned that students might need relaxed deadlines to hand in their assignments, and, when I was completing practicum placements, I learned from teachers who allowed students to complete tests over the course of multiple days if necessary. These things blew my mind! When I was in high school, if I didn’t hand in an assignment on the due date, I either received a zero or had percentages deducted from the assignment depending on how late it was;  it was definitely unheard of to complete a test over the course of two or three days. But, thankfully, the world we live in now is more supportive of and compassionate with students, and I fully support that. 

There are many problematic ways we apply unnecessary pressure upon students. For example, it is problematic and unrealistic to ask a student to complete a test to a high degree of quality in a short amount of time, because it makes the assumption that every student has the ability to do so and, frankly, it tests their test-taking skills more than their understanding of material and development of subject skills. Speaking for myself, I tend to shut down when I’m under that kind of pressure: my brain betrays me and the result doesn’t accurately represent my understanding of the content being tested. Students need a safe and comfortable space in which to communicate their understanding of course content; teaching and evaluation must reflect that. Some might say this approach adds extra work for the teacher, but if we build our courses with choice and diversity—universal design principles—then we make the scope of our work more manageable while simultaneously offering opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning in ways that are in harmony with them. Also: teaching is supposed to be work, and that work should centre the students’ learning and well-being. In Teacher’s College, I  heard about concepts like student-centred learning, scaffolding learning, and diversifying course content to meet the specific needs of the individual, and I was so relieved to develop the skills to bring these into the classroom.

When I first learned about Two-Eyed Seeing, I had a feeling it would connect with and extend these principles—and it did that and so much more. When I first joined the Defining Moments Canada (DMC) team and joined the Summer Writing Project group, I had the opportunity to work with teachers, scholars, and leaders, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, from a variety of places and experiences across the part of Turtle Island known as Canada. This included educators at various stages of their careers, some with social justice backgrounds, and some who were also artists: writers, performers, and musicians. We were also supported by Elder Randy Fred throughout the process. We were all passionate about developing a better understanding of Two-Eyed Seeing and building the framework together for the writing project—it was a wholly collaborative process as we dreamed and discussed together about the possibilities of developing some guiding lessons and questions to support teachers in bringing Two-Eyed Seeing to their practices and to their classrooms.

Entry #3: Seeing with the Strength of Both Eyes

For Defining Moments Canada, the Summer Writing Project revolved around Two-Eyed Seeing while existing as part of a larger project: Bryce@100. The Bryce@100 project commemorates the work of Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Indian Affairs in the early 20th century, who, in 1922 self-published and distributed the pamphlet entitled The Story of a National Crime., The pamphlet called attention to the deplorable health conditions in residential schools—conditions that Bryce had already reported to both his department and the Government of Canada, but he saw no resulting improvements or interventions after doing so. 

Given Defining Moments Canada’s desire to provide thoughtful, justice-oriented educational resources and promote curatorial thinking around its commemorative projects, a pedagogical framework inspired by Two-Eyed Seeing felt like a natural and meaningful connection to Bryce@100. Commemorating Bryce and his contribution to the conversation of systemic injustice against Indigenous peoples is but one piece of the conversation, as Bryce’s voice is but one—and a settler one at that. Engaging in Two-Eyed Seeing together as Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators with the guidance of an Elder felt crucial to extending the Bryce@100 project into a larger conversation about the role of schools, equitable education practices, and honouring Indigenous ways of knowing, learning, and being in ways that are meaningful and not appropriative or further demeaning. 

The Summer Writing Project spanned two weeks in July 2022, and the schedule included sessions led by a variety of non-Indigenous and Indigenous speakers and facilitators, including Elder “Uncle” Randy Fred, Shy-Anne Bartlett, Rob Bell, Garfield Gini-Newman, Laura Gini-Newman, Dr. Gail Lafleur, Sandra Lamouche, Miles Morrisseau, Dr. Carmen Rodriguez de France, and Dr. Christopher J. Rutty.  This team was joined by 10 Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers from across the country with a range of lived experiences and teaching experiences. The hopes for their time together were for the teachers to learn, talk, and ultimately develop a set of learning resources that would bring elements of Bryce@100 and Two-Eyed Seeing into classrooms. The schedule included everything from more formal webinars to informal drop-in sessions to small group feedback sessions. 

If you’re not familiar with Two-Eyed Seeing, or Etuaptmumk as per the original Mi’kmaw term, it has been theorized, practiced, and shared widely across Turtle Island by Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall. According to Elder Marshall, Two-Eyed Seeing is a way of approaching and understanding the world using one eye to perceive and understand the advantages of Indigenous ways of knowing and being and the other eye to perceive and understand the advantages of non-Indigenous ways of knowing and being. Weaved together, we see with the strengths of both eyes. Hopefully, we bring together the best of diverse ways of knowing so we can think and live more holistically while leaving the world a better place for generations to come.

Entry #4: Entangled by the Roots

Generally speaking, in what’s considered a good or strong non-Indigenous education setting, students receive curated content, prompts, or questions from the teacher, familiarize themselves with the content independently or in groups, conduct their own research and inquiry around the content, and demonstrate their understanding through the production of class work. Reputable sources of research include research papers, peer-reviewed articles, books that you find in the library, government websites, scholarly databases, newspapers, and so on. Students can be given choice as to what kind of work they produce, based on their interests and abilities.

If we are guided by Two-Eyed Seeing, we understand that the approach described above only uses one eye—one model—through which to see and plan for the students’ learning. Two-Eyed Seeing helps us ask: what about the other eye, the other approach? In this case, a non-Indigenous teacher would consider what elements of Indigenous ways of knowing, learning, and being might be appropriate to bring into their approach without being appropriative or harmful. For example, the teacher might invite students to curate their own sources—perhaps collaboratively as a class community—including oral sources, family or community or elder generations as sources, and be encouraged to expand what they think of as valid, reliable, and valuable sources. Course content and delivery could be approached from the perspective of telling stories, and students could learn to tell stories in a way that resonates with them. Teachers might work as a guide for the class, while understanding that students, their families, their communities, and the natural environment also act as guides through our learning, and curricular requirements would be met through a diversity of inquiries and a focus on the interconnectedness of all things.

During one of the Summer Writing Project workshops, Dr. Carmen Rodriguez de France presented a slide that invited us to think about forests: if we went into a forest, we would surely see species of trees that looked distinct and separate from one another. But if we looked under the ground, we would see that all the trees are touching and entangled by the roots—are, in a sense, holding hands. Dr. Rodriguez de France points out that the framework of Two-Eyed Seeing can inspire our research and learning efforts in the following ways:

These ideas resonated with me, because I believe we are the architects of our own learning and our own lives, and these perspectives lay the groundwork for the acquisition of greater and broader understanding of the world around us and those who occupy it with us. We live in a global community, and when we synthesize, cooperate with, or work with diverse ways of knowing and being, we can triangulate more effective and helpful conclusions around our place in the world; we allow ourselves to engage with the world in a way that is accessible to and in harmony with us as individuals and as a global community. The idea of roots holding hands in a diverse community as described by Dr. Rodriguez de France really resonated with me, and I know it did to other contributors as well – in fact, there was one example of a contributor who was walking with his son in a mall during the week of the writing project; he saw an art installation whose message was one of Indigenous connection to the land, and, rather that walk past in casual, disconnected observance, he was able to communicate with his son the importance of the installation and its message after having learned about Two-Eyed Seeing. In effect, once both of his eyes were open, new opportunities to expand conversations around ways of knowing and being were manifested.

Entry #5: Validated and Valued

I think that I’m embarking on my career at the right time. As I stated earlier, there has been a significant focus in the education sector on equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and Indigeneity.  Two-Eyed Seeing aligns with a more anti-oppressive vision of education, and I’m grateful to have learned and to continue learning about its significance.  In the daily life of a classroom teacher, it can be easy to fall into a “survival mode” of sorts and to slip into a habit of seeking out  resources from already-familiar sources like colleagues or familiar websites or books, and to forget or lose capacity to engage in the world beyond what we already know or are used to doing. I mean this especially for fellow white non-Indigenous teachers. I believe in the value of Two-Eyed Seeing for teachers and students, and of ensuring our understanding of Two-Eyed Seeing is always developed in collaboration with Indigenous peoples and communities if we ourselves are not Indigenous. 

I can confidently say that I will be guided by Two-Eyed Seeing in my own professional practice going forward, because I want my students to hear and to tell stories, to think critically and compassionately, to be authentic, and to feel validated and valued through their experience of education and learning. I hope they continue to feel this way beyond school too, in their families and communities, and in their journeys as adults. I believe that when we approach our personal and professional development with a growth mindset informed by Two-Eyed Seeing, we lay a philosophical and action-oriented groundwork in critical and equitable thought; we shape our perspectives in a way that positively sustains our connection to ourselves, our connection to diverse communities, our connection to Mother Earth, and our connection to diverse ways of knowing and being.

Additional Resources: Two-Eyed Seeing

Bartlett, Cheryl, Murdena Marshall, et al. “Two-Eyed Seeing and Other Lessons Learned within a Co-Learning Journey of Bringing Together Indigenous and Mainstream Knowledges and Ways of Knowing.” Journal of Environmental Studies and Science, 2012.

Bartlett, Cheryl, Annamarie Hatcher, et al. “Two-Eyed Seeing in the Classroom Environment: Concepts, Approaches, and Challenges.” Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 2009.

Donovan, Moira. “‘A Quest for Wisdom’: How Two-Eyed Seeing Mixes Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science in N.S.” CBC. Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

“Integrative Science.” Integrative Science, Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

“Learning First Peoples Classroom Resources – First Nations Education Steering Committee FNESC.” First Nations Education Steering Committee FNESC – Quality First Nations Education in BC, Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Reid, Andrea, et al. “‘Two-Eyed Seeing’: An Indigenous Framework to Transform Fisheries Research and Management.” Fish and Fisheries, 2020.

Roher, Sophie, et al. “How Is Etuaptmumk/Two-Eyed Seeing Characterized in Indigenous Health Research? A Scoping Review.” Plos One, 2021.

Wright, A. L., et al. “Using Two-Eyed Seeing in Research With Indigenous People: An Integrative Review.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 2019.