Jenni Hoffmann, grade 2 teacher and K-6 social studies chair
Days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2023, Teaching for Change and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) conducted an annual curriculum teach-in where more than 100 K-12 teachers from the mid-Atlantic region collected the knowledge and resources necessary to teach Indigenous American history and culture. Jenni Hoffmann, grade 2 teacher and K-6 social studies chair, was invited by Renée Gokey, teacher services coordinator at the NMAI, to present and model place-based teaching practices. The teachers who attended learned to see the outdoors as a teaching tool and further embrace the diverse culture and history of Indigenous American Nations.
This year’s main theme centered on the reclamation of education sovereignty, which the native people lost between the 18th and 20th centuries when the U.S. government denied Indigenous American children their language and culture in federal boarding schools. The keynote address was delivered by Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland who described education sovereignty, noting the inherent right of Indigenous tribes to define and reach their own educational goals for their students.
Hoffmann presented on how she utilizes the outdoors to teach about contemporary Native Americans – and naturally, her session was held outside at the museum. She spoke about the importance of place and using it as a teaching tool not only for connecting us to one another, but for how imperative it is – and was – to Indigenous Americans.
While at the teach-in, she stressed, “We teach beyond food, clothing, culture.” One method she spoke about, as an example, is the Westward Expansion unit in grade 3. The session tied into some of the work that Hoffmann and Gokey collaborated on around the Pamunkey Tribe. During the Lower School’s unit on Westward Expansion, Gokey came to Potomac to observe Hoffmann and our third grade faculty as they connected the past to the present. For example, students explored the meaning of water, beyond consumption and cleanliness, they learned about how for many Native Americans water symbolizes the origin of life, the assurance of fertility, and the promise of sustenance.
Hoffmann used the book The Water Walker (Joanne Robertson) to connect their unit to modern times. It’s the story of a determined Ojibwe grandmother, Nokomis Josephine Mandamin, and her great love for water. In 2003, she began a walk to raise awareness around our need to protect water for future generations. Her and the Mother Earth Water Walkers “circumnavigated the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River and traversed the United States, from ocean to ocean. With a copper pail of water and an eagle-head staff in hand, Josephine and the Mother Earth Water Walkers continue their tradition each year.”
Hoffmann shared how she and her Potomac faculty members found connections by looking at our land here at school. They held conversations about who was living here during the Westward Expansion. “We have a responsibility to be good stewards of this land,” she reflected.
Hoffmann also highlighted the integration of arts, teaching for change, and learning for justice.
“What stood out to me was how powerful it can be to allow time for teachers to be together, to collaborate, and the restorative aspect of being outdoors, giving people time to reflect outdoors and find their own connection to place,” stressed Hoffmann.