Faculty Stories: Meet Dr. Shannon Leddy

What Nation are you from?

I am a member of the Métis nation. My father was Patrick Kane and his father was John Kane. John was the son of Mabel Monkman who was originally from the community of St. Louis, Saskatchewan, and from there, the family has ties from there back to Selkirk settlement, and St. Paul’s Parish in the Red River Valley. So that’s on my father side. And on my mother side, I’m second generation Irish Canadian. I used to say that I was half Indigenous, half settler, but my uncle Dan, on the Métis side of the family, told me recently that I should just be stating my identity as Métis, so I am determined to do that now.


How long have you been a professor with NITEP?

I first joined UBC in January 2018, and so my first-time teaching with NITEP was Winter [Term] 1: September 2018.


What is your favourite place on campus?

My favorite place on campus… that’s a really good question! I think just the campus grounds themselves. There is an Indigenous walking tour that I have done with students in Education, and that I’m working on formalizing with some people at the Museum of Anthropology and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. So, I think it brings to the fore that I just love walking around places, I love finding art in unexpected places. I love seeing so much Indigenous presence throughout our campus because it means that in the recent years UBC has begun seriously acknowledging our presence on Musqueam territory. I think it’s really important to walk around and really think about those colonial layers.


What is your favourite snack to get on campus?

I don’t usually eat on campus, but when I do the place that always calls me is Mercante for the pizza. They’ve got a really thin and crispy crust. If you eat half you can take the rest home for your kid, so it’s a good deal.


Can you tell us one thing you love to do when your off work?

When I’m off work, for one thing, I love to cook. I am a recipe junkie, and every morning when I read the New York Times newsletter, there’s a recipe at the end, and probably 50% of the time, I print it out and try it within two weeks. So, I guess my thing in the kitchen is that I’m really fairly adventurous. I like a lot of variety, but I find cooking to be very grounding because when you’re doing that, you’re focused on chopping things up or mixing things, or how they look. You’re not doing anything else, and you’re not thinking about papers you have to write or other work. It’s just a really contemplative, meditative place that really grounds me.


What would you like NITEP students to know about you?

I’d like NITEP students to know that I am really approachable. I know that I don’t meet many NITEP students until they are in their third year of the program. And so, you know, [then] you get a title like “Professor” or some kind of magical being that only exists on the shelf until required, but that’s not true. I’m a human, I’m flawed, I’m hilarious, usually late and out of breath. But hopefully, that humanizes me for students. And they will understand that I wish to relate to them, and I really wish to lift them all up, I wish for their success, and I’ll keep working with them until we get there. So basically, I’m present and available for them and on their side.


What do you like best about teaching at NITEP?

Well, I will tell you that the easiest answer to what I love about teaching in the NITEP program is definitely the students. The way they support one another, the way they interact with one another, the way they bring their respective cultures and languages to the table in every single class discussion and seminar, the way they carry themselves with that beautiful balance of pride and humility, the determination that they have to become teachers and, in many cases, to give back to their communities. And the fact that when we’re together in the classroom, we don’t have to do a lot of decolonizing unpacking that often happens in a teacher education classroom where there are often way fewer Indigenous students. So, it’s an environment where I think we immediately understand one another, where we have a lot of respect for one another, and where we can put aside in many ways all the sort of political machinations that come along with Indigenous identities, and just focus on learning together. So, I really do love that feeling!


What research areas are you interested in?

I have three main areas of research interest. My doctorate was in Arts Education, so that remains a primary interest in the way that I form a lot of my lectures or unpacking articles in the classes that I teach.

My second key area of interest- tied for first- is Indigenous Education. Even throughout my doctoral studies, my focus was on Indigenous Education, both in the way of providing a good education for Indigenous pre-service teachers so that they can lift the students in their communities up, but also in the way of recognizing that there is an equally large need for Indigenous Education that exists in non-Indigenous student teacher populations. Until recently, people arrived knowing nothing, and they often arrived still feeling quite resistant to even thinking about what it might mean to decolonize. So Indigenous education in that regard is really a key focus of my work.

The third area focuses on Environmental Education and Sustainability and Ecological Education. So increasingly, I’m focusing on learning from the land, which I am pursuing through my work with the institute for Environmental Education at Simon Fraser University. I’m also involved in revising the provincial environmental learning curriculum, and the force of my project has been to center Indigenous voices within the curriculum material itself, and make sure that we are all coming back to Indigenous knowledges, Indigenous wisdom, Indigenous pedagogies. So, you can see the ways in which all three of those areas of interest continually overlap and support one another… I’m having a good time!


What is the best way to study for your class?

The best way to study for my class is definitely to read the syllabus in advance to know when the assignments are due. I have no problem giving people extensions if they come to me, you know, within a week of when the assignment is due. If you come to me the day before, you had a personal disaster, your car crashed… okay, I’ll think about that. But you know, if you come to me at the last minute and say, ‘Oh! I can get it done  if I could just have another week….‘ I’m going to wonder about how you were using your time, right?

I think the other key thing is that you need to actually do the readings prior to class, because the way I like to teach is to have student leaders guide us through the readings. I guide the first few to set an example, and I always provide feedback. When everyone does the readings, the class discussions that ensue  are so much richer and more powerful.


When did you know you wanted to be an educator?

I resisted becoming a teacher for so long… I did my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Art History. Then I did a Masters in Art History. It wasn’t until about seven years later when I’d been hired to work at the Vancouver Art Gallery as a tour guide that I decided teaching was for me. The woman who was my mentor, Cheryl Meszaros, suggested to me one day that she thought I’d make a great high school art teacher. And I was entering a crossroads in my life, so it was 2004, and I enrolled in the Bachelor of Education program. I was then a classroom teacher from 2005 until 2017, when I was finishing my doctorate and getting hired by UBC. It was a good career. I did enjoy it!


What strategies did you use to be successful in university?

Well, it’s actually a strategy that I still use. I use something like what they now call a bullet journal. So, I sit down every week, and I write all of the days of the week into my journal and a little space so that I can put tasks under each day. And then, I try to chunk up my tasks so that I’m not overloading myself on one day. So it is basically keeping a calendar where I can track of all the projects I have going on. Keeping track of what I should be doing each day to make sure that I meet all the deadlines that are set for me gives me a sense of accomplishment.

And my other strategy is [that] I write every day in a different colour of pen – that’s just a personal quirk of mine – I really love colour.  When I am done doing the thing that I was meant to do, I scratch it off in another colour of pen. So, I end up with these really colourful pages that are just, you know, writing and squiggles. But every time you check something off, it just makes the page look like… Ha! Yes, I’m getting it done! That’s the key strategy I use.


Are there any resources at NITEP that you would recommend that could help the Indigenous student be successful?

Alexis and Natalie are our best and most beloved resources for students. So, I hope NITEP students build strong relationships with these ladies!

And the NITEP website is particularly helpful because students can find everything they need, such as their course syllabus, policies and procedures with NITEP. And The Teacher Education Office and the Program Planning guides are also super helpful. The Program Planning guides have all of the policies and procedures, everything that you need to consider, and all of the courses listed that you need to take. So that can be a student’s guide through the NITEP program.

And I also have a website that’s called Decolonizing Teaching Indigenizing Learning (https://indigenizinglearning.educ.ubc.ca/content/), which is really worth students having to look at because when you’re in your third year, when you’re taking Indigenous Approaches to Curriculum and Pedagogy (EDCP 362d) which I teach, you will be invited to create a curriculum bundle that represents a skill or a story or a language from your community, and to develop a resource around that that could be used by non-Indigenous teachers to improve their approaches to Indigenous Education. So, all those curriculum bundles are then posted on the Decolonizing Teaching Indigenizing Learning website, to which all student teachers from UBC are given access to. And actually, it’s a public website, so any teachers in the province could be using your work to inform their lessons and approaches to Indigenous ways of teaching and knowing in the classroom. So that is a really good resource as well. I’ve also got a lot of things like curated links to decolonizing resources, Anti-racist resources, art resources, those kinds of things. And then we also have information about our Orange Shirt project. We’re creating an installation for the north stairwell of the Scarfe building, which we hope will be installed by September 30th of this year. And we’ve invited people from around the world to contribute tiny orange shirts that will represent all of those children who did not return to their families from Indian Residential Schools. So those, I think, are so worth students knowing about me in terms of my practices on campus.


Can you tell us about anything that you’re working on over the next couple of months?

Sure! I’ve got two really exciting projects I’ll share with you. The first one I’m working on in conjunction with Dr. Lorrie Miller and Dr. Kerry Renwick. We are creating an art installation in the North stairwell of the Scarfe building. That will be a collection of tiny orange shirts, sent to us from around the world and from people all over campus, as well as students and staff in our faculty, and other faculties. And we’re doing it as an act of Remembrance and Reconciling. We hope to have the banners installed in time for this September 30th National Truth and Reconciliation Day. But we wanted to do it as also an act of public pedagogy so that it’s a visual reminder daily for all students in the Teacher Education program, in Graduate programs, and our faculty, of the number of children who did not return to their families from Indian Residential schools. And of the intergenerational trauma that survivors have carried with them and, in some cases, passed on to their families. We also think with the NITEP office moving to the third floor of the Scarfe building, that it’s also a way of honouring the journey that we know that all those faculty and staff who work in the NITEP program have taken. And the journey that all of the NITEP students are taking towards working in ways that are Decolonizing and Reconciling. So that’s one of the projects that I’m super excited about!

The other one I’m working on is a visual storytelling project that will illustrate the stories of genocide survivors. Starting this fall, hopefully, I’ll be working with my Elder Dorothy Visser and an artist named Natasha Donovan. We will be creating a graphic novel-style visual representation of Dorothy’s experience at a Residential School. I am also working with another group from the University of Victoria and they’re telling stories from the Nuu-chah-nulth nation and perspective. So, this is another really important project that is combining art, combining history, combining storytelling and Indigenous ways of knowing. We are hoping that we will have the first narrative published within two years as part of the larger project. So, there’s lots of traction for this as well. That’s another project I’m super excited about.