Lesson planning involves many steps—reviewing and matching standards to content, selecting strategies, writing activities—but a very important step is reflecting on the perspectives that are presented and whether they are relatable and authentic. For one Arizona teacher, Jillian Hernandez, the opportunity to help the Discovery Education team curate a channel highlighting Native Arizona stories and voices was a meaningful experience that she knew would resonate with her students. Read on to learn more about Jillian’s work with the DE team and about how the Native Stories of the Southwest Channel is highlighting authentic perspectives that allow students to see themselves in the stories.
Jillian is about to start her 18th year in public education. She currently works at Puente de Hózhó Elementary School, which is a dual-language immersion school and an International Baccalaureate school. Jillian taught fifth grade for five years at Puente de Hózhó Elementary before stepping into the role of IB coordinator and new teacher mentor. She is very passionate about creating a welcoming, safe learning environment where students learn about and through cultures and languages!
I was very young when I started teaching, and I came into it thinking, “I’m going to save the world!” As I’ve continued my teaching journey, I’ve realized that is not the right mindset. While I had the right intentions, I had a lack of tools to really engage students appropriately, honor their identities, and celebrate who they are and what they bring into the classroom. I have learned and un-learned a lot over the last 18 years!
I no longer focus on how I can make the world better, but instead focus on creating a space for my students to learn what they can do to change the world. I stayed in education because it’s never the same—every year is different and offers the opportunity to learn and grow! My students have taught me far more than I have taught them, so that reciprocal learning that happens is what keeps me in!
Representation in Curriculum
When I worked with Discovery Education to help create the Native Stories of the Southwest Channel, I collaborated with two well-respected Indigenous educators. These Native educators analyzed if different content pieces represented Indigeneity respectfully and accurately. I represented a non-Native voice and reflected on how these resources would be used by non-Native teachers to reach non-Native students. We worked in tandem along with the Discovery Education team to determine if content was appropriate, if it was the best content out there, and how it could facilitate meaningful, safe, and real conversations around the topics presented.
Indigenous students need to see accurate portrayals of their history that balance and honor the tragedy of past and present harm inflicted upon these communities—like the loss of language, identity, and forced removal from their land—with the joy, innovation, and intelligence that comes from Indigenous communities. It’s also vital for non-Native students to reflect on Indigenous peoples’ contributions and perspectives, the damage caused by colonialism, and how to move forward together.
To collect the content for the Native Stories of the Southwest Channel, we searched carefully for resources, reviewed them, and determined the best grade level for them. We had deep conversations about what type of content could be open to all students and what was developmentally appropriate for different age groups. DE has done a great job at curating content that doesn’t shy away from the tough realities, but also confirms they will be shared in a developmentally appropriate way for all students to engage with it.
It was important to us that all teachers and all students could learn, engage, and find meaning in this powerful learning experience, and I believe the Channel has accomplished this! We reviewed it multiple times before we called it “finished” to ensure we collected high-caliber content. We accomplished something big, but there is still more work to be done! This kind of work extends beyond Native people of the Southwest. It extends to all Native populations, all representations, and that’s the hard work we do as conscientious educators building content.
Discovery Education's Impact
The Native Stories of the Southwest Channel amplifies stories and offers the chance to connect with others’ stories. Academically we have a structured way of telling narratives, so this channel helps show the contrast between stories that are told in different ways. Some of these stories begin with the end or have a deep teaching purpose, which can help make multiple connections to reading and writing standards while sharing social studies content.
One of our main goals for the Native Stories of the Southwest Channel was to create engaging learning experiences through videos, text, interviews, maps, and interactive graphic organizers. We specifically wanted to include a variety of maps to show students how to critically think about the social, political, and economic interactions of peoples.The DE team took our input and built the channel around it, which led to thoughtfully curated interactive timelines and graphic organizers for student use.
DE has really helped us to create a community where students can ask what they’re curious about and discuss and debate freely!This type of community is powerful, lends itself toward identifying when harm has been caused, and can repair harm in ways that don’t perpetuate it. Students feel heard, and at the same time learn from each other about perspectives they may never have considered before.
The Teacher Experience
My collaboration with Discovery Education was very refreshing because it’s great to work with a community that’s dedicated to critical thinking. The experience truly made me feel that I could find Discovery Education content on any topic and know it was thoughtfully vetted. As an educator, I can stand behind DE because I know they’re putting in the hard work!
Since we are an IB school, we build our own curriculum around conceptual-based themes. With Discovery Education, building and reviewing curriculum has become so much easier because we have a trusted source for content and accessible resources. Knowing that we have this reliable source saves us so much time!
Discovery Education also helped us work creatively when building units. With DE, we aren’t limited to one textbook or one source, which is very helpful since one of our standards requires students to review multiple sources of information. DE provides a way to see multiple viewpoints and the freedom to create lessons around the content my students need or that I’m looking for!
When I taught 5th grade, we embedded literature text, nonfiction text, and videos into a unit on multiple perspectives to help students analyze how people see things differently. There is a beautiful video on Zuni mapmaking included in the Native Stories of the SouthwestChannel, where an elder in the Zuni community describes how maps are created within this community. He shares about how his family was not comfortable with bird’s eye view maps because it’s only the Creator’s job to see from that space.
We included this video in a station activity where the students could choose which activities to complete. As we kept track of which activity stations students chose, we noticed that 90% of the students attended the Zuni mapmaking station. I didn’t show anything to preface the stations, instead I just sent them on their own exploration. What caused the interest in the video? Students talked about it! As students engaged in the station’s activities, they talked about it with other students, which led to those students choosing to participate in that station!
The video at that station led to a creative response where students designed maps of their communities that they felt would honor their story. We had conversations about where to place the center of their maps, what their map might look like, why they made the design choices they did, and how others’ maps might differ. This activity eventually led to a Socratic Seminar about their perspectives, how maps can be limiting, how maps can tell a story, how people represent maps, and how dominant culture can overtake the types of stories maps can tell. This activity took the unit in a different direction than we expected, and we went with it!
Our Indigenous students felt this video really resonated with them and portrayed how they give directions on the reservation, which is very different from how we may give directions in Flagstaff. It was a powerful moment as a teacher to step back and watch the students gather this knowledge, synthesize it, and apply it to the way they see the world. Ultimately as a teacher, that’s what we want! For students to hear something, take it in, reflect on it, agree or disagree with it, and back it up with information!
Through this activity, students were sharing their claims and ideas, then offering evidence to support them. One of our 5th grade standards asks students to understand the author’s purpose and cite evidence the author uses to prove their point, and that skill has been evident in almost every single piece of content from DE! Many of the DE resources clearly state the purpose, then offer reasons the author would create this content. These resources help our 10- and 11-year-old students have analytical conversations, and I’ve seen students quickly make the connection between the author’s purpose and their evidence with the help of DE resources!
Advice to Other Educators
Teachers should share honest, accurate truths that celebrate and elevate stories of history, current events, and the future! I hope more teachers can use DE resources in their classroom knowing they are inclusive and can open beautiful, respectful dialogue. I have been less worried about using DE content than I have with other content because I know I can count on it to be high-quality.
Helping students strengthen their academic skills is a major part of any teacher’s purpose but helping them grow as people is just as important. Providing students with the chance to explore other cultures can help open their eyes to experiences that are different from their own. Discovery Education is here to support teachers tackling this exciting classroom challenge, with resources, tips, and content highlighting many perspectives.