Connections: Teachings of Dr. Martin Brokenleg

Guest Blogger Janet Laddish is a previous administrator in Edmonton Public Schools, and currently a Curriculum Development Consultant at Alberta Education. In this post, she shares her experiences as a school administrator supporting youth at-risk and the teachers that support them. This is a topic that is dear to my heart. I worked with at-risk youth and built educational programming encompassing Brokenleg’s philosophy and teachings. His teachings highlight the foundational teachings of Wahkotowin. Research indicates the importance of establishing a positive attachments and sense of belonging during childhood. If a sense of belonging, is not created, youth will often establish connections with negative contexts and outcomes. This is indicative, also, of the importance of holism, and educating the whole child.

Thank you for sharing Janet!


More than a century ago, the Lakota leader Sitting Bull said, “Let us put our minds together to see what kind of life we can build for our children.”


On opening school day earlier this month, for the first time in my life I felt the hum of the kinship of students and staff from previous school communities solely in my mind. I have been working, and on a new journey of learning and connecting with colleagues on a new team!

I want to share the meaning of connection as I have learned through the work of Dr. Martin Brokenleg. His insight in support of those who teach and who respond to students who have deep challenges or may be at risk. Dr. Brokenleg has a doctorate in education, is a retired university professor, and is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. Based in British Columbia now, he has spoken to Alberta educators and social work professionals extensively over the years.

As a teacher and administrator, I first heard about Dr. Brokenleg and the Circle of Courage philosophy in 2007 at Prince Charles School. The Awasis program of Cree language and culture is offered and is part of Edmonton Public Schools. The principal and one of my dear cultural mentors, engaged the school staff in reading Reclaiming Youth At Risk. So began resetting my thinking about children and youth at risk and how to help all students in school settings. September is a key time to reflect and shape practice, not only as teachers and principals begin again to work closely with students but also those of us whose overarching work underpins the system of education.

My learning began with the Circle of Courage philosophy model that refers to the medicine wheel from the Lakota. The wheel represents an image of wholeness and includes the four cardinal directions each symbolizing generosity, belonging, mastery, and independence. As Dr. Brokenleg puts it, this work has a universal reach in helping all our students to become resilient and ever hopeful human beings. I completed the Response Ability Pathways (RAP) training program provided through the Edmonton Public School First Nations, Métis, Inuit district team. The accompanying book for the training, Response Ability Pathways Restoring Bonds of Respect is written by Dr. Brokenleg and Lesley duToit.

In school administration, I believed it was crucial for my school staff to engage in the work to improve on supporting students who either are at-risk or who experience trauma. The RAP training informed our work resulting in the following observed evidence: students feeling increased belonging to the whole school community, sustained staff team effort towards a strength-based approach to learning, and broader understanding of students’ individual connections to staff members in order to shape and implement support plans.  I feel hopeful for the many students who are starting a new school year and who will be connecting with caring adults in schools!




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