Building Relationships and Learning from Community

Experiential opportunities for community engaged learning, action and social change

Our approach to community engagement and service-learning sets our office apart. We believe that education should transform society for the better, and help to achieve social, economic and environmental justice. This social change orientation informs our approach—from the design of service-learning programs to the kind of communities we partner with, and the way we create, cultivate and care for our relationships with these communities.

We believe in the power of experiential learning—both in and outside of the classroom. Experiential learning fosters active engagement, critical thinking and deep learning connections. In the classroom, we get students moving, creating and discussing, and in the community, we involve students in project-based work and land-based education.

We also believe in centering or sharing Indigenous perspectives and paradigms in our programs. We build relationships with Elders and Knowledge-Holders so that we can integrate Indigenous perspectives and approaches into our work in a good way. The ways in which we value and respect Indigenous knowledges and pedagogies help students appreciate different ways of being, doing, teaching and learning.

We work hard to design programming that meets community needs and contributes to the public good. Our work is responsive to the changing world, and we are grateful to be working on local and international initiatives that support community development, youth mentorship, poverty awareness, climate action and Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

We are committed to ethical engagement and community-centred partnerships.

Our commitment to communities go beyond traditional, institutional understandings of partnership and reciprocity. We prioritize relationships over partnerships. This means that we cultivate and nourish the connections we hold with communities and their members whether or not we collaborate formally on a project or program. When we are invited to collaborate with communities, we see ourselves as contributors to a community-led vision. We believe in extending the power, privilege and resources of our institution as a concrete way to demonstrate our support.

We also strive to create strong relationships with our students, which often continue throughout their university career and beyond. In order to do our work, we have to be vulnerable and share our own stories of engagement, growth and social change, so that students can work through conflict and failure, critically reflect on their learning and build their own communities. We see ourselves as mentors and facilitators of social change.

Our approach emphasizes relational accountability and reciprocity. Our programs provide opportunities for students to apply their classroom learning through community-engaged work, grounded in respect and accountability to community as well as centering their knowledge, experience and vision.

We stand and work in solidarity with communities, and we support community-led action that strengthens the communities we work with and contributes to social, economic and environmental justice.

Developing Skills for Work and Community

Community Engagement Training is offered through a six- to eight-week workshop series followed by a community placement and debriefing session. Community Engagement Training helps students to develop the foundational knowledge, skills and attitudes to engage with community—from reflecting critically on our roles in social change and as treaty members or guests on Indigenous lands, to learning and working ethically in intercultural contexts and planning for social action.


Students who complete Community Engagement Training will develop an anti-oppressive and decolonial community lens, which they can use moving forward to better see, understand, relate to and support community work.

Students will:

  • explore their identity, values, beliefs and practices, including their relationship with Indigenous peoples in Canada
  • develop their capacity for critical thinking and reflection
  • develop self-awareness and capacity for working in intercultural contexts
  • engage in experiential learning, both in the classroom and in the community
  • learn and take action with and from communities
  • develop knowledge and skills for community work

Training Modules

Students will explore the question, “What is social change?”, learn about Anishinaabe clan systems, the concept of rotational leadership and locate themselves in Bill Moyer’s Four Roles in Social Change.

Students will learn about intercultural competence, cultural safety and Cree and Anishinaabe understandings of “all my relations”, and reflect on the ways their cultural lenses shape the way they understand and relate to others. This self-awareness leads to awareness and sensitivity for others’ beliefs, values, behaviours and experiences, and creates a culturally safe experience for others with whom we interact.

Students will learn about the theory of oppression, the concept of intersectionality, and Indigenous peoples' historical and contemporary experiences of colonization in Canada; explore their identity, power and privilege; and reflect on their relationship with Indigenous peoples and their role as a treaty member or guest on Indigenous lands.

Students will reflect critically on the ways their identity and culture shape their engagement with community and their vision of “the good life”, and also learn about Cree and Anishinaabe understandings of mino-pimātsiwin and mino-bimaadiziwin.

In addition to the four modules above, students will also receive training specific to their programs. Some examples of additional modules include:

  • Project themes, e.g., youth mentorship, food sovereignty
  • Indigenous perspectives on project themes
  • Facilitation and conflict resolution
  • Community-centered partnerships
  • Project planning and assessment
  • Stages of group development
  • Travel health and safety
  • Risk management