The Circle of Courage: Connecting Learning to Life1


Dr. Martin Brokenleg is known for the Circle of Courage, an influential American Indian model for positive youth development first presented by Brokenleg and Larry Brendtro in 1988. Its iconic symbol is one form of the Medicine Wheel.

The Circle of Courage: A SaskMATH Interpretation


● Developing partnerships among educators, schools, school divisions, and FNMI communities and their families; working together to support the success of their children’s Western mathematics and Indigenous mathematizing.

“Belonging” comes first because before learning takes place, relationships need to be forged throughout the classroom. When a learner has the sense of being included and accepted, then learning takes place – the learner feels a sense of belonging to the process. The universal longing for human bonds is nurtured by relationships of trust so that the child can say, “I am loved.”


● Teachers teach Indigenous ways of knowing with comfort and confidence, in a relational, respectful, and balanced way; so that learners graduate with a deep understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing and its role in the world – both past and present.

“Mastery” comes second because the learner is guided through the process of unlearning and relearning. The learner internalizes the teachings, a central part of the learning process; be it through trial teaching, speaking panels, workshops, conferences, etc. The child’s inborn thirst for learning is nurtured; learning to cope with the world, the child can say, “I can succeed.”


● Ensuring that Indigenous ways of knowing are available to the benefit of all children, and that Saskatchewan children will acquire a deep understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing and its place in the world – both past and present.

In “Generosity”, the third in the model’s sequence, learners have internalized the need to teach others, that which has been shared with them. Because of the process of being guided in their unlearning and relearning, the learner is now comfortable enough to share and pass on the teachings. It is a part of giving back – gift giving – the learner has been given the gift of renewed knowledge and now it is time to give back. The child’s character is nurtured by concern for others so that the child can say, “I have a purpose for my life.”


● Learners and teachers understand and value historical and contemporary Indigenous ways of learning and knowing, alongside but independent of, mainstream Canadian ways of learning and knowing. Simply put: to develop a capacity for two-eyed seeing – to see the world through the lens of Western math or through the lens of Indigenous mathematizing, depending on the circumstances.

“Independence” is the fourth phase – the learner has developed a confidence to lead others with appropriate, confident, and respectful voices. Learners are now confident enough to lead. If they do not understand a new learning, they are able to seek the appropriate guidance and support. The child’s free will is nurtured by increased responsibility so that the child can say, “I have power to make decisions.”

1Brokenleg, M. (2003). The Science of Raising Courageous Kids, Reclaiming Children and Youth. Retrieved 9 July 2020, from

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