Category: Alumni Stories

Teaching STE(A)M outside of the box

Carla Cooper, a 2018 recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

“I don’t teach in a box, and I want students to take risks, too. I want my kids to become healthy risk takers.”

How does one go from a struggling student in math and sciences to an award winning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) teacher? For Carla Cooper it took finding her way past failures and obstacles and learning to teach outside of the box.

In May, Carla Cooper (BEd ’08), a teacher at Lumsden High School and graduate student doing her Master’s in Education at the University of Regina, was informed that she was a recipient of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM.

Cooper, who grew up in Moose Jaw, went back to school for a semester after graduating from high school to improve her marks. “I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences but I struggled in the sciences and math, quite badly. Fifties weren’t going to be good enough for me, so I spent a semester at Vanier, thinking a change might help. It was a huge help.” The change, or possibly a new maturity, Carla speculates, gave her success at Vanier, and from there, she went to Red Deer College to become a geneticist. However, life got in the way and before she finished, Cooper left college, moved home, got married, and began her family.

Not long after, Carla started in a new career direction: She had always been drawn to teaching. “I was that kid who had a chalkboard in my bedroom. I was always pretending, playing school. I love being in school: the atmosphere, being around the staff and students, the smell of the school; it’s weird. I love the sounds, the feel, the buzz.” Cooper was working as an Educational Assistant when Dr. Sandy Kitz observed her teaching math. Carla says, “Afterwards she pulled me into her office. I thought I was in a lot of trouble, but Dr. Kitz said, ‘What are you doing here? You need to go back to school. You need to spread your wings and fly.’ That was the push,” says Cooper. The next step in 2001, was to enroll part-time in Science, while waiting for admission to the Faculty Education at the University of Regina. Cooper took the required sciences for the Science Education program and in 2004, she was accepted to the Education program, in which she chose a double major in biology and chemistry, and moved to full-time studies.

By that time she was a busy single mom, and her memorable moment is not a very positive one: “It was the first year I was accepted into the Faculty of Education, and my first time back at University on a daily basis, and I got my first Biology mark back…it was horrible. I had really high expectations of myself but I realized that just because you’re mature, doesn’t mean you are going to succeed.” But Cooper pushed past this initial failure. From there, she says, “I improved and improved and improved and I figured out how to be a mom and a student.”

Recalling this experience led Cooper to a more positive story of her undergrad experience in her third year, when she found the science ed group “very accommodating.” At the time, Carla was feeling concerned because her youngest son was at home recovering from surgery, and a big project presentation was due. Her instructor, John MacDonald, had said, “Just bring him in.” Carla recalled, “My son just had his appendix out, but he said ‘bring him in’ and so I brought him in, and John had a lab set up with a whole bunch of laser activities for my son to do. John kept an eye on him while I did my presentation. Nobody in my class thought ‘there she is bringing her kid in.’ It was the opposite…I was celebrated for going back to school.”

Learning from both of Cooper’s memorable experiences can be seen in her current teaching philosophy. Cooper says, “I’ve had students coming back to school with babies; it’s just, like, babies cry…” So Carla recalls that on one lecture day, she told the student mother to let her hold the baby, and she says, “I just rocked that baby and taught and said, ‘no mom, you do your thing. Let me just hold him.'” Her role model, she says, is John MacDonald. “He is number one! I want to be John,” says Carla. What makes John special is, Carla says, is “his excitement, and his belief that you can do this. If you can’t figure it out this way, let’s find another way. He is so accepting of everybody,” says Cooper. “I can call him up for anything…I never want to lose the connection.”

Since her time as an undergrad student, Carla has had many other experiences that have contributed to her success as a teacher. Working for a time as Acting Vice Principal, gave Carla the opportunity to develop an appreciation for the administrative side of education. Though she likes to teach, as she says, “outside of the box,” she also respects the administrative process. “Having admin experience has made me a better teacher. I understand the Division’s vision. I try to keep up on what’s been changing with the Division. I want to abide by my Division’s philosophies. I don’t want to step outside their vision. They allow me to expand the bubble a lot.”

Carla also attributes the experience of working on the writing team for the Health Science 20 curriculum with her new understanding of teaching outside of the box. Through this process, she realized, “We don’t have to teach a prescribed curriculum. We have to teach the outcomes, but the indicators can be taught in the way that we like them, or grouped together with indicators from other units, or you can make up your own.”

For Cooper this understanding has unleashed her creativity, which she realizes through the incorporation of arts-based projects. For instance, she decided to model her human anatomy unit after Grey’s Anatomy. Students are placed in resident groups, and each group is assigned a fictional celebrity patient, those Cooper has assessed as being a match with certain types of health issues, such as Will Smith whom students will diagnose and treat for sickle cell anemia. Using the Diagnosis for Classroom Success program booklet, which is a book of labs to be worked through in a week or two, students “delve deeply,” working through the book over four months. Cooper says, “We weren’t learning about the human body for the next few weeks, we learned about a patient, learning through the eyes of a patient.”

Cooper allowed for the ethical and diagnostic conversations that developed, pushing the students to deeper learning. She says, “At that point I didn’t know what deeper learning was, but the deeper questions students were asking, we just ran with.”

Because this wasn’t a Grade 12 course, the final assessment was not a test. Instead, students were asked, “Did their patient live or die? How did they treat? Was their treatment ethical? Did they do invasive or non-invasive? What secretions did they evaluate, and why? What was the chemistry breakdown of that? And, how did the physics work for the cat scan? They had to do a peer review and self-review.” Carla created a rubric to go with the project and students marked themselves on the rubric. “These simulations have helped students either enter a science-oriented career, or decide against it. It has also helped prepare them for their post-secondary classes,” says Carla.

When she first received the news in May that she was a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Teaching STEM, Carla wasn’t sure if the letter was for real. She sent it to her husband, asking, “Am I reading this right?” When she finally processed what was happening, she felt humbled and thought, “What makes me different? I am no different than any other teacher. But I’m just realizing that I do things a bit different.” Carla is excited, by the new connections and opportunities to pass on her curricular understandings to others, including preservice teachers, generated by this recognition.

When asked what excellence in teaching looks like, Cooper says, “I don’t even know if I am excellent, yet. I feel like I’ve done excellent teaching when I’ve excited students by allowing them to be who they are. We have student-directed study and I don’t put any constraints on that. I don’t teach in a box, and I want students I take risks, too. I want my kids to become healthy risk takers. If something flops, it flops. I’ve adopted the phrase fail forward. We are F-squareds in C-squared rooms.” As Carla continues to envision what teaching outside of the box looks like, she finds her focus moving towards a new kind of box: a sandbox. She says, “My whole focus is practicing real world science and getting kids back in the sandbox. At recess the kids are playing, communicating, problem solving, building, and doing the six big Cs in education. Why are we not doing that? I take them to the playground, to the teeter-totter, if there is one. So in the last few years, I’ve been working to bring the students back to a metaphoric sandbox, but I hope to have a real sandbox in the classroom as well.”

By Shuana Niessen

Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards

Congratulations to the following extraordinary Faculty of Education Alumni:

Dr. Allan Bonner BEAD ’78 (Business and Language Arts)
Distinguished Professional Achievement Award

As a journalist, educator, political advisor, mentor, author, and lifelong learner, Allan Bonner has tackled some of the most controversial and public issues of our time. Allan began as a journalist locally and then nationally in Canada and the US, and now holds graduate degrees in political science, education, business administration, law and urban planning.

Allan has worked with peacekeepers, international diplomats, oil, gas and chemical companies, and other blue chip clients on five continents. He is the author of eight books on communication, leadership, urban
planning, and crisis management.

Amy (Mickleborough) Moroz BEd’98 and Andrea (Gottselig) Ward BEd’00, MEd’10
Dr. Robert and Norma Ferguson Award for Outstanding Service

Amy (Mickleborough) Moroz and Andrea (Gottselig) Ward are best known as award-winning athletes in the U of R Cougar Womens’ Basketball program. Both graduated with education degrees and now work in Regina schools as teachers and coaches – lending their skills to the next generation of young basketball players.

In March 2018, they applied their collective energy and leadership skills to host of the U Sports Women’s Basketball Championship at the University of Regina. Together with an ensemble of Cougar and University
of Regina alumni, they delivered events and hospitality to eight teams from across Canada. The 2018 Cougar Women’s Basketball team captured the bronze and the championship weekend was among the most successful U Sports tournaments in the University of Regina’s history.

Led by recent M.Ed. grad, Brittany Frick, Ituna School club runs on Girl Power!

Grades 4-6 students from Ituna School’s Girl Power club pose with their roundtable colleagues from the University of Regina. Photo: U of R Photography

Sometimes it’s the simple act of asking a question that can get a girl into trouble.

Ituna, 165 km north of Regina, is home to a small but mighty extra-curricular club for grades 4-6 students who identify as female. Girl Power, the creation of Ituna School principal and University of Regina alumna Brittany Frick, meets several times a year to discuss empowerment and opportunities for girls.

When ten Girl Power members, along with Frick and a parent chaperone, joined five women in University leadership around a boardroom table at the U of R on June 11, the girls came armed with a series of questions and stories of their own.

“I was made fun of when I asked, ‘Do cats run faster than dogs?’” said one of the grade 4 participants. “I just really wanted to know.”

Dr. Gina Grandy, Associate Dean Research and Graduate Studies and Incoming Dean of Business Administration, knows well the power of a question.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she shared with the girls. “Your belly may turn over, but don’t be afraid to ask even if it doesn’t come out just right. Questioning, and mistakes, are what help us learn.”

Grandy is the RBC Women in Leadership Scholar and the roundtable event was supported by the RBC Women Executive in Residence, the Hill and Levene Schools of Business, and Ituna School.

Girl Power roundtable participants from Ituna School talk with women in leadership at the University of Regina about empowerment. Photo: U of R Photography

Rae Staseson, Dean of Media, Art, and Performance, agreed. “Be curious, open, talk about things that matter to you, and ask questions!”

“I encourage each of you to talk to your teacher or someone you know who has gone to university. Ask them their story and what you need to do and how to do it,” shared Dr. Andrea Sterzuk, Acting Dean of Education.

Dr. Judy White, Dean of Social Work, shared that it was only later in life that she has found out about other career opportunities. “As a girl, I never knew that marine biology, for example, existed.” She encouraged the girls to take the time to be curious, travel, and consider every possibility before making their career choices.

Dr. Vianne Timmons, the University’s President and Vice-Chancellor, asked for a show of hands of how many of the girls were surprised that she was the president of a university.

As several hands went up, she asked why.

“Because you’re not a boy,” one student was quick to respond.

Timmons came from a strict East Coast family where, she said, roles were defined by gender early on.

“Our chores, as girls, were to do the dishes and clean the house. And we were told to be ‘nice girls,” she said. “Listen to how many times girls are told to be ‘nice.’ Boys are not.”

Heads nodded in agreement as Staseson stated, “That’s true. Caring, compassion, and empathy tend to be thought of as feminine traits. We are judged for how well we do those things and for how we look and even how we age; our male counterparts do not usually receive the same judgment.”

“I was bullied – they called me fat and lazy,” says a grade six student responding to a question by President Timmons about if the students had experienced bullying.

Unfortunately, many of the girls and women around the table were able to recall times when they had been bullied.

“Ask the why question,” another student offered. “That’s what we’re taught. Ask why the person is bullying you and let someone in authority know what’s going on.”

“Hang around people who lift you up, friends that make you feel good about who you are,” advised President Timmons. “And always look for opportunities and take them as they come your way.”

After the roundtable, Frick shared that, “The importance of a club like Girl Power is about helping students to realize that there are no limitations on their success. That being a girl is in no way a limitation. The roundtable proved that and was a great way for the club to end the year.”

Before heading home, Girl Power members were treated to lunch in the Riddell Centre and a tour of the University with another U of R graduate, Erica Chan, a member of the U of R Recruitment Services team.

By Katherine Cormack U of R Front Page Story

Globe Theatre artists and playwright perform and discuss Us for Arts Ed students

A make-shift Theatre in the Round set the stage for Globe Theatre actors to perform short excerpts of Us for Arts Ed students and faculty.
Playwright and alumna Kelley Jo Burke talked about her experience at Camp fYrefly, where approximately 30 LGBTQ+ youth and counsellors accepted her invitation to listen to them talk about their experiences of coming together at summer camp, research she drew on in writing the script for this fictional play.

On Friday, March 2, a make-shift Theatre in the Round in the Faculty of Education drama room set the stage for Globe Theatre Actors Daniel Fong, Angela Kemp, David Light, and Kaitlyn Semple as well as Craig Salkeld, the Performance Pianist, to perform two short excerpts from Us, which is currently being performed at the Globe Theatre Main Stage.

Us is a heartwarming, brand new musical that explores what happens when LGBTQ+ youth come together in a group of peers at a summer camp. Created by award-winning playwright and radio producer Kelley Jo Burke and internationally renowned singer-songwriter-pianist Jeffery Straker, Us is an uplifting play about “coming in”—finding acceptance within yourself and in your community.” (Globe Theatre)

Arts Ed students were privileged to be part of this up-close performance and discussion as part of their PLACE experience. Playwright and alumna Kelley Jo Burke talked about her experience at Camp fYrefly, where she listened to LGBTQ+ youth and counsellors talk about their experiences of coming together at summer camp, the research she drew on in writing the script for this fictional play. Other members of the creative team, such as Director and Musical Director Valerie Ann Pearson and Set and Costume Designer Wes D. Pearce, discussed the thought behind their areas of development for the musical.

Participants in the panel discussion included Professor Emeritus James McNinch (director of Camp fYrefly), members of the creative team, and educators.

A panel presentation followed the performance moderated by Dr. Kathryn Ricketts. Panel participants discussed the importance of the play (and summer camp) for youth who have identified as LGBTQ+,  who are needing to find an Us to which they belong, and addressed current issues around diversity and inclusion.

 

 

Treaty4Project inspires new way to offer treaty education in Regina

(l-r) Leia Laing, Governor General Julie Payette and Naomi Fortier-Fréçon at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. Photo courtesy of VCpl Vincent Carbonneau

Naomi Fortier-Fréçon and Leia Laing are still relatively early in their teaching careers but they have already left an important legacy.

This past November, Fortier-Fréçon and Laing, both graduates of the U of R, received the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching. Governor-General Julie Payette, presented the award at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

They were recognized for co-founding the Treaty4Project in 2014 while they were teachers at Regina’s Campbell Collegiate High School.

Fortier-Freçon, while still teaching, is a U of R student once again, working on her PhD.

“When we accepted this honour we were very happy to see that our project was recognized at a national level,” says Fortier-Fréçon. “A lot of work and effort was put into this project and it was very exciting to see how this education project has evolved since it began in 2014.”

The Treaty4Project 2015 mural is on display at Regina’s Scott Collegiate. Photo courtesy of Leia Laing

The idea for the project came when Laing and Fortier-Fréçon concluded that students were not receiving the treaty education required.

So they started working on a program.

“First, the inspiration was to find a way to ‘think outside the box’ and find a creative way to teach about treaty education,” says Laing. “We were troubled by the reality that our students seemed to know very little about treaty education and when they knew something we noticed that they weren’t necessarily applying their knowledge in their lives. Therefore, they seemed to know the “right answer” on paper, but unfortunately that reality was not reflected in their actions or relationship with their friends and the community around them.”

The teachers started developing their idea. They searched for input. They approached Calvin Racette who was the Indigenous Education Coordinator with Regina Public Schools.

Racette supported the project from the beginning and suggested the teachers include Noel Starblankett, Knowledge Keeper at the University of Regina and Sandra Bellegarde, Indigenous Education Consultant with Regina Public Schools.

“Noel Starblanket was essential in the creation of this educational project,” says Fortier-Fréçon. “His presence allowed us to learn in a personal way about the importance of treaties. He also guided us regarding the respect of Indigenous protocols and offered support to our students.”

More people came onboard and the project “quickly snowballed into a group of inspired, passionate members who became the founding committee. Together we started to imagine the Treaty4Project,”says Fortier-Fréçon.

The principal aim of the project is for student to understand their generation’s relationship with Treaty 4 in Saskatchewan. The project provides students with an opportunity to engage with community members including elders, Indigenous artists, university professors, activists, and education students.

Laing had the idea to use art to help the students reflect about the meaning of treaties in a creative context. The result was a major mural project with Cri-Métis artist Ray Keighley at Regina’s Scott Collegiate in 2015.

A second mural created in 2017 and created with Cri-Ojibway artist Lloyd Dubois is on display at the library at École Elsie Mironuck Community School in Regina.

(l-r) Naomi Fortier-Fréçon, Noel Starblanket, Knowledge Keeper at the U of R and Leia Laing.

The Treaty4Project founding committee worked on organizing a youth conference to deepen the knowledge previously taught in the classroom and allow members of the community to share their stories with the students. Elders were regularly brought into classes.

More than 200 students from four high schools took part in the first conference in 2015. Two more conferences followed and now a fourth one is scheduled for 2018.

“The Treaty4Project has allowed us to have the opportunity to work in collaboration and build relationships among students, teachers and institutions and this is what we believe to be the true meaning of reconciliation,” says Fortier-Fréçon.

Says Laing: “Using personal stories from guest speakers, our students are invited to unlearn the official narrative and open their heart to other realities that they might not be aware of. Understanding these stories helped our students access a more inclusive history narrative and acknowledge that they have the privilege of living here because in the past a treaty was signed.”

Leia Laing is now teaching Grade 6 at École Monseigneur de Laval. She earned her Bachelor of Education at the U of R in 2008.

Naomi Fortier-Fréçon teaches French Immersion at École Elsie Mironuck Community School in Regina. She earned her Bachelor of Education at the U of R in 2007 and her Master of History at Université de Sherbooke in 2010. She is currently a PhD student in the Faculty of Education working under the supervision of Dr. Fadila Boutouchent.

Laing and Fortier-Fréçon say this project was made possible thanks to the support from:

Saskatchewan Arts Board
First Nations University of Canada
Faculty of Education (U of R)
The McDowell Foundation
Regina public schools

Founding Committee Members:

Noel Starblanket
Calvin Racette
Sandra Bellegarde
Monique Bowes
Hillary Ibbott-Neiszner
Dr. Angelina Weenie
Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly from First Nations University of Canada
Artists Ray Keighley and Lloyd Dubois.

The teaching team since 2015 are all U of R Education alumni:

Heather Findlay – Martin Collegiate
Tamara Ryba – Scott Collegiate
Tana Mitchell – Balfour Collegiate
Tiffany Agopsowicz – Martin Collegiate
Janine Taylor and Jessica Moser – Sheldon Williams
Elizabeth Therrien – Campbell Collegiate
Tracey Ellis – FW Johnson High School.

Other Presenters and Supporters:

Dr. Shauneen Pete (former Indigenous Lead/U of R)
Dr. Anna-Leah King (Faculty of Education)
Dr. Jennifer Tupper (Former Dean of the Faculty of Education)
Dr. James Daschuk, (U of R)
Rap singer Brad Bellegarde (aka InfoRed)
Cadmus Delorme (Chief of the Cowessess First Nation)
Dr. Mike Cappello (Education Faculty) and many more presenters from 2015 to the present day.

University of Regina feature story by Costa Maragos

Bac alumni recipients of the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching

*Naomi Fortier-Fréçon et Leia Laing
Lauréates du Prix d’histoire du Gouverneur général pour l’excellence en enseignement 2017
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Naomi Fortier-Fréçon and Leia Laing
Recipients of the 2017 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching

Projet multi-écoles, Regina (Saskatchewan)

Le Treaty4Project a principalement pour but d’aider les élèves à comprendre les liens qui relient leur génération au Traité 4 en Saskatchewan, aujourd’hui et dans les années à venir. Grâce à la participation d’aînés, d’artistes autochtones, de professeurs d’université, d’activistes et d’étudiants en éducation, le projet donne aux élèves l’occasion d’échanger avec des membres de la communauté et d’acquérir les connaissances fondamentales dont ils ont besoin pour s’attaquer à des dossiers très complexes. Le projet a été mis sur pied en 2015 avec le soutien du Saskatchewan Arts Board et comporte maintenant deux composantes. La première est une conférence pour les élèves du secondaire à l’Université des Premières Nations du Canada où l’on propose aux participants des ateliers, des discussions de groupe et des réflexions sur l’histoire du traité et l’éducation. En 2016 s’est ajoutée une nouvelle composante faisant appel aux élèves du niveau élémentaire; ces derniers ont alors collaboré avec un artiste local à un projet visant à explorer le concept de réconciliation. Mme Fortier-Fréçon et Mme Laing sont des enseignantes d’histoire du Canada enthousiastes et dévouées et le Treaty4Project est un bon exemple de la façon dont les enseignants peuvent intégrer des gestes de réconciliation concrets dans leur salle de classe.

Multi-school project, Regina (Saskatchewan)

The principal aim of the Treaty4Project is for students to understand their generation’s relationship with Treaty 4 in Saskatchewan, both today and in the future. Through the participation of elders, Indigenous artists, university professors, activists, and education students, the project provides students with a chance to engage with community members and gain the fundamental knowledge they need to tackle very complex issues. The project was first implemented in 2015 with the support of the Saskatchewan Arts Board and now has two main components. The first is a youth conference for high school students at the First Nations University of Canada, which features workshops, group discussions, and reflections on treaty history and education. As a new component in 2016, elementary students collaborate with a local artist on a project that explores the concept of reconciliation. Ms. Fortier-Fréçon and Ms. Laing are enthusiastic and dedicated to teaching Canadian history and the Treaty4Project serves as an example of how educators can incorporate meaningful acts of reconciliation in their classroom.

Reposted from http://www.canadashistory.ca/Awards/Governor-General-s-History-Awards/Award-Recipients/2017/Naomi-Fortier-Frecon-and-Leia-Laing

Naomi Fortier-Fréçon is a graduate of the Bac program and currently a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education (Supervisor: Fadila Boutouchent). Leia Laing is a graduate of the Bac program. Both are French immersion teachers at Campbell Collegiate in Regina, Saskatchewan. 

Naomi and Leia will be presented with the Governor General’s History Award at Rideau Hall  in Ottawa, ON, on November 22, 2017.

*About Treaty4Project http://treaty4thenextgeneration.blogspot.ca/

 

 

Faculty of Education Alumni Crowning Achievement Award recipients

Guy Vanderhaeghe BEd’78
Lifetime Achievement Award

Vanderhaeghe is best known for his trilogy of award-winning literary westerns. His honours include three Governor General Awards for Literature, a Faber Prize in Britain, the Lieutenant-Governor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, and the Order of Canada. Book lovers around the world know him as an exceptional storyteller, but for many in the University of Regina alumni community he is also an admired educator, cherished friend, and someone who is as humble as he is talented. Read more

 

Dr. Margaret Dagenais BSc’71, CVTED’87, BVTED’91, MEd’97, PhD’11
Dr. Robert and Norma Ferguson Award for Outstanding Service to the University of Regina and the Alumni Association

Dagenais has served the University of Regina Alumni Association as a board member, committee member, on the executive and as a representative to the University of Regina Senate. She has also shared her considerable expertise through her work on the CIDA funded University of Malawi Polytechnic Technical, Entrepreneurial, Vocational Education Training Reform project. Read more:

Enseignants en français: la nouvelle génération

Kya Kokott et Mallory Horn, deux futures enseignantes de français de base et d’immersion. Photo : RADIO-CANADA

Two new graduates of the Bac program are interviewed on Radio-Canada

What are the challenges of future teachers of French in the province? The Daybreak team invites you to discover the journey of two new graduates of the University of Regina who will teach French in primary and secondary levels in the next few months.

Qui sont ces jeunes qui enseigneront le français langue seconde à nos enfants en Saskatchewan? Quels sont leurs parcours et leurs aspirations?

Pour mieux connaître ces jeunes enseignants qui dirigeront bientôt les leçons de français dans nos écoles, nous avons rencontré 4 futurs diplômés de l’Université de Regina.

Ce matin, écoutez la première entrevue avec deux d’entre eux, Mallory Horn et Kya Kokott, au micro de Point du jour

Alumna Receives Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Early Childhood Education

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulates Lindsay Stuart at the Prime Minister’s Awards For Teaching Excellence in Early Childhood Education
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A selfie with the Prime Minister

Alumna Lindsay Stuart (B.Ed. 2009; M.Ed. 2015) found her passion in the very field she had never wanted to work in: Early Childhood Education.

On May 12, her work with children was recognized at the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence in Early Childhood Education, which took place in Ottawa.

Stuart is employed with Regina Public Schools, at Henry Braun, as a Kindergarten teacher.

She graduated from the U of R with a B.Ed. in 2009 (Pre-K – 3). This was her second degree; her first was a U of R degree in Human Justice (2000), which followed a Diploma in Criminology from Mount Royal University in Calgary. Then, in 2015, she graduated from the U of R with her M.Ed. The title of her project was Relational Reverberations: A Narrative Inquiry Into the Interconnected Lives of Children, Families and Teachers.

Looking at her early educational choices (Criminology and Human Justice) it is clear that the B.Ed. after degree was an afterthought. Stuart says she actually never wanted to be a teacher. She explains,

I grew up in a family of teachers and saw firsthand how rewarding, but yet, personally draining and all consuming it could be. In fact, when I graduated from high school, my family told me they would help me through university, but if I went into education I was on my own. It wasn’t that they wished they had chosen differently, or they didn’t see me as capable, they were worried and protective due to their deep understanding of the increasing demands being placed on educators.

After graduating with my initial degree in Human Justice, I spent my 20’s working and travelling. It was by happenstance that I ended up in Japan with a teaching contract. I remember before leaving saying I would be all right as long as I didn’t have to work with young children! FAMOUS LAST WORDS!!! It was there that I found my passion and calling to education. I haven’t looked back!

The following is an interview with Stuart regarding her experience as a student in the Faculty of Education, University of Regina; her experience of becoming employed as a teacher; of being a novice teacher; and what it is that she is doing as an Early Childhood Educator that has caused her to be recognized with this award.

How (and how well) did your B.Ed. and/or M.Ed. program equip you for the work that you are now doing?

My undergraduate degree provided me with a strong base with which to begin my teaching career. My Master’s empowered me to ask critical questions and begin viewing things through a new lens. It helped me to delve deeply into my own life and view not only myself but also my profession and the world in a different way. Essentially, my B.Ed. gave me the “what” (to do) and the “how” (to teach), but my M.Ed. has provided me with the “why.” It truly gave me a new way to look at myself and my teaching.

What was a highlight for you while a student at the University of Regina?

Without a doubt, the highlight was the Summer Institute in 2014, “Play, Art and Narrative,” facilitated by Dr. Patrick Lewis and Karen Wallace. Although I anticipated that these courses would provide me with a stronger knowledge base about early childhood education—and they did—that was not the greatest takeaway. During three intensive weeks, I learned more about myself than I could ever have imagined. This learning has made me a better friend, colleague, teacher, family member, and person. I am forever indebted to Patrick and Karen for creating a space for this to take place.

Are there any (other) professors who helped shape who you personally/professionally? How so?

In addition to Patrick and Karen, who found ways to both challenge (in critical but safe ways) and support me, I was so fortunate and blessed to have Dr. Janice Huber as a mentor, project supervisor, advocate and friend. Janice introduced me to narrative inquiry, which has woven its way into my being. It has become an integral part of who I am in the world.  She was always there to listen and to wonder with me, and she empowered me to believe not only in myself, but also in the important work I do with children and families.

What happened after you graduated with your B.Ed. degree?

I finished my degree right after my internship in the fall of 2009. I was interviewed and hired by Regina Public directly out of internship. I remember being surprised in January, on the first day school resumed, that I was called to sub. I was to split my day between EAL (English as an Additional Language) in the morning at Judge Bryant and DPS (Discovery Pre-school) at Henry Braun in the afternoon. It is kind of ironic as both of these positions ended up becoming permanent for the rest of the year! The DPS position was open right away due to the fact the teacher had left early on maternity leave. I accepted the half time position and remained subbing in the morning until in early February a half time EAL contract opened up at Judge Bryant School. I was interviewed and received that position. To my good fortune, the 50% Kindergarten teacher at Braun was retiring that year, and I was able to shift into a permanent role at Braun as 50% K and 50% DPS. I worked extremely hard during this time, but I was also in the right place at the right time.

What did you find difficult about being a novice teacher? What or who helped you through?

I found everything difficult being a novice teacher!! From the mundane things such as finding out where supplies are kept and how to work the photocopier, to critical things such as creating and sustaining relationships (students, families, community, colleagues), classroom layouts, classroom management, designing and setting of routines, appropriate assessment techniques, etc… perhaps most important was knowing how to find a balance between professional and personal time. Looking back now, the best thing I did as a new teacher was admit what I didn’t know, and search/ask for help. I found a mentor in my building, an experienced teacher, who assisted me through all the ups and downs. I was open to learning from all those who surrounded me (administration, educational assistants, speech and language pathologists, educational psychologists, outside agencies etc.). I think the gravest danger facing new teachers is in believing they need to know everything, and thinking that admitting they don’t, will reflect negatively. The secret is learning you will NEVER know everything! Being a teacher is a constant journey of becoming.

What is it that you are doing differently that has caused you to be recognized by the PM Award for Excellence in teaching ECE?

There are many terrific teachers doing amazing things in their classrooms who are just as deserving as I. I was lucky to have colleagues, families and administration take the time to complete the incredibly long nomination process on my behalf. The process included providing the selection committee with detailed curriculum vitae, several letters of recommendation and a lengthy essay that demanded exemplary evidence of support for the development of children, innovation in practice, involvement with parents, families and community, and commitment and leadership in the field.

Imagine entering a space and before you, you see several students gathered around a ladder discussing the ways in which force and friction are inhibiting motion in their construction designs. Over in the corner there are three students using FaceTime on their teacher’s phone to ask a local expert questions about the garter snake they found in the playground. You can overhear another student reading and when you turn around you notice she is filming it herself and when you ask what she is doing, she tells you she is uploading it to send to her mom. Three others are in the hallway taking pictures to create their own books, and finally, in the library, one student is busily searching for information about birdhouses using QR codes. Now, imagine these students are only five years of age.

Technology is shifting the landscapes of early learning environment and in turn redefining my pedagogy and the learning taking place within my classroom. My teaching challenges the notions that I am the sole knowledge-keeper and that learning is always teacher-led. In my classroom, technology, the outdoors, and the community are all effective tools in student-directed, process-based, inquiry-driven learning.

Recognizing that families lead busy lives, technology—from e-portfolios and blogs to Skype, FaceTime and texts—has opened the doors of our classroom by allowing family members to stay in touch and become active participants in the classroom. E-portfolios enable students to independently document, share and reflect daily learning. Parents are able to view and comment on the experiences taking place in their child’s school life, all but replacing traditional and static report cards. The classroom has also become open to the community through the use of ‘expert panels.’ Dozens of community leaders and industry professionals have consented to have their contact information stored on every young learner’s iPad, which can used to be contact them in real-time. If they are able to take the call, these professionals will engage with the students and help them with their self-directed inquiries.

The applications utilized in our classroom are thoroughly vetted, used only as appropriate tools and never substitutes for learning or engagement. It is not about simply using technology but rather about providing opportunities, spaces and relationships for children to compose their learning and lives in unique, safe, and developmentally appropriate ways.

I am an unyielding advocate for the power and potential of ‘little people’, and I am guided by a belief in their inherent capabilities. I feel it is my responsibility to challenge the notion that Kindergarten’s purpose is to “prepare students for Grade One.” Rather, I believe Kindergarten has its own focus and goals. As my pedagogy has evolved, I have shifted away from traditional “theme-based” teaching, and started to design overarching year plans around key concepts and ideas. I continually ask myself, “What exactly am I teaching children? What skills are they acquiring? Will they be able to use this information? Will this information help them become life-long learners? Will this information help them become better citizens? Shifting away from the ‘what’ of teaching, I spend a great deal of time reflecting on the ‘how’ of teaching. More specifically, “How do I believe young children learn?”, “Where do I believe they learn?” and “What am I doing to support the ways in which they are composing their lives?”  It has been through answering these questions, that I have found ways to engage the natural curiosities of children and empower them on their own unique learning journeys.

What do you love about teaching?

What do I love about teaching? EVERYTHING!!! If I had to name one thing, it would be the amazing relationships I have blossoming around me.

What was it like, receiving this award for Excellence in Teaching?

Receiving the award was both exciting and humbling. It was exciting to have a chance to travel to Ottawa, tour the national capital, and meet the Prime Minister. It was humbling because I know of so many amazing teachers who deserved to be there alongside me. In addition, it was humbling knowing the reason I was there was because colleagues and families of the students in my room nominated me.

What was the highlight of this experience?

There were two highlights of the trip. The first was a best practice round table sharing session. Each award recipient gave a brief presentation about the work taking place in his/her environment. It was phenomenal to learn alongside such innovative and passionate individuals. The second was receiving emails, texts and letters from colleagues, and former/current families with words of congratulations and kindness. These touched me more than anything!