“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.”
Congratulations to the following extraordinary Faculty of Education Alumni/Alumnae:
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.
The Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan Tom Molloy presented the Prairieaction Foundation Youth Leadership Award to the fYrefly in Schools program for the second year in a row! Congratulations to Dr James McNinch, Suzy Yim & Kyla Christiansen for your work in promoting inclusion and acceptance.
Congratulations to Paula Stoker on receiving the Bachelor of Education After Degree (BEAD) Convocation Prize, which was established to encourage and recognize the most distinguished BEAD graduate, with an overall internship rating of “Outstanding” and the highest grade point average in the program.
Paula graduated with a Bachelor of Education (Elementary) with Great Distinction. During her studies in the Yukon Native Teacher Education Program (YNTEP), which is offered in cooperation with Yukon College in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Paula was the recipient of the Academic Silver Scholarship in 2017 and was on the Dean’s List in 2016 Fall, 2017 Winter, and 2018 Winter.
Born and raised in Whitehorse, Paula earned her first degree: Physical Education and Sports Studies from the University of Alberta in 1991. After following her passion for health, sports, and fitness, Paula came to the realization that she is a teacher at heart and that a classroom is where she is meant to be.
When the University of Regina decided to offer a Bachelor of Education After Degree program in cooperation with Yukon College, Paula jumped at the chance to finally become a certified teacher, “I am so very grateful for the opportunity to be able to get my Education Degree without having to leave my family and my Yukon home. Going back to school was a challenge at this stage of my life, but the many hands-on learning experiences in the YNTEP were so valuable and the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from my amazing classmates and teachers made the experience so enjoyable and worthwhile.”
Now that she has her Bachelor of Education, Paula will apply for a Yukon Teaching Certificate and looks forward to the opportunity to use her experience and education as a teacher in Whitehorse.
Congratulations to Victoria Howe (@MissVHowe) on receiving the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) Convocation Prize at the Spring 2018 Convocation. The STF prize recognizes the most distinguished Faculty of Education student, graduating with their first degree, who has an overall internship rating of “Outstanding” and the highest grade point average in the program.
Victoria graduated with a Bachelor of Education in Elementary Education with Great Distinction. During her studies, Victoria was the recipient of the Academic Silver Prize in 2016 and 2017. She was on the Dean’s List in 2015 Fall, 2016 Winter, 2016 Fall, 2017 Winter, and 2018 Winter.
Born and raised in Moose Jaw, Victoria attended Lindale and Caronport Elementary schools and graduated from Caronport High School.
Next, Victoria attended the University of Alberta and studied science. However, Victoria soon decided that a career working with children would be energizing and fulfilling. So she returned to Saskatchewan to attend the University of Regina’s Elementary Education program.
Victoria immensely enjoyed her three years in the Elementary program. During these years she engaged in many meaningful learning experiences, created very strong friendships, and grew greatly as an educator.
Her most memorable semester was her internship where she learned just how much teachers do for their students and just how rewarding the teaching profession can be.
While excelling in academics, Victoria’s love for dance and performing led her to join the Roughriders Cheer team. She volunteered on this team throughout her degree and continues to do so proudly. Victoria plans to substitute teach as she works on her Inclusive Education Certificate this upcoming fall. Upon completion of that certificate, Victoria hopes to pursue her Masters in Educational Psychology and then find work near her hometown of Moose Jaw.
In this wild connected world, it’s helpful to have a guide.
Dr. Alec Couros is guide, mentor, and technological guru for his students in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina, as well as youth, corporations, and government ministries, as they navigate the labyrinth of digital literacies, technology integration, and digital citizenship.
“I’m honoured to have received this award,” says Couros, professor of educational technology and media in the Faculty of Education. “This means a lot to me because it recognizes the peer-driven pedagogical approach that I use in my classes. This approach demands a high degree of student participation, and I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked alongside passionate students who transform our courses into vibrant communities of learning.”
The award, to be presented on June 20 to a total of five educators across Canada during the annual STLHE conference in Sherbrooke, Québéc, recognizes those at the forefront of innovation both within their academic institutions and higher education more broadly.
“These educators are demonstrating significant innovation and inspiring the future of learning. Their achievements are making learning experiences better and enabling students to excel,” said John Baker, President and CEO of D2L, an organization that promotes online learning.
Couros is being recognized specifically for his innovative educational technology-facilitated student engagement assignments, including the #ETMOOC lipdub assignment where creative relationship-building occurs among 12,000 students from different countries. Couros’ students create effective personal learning networks that transcend the boundaries of the course and gain competence using a wide spectrum of educational technology tools, while establishing their online identity.
“Preparing the next generation of teachers is important work, and there are few people in Canada who do it in with the same level of innovation and enthusiasm as Dr. Couros. This award, which recognizes his commitment to using different technological resources and approaches to empower his students, could not be more timely or well-deserved,” says University of Regina President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Vianne Timmons.
This is the latest honour for Couros. He was awarded the University of Regina Teaching Award for Excellence for Innovation in Teaching in 2015.
Members of the public are welcome to attend a free presentation by Dr. Couros: Understanding scholarship in a digital world at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences on Sunday, May 27 from 10:30 a.m. to noon, room 228, Education Building at the U of R. Couros will outline the potential power of engaging in networked forms of scholarship and will provide participants with strategies and tools to assist academics in participating meaningfully in digital spaces.
Sean Hooper, a 3rd-year Elementary Education student, was recipient of the 2017 Saskatchewan Triathlon Coach of the Year Award.
Sean Hooper, born and raised in Regina, has been coaching for six years with Regina Multisport Club’s Fundamentals, a program that he and his father started in 2012. “We noticed that a lot of kids, as young as 3 or 4, had never done anything like [triathlon races] and they were turned off by the experience, or really anxious and crying,” Sean explains, “We wanted FUNdamentals to be something that would prepare kids for an event like the Icebreaker, now called the Brent Gibson Memorial Icebreaker.” And, they wanted kids to have fun at the same time.
Sean and his father also hoped to change the way sport programs for children are offered: “At this age, the whole concept of the program that we would like to support is the long-term athlete development model.” Sean believes this model is why Canada has such a strong athletic community despite our population size. “We do so many sports as kids, and we have that physical literacy that we can apply to whatever we are passionate about later on.”
Triathlon itself incorporates cycling, swimming, and running. But Sean encourages the athletes to try other sports. “We only have practices twice a week. We are trying to move kids and parents to do multisports, such as hockey, basketball, and soccer….We have parents say, ‘my kid is really good at running,’ and they think that their child should focus on running. I say, ‘let them test the water; let them make the decision.’ That is where athletes come from; they have internal motivation,” Sean says.
Coaching is what led Sean into the field of education, though he didn’t start there. “I’ve been going to University for a while. I started in the Arts, went to Kinesiology, then I took some science. After third year, I sat down to figure out what I wanted to do. What is the career I want to go to every day? Education was what I decided on. I was in Kinesiology initially because I really enjoy coaching and fitness, but I thought more about the rudimentary aspect of coaching. It was about being able to see people grow based on my teachings, and about the relationship…that was really important to me and motivated me in my coaching,” says Sean.
Sean finds coaching influences his teaching philosophy. As with sports and needing to have a good experience, Sean says, “people learn best when the subject matter is associated with emotion. The lessons I remember best from school are when I did an activity or had some kind of experience from it.” For his 3-week pre-internship experience, Sean says, for “each of my lessons, I’ve tried to add an activity or something interesting so that students can take the information and apply it or gain some kind of experience from it.” Like sport literacy developed through multiple experiences, Sean views learning styles as something you develop in children: “The brain is malleable, and it is my job as a teacher to open avenues to different methods of thinking. I don’t think kids should be taught in one way, because they have potential to learn in many ways. Making those variations is what’s important instead of putting kids on a track where they are comfortable.”
As a competitive triathlete since the age of 13, Sean draws on former experiences with coaches to inform both his coaching and teaching practices. “Good coaches are humble and work in tandem with their athletes: they’re not too controlling and they communicate. I think an educator has to be the same. If you are too controlling in your classroom, then you are going to have students who resent you, or feel pressured, almost like they’re not the ones who want to do the learning. A good coach inspires the athlete to want to do better, and that comes from building relationships. When you establish a relationship, students are more likely to want to learn what you need to teach them.”
As with any relationship, respect is important. Sean says, “Respect is an abstract term; even saying it is kind of weird. It’s all about the subtleties in your actions, how you talk to people and how you respond to them and their questions and the way they perform.”
One of Sean’s favourite sayings comes from one of his former coaches, Steve Davis, “Do no harm.” As an athlete, Sean knows that you can be hard enough on yourself, and it is not necessary for a coach to get upset because you are doing that anyways.
Another life lesson Sean has drawn from his experience as an athlete is something another coach taught him, “Don’t focus on your pain; focus on your technique. Focus on something that is going to make you faster instead of the pain. When applied to life this means, if you are going through hard times, why focus on the negative things? That will just slow you down. Do something that helps you overcome the pain. That’s what I try to tell kids. Pain is going to happen. Never stop running. Never give up.”
In the past six years, Sean has coached more than 300 athletes. One of the athletes from his program made this comment, “Sean is a great coach. He makes our training fun by adding games and challenging us to go faster. He keeps us focused. I am much stronger and faster now and that is awesome.”(Quote from Regina Multisport Instagram account.) Sean received his award in March, 2018
IN JUNE 2017, WHEN JASMINE RUNGE, A BATON TWIRLING ATHLETE, WAS INJURED BY HER BATON, CAUSING PERMANENT BLINDNESS IN HER LEFT EYE, SHE THOUGHT SHE WAS SEEING THE YEARS OF PRACTICE AND TRAINING GOING TO WASTE.
“I was definitely heartbroken; it happened at a competition and I didn’t know what to do. Usually, when I get hurt, people ask ‘Are you okay?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, I’m okay. It’s fine,’ but this was the first time I replied, ‘I’m not okay!’ So I knew it was serious in that moment and it was heartbreaking to know that I might not come back from this. Lots of people thought I was done for the year, even my coach. It was hard because I had put my whole life into baton … It always came first because that is what I loved and what I excelled at,” Jasmine says.
Later, when Jasmine received the news from her optometrist that she would be able to twirl again, but that it would be hard, Jasmine thought, “I’m a role model in this sport, and if I quit now, with the two biggest competitions of the year coming up—all the work from the age of 7 was building up to these competitions, and to not complete it—I knew I had to push for it, and do what I wanted to do and achieve the goals I had set for this year.”
Jasmine did compete at the International Championships despite the injury, and she brought home a Gold Medal in 3-Baton. “I got a lot of attention because I had to compete with an eye patch. My sport is all about vision! I don’t have depth perception, so it is a harder struggle now,” she explains.
The following are the list of titles Jasmine received in 2017, after her injury:
2017 Canadian Baton Twirling Federation (CBTF) Athlete of the Year – Overall
2017 Athlete of the Year – Senior Female
2017 Grand National Duet Champions
2017 Grand National Solo, 2-Baton, and 3-Baton Champion
2017 Sharon Holliday Memorial Award for Sportsmanship
2017Finalist in the Youth-Female Athlete of the Year for the Saskatchewan Sport Awards, an annual awards program of Sask Sport designed to celebrate and promote the outstanding achievements of Saskatchewan amateur athletes,coaches, officials and volunteers.
“Lots of people were surprised with how well I did. My coach said it is muscle memory. All the practicing I had done from September to December and everything I have learned up to this point had benefited me.”
A defining moment, when Jasmine really knew that this was her sport, was when she was performing at Grand Nationals, where there is a winner at every level, and where you compete against each other until one winner becomes the Grand National Champion. “I was Grand National Champion of solo, 2 baton, 3 baton and duet with my partner Julee Stewart. I thought, ‘This is me, I just came off that big injury and was still able to push through and win these awards. This is meant for me.’”
But topping it all off for Jasmine, was winning the Sharon Holliday Memorial Sportsmanship award, because the sportsmanship award meant that Jasmine
had competed and won the awards she had wanted to win since she was young, all the while showing respect and fairness to her competitors.
When asked how it feels to be a Finalist in the Youth-Female Sask Sport Athlete of the Year Awards, Jasmine replied, “It’s a big achievement in baton. It’s
been quite a while since we’ve been in these nominations. Sask Sport takes athletes from all the different sports in Saskatchewan. It’s pretty big for our
sport to be recognized over other ones, considering we aren’t well-known.”
One thing Jasmine wishes people understood about her sport is “the difficulty of it. It is actually a sport. Some people think because it is not in the
Olympics, it doesn’t count as a sport. I’ve been to six World Championships: those are our Olympics.”
It’s hard to think otherwise when considering the amount of time Jasmine spends training: “I practice two hours Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
mornings and after university Tuesday and Thursday, all day Saturday with my team, Sundown Optimist Buffalo Gals (Martin School of Dance and Baton Twirling) and all day Sunday on my own.” Jasmine squeezes in University homework time around class time and practice time. “Baton has really helped me with time management and organization,” she explains.
With regards to teaching, Jasmine feels baton has taught her about managing active children. Her studies have helped her understand her own experience in school: “I didn’t know there were different styles of learning, like active learners. I always got in trouble at school for being fidgety. It wasn’t until my University courses that I learned that I’m an active learner. For me to remember stuff, I need to be moving and doing things. I couldn’t ever remember my school work, but could always remember my baton routines and tricks. …I struggled a lot in elementary and high school.” Now Jasmine also realizes she needed more encouragement and so she says, “I want to be a teacher, so I can help the kids who are struggling in the same way I was.”
As for future baton plans, Jasmine intends to keep competing and hopes to make it to Worlds again, “which is an outstanding feeling,” she says. Jasmine plans to retire in her 10th year, which will coincide with her final year of her Education degree, so she thinks that will be a good time to retire from competitions. After retiring, she would like to coach baton: “I want to give back all that it has given to me. I want to encourage and help girls and boys to achieve their goals.”
Q & A with Dr. Pamela Osmond-Johnson, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Faculty of Education, University of Regina
Recipient of the 2017 Pat Clifford Award
1. As an emerging researcher, how did you feel when you heard you were the recipient of the Pat Clifford Award?
It was great to have my work around teacher professionalism recognized. Broadening understandings of the work of teachers and the valuing of teacher voice in educational policy is critically important to the future of the teaching profession and I was pleased that the awards committee placed value on that area of scholarship.
Broadening understandings of the work of teachers and the valuing of teacher voice in educational policy is critically important to the future of the teaching profession
2. What commonly held assumptions do you attempt to disrupt in your research?
The idea that teachers simply deliver curriculum, that a teacher stands in front of students and teaches all day. Teaching is surely the most important work they do but it’s their involvements during the regular school day in extra-classroom work that will really serve them in the work they do with students: their involvement in high quality professional learning, in mentoring other teachers, in curriculum development, and in collaborative work with their colleagues. Those experiences build professional capital and capacity to not only be better teachers themselves, but also to aid others in being better teachers.
3. What is the state of educators’ professional learning in Canada?
Teacher professional learning is certainly a hot button topic in Canada, particularly in tough economic times. It’s often the first item cut from budgets since it “doesn’t directly impact the classroom” (which is so far from the truth). That being said, we have some very strong teacher federations in this country who are advocating for access to relevant and practical professional learning. Across the country, there are many innovative and exciting learning opportunities for teachers but they are not always equitable in terms of ease of access. Teachers working in the north, in rural areas, and French educators seem to have more difficulty identifying quality PL, either because of the high travel cost or the lack of qualified facilitators.
4. What is your definition of the teacher role? What practical differences will result from redefining the teacher role?
For me, the work of teachers extends beyond the work they do directly with students. Teachers should also be engaged with the broader context of schooling – as leaders, as learners, as innovators, as mentors, and as collaborators. Their voices should matter in the creation of our policies and how we go about defining what is important in education. Practically, reconceptualising the work of teachers in this manner means rethinking the daily schedule for teachers. In Canada, we place the most emphasis on teaching time, which constitutes anywhere from 100% to 80% of teachers work during regular school time. This leaves little time for any of the extra-classroom work that I mentioned. In other countries, teachers spend much less time actually teaching (less than half their day in Singapore, for instance) and spend much more time working with their colleagues and participating in governance. This would be a huge paradigm shift but one that could potentially really improve education in terms of honing the skills of individual teachers while simultaneously developing the capacity of the profession to contribute to educational decision making more broadly.
5. In your own experience as an educator, what was a defining moment, when you knew that the way educational policies and the system defined your role as a teacher was inadequate for the practical realities of your role?
I had just finished my Master’s and was asked by the University to come to a conference and present a paper I wrote. The school division wouldn’t grant my request for leave. It sent a clear message to me that my research and my voice didn’t matter. I decided then and there that I would spend the rest of my professional career advocating that these things did matter.
6. Was it due to your efforts that the recent name change from Educational Administration to Educational Leadership in your department came to be? Why is this an important change for our Faculty?
This was an idea that had been discussed long before I came to the Faculty. I put the idea out there again and my colleagues were totally on board. Our programming has certainly evolved in response to the needs of our partners, and now conceptualizes school leadership as including, but not limited to, formal administrative roles. Informal leadership from teachers is equally important, and in many cases, is often the driving force behind educational change. We wanted to make sure the program name was inclusive of the content with which students are engaging and reflective of our belief that leadership isn’t just for school principals.
7. What has surprised you most about the findings in your research?
The resiliency of teachers to continue to exert their voices and to continue to strive to be heard in the face of a mountain of challenges. Participants in my research tell me they do what they do because they know it helps them better their practice and improve teaching and learning, not only in their own classrooms, but beyond to the classrooms and schools of others. They give up their weekends and evenings, and they drive hundreds of kilometers, just to continue their learning and extend their professional networks because they consider it a professional responsibility to always be learning from and with other teachers. And yet, they also tell me they feel guilty for doing so because they are missing class time. That’s the saddest part for me: hearing the stories of guilt. If these experiences were embedded in their daily work and accepted as part of the role of teachers, perhaps they wouldn’t feel so bad? This is an area the profession certainly needs to continue to work on.
8. Has the focus of your research changed since you began your study? If so, how and why?
Somewhat. In the beginning, I was specifically focused on teacher involvement in action research. Now my work is much broader and focuses on teacher engagement in a host of extra-classroom work – I see the boundaries of the work of teachers in a much bigger way than I did 10 years ago when I started this journey.
9. What are your plans for overcoming systemic obstacles to redefining the role of teachers? (How do we empower educators in Canada?)
I think the teacher federations’ professional agendas are an important piece of this puzzle. They have a legal mandate to advocate for the profession and so I see their work in supporting this reconceptualization as incredibly important. This doesn’t mean strikes and traditional labour action typically associated with unions. Rather, I see advocacy as being a little more outspoken and proactive on policy issues, particularly around professional learning and other issues of professionalism, than has been the case for some federations. However, the onus also falls on current teachers to become involved in their federations, to add to that collective capacity. “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean” (Ryunosuke Satoro).
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 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.
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:
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