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

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

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