World’s top teacher shares a lesson in compassion
Maggie Macdonnell keynote speaker at local education conference this weekend
Maggie Macdonnell, a teacher who works in a fly-in Inuit community in northern Quebec, won a global teacher award last year. Maggie Macdonnell has had several students tell her they created a suicide plan. But, they never followed through.
The reason? They developed social supports, and coping strategies, because of their relationship with her and involvement with programs she created in their fly-in village of Salluit, nestled in northern Quebec’s Inuit territory of Nunavik.
“That’s the value of what a teacher brings to a classroom,” says the winner of the 2017 Global Teacher Prize, who will be in Toronto Saturday to deliver the keynote speech at the annual conference of People for Education, a research and advocacy group.
“I feel humbled and connected because I also know those young people are doing amazing things too,” says Macdonnell. “I get to see myself now as interwoven into their story. And I know the people that they’ve saved and that they’ve positively affected. And I get to understand, on a very human scale, how connected all of our lives can be.”
The conference is about “public education’s role in creating a better world,” says Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, noting Macdonnell’s work “totally exemplifies this.”
“For (Macdonnell), teaching is not just about staying inside the school and working on curriculum — it’s about the impact she and the school can have on kids’ lives and on the community they live in. She lives and breathes the connection between public education and the health and strength of the communities it serves.”
That connection started in
2010. Raised in rural Nova Scotia, near an Indigenous community, Macdonnell was wellaware of the injustices Indigenous people have faced. Plus, she had just spent five years working in international community development in East Africa, helping refugees, and had honed a set of skills she wanted to use in Canada’s Arctic.
“I thought as a Canadian I should really open my eyes to our own colonial issues right within our borders,” recalls Macdonnell, who moved north in 2010 to Ikusik School in Salluit, the second northernmost Inuit community in Quebec with a population of about
Initially, she hoped to last a year or two in this isolated community, which experiences a high turnover rate for teachers. She had no idea how she would be received, “considering how education itself has been a tool in the cultural genocide of Indigenous people,” she says, referring to Canada’s residential school system.
Read the full story on Maggie Macdonnell at thestar.com/gta