Cana­dian wins teach­ing prize

Cana­dian wins $1M global award for teach­ing ex­cel­lence

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - NATIONAL - AYA BA­TRAWY

A Cana­dian school teacher whose teach­ing phi­los­o­phy un­der­scores hope and acts of kind­ness in an iso­lated cor­ner of Que­bec won a $1 mil­lion prize Sun­day in what has be­come one of the most-cov­eted and high­pro­file awards for teach­ing ex­cel­lence.

Maggie MacDon­nell was awarded the an­nual Global Teacher Prize dur­ing a cer­e­mony in Dubai, United Arab Emi­rates, beat­ing out thou­sands of ap­pli­cants from around the world.

The prize was es­tab­lished three years ago to rec­og­nize one ex­cep­tional teacher a year who has made an out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the pro­fes­sion, em­ploys in­no­va­tive class­room prac­tices and en­cour­ages oth­ers to join the teach­ing pro­fes­sion.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau of­fered his con­grat­u­la­tions in a video mes­sage that was broad­cast at the event.

“On be­half of all Cana­di­ans, from one teacher to an­other, con­grat­u­la­tions on win­ning the Global Teacher Prize 2017,” the mes­sage be­gan.

“You have done ex­tra­or­di­nary things in ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances and have showed enor­mous heart, will and imag­i­na­tion,” said Trudeau, a former teacher him­self.

Que­bec Premier Philippe Couil­lard, Gov­er­nor Gen­eral David John­ston, and as­tro­naut Chris Had­field all took to so­cial me­dia to con­grat­u­late the Nova Sco­tia-born teacher, who has been teach­ing in north­ern Que­bec since 2010.

The Ka­tivik School Board also putting out a re­lease prais­ing MacDon­nell’s work at Ikusik High School in Sal­luit, Que­bec’s sec­ond-most north­ern com­mu­nity.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Rashid Al Mak­toum was on hand to present the prize to MacDon­nell. Her name was an­nounced by French as­tro­naut Thomas Pas­quet in a video mes­sage from the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

MacDon­nell was among 10 fi­nal­ists flown to Dubai to at­tend the cer­e­mony. The nine oth­ers hail from Pak­istan, the UK, Ja­maica, Spain, Ger­many, China, Kenya, Aus­tralia and Brazil.

Last week MacDon­nell told the Cana­dian Press she was ex­cited three of her stu­dents could make the trip to Dubai with her.

“They’re a huge part of the story and the rea­son I chose to get in­volved (in the award) was to make sure it could in some way ben­e­fit their lives,” she said.

She said that if she won she wanted to start an en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship pro­gram for north­ern youth, fo­cused on kayak­ing.

MacDon­nell has been teach­ing in Sal­luit for six years. Ac­cord­ing to her bi­og­ra­phy, Sal­luit is home to the sec­ond north­ern­most Inuit in­dige­nous com­mu­nity in Que­bec, with a pop­u­la­tion of just over 1,300, and can only be reached by air.

Her per­se­ver­ance to con­tinue teach­ing in the re­mote area, where many teach­ers leave their post mid­way through the year, made her a stand­out for the award. MacDon­nell cre­ated a num­ber of pro­grams for boys and girls, in­clud­ing job men­tor­ship and funds to as­sist with healthy meals.

She also es­tab­lished a fit­ness cen­tre for youth and adults in the lo­cal com­mu­nity, where drug use and al­co­holism rates are high due to the re­gion’s harsh win­ters and iso­la­tion. The tiny vil­lage wit­nessed six sui­cides in 2015, all af­fect­ing young males be­tween the ages of 18 and 25.

Her ap­proach fo­cuses on em­pha­siz­ing “acts of kind­ness” such as run­ning a com­mu­nity kitchen and at­tend­ing sui­cide pre­ven­tion train­ing.

“The me­mory that con­tin­ues to haunt me is when I see th­ese Cana­dian teenagers, their very own class­mates of the de­ceased, lit­er­ally dig­ging the grave,” she said. “I didn’t know un­til I came to Sal­luit that that was a Cana­dian real­ity.”

Last year, Pales­tinian teacher Hanan al-Hroub won for her ef­forts in en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to re­nounce vi­o­lence and em­brace di­a­logue. The in­au­gu­ral prize went to Nan­cie Atwell, an English teacher from Maine.

The award is pre­sented by the Varkey Foun­da­tion. Its founder, Sunny Varkey, es­tab­lished the for-profit GEMS Ed­u­ca­tion com­pany, which has more than 250 schools around the world.

The foun­da­tion’s CEO, Vikas Pota, said in a state­ment that the award aims to shine a spot­light on great teach­ers and share their sto­ries with the world.

Also Sun­day, 15 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Chile, Iraq, Ja­pan, Pak­istan, Por­tu­gal, So­ma­lia, Ukraine and Ye­men, an­nounced they would launch na­tional teach­ing prizes with the sup­port of the Varkey Foun­da­tion.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/HO

Cana­dian school teacher, Maggie MacDon­nell, whose teach­ing phi­los­o­phy un­der­scores hope and acts of kind­ness in an iso­lated cor­ner of Que­bec won a $1 mil­lion prize Sun­day in what has be­come one of the most-cov­eted and high­pro­file awards for teach­ing ex­cel­lence.

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