Lo­cal teacher wins Gover­nor Gen­eral’s His­tory Award

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Frank PEE­BLES Cit­i­zen staff fpee­bles@pgc­i­t­i­zen.ca

A Prince Ge­orge teacher has won the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s His­tory Award.

Glen Thiel­mann splits his time be­tween So­cial Stud­ies classes at D.P. Todd Se­condary School and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment du­ties with the Prince Ge­orge & Dis­trict Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. A pro­gram he did with his stu­dents last year caught the at­ten­tion of the na­tion.

The pro­gram was called Skookum Sto­ries and was aimed at his Grade 9 So­cial Stud­ies class.

“Stu­dents set out to find out more about their cul­tural her­itage,” he ex­plained.

“Stu­dents gather ev­i­dence and con­duct re­search about ei­ther their fam­ily’s roots or their cul­ture, with spe­cial at­ten­tion to sto­ries that have a con­nec­tion to his­tory, place, and ideas. Stu­dents for whom fam­ily is a real chal­lenge are of­ten led to­wards lo­cal his­tory and com­mu­nity re­search, or broader sources that deal more with cul­ture than fam­ily. Along the way, stu­dents de­sign in­quiry ques­tions to help guide their work, and or­ga­nize their ev­i­dence and re­sponse to their ques­tions.”

It was a project that fa­cil­i­tated deep ex­am­i­na­tion of fam­i­lies or the ideas of fam­i­lies. Built into the plan­ning was the re­al­iza­tion that not all stu­dents are proud of their her­itage, or in touch with their fam­ily mem­bers. It rec­og­nized that abo­rig­i­nal stu­dents had a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to per­sonal his­tory than main­stream stu­dents do, and the same could be said for chil­dren in min­istry care, adopted kids, stu­dents with es­tranged or dis­rupted fam­i­lies, stu­dents with close ties to im­mi­gra­tion ex­pe­ri­ences, and so on. Those cir­cum­stances did not have to be road­blocks to ex­am­in­ing one’s roots, the project ac­knowl­edged, and even the most sta­ble and track­able of fam­ily sto­ries could ben­e­fit from some coun­ter­in­tu­itive ques­tion­ing.

Once the stu­dents com­pleted and pre­sented their work, the word got out about the per­sonal im­pact it had on the kids.

He was called by a na­tional his­tory or­ga­ni­za­tion and asked to ap­ply for the award, but he ad­mit­ted that he doubted its chances. He wasn’t sure such a class­room-based pro­gram would res­onate with judges but on the con­trary, the ef­fec­tive­ness of the per­sonal in­quiry project rang through in the sup­port ma­te­rial like stu­dent ref­er­ences.

The lead­er­ship qual­i­ties ex­em­pli­fied by Thiel­mann go be­yond a sin­gle project. He is a pro­lific com­mu­ni­ca­tor, es­pe­cially about his pro­fes­sional sub­ject mat­ter, and the main tool of mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the in­ter­net. He is the pre­sen­ter of on­line spa­ces called Web River and Blog Cabin, for ex­am­ple, where his teach­ing ma­te­ri­als get a world­wide au­di­ence.

He gets sig­nif­i­cant feed­back, he said, from teach­ers else­where who talk to him about ped­a­gogy or use his of­fered re­sources.

“I ac­tu­ally found out I’d got­ten the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s Award the ex­act same day the book came out, so that was a re­ally good day,” he said, re­fer­ring to a Grade 9 re­source text he and a col­lec­tion of teach­ers col­lab­o­rated to write.

“The other teach­ers were Rob Lewis, Joe Pereira, J.P. Martin, Vince Tru­ant, and Jen­nifer Pighin from Prince Ge­orge, Paula Waatainen from Nanaimo, Janet Ruest from Che­mai­nus, and Shan­non Leggett from Van­cou­ver,” he said in an on­line brief­ing note.

“We each wrote some of the top­ics or case stud­ies in the Sour­cebook, and I had the fun job of edit­ing, writ­ing the in­tro­duc­tion, and other tasks along the way. It was an en­joy­able learn­ing curve on cur­ricu­lum de­sign and pub­lish­ing a book, and a good ex­peri- ence work­ing with the folks from (pub­lisher) Pear­son Canada.”

As with his Skookum Sto­ries pro­gram, the book’s un­der­ly­ing theme is ask­ing coun­ter­bal­ance ques­tions to get closer to the truth of a topic, ways of switch­ing per­spec­tives to get a clearer pic­ture of ev­i­dence, and avoid­ance of tak­ing sin­gle streams of in­for­ma­tion as the only view of what hap­pened in the past.

“This Think­ing It Through Sour­cebook will help stu­dents de­velop their crit­i­cal think­ing skills as they ex­plore se­lected top­ics from the re­vised B.C. So­cial Stud­ies 9 Cur­ricu­lum,” he said.

When you have a teach­ing mis­sion like that, a path­way to pave the road of true knowl­edge in­stead of mere re­gur­gi­ta­tion of sin­gu­lar fac­toids, you be­come the kind of in­struc­tor who strives to give ex­tra mean­ing to the con­cepts of his­tory and her­itage and hu­man ge­og­ra­phy. That’s one of the rea­sons he posts so much of his ma­te­rial on­line.

“I un­der­stand that some teach­ers feel they shouldn’t do that un­less it’s per­fect, and I’ll put it up on­line even if it’s not so pol­ished, but at least it’s out there if some­one wants to use it, or makes peo­ple think of some­thing they can use for them­selves. I’m not telling peo­ple that my way is the best way, I’m just let­ting peo­ple in on what I’m do­ing as I go along, so we can all have that con­ver­sa­tion and be­come bet­ter at our jobs by shar­ing our prac­tices,” he said.

Which is why he is pleased to spend half his day work­ing with his col­leagues to all be­come bet­ter teach­ers to­gether, in­stead of go­ing into ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­fes­sions that, at this point in his ca­reer, are op­tions for him. But he fears it would take him away from the as­pects of the pro­fes­sion he loves most.

He fig­ures he’s got about 12 years of teach­ing left “and I love it, I en­joy teach­ing, I have no plans on leav­ing the K-12 sys­tem, but it would be fun to write some more, on so­cial stud­ies in par­tic­u­lar.”


Teacher Glen Thiel­mann was awarded the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s His­tory Award.

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