Six years after she began teaching in Tuktoyaktuk, Paige Driscoll is now the recipient of a certificate of excellence from the Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence.
Driscoll’s certificate is one of only 10 awarded at that level across Canada this year.
Teaching grades 1 to 9 at Tuk’s Mangilaluk School, Driscoll is celebrated in her nomination for working “tirelessly in the community to connect teaching and learning to place, culture, and the land.”
Award winners were named this month after a ceremony designed to honour them in Ottawa was postponed.
Speaking earlier in the month, Driscoll told Cabin Radio she moved with her husband from a teaching post in England to Tuktoyaktuk after visiting her parents in the hamlet for Christmas one year.
Her teaching philosophy is described on the awards’ website as “giving students ownership of their learning,” which she says means recognizing teachers are not always “the expert or the lead knower in your class.”
“Your students have a lot of knowledge and skills to offer, and so does your community,” she said.
“It’s really a matter of finding creative ways to connect what we know students need to learn with their culture and with the land.”
Driscoll said she uses Tuk’s cultural calendar, created by language teachers and land-based educators in collaboration with residents and Elders, to identify monthly themes and plan units around them.
“For example, September is berry picking season. We worked on a whole inquiry unit to do with berry picking and land-based inferencing, making the math and science especially more relevant,” she said.
“You always hear kids say, ‘When am I ever going to use this math in my life?’ So we find ways to connect it with the skills and knowledge that they’re used to.”
Another project involved using 3D materials to design igloos, examining related topics like ventilation, thermal conductivity, poetry and parabolas.
Driscoll said this month’s award – she was nominated in secret by her principal and several colleagues – serves as broader recognition that her school and the Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council are “on the right path for making sure that learning for our students is authentic, and meaningful, and connected to their culture.”
“For me, as a non-Indigenous educator, working in the North is about creating the space and not always taking the space – taking a step back and being willing to learn and invite the experts into your class,” she said.
“Wherever you are in Canada, it’s really important to follow what’s specific to that community, because even here in the Beaufort Delta, every community is different. Even though we’re close together and we’re in the same region, what we do here in Tuk is not always relevant to Aklavik.”
In Hay River, Jennifer Tweedie picked up a second award on behalf of the Northwest Territories – a certificate of achievement in the same announcement earlier this month.
Teaching children from junior kindergarten to Grade 5, Tweedie was hailed in her nomination for her commitment to Dene language, history, and culture. Projects included the creation of bilingual books that were shared with younger students, parents and Elders, described as “a step toward mending some wrongs of the past with the resurgence of language.”
Driscoll said the kind of approach that won both teachers recognition pays off in terms of job satisfaction, too.
“I love it here in Tuk. It’s such a rewarding job for me, I really absolutely love my job,” she said.
“I love the students here. I love the community and how committed they are to the best interests of the students. And I don’t know if I’d ever be able to go back to a traditional teacher-led classroom. I think that’d be really hard for me.
“At the moment, I can’t see myself teaching anywhere else.”