Canadian teachers nominated for global prize


From transforming classrooms into scenes from the Harry Potter novels to coaching kids in a northern community to run half-marathons, three Canadian have gone above and beyond the curriculum to help students learn — and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Armand Doucet, Yvan Girouard and Maggie MacDonnell are among 50 teachers around the world to be nominated for the Global Teacher Prize. The prize, established by the education charity Varkey Foundation, highlights the importance of teachers while awarding the top educator with US$ 1 million.

The nominees were selected from over 20,000 applications from 179 countries. They were chosen for demonstrating innovative teaching practices in the classroom, contributing to the broader community and providing students with valuable life and work skills.

A shortlist of 10 nominees will attend the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai in March, where the winner will be announced.

In just five years of teaching, Armand Doucet has tackled challenges in his two schools in Riverview, New Brunswick with creative programs that make learning fun and empowering for his students.

“I’ve always sort of thought outside the box and wanted to bring innovation to the classroom and try to reach everybody,” he said.

When literacy scores were a concern at Riverview Middle School, Doucet said he had the idea to create “Harry Potter Week”, transforming the school into the fictional Hogwarts. Teachers dressed up as characters from the series and curriculum-based lessons were reimagined with a magical spin.

“We were looking at owl pellets in science, dissecting owl pellets, we were looking at how you could make a broom fly,” he said.

Footage of the week went viral, garnering nearly 2 million views online and raising over $100,000 for the school. Doucet said the event got students excited and made them proud of their school and community for all the attention received.

Now teaching a high school, he’s handed his think-outside-the-box philosophy over to his students. In his modern history and world issues classes, he said he teaches students about global events and problems and then encourages them develop practical solutions.

“I’m a firm believer that curriculum outcomes is one half of my job. The other half is to create or help them develop the skillset they need for when they get out to the real world,” he said.

When Quebec changed its curriculum in 2009, Grade 10 science teacher Yvan Girouard said he was thrilled at the prospect of being able to cover more topics.

“I can have aquariums in my classroom, I can put up posters of every science (subject) because with the new curriculum I teach everything in a year,” he said.

He decided to bring in his personal collection of scientific artifacts that include 100 taxidermy figures, turning his classroom at École Secondaire Les Etchemins in Lévis into a museum.

Since 2011, his students help put together an exhibit based on the collection — which features a nine-foot long shark. The exhibit is opened up to students from other schools to see.

His passion for science has influenced his students. He said his door is open all time and students who aren’t even in his class come in during lunch to ask questions, work on projects and get help with their studies.

Despite all his involvement at the school, Girouard said he didn’t see the nomination coming.

“I’m just a science teacher in a high school in Quebec,” he said. “Really, I am surprised.”

Maggie MacDonnell said she has always been interested in the way sport and recreation can improve many aspects of a person’s life. When she was asked to develop a life-skills program to improve school enrolment for the Kativik School Board in the arctic region of Quebec six years ago, she did much more by establishing fitness programs as well.

In a community where the risk of developing diabetes is high and youth suicide is a concern, MacDonnell said she wanted to teach kids healthy coping strategies.

She worked with the municipality to have build a fitness centre that is open to adults and the local schools, and she started a running club to keep kids motivated.

Her runners decided they wanted to train and compete in half-marathons. She’s taken a group of teens to compete in the Blue Nose race in Nova Scotia three times and to races in Hawaii twice.

The runners are now the faces of the Healthy Choices tour, visiting schools across the region to offer peer-to-peer presentations about issues of mental health, addiction, dropping out of school, and using physical activity to help overcome some of these challenges. The runners are gaining new skills of leadership and public speaking in the process.

“They’re starting to see themselves as role models which is a really magical moment for them,” she said.

If they win, Doucet said he would reinvest the money into his school and community programs. Girouard said he would split the winnings evenly with the other nine short listed teachers, while MacDonnell said she would establish a non-profit the runs environmentally-focused programs for northern youth.

With files from Terri Theodore.