Do we recognise our own potential?
After weeks dominated by target setting, collating data, and meetings urging for increased marking, more green pen and becoming ‘Ofsted ready’, it was beyond refreshing to stumble upon the achievements of the wonderful Maggie MacDonnell, and be reminded of the real reason teachers exist.
Salluit is an isolated Inuit village deep in the Canadian arctic, accessible only by air. The enormous social and economic inequalities, environmental devastation, extreme climate (-25 degrees Celsius in winter) and isolation are just a few factors which contribute to the large staff turnover and high suicide rates of young people in the community.
Consequently, struggles with alcohol, drugs, mental health and self-harm are common among students. In addition to this, deeply entrenched gender expectations and stereotypes have contributed to high levels of sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy in the area.
So, it’s fair to say, being a teacher in Salluit is no easy feat and Maggie is clearly a teacher with superpowers! Yet, with a holistic approach to learning and careful tailoring of the curriculum to meet the needs of her students, Maggie has achieved unbelievable successes.
After witnessing the suicides of some of her pupils, she embarked on an endeavour to construct projects designed to cultivate hope, resilience and self-belief, in order to combat suicidal thoughts and instil a sense of aspiration and determination in her students.
Her use of sport and art programmes to develop confidence, communication and respect has achieved great success. Central to Maggie’s work is her focus on relationship building, with both students and the community. It is not uncommon for many of the students to be involved in vandalism, crime, bullying and violence outside of school.
In order to foster more positive relationships with students and the wider community, Maggie set up a Life Skills programme which encompassed such projects as:
1. Students feeding Students
Here, students work together to prepare healthy food and drinks to share with their school and community. Maggie maintains that this project enables students to contribute to their community in a meaningful way while building bridges between the generations.
2. The Fitness Centre
Students have been involved from the very beginning in its establishment and running, and it now serves the whole community. Linked to this is Maggie’s running club which has helped students return to school, quit smoking and cope with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
3. The Second-Hand Shop
Students donate to and assist in the running of a second hand shop which provides affordable second hand items which would otherwise have to be flown in at a costly and unaffordable price for much of the population.
4. The Co-operative work placement scheme at the Day Care Centre
Maggie states that this is a mutually beneficial partnership for students and the community.Students gain confidence, self-esteem, value and meaning from helping to care for young children, while Day Care Manager Courtney Costello maintains that the centre simply would not run without Maggie and her student volunteers. These students are now being trained to be future leaders of the Day Care.
Maggie’s vision and sense of purpose is clear from her top level goals. She says,
Whenever I’m working with young people my goal is to give students the tools they need to be masters of their own destiny.
Find out more about Maggie and what drives her in the following video:
Achieving Our Potential
Reflecting on this it made me consider our own potential, not our ability or skill as teaching professionals, but our awareness of the impact we have on students every day.
In a profession where demands from the top are ever- increasing and the general message beneath the jargon is ‘you’re not good enough, you’re not doing enough’, it is understandable that many teachers I speak to say they rarely think or reflect on this. Why? They are so busy going through the motions of the job and trying to manage the workload with their hope-filled sights set desperately on the next half term, when they can next recuperate and recharge.
My tips for getting the best out of ourselves include:
1. Be clear about your purpose
Why are you here, giving the level of commitment and hard work that you’re giving to your job? What is the ultimate goal?
2. Act in alignment with your top level goals
Give only as much attention to tasks as you think they deserve and save those big bursts of energy for those ideas and actions that you think could make a bigger difference.
3. Believe in your ability to bring about change…
…on a huge scale! There will be many people who will tell you that you can’t for reasons of funding or time but are there any ways around these?
As a historian, much of my academic career has been the study of how individuals changed and shaped our world – through their vision, determination, grittiness and resilience. If any group of people were deserving of these adjectives, surely it is teachers?
4. Look to the work of others
Maggie MacDonnell is an inspiration and there are plenty of others that can inspire us too.
This is what outstanding teaching looks like … and it has nothing to do with residuals, data or marking policies.