On March 19th, Canadian Maggie MacDonnell received the Global Teacher Prize award. This $1 million US award is presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession, employs innovative classroom practices and encourages holistic teaching. The prize serves to underline the importance of the contributions of educators globally and seeks to acknowledge the lasting impacts of the very best teachers, not only on their students, but also within their communities.
Maggie MacDonnell was among 10 finalists chosen from 20,000 nominations and applications from 179 countries worldwide. In one of the world’s most remote regions, Maggie McDonnell has been praised for changing the lives of her students and transforming the community.
Maggie is a Jeanne Sauvé fellow and has always approached teaching from the community’s needs first and foremost. For the last six years, Maggie has been a teacher in a fly-in only Inuit village called Salluit, nestled in the Canadian Arctic. This is home to the second, northernmost Inuit community in Quebec, with a population of just over 1,300. Like many Indigenous communities across Canada, the people of Salluit experience isolation and hopelessness. In the face of this deprivation, the community is plagued by high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse where teenagers often turn to self-harm, drugs and alcohol. Driven by a desire to tackle the environmental destruction and the vast economic and social inequality experienced within Indigenous communities, Maggie has dedicated herself to addressing the deeply entrenched gender issues, high suicide rates and marginalization of Indigenous youth in the Salluit community. Maggie has underscored the outstanding potential of education to combat isolation. By fostering connectedness and creating a sense of belonging, her work highlights the role educators can play in transforming the lives of children, youth and communities at large.
For Maggie, “teaching represented the ideal way to connect to youth, and have the opportunity to understand their realities, and design programs to help them reach their goals.” Maggie believes that one of the biggest myths about teaching is that the school day ends at 3 pm. While the school doors may close, the relationships she builds with her students are continuous and all encompassing. Her three pronged approach has been focused on empowering youth, emphasizing acts of kindness and turning students from ‘problems’ into solutions through her Life Skills program. She focuses on 1) motiving young people to return to school by engaging them in interesting projects 2) using each student’s individual interest to help to tackle and address underlying issues in the community and 3) providing a new positive platform that gives students the opportunity to contribute to their community. The program is diverse, ranging from learning about bike repairs to construction to gathering at a community kitchen whereby locals prepare food and eat communally. Moreover, the Life Skills program helps the community at large. The community kitchen helps members experiencing food insecurity by teaching cooking skills and delivering wholesome food. This program also created a fitness center to address the issue of diabetes and obesity within the community, promoting healthy living.
Maggie hopes to continue her mission and use the prize money to “reawaken a love for the land” among Indigenous youth with an environmental stewardship project. Moreover, she aims to create a kayak program so the community members can access the land more easily and affordably. Her perseverance and dedication continues to inspire others that positive change is possible. Find more information at: http://www.globalteacherprize.org/