Meet the Global Teacher Prize Winner 2017

In one of the world’s most remote regions, surrounded by snow and ice, Maggie McDonnell is changing the lives of her students and transforming her community. The winner of the Global Teacher Prize Winner 2017 lives and works in Salluit, an Inuit village deep in the Canadian Arctic. The village is so remote that it’s accessible only by air. Just 1,300 people live in the community – the second northernmost Inuit settlement in Canada – but every resident is benefiting from Maggie’s work, determination and talent.

One of the biggest myths about teaching is that the school day ends at 3pm, says Maggie:

“I think as a teacher in a small Arctic community, your day never ends. The school doors may close – but the relationship with your students is continuous as you share the community with them.”

Against the odds

Life is not easy in Salluit. Beyond the freezing temperatures (the mercury can reach minus 25 degrees Celsius in winter) and the inaccessibility, indigenous people in Canada face ongoing struggles after decades of abuse.

A desire to tackle the environmental destruction and massive economic and social inequality in indigenous communities is a big part of what inspired Maggie to teach here. Staff turnover is high, with many leaving throughout the school year, or applying for stress leave.

The community and region also face enormous challenges. In Salluit alone there were six suicides in 2015, all among men aged 18 to 25.

Teenagers, in the face of deprivation and isolation, frequently turn to drink, drugs and self-harm.

The Inuit region of Nunavik has widespread and deeply entrenched gender issues. Teenage pregnancy is common, levels of sexual abuse are high, and gender expectations see young girls burdened with domestic duties.

 

Solutions, not problems

It takes a remarkable teacher just to work in such an environment. But, to do what Maggie has done requires something quite extraordinary, something very special.

The key? Turning students from problems in solutions.

“On three separate occasions I have had students come to thank me for saving their life. All of them had gone through difficult times when losing friends and family to suicide as well as experiencing other traumas in their life. Each of them had reached out to me in some way when they were battling their own thoughts of suicide.”

Read the full story here.

Maggie McDonnell has made an outstanding contribution to the lives of her students and everyone in Salluit. She is a deserving winner of the $1 million Global Teacher Prize for 2017 – money she’ll use to set up an NGO.
Congratulations Maggie.

The Global Teacher Prize is awarded by the Varkey Foundation under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister, and Emir of Dubai.


The text is excerpted from the Education and Skills forum blog. Image and embedded video from the Varkey Foundation site.

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