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Excellence in education

Two WSD teachers were recently presented with the province's highest honour in education: the Manitoba Excellence in Education Awards.

Elmwood High School's Leslie Dickson and École Sacré-Coeur's Gabrielle Huggins were among just nine teachers honoured at a recent ceremony at the Manitoba Legislature.

Ms. Dickson, who has taught at Elmwood for nine years, was presented with a Teaching Excellence Award at the April 27 ceremony.

As head of Elmwood's Social Studies Department, Ms. Dickson teaches both social studies and English Language Arts classes. But her true mission has been as a champion of literacy development through many initiatives and programs at Elmwood.

"When you have students coming in with low literacy rates, some have learning disabilities, some have attendance issues…you have to look at how to fill in those gaps to help them read at a functional level and be able to graduate," Ms. Dickson said.

Ms. Dickson is the driving force behind a multi-grade, cross-curricular literacy program called Equity through Literacy. The program brings together teachers from all subject areas for a school-wide literacy committee.

"Equity through Literacy started with myself and (former Elmwood teacher) Joanne Sabourin just having conversations and feeling frustrated in not being able to help the kids in the ways we should be," Ms. Dickson said. "So we spent that first year just talking to people at the Adult Literacy Centre, talking to reading clinicians, taking workshops, we bought books and spent hundreds of hours reading and exploring different programs and assessments. And it just snowballed from there."

In its eight years of existence, the program has aided students in reaching literacy objectives throughout their school day.

"The biggest thing is having students read at their level as much as possible during their day. Reading is just like any other skill, like basketball or skateboarding. You don't get better at it until you do it a lot…and you have to do it at your skill level, and then you progress from there."

The teacher is always on the lookout for assessment tools, appropriately leveled reading materials and other new strategies to further student literacy goals at Elmwood.

"We want to make sure students have access to books written at a variety of levels and at the same time, provide strategies and professional learning opportunities for teachers to teach literacy in their classes. Every year, we learn more and add to what we're already doing."

Ms. Dickson's work has extended beyond the walls of Elmwood, both as a member of the Reading Council of Greater Winnipeg and as part of a collaborative network of specialists, including WSD reading clinicians, ELA consultants and literacy support teachers.

"Our growth in our understanding of literacy, as a staff, has lot to do with Leslie's efforts," said Elmwood Principal Mike Babb. "She's done professional development with our staff, she's represented us at other conferences…her leadership when it comes to literacy is just phenomenal."

While Ms. Dickson said the award was a big honour, she was somewhat uncomfortable with the attention.

"I'm happy about the award, but at the same time I wish it wasn't just me getting it. We're all working together here…there are so many other people that are involved in this initiative."

Meanwhile, Sacré-Coeur teacher Gabrielle Huggins was presented with the Outstanding New Teacher Award. It was a high honour for the Grade 2 teacher, who is in the third year of her education career.

"It was surreal," Ms. Huggins said, adding that she was nominated by the parent of a former student. "It's very career-affirming, and to find out it was a parent who nominated me just felt amazing. When I found out I won, I cried."

Ms. Huggins meets her students' needs by providing opportunity for oral, visual and tactile learning, as well as adaptive learning activities. She ensures that students feel like valued members of the classroom and successful learners.

In her ongoing efforts to nurture a positive, welcoming classroom, Ms. Huggins established a Kindness Project, in which students wrote each other encouraging and thoughtful letters, creating an atmosphere of friendship and mutual respect.

"The year I started the project, I was teaching in a multiage class. I wanted to encourage friendships beyond the classroom, so students weren't just sticking with their own grade levels out on the playground," Ms. Huggins said. "It's definitely something I want to do again, on a bigger scale."

The teacher believes that positive relationships are the key to her success.

"I spend way more time cultivating relationships with students and parents than I do worrying about anything else. The rest falls into place from there."

Ms. Huggins is also an integral part of Sacré-Coeur's school culture, serving as a member of many school committees, such as the Well-Being and Indigenous Education/Perspective committees.

"I had heard really good things about the staff before I came here," Ms. Huggins said. "When I did an interview at this school, I just really liked the vibe and the people here. It's just been a really welcoming place to be."

-With files from Manitoba Education






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