The Nunavut Teachers’ Association (NTA) held a special meeting of NTA Central Council and cross-training of NTA School Representaives and Professional Development liaisons from across the territory at Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit, September 29-October 3. During the President’s Banquet on Saturday, October 3, NTA President, Terry Young, presented the inaugural NTA Teaching Excellence Award to Becky Tootoo, a high school teacher from Baker Lake with nearly thirty years experience as an educator.
Although Becky is currently a High School teacher at Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School, she has taught nearly every grade from Kindergarten to twelve over her career. She has also taken on leadership positions of Student Support Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and Co-Principal over the years.
Becky’s nomination was written by her Baker Lake colleagues, Janet Tagoona, Winnie Tapatai, Wenda Forsey, and Jim Kreuger as well as the Baker Lake DEA Chairperson, David Simailak and was based on her service and excellence in the areas of program development, student advocacy, educational leadership, and community engagement.
For Becky, “success in education is about relationships,…” and her programs must be hands-on and related to culture. Becky encouraged her older students to step forward to take ownership and leadership of their paths. “She pushes students to try, encourages them to succeed, and then gets out of their way so they can lead.” This approach to project-based learning combined with her ability to reconnect students to language and culture through relationships with elders and traditional knowledge has resulted in amazing student work. The Bully Project, an original play and puppet show for elementary students, Shoes for Africa and Orphans of Ebola are examples of student efforts. It is clear that her students feel confident enough to look beyond themselves and demonstrate pijitsiarniq (service).
Visualization is a strategy that Becky has utilized in many of her classes to encourage her students. See it—believe it—achieve it! Perhaps the best example of this is a project she initiated in 2010 to produce traditional graduation garments. Grade 11 students are measured for traditional amautis and atigis and the garments are sewn and assembled over the next two years. Students see them hanging in the classroom and are encouraged to visualize themselves wearing them on graduation day. If they don’t graduate on schedule they are told that the garment will be waiting for them when they do. The elders sewing sessions occur during scheduled time when students are doing project work. Everyone is actively engaged and body language and oral Inuktitut become the natural modes of communication. Sensing that this was something important, Becky utilized her research skills to interview a cohort of Baker Lake elders and document their stories and photographs for her students to study.
Becky’s leadership has not been limited to her classroom or school. At the Territorial level, Becky has served on many professional committees and has been a recognized leader throughout her career. A sample of her leadership over the years includes:
- Nunavut Teacher Evaluation Working Group
- Nunavut School Operation Manual Steering Committee
- Nunavut Educational Leadership Program Planning and Delivery Team
- Aulajaaqtut Working Group
- NTA Inuit Educators Advisory Committee
Becky’s work with youth does not end in her classroom or at 3:45 each day. She has been active as a youth leader in many roles that transect the community. Over the years Becky has been a Girl Guides leader, Cadet Civilian Officer, Minor Hockey Board Member, and Youth Group leader. Her greatest contribution in this respect has been with the Baker Lake Against Suicide Team (BLAST). When BLAST was formed in 2010, Becky was asked to help support the youth leadership and she responded. BLAST supports youth to engage the community in programs that address suicide and mental health. Aboriginal Counselor and Comedian, Don Burnstick, and Scott Chisholm, Collateral Damage founder have been sponsored by BLAST to speak and deliver workshops in Baker Lake. BLAST has also fundraised to send youth to attend leadership celebration camps. With Becky’s support and guidance, BLAST has given voice to what was once unspoken in Baker Lake.
Described by her fellow teachers as a collaborator, a true colleague and a life-long learner, Becky is the kind of teacher that students remember long after they graduate. She is the kind of teacher who makes a difference…the kind of teacher that has inspired many of us to become teachers ourselves.
The NTA is honoured to have Becky Tootoo as its first recipient of the Teaching Excellence Awards.
Earlier this year, Regional Teaching Award winners were announced. Winners included: Clyde Steele from Joamie School in Iqaluit and Lee Hodgers from Attagoyuk School in Pangnirtung.
Terry Young, President, Nunavut Teachers’ Association
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