Nunavik teacher wins $1 million Global Teacher prize

By Nunatsiaq News - March 23, 2017
Maggie MacDonnell, a teacher at a school in Nunavik, as won the Varkey Foundation's Global Teacher Prize. (Courtesy Varkey Foundation)
Maggie MacDonnell, a teacher at a school in Nunavik, as won the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize. (Courtesy Varkey Foundation)

A Salluit teacher, Maggie MacDonnell, has won a $1 million award—the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize for 2017—with which she plans to start an organization to promote environmental stewardship among Inuit youth.

“We matter. Teachers matter. Thank you so much,” said MacDonnell after her win was announced March 19 at a gala in Dubai by astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the International Space Station.

MacDonnell was among 10 finalists—chosen from 20,000 who had applied—for the international award, presented to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

MacDonnell, who arrived at Nunavik’s Kativik School Board from Nova Scotia in 2010 and then to Ikusik School in 2012, talks about her life as a teacher in the Hudson Strait community of roughly 1,300 in a March 19 news release about the Global Teacher award.

“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,” MacDonnell said.

Citing the isolation faced by teachers as well as the social problems, such as suicide (six suicides in Salluit in 2015, all among men aged 18 to 25,) the release said 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.”

That’s “turning problems in[to] solutions,” the release said.

MacDonnell started a life skills program, based on the Individualized Pathways of Learning, the KSB’s project-based educational program, to encourage young people to return to school, by engaging them in projects that interested them—from cooking to mechanics.

These projects included a fitness center, community kitchen and a second-hand store.

“Giving them a new positive platform to stand upon while contributing to the community is transformative for both my students and the community,” MacDonnell said in the release..

Her students also raised nearly $40,000 for diabetes prevention.

In addition to her teaching responsibilities, MacDonnell served as temporary foster parent, even to some of her own students.

“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,” MacDonnell is quoted as saying.

To MacDonald, the Global Teacher Prize said on Twitter that “this prize shows that the Inuit matter. Thank you for bringing global attention to them.”

And other messages of congratulations to MacDonnell immediately started appearing on social media after news of her win circulated March 19.

“Congratulations to this teacher from Salluit for winning the Global Teacher Prize! This is very well deserved! I will speak at the National Assemby, on Thursday, in order to highlight this wonderful achievement. Thank you, Maggie, for your hard and amazing work,” said Ungava MNA Jean Boucher.

And many from Nunavik congratulated MacDonnell on the Nunatsiaq News Facebook page.

The KSB said in a March 19 news release that MacDonnell’s award “stands not only as a recognition of her work at Ikusik School, Salluit, but also as an acknowledgement of the essential work performed by all teachers.”

“In this context, teachers play a key role in bringing about positive change for our youth, enabling them to stand strong and contribute their worldview to society, within and beyond our communities,” said Alicie Nalukturuk, the KSB’s president said in the release. “This is what the Global Teacher Prize is really about, celebrating teachers’ invaluable contribution.”

The Global Teacher Prize has been awarded since 2015 by the Varkey Foundation under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirates Vice President, Prime Minister, and Emir of Dubai.