Using an approach to teaching that involves leading by example, modelling expectations for others, being a mentor and incorporating First Nations culture has earned an Alert Bay teacher a prestigious Prime Minister’s Teaching Excellence Award.
Raven Barudin, the Grade 4-5 teacher at the T’lisalagi’lakw School of the ‘Namgis First Nation, received a 2021 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence for her innovative teaching practices in a First Nation cultural environment.
“Feeling grateful, feeling humble, humbled, and also just feeling really good about sharing the success with my students and the colleagues that I’ve had the pleasure to work with,” Barudin said when asked how she felt about receiving the award.
Notification of the award came via email on a Monday morning in late November when was she was starting her day at work – a professional development day, as it turned out.
The Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence have honoured exceptional elementary and secondary school teachers in all disciplines since 1994 with over 1,600 teachers honoured to date. The recipients are honoured for their achievements in education and for their commitment to preparing their students for a digital and innovation-based economy.
“Raven exemplifies innovative teaching. She makes learning meaningful by putting a lot of effort to include her students in the learning process by providing them with choice,” information on the awards website says about Barudin. “Raven allows her students to enjoy Kwak’wala language and First Nations culture alongside Western cultures so that the two are not competing with one another. Raven focuses on the holistic needs of students – their social, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs – not just the formal learning. Ceremony and the natural world are important elements of the classroom. Students never seem to grow tired of this modern, yet traditional, approach to classroom teaching.”
Barudin’s First Nations heritage is an important part of her approach to teaching. A member of the ‘Namgis First Nation, she was raised in Vancouver but her mother’s side of the family is from Alert Bay. She started teaching about 11 years ago at the T’lisalagi’lakw School. After two years there she moved on to the Sunshine Coast and then to China for two years before returning to Alert Bay three years ago.
“So, it’s been a neat kind of full circle returning back home,” Barudin said.
The school has a strong tie to the community.
“Really, really strong ties to our culture, our language,” Barudin said. “That’s been a huge focus, revitalizing our language. We’ve got a really great cultural team here.”
The Kwak’wala language is integrated into the school as much as possible and Barudin’s students enjoy using the language while allowing their First Nations culture to work alongside mainstream cultures. And she focuses on the social, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the students, not just their formal learning.
According to the teaching awards website, “Ceremony and the natural world are important elements of the classroom. Students never seem to grow tired of this modern, yet traditional, approach to classroom teaching.”
Barudin said its important to her to bridge her culture, language and history into the curriculum and she involves community artists, storytellers and knowledge keepers in doing that.
“I feel like it’s my part in reconciliation and, you know, guiding students to be aware of the legacy of residential schools, and different issues that our people have faced, historically and contemporarily,” she said.
Barudin has a unique skill in teaching literacy. Her students not only learn how to decode words and understand literary concepts but, more importantly, they learn alongside an adult who transmits an undeniable passion for literacy.
Students in Barudin’s class are taught to use digital technology to facilitate their literacy. Research and brainstorming ideas for story writing are sometimes shared between students through online applications such as Google Docs. This type of peer-to-peer learning dovetails with recent research suggesting that students learn best when they share with their peers.
Barudin’s leadership style is one in which she prefers to lead by example and model expectations for others. Since she has returned to Alert Bay, Barudin has chaired multiple committees and spearheaded various projects that involve Kwak’wala language and culture, led the school’s Orange Shirt Day activities and has championed outdoor education.
Barudin expressed gratitude to her family, her husband and two daughters for their ongoing support throughout her education and teaching career.
She also thanked her principal Shane Douglas for nominating her.