Michael Wilson Ross: building community around the campfire

Year: 2019 – Province: British Columbia

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Michael Wilson Ross

Quest 11, Careers 9, Entrepreneurship 11-12, Outdoor Education, Sustainability
10-12, Business Studies
Okanagan Mission Secondary School, Kelowna, British Columbia

"Mr. Ross's ability to invoke curiosity, build communities and inspire change is incomparable. Through his teaching and mentorship, he has opened doors for countless students to discover their passions and, in doing so, has left a permanent mark on their lives."
— Former students (nominators)

When asked to write a poem about his intentions many years ago, Michael Ross included the line, "I will teach around the campfire." He now helps students build community and find their place in the world through outdoor experiences, including singing along in the firelight while he strums his ukulele.

Teaching approach

Going beyond pass/fail and teaching to the test, Michael targets every student's desire to learn. Through experiential learning, he breaks down social barriers and helps students regain a child-like sense of wonder, not so much showing them what or how to learn but inspiring them to want to learn.

In the classroom

  • Targets students' social and emotional growth through an experiential learning program: five weeks of land-based activities (e.g. hiking glaciers, sailing a tall ship) anchors for-credit work in several subjects; final assessment is a personal video documentary reflecting on the experience.
  • Prepares students for modern economy: students in Innovation Generation program create and execute business plans, and make a video pitch and live presentation for their companies; innovative and collaborative learning result, as can revenue, and career opportunities.
  • Eschews final exam in sustainability courses, assigning students an inquiry project instead: they formulate a research question, carry out research and give a presentation to demonstrate their higher level thinking skills and in-depth analysis.
  • Helps students learn to turn ideas into tangible actions: they develop and try to actualize a way to meet one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals; Mission Roots, a sustainable not-for-profit coffee shop, is a notable example, having raised close to $5,000 for 10 local and global charities.

Outstanding achievements

  • Took over 45-year-old tradition of a week-long mountain backpacking trip for grads: students escape the stress of Grade 12 and develop confidence by heading into unfamiliar territory; one year, Michael sourced equipment and training so a student who uses a wheelchair could take part.
  • Runs professional development workshops for fellow educators on topics such as viable solutions for climate change and learning from the land.
  • Created two online sustainability, and social justice and leadership courses used by urban and rural students across the province, giving them access to the same resources as in his classes; a dual-credit course he developed with the Vancouver Film School teaches high-level animation skills.

Get in touch!

Okanagan Mission Secondary School
4544 Gordon Drive
Kelowna BC V1W 1T4

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