Michael Wilson Ross: building community around the campfire

Transcription – Michael Wilson Ross, Prime Minister's Award recipient

Black screen fades up to a white background, with the following words appearing, line by line: Prime Minister's Awards. Music playing. Transition to a white and grey screen with medium shot of man, smiling, on the left side of the screen, with the following words appearing, line by line, on the right and voice over: Michael Wilson Ross, Okanagan Mission Secondary School, Kelowna, British Columbia.]

[Fade to black and then to photos, with voice over. Photos: Michael posing with a group of educators outside in front of a structure, with the road in the background; Michael and students posing in the forest in front of a very large cedar tree; an overhead shot of Michael on a ladder with students behind him; Michael and students in a canoe paddling on a lake with a forest in the background; Michael and students posing in front of mountains; students posing with David Suzuki; Michael and two students posing in front of signs that read "Dragons' Den".]

Vowing one day to teach around the campfire, Michael Ross now helps students build community and find their place in the world through outdoor experiences. His Quest BC experiential learning program see students hike glaciers and sail tall ships, activities that anchor for-credit work in several subjects. Students in his Innovation Generation program create and execute business plans, and make a video pitch and live presentation for their companies.

[Fade to black and then up white and grey screen with medium shot of man, smiling, on the left side of the screen, with the following words appearing, line by line, on the right: Michael Wilson Ross, Okanagan Mission Secondary School, Kelowna, British Columbia. Voice over: Michael Wilson Ross.]

[Fade to white, with the Government of Canada FIP and then the Canada Wordmark appearing in black.]

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.
Transcription – Michael Wilson Ross - 2019 Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence

[Black screen fades up to close-up of man in interview setting, against a white background. Music playing.]

"For me, it's really simple: I take them outside, right?"

[Fade to black and then up to white with medium shot of a man, smiling, on the right side of the screen, with the following words appearing, line by line, on the left: Michael Wilson Ross, Okanagan Mission Secondary School, Kelowna, British Columbia. Fade to black and then back to Michael in the interview setting.]

"We set them up with the gear, but they've got to learn to do their own accommodation, their own food, their own packing, and when you have the Rockies as your challenge, it gets real fast. So I take students outside a lot and that real environment, I think it fosters that they have to take responsibility. You can't fake it."

[Fade to black and then back to Michael in the interview setting.]

"You have to challenge yourself, take risks, invest in the kids. You know, teachers—educators—they do a lot of emotional labour, and they are human development officers, so you have to develop yourself and be willing to give yourself to those students and to take on those risks, and you'll see the rewards."

[Fade to black and then back to Michael in the interview setting.]

"This came out of the blue for me. My students did it. They showed up with the package and they said, 'Can you sign here?' And, it blew me away. And, on a personal note, my mom was dealing with cancer at the time, and how does a son support his mom who supported me the whole way through? Well, I gave her that application. The application alone is a 28-page paper about your accomplishments and your hard work… that alone was enough. And, when I got the email that I won it was just like … .

[Cut to photos, with voice over. Photos: Michael seated while giving his presentation to follow recipients with the words "Living in circles of life," in the centre of a photo of a circle of students on the screen in the background; recipients listening to Michael's presentation; Michael and other recipients listening during a presentation; Michael smiling during a presentation; Michael with all the recipients of the Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence on Parliament Hill.]

"It terms of the highlights, it was meeting the other educators to be honest, learning from them and their best practices, and seeing common themes across the country of empathy, innovation. It felt like the Guardians of the Galaxy were gathering, you know? We all had our special superpower and, together, as educators I think we are making a massive difference in the world and the galaxy of Canada."

[Cut to photos, with voice over. Photo: Michael with Paul Thompson, Associate Deputy Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, having received his Prime Minister's Awards pin.]
"If you want to change things, you have to change culture. A mentor of mine was Roger Wright."

[Cut back to Michael in the interview setting.]

"He was my headmaster. He said, 'The most impact you can have is on that one student.'"

[Cut to photos, with voice over. Photos: Michael and his family posing with a Mountie in dress uniform on Parliament Hill]

"So I went into teaching to change the world. I don't know if I've done that. I've changed many kids' worlds independently …

[Cut back to Michael in the interview setting.]

"…and, together, the culture that is shifting with this younger generation that does care about the environment and does care about having a place to live when they're 80, so that to me is what keeps me going."

[Fade to black, with the Government of Canada FIP and then the Canada Wordmark appearing in white.]

Get in touch!

Okanagan Mission Secondary School
4544 Gordon Drive
Kelowna BC V1W 1T4
250-870-5108
okm@sd23.bc.ca;
michael.ross@sd23.bc.ca;
http://www.okm.sd23.bc.ca;
http://questbc.weebly.com/;
http://okmlakeohara.weebly.com/;
http://www.igc23.com/

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