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Deborah Horen: building classroom community

Year: 2019 – Territory: Northwest Territories

Certificate of Achievement Recipient

Deborah Horen

Science, math, language arts, social studies, gym, exploratives, grades 7 and 8
Mildred Hall School, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

"When you walk into Deb's classroom there is a sense of calm; the students are engaged in their learning and, if you ask any student in that class for one world to describe the class as whole it would be FAMILY."  — Vice-principal

When students leave Deborah Horen's classroom, they can code, sew moccasins, write persuasive essays and set a rabbit snare. They can explain the scientific method and recommend a good book. Deborah ensures they understand the past, live in the present and prepare for the future.

Teaching approach

Deborah consistently builds the self-esteem of her students and creates a learning environment filled with acceptance, compassion and pride of culture for her Indigenous students. She celebrates strengths and successes while pushing students to overcome their fears of failing or making a mistake.

In the classroom

  • Instils a feeling of belonging in every student, most of whom know poverty and trauma: Monday morning they gather in a circle to share the weekend's highs and lows and set a goal for the week; on Friday, they reflect on whether they met it and on the week's highs and lows.
  • Teaches the curriculum through an Indigenous-first lens: for example, a math unit based on the migration pattern of caribou saw students figure out distances and costs; this was relevant not just to meeting the curriculum requirements but to discussions at home about organizing a hunt.
  • Supports students—who are vulnerable learners and struggle with language and academic development—in preparing for provincial exams, ensuring they learn the skills they need to pass and even making them a hearty breakfast on exam days; results have always been very positive.
  • Creates authentic learning opportunities: students learned science concepts and about hard work while helping plant 60 trees in the school playground; this led to building an intergenerational community garden; the produce goes to the school lunch program; local seniors tend plots, too.

Outstanding achievements

  • Formed a committee to track and analyze attendance to determine how to support students in the face of many absences; school now pays for bus passes for families who can't, and holds monthly pizza party for class with best or most improved attendance; absenteeism rates have dropped.
  • Instrumental in creating teaching resources and tools to support school-wide initiative to promote positive interactions and behaviour, and to integrate this philosophy into Dene Laws, an Indigenous moral code of conduct; designed eagle tokens for students to hand out to show positive actions.
  • Spearheaded initial phase of creating a STEM program for the school, forming an exploratory class with her students to try out circuits, drones, and other hands-on tools.

Get in touch!

Mildred Hall School
5480-50th Ave
Yellowknife NT X1A 1E5
Twitter: @mhs_school; Facebook: @yk1mins

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