Heather’s obsession is helping to create an education system that actually makes sense for kids, all kids!
She is a social entrepreneur, an educator, and a problem solver. She founded Classroom Connections in 1997 because she was worried about the education system and the kids in it. Since then, Classroom Connections has evolved from a grass-roots resource hub for schools to an award-winning producer of innovative education/training materials that are in use across Canada and around the world.
From 2010 to 2017 Heather spent most of her time working (and living) in Maskwacis, Alberta. During this time, she worked with in partnership with Samson Cree Nation community members to develop the Change It Up training initiative, which provides self-development and employment skills to young people who have dropped out and lost hope amidst horrific social conditions. Programs have ranged from general Employment to Entrepreneurship (with over 30 business start-ups and a social enterprise restaurant, Nipsis Cafe) to Trades (facilitating college entry without high school). All with retention rates over 80% and employment rates over 75%. These programs have changed lives.
It has all been good. But Heather feels that it isn’t enough.
If we, as a society, really want meaningful change and a narrowing of the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, we need systems change. Drastic change.
Heather has decided to focus on K-12 Education. For many kids, particularly Indigenous kids, the regular K-12 system is not working. The only ‘solution’ seems to be more of the same - more homework, more testing, more tutoring, more afterschool enrichment programs. We don’t need more of what doesn't work and we don’t need an “Indigenized” version of the regular system. We need different. Radically different.
Together with community partners, Heather is working to launch the CIU Centre for Self-Directed Education, a school deliberately aligned with the ways we are biologically designed to learn. Intended for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to attend together, children from 4 to 19, led by their innate curiosity, will take charge of their own learning path in an experiential, land-oriented, democratically run school. It will provide an enriched environment with endless opportunities to explore, ‘play’ with the tools of the culture, and work together with the support of caring staff and plentiful resources.
While currently a seedling, the pilot project has the potential to define an education model that facilitates self-determination and builds trust. Children are biologically designed to play and learn. A self-directed environment facilitates true learning and helps kids figure out who they are, what they want out of life and how to make things happen. And because the students are directly involved in all the decisions of the school, a micro-community is formed; fostering mutual respect and understanding among members. Ultimately, with this model in place, we can begin to eliminate the educational and employment gaps that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians and foster mutual respect and understanding.
I invite you to learn more here:
Peter Gray: Mother Nature’s Pedagogy: Insights from Evolutionary Psychology
ASDL: Trusting children to learn
Why she does what she does:
Because Heather can't tolerate injustice. Because systems that are designed to serve people but end up being in the way of healthy, happy, productive lives make her crazy. Because she can't not try to do something to make the world a better place.