Classroom Experience April 20, 2018

A Powerful Learning Moment

Mary Anne Barrett

Mary Anne Barrett started teaching grades 5-8 in Slate Falls Nation in September 2017. Mary Anne completed her Bachelor of Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto before applying to teach in a northern First Nation with Teach For Canada. She is originally from Ajax, ON.


Teach For Canada teacher Mary Anne Barrett and a dog

Teach For Canada teacher Mary Anne Barrett


Recently, I experienced an incredible teaching moment, which I wish had been captured in pictures. The lesson started out like every lesson but quickly evolved into one that I will remember forever.

To get my grade 5, 6, 7, and 8 students invested in protecting and conserving the precious water around us, I decided to tell them about a young activist from Wikwemikong First Nation, Autumn Peltier. I spoke to my principal to determine whether it was an appropriate lesson for the community where I am teaching, Slate Falls Nation. She decided that it was a valuable lesson for the younger class as well. Thus, on a Friday afternoon I set out to teach a lesson to all of the students, from grade 1 to 8.


Aerial view around Slate Falls

The lakes around Slate Falls Nation


Managing Teaching and Student Behaviour


I started the class by trying to impress upon the students the serious nature of the topic, which deserved their undivided attention. We proceeded to watch a CBC video of an interview with Autumn Peltier about her life’s passion: water protection. While I was teaching, two pre-teen students were giggling in the back of the class. I stopped the lesson to remind them of the importance of respectful listening, and then attempted to continue. Unfortunately these girls were not prepared to engage with the lesson, so I had to take them to a different class where they would not distract the other students. As I returned to the group, upset by the students’ behaviour, two first grade students come up to me, hugged my waist, and said “We were listening!”. Choked up, I thanked them and the rest of the students for paying attention and listening to the young activist’s message. Together we watched the rest of the video.


Lesson on Water Systems

Lesson on water systems led by grade 5-8 teacher Mary Anne Barrett


Taking the Lesson Outside


I then invited students to join me in offering tobacco to Bamaji Lake, the lake just a short walk from the school and teacher residences. Our extremely supportive educational assistant, Christopher Wabason, led us to the lake with a heavy electric ice auger on his back. We arrived to a partially dug hole in the ice (I had asked him to try and chop a hole in the ice with an axe earlier in the day but the ice was still too thick, despite the recent warm weather). With teamwork, he and I augered and when the 1.5 metre blade seemed to disappear, the ice gave way and water surged from the hole. Before I handing out tobacco to the students for them to give as an offering, Chris took a moment to share his knowledge of the connection between ceremony, the drum, the four directions, and the creator. After this beautiful impromptu lesson from a community member, one by one I put tobacco in my students’ left hands and they all respectfully said a little prayer for the water’s protection before placing their offering in the lake.


Slate Falls Nation

Slate Falls Nation


Despite not having any pictures to remember this moment, I will never forget the sight of my students respecting their culture and the land. I hope to continue creating these genuine teaching moments in the years to come with my beautifully strong Ojibwe students.