• janet ruest

    Janet Ruest has been awarded Canada's highest honour for excellence in teaching. (Photo: Aura Banda/National Geographic Naturalist)

A high school teacher from British Columbia, who strives to give her students a sense of possibility and wonder, has been recognized for her work with the country's highest honour for educators. 

Janet Ruest, who teaches social studies, history and law at Chemainus Secondary School in B.C.'s Cowichan Valley, received the Prime Minister’s Certificate of Achievement Award for Teaching Excellence. 

“It’s quite a humbling but wonderful feeling,” says Ruest. “It’s neat to know that the stuff I have built my career on is something that is noteworthy to the selection committee.”

Created in 1993, the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence recognizes exceptional elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada for their achievements and commitment to providing innovative education for their students.

“My goal is that my students will never look at the world the same way after being in my class,” says Ruest. “Getting the kids to really see the world around them, hear it and feel it, not just be drive-by bystanders. I want them to experience it and have a love of it.”

Ruest focuses on projects that tie curriculum to community, whether it’s having students interview veterans to create a Veterans Memorial Book, or having Indigenous elders come in to talk to the class about local land development issues.

“Bringing the curriculum to life with real world issues, it just makes it so much more real to the students,” says Ruest. “They see the value in that and they’re motivated.”

She encourages her students to think critically about history and current events and consider different perspectives. In one project, she had students rewrite “This Land is Your Land” from an Indigenous perspective. Ruest describes her teaching approach as being all about creativity, collaboration, and getting her students to think beyond the classroom.

“Geography and history, how can you really separate that? Where you are determines who you are,” she says. “We’re making connections between past and present: in my Grade 12 history class, we were talking about the Korean War and issues in North Korea today. In geography, we go on walkabouts and talk about local environmental issues and stewardship.”

This isn’t the first time Ruest has been recognized for her hard work. In 2015, Ruest won The Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Innovation in Geographic Teaching Award and the Government of Canada History Award. That same year, she was recognized as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and had the opportunity to travel to the Galápagos Islands. In 2016, she was named a Transatlantic Outreach Teacher Fellow by the Goethe Institute.

“It’s all in the benefit of your students,” says Ruest about what motivates her. “You get a bit of confidence that what you’re doing is okay and then you try something else, all the while keeping in mind the ‘why’. The ‘why’ is the students — what can I bring back to my classes, how can I take that and help my students learn better and keep them engaged.”

Ruest is active outside the classroom as well: she contributes to textbooks and leads educational workshops, fostering connections between teachers. She strongly encourages other teachers to put themselves forward for fellowships and teaching awards, emphasizing the benefits of getting positive feedback, the opportunity to brainstorm educational approaches with likeminded people, trying new things and bringing those experiences back to the classroom.

Read more about Ruest’s classroom projects and travel experiences at her blog.