In today’s world, everything is connected, and Lise Martin-Keilty wants her students to understand the importance of staying informed about what’s happening globally. As a social studies teacher, she focuses on critical inquiry in her classroom, rather than simple recall of facts. She has been a teacher for 26 years and currently teaches at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. For the last three years, she has also been teaching a geography course through the University of New Brunswick's teaching program.
What lasting lessons do you want to instill in your students?
My philosophy in teaching is to try and get them out of that bubble they live in and looking at the bigger picture, that we’re part of a community — we’re citizens of the world. We can’t turn a blind eye to everything going on around us. With the Syrian refugee crisis, immigration was a big topic of conversation last year in the curriculum. Everything I was reading on the CBC, I was thinking, this is a teachable moment, an opportunity for kids to see both sides of an issue — those people who are against it, why are they against it? There are reasons, let’s look at them.
How do you help students apply those lessons outside the classroom?
I head up a humanitarian club called Global George and and we do all kinds of things, both local and global. For example, through “Friends for Zambia” we fundraised over $20,000 to help build the Twitti School in Lilayi, Zambia. We also support the WE group. We’ve done an international trip to Kenya so that the kids see beyond their bubble of Fredericton, New Brunswick.
In December, we sell Rafiki chains. One of the things we like about the WE group is that they don’t just go to these third world countries, feed them and leave. It’s about sustainability. They have five pillars of sustainability — water, income, food, education and health. When we were in Kenya, we spent time examining these pillars and doing beading. These Rafiki chains are beaded by the Masai Mamas from Kenya, who we’ve met, and their daughters can go to school because their mothers are working.
Lise Martin-Keilty's class also worked with the Canadian charity "CHAT to the Future". Watch the video about their experience here:
How have your students responded to these experiences?
I find that whenever you have a personal experience, it’s something that transcends through to your students. At this age level, they have a lot of respect for their teachers and their stories. They’ll go, “Are you going again? Can I come on this trip?” I took my own daughter when I did the trip, and it changed her in so many ways.
Those are the type of moments I want to bring into the class. One of our units in social studies is economics. The kids learn about entrepreneurship; it’s in the textbook and they can read about it, but we make them start businesses. We had a marketplace a month ago and the kids raised about $5,000. We’re sending it to the Twitti School. We’ve built them a beautiful school, but one of the little girls went down a slide and got her finger almost cut off because of the rusty slide. The kids were mortified. They said, “Why don’t we give our marketplace money to help build a playground?” We saw that connection there — it’s a humanitarian cause, but attached to the curriculum.
How do your students continue to engage with these ideas beyond middle school?
In November, we go to WE Day and the high school also sends a bus. They take the kids that are involved in the service clubs and they’re all former students. My daughter and two of the girls that went to Kenya with her are going to Renaissance College at the University of New Brunswick next year. It’s a Bachelor's degree in leadership and the focus is all on global citizenship and helping others. Another girl I took with me was so motivated by Kenya that she went for a training course to be a facilitator with the WE organization and is now in India at an international school. It forever changed her. She said, “I can’t live in a world where we have everything at our fingertips — I want to do more with my life.”
What do you want to impart to the teachers you're teaching at the University?
Geography is disappearing in curriculums, it saddens me. What I teach those students is that chances are you will not be a geography teacher. You will either teach geography through science, doing physical geography, or those of you who will be social studies teachers, will probably get bogged down in history. My point is to show them that no matter what they teach, it is our responsibility to include geography in everything we do, even if it's as simple as you’re doing a book study and the people in the book are going to three countries, so map out those countries. Geography has to be brought into everything you teach.