A teacher at Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook has received a signal and well-deserved honour, for the innovation and compassion she has brought to bear in her years in the classroom.
Jo-Anna LeGrandeur was recognized with a Prime Minister’s Award For Teaching Excellence, a certificate of Achievement for having “continuously expanded her areas of expertise and [having been] instrumental in developing some of the most popular courses at her school, such as the Environmental Awareness Program and Psychology,” according to the Government of Canada’s website detailing her certificate of achievement.
Trained as an English teacher, LeGrandeur has taught at every level at Mount Baker, and has been involved with the launch of new initiatives and programs that have put the school at the forefront.
“Jo-Anna has a keen eye for useful technology and a willingness to embrace change when it benefits her students,” the government citation read. “However, her fundamental goal has always remained the same: to provide her students with the most useful skills for them to be successful after high school.”
The Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence honours outstanding and innovative elementary and secondary school teachers in all disciplines for their remarkable educational achievements. It’s the “Nobel Prize” of the Canadian teaching profession, said one of LeGrandeur’s colleagues, a member of the nominating committee that put her name forward for the award.
The nominating committee of her colleagues — including Paul Knipe, Grant Duchscherer, Darrell Taylor and Ross Robertson were on hand at a public event held at the School District 5 offices in Cranbrook on Tuesday, June 12, to acknowledge LeGrandeur’s award.
Her colleagues referred to LeGrandeur as the “Angel of Mount Baker,” for always knowing what’s going on with students and staff, and keeping their well-being in mind, an attitude that stems from her own arrival to the school as a student.
“When I came [to Mount Baker] in Grade 10, by myself, I walked through those doors, and had to find my way.” LeGrandeur told the Townsman afterwards. “And I was always welcomed with kindness into my classrooms. And with my teachers and the programs I became involved in things like drama, field hockey, the arts programs — things that really helped me recognize that the environment is really important to the learning, and if you can relax in the environment, because you feel safe and comfortable, then the learning can take place.
“Kindness is important to me — it’s more than just saying it, it’s action. I see my colleagues on a daily basis interacting with students in a way that’s positive and kind. And that then transfers over into students doing that with other students — recognizing that it’s important to feel safe and comfortable where ever you are.”
LeGrandeur’s long and involved career has been noted by achievements such as creating and growing the psychology program and helping launch other programs, championing student literacy, addressing LGBTQ issues, leading a project to ease transition from Middle School to High School, spearheading a school focus on ending violence against women, and much more.
She is noted for excelling in individualized teaching, “painstakingly crafting individual lesson plans and presenting each student at the start of class with goals and assignments specifically designed to accentuate their strengths and address their weaknesses.”
LeGrandeur credits her teaching success to the support and teamwork of her colleagues, and the freedom to take on new ideas that the school and the district afford.
“All the programs that I and my colleagues have been involved in have been with the support of [School District 5] and also the support of the administration team,” she said. “Plus the colleagues around us.
“If we take advantage of the supports that are around us, there’s no end of what we can do for the kids. We have outdoor environmental awareness programs, we have robotics, we have athletics — if a teacher has an idea they’d like to try, and they know they have the support from the community at Mount Baker, they will try it. If they fail, they will try again. It shows vulnerability and courage, and that’s all part of learning.”
LeGrandeur becomes the fourth Mount Baker teacher to win a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence, making Mount Baker the school with the most such recipients in Canada. The other three are Paul Knipe, Evan Bueckert, and Rod Osiowy.
“I’m just very humbled to be nominated by the nominating team — because the nomination takes time and energy,” LeGrandeur said. “This process, when it first started, takes about six to eight months. When you hand in the package you don’t know what the outcome will be.
To have my colleagues put in that amount of time and energy into something they believed in was very important to me.”