By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Following his work during the pandemic with Palliser Beyond Borders (PBB), Michael Willems, who teaches Grade 8 at R.I. Baker Middle School in Coaldale, was named as a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.
Willems is one of 10 teachers nationwide awarded the Certificate of Excellence for the prestigious national award. The Prime Minister’s Awards for teaching excellence recognizes the nation’s top elementary and secondary school teachers across disciplines for their innovative practices, including a separate category acknowledging educators who teach in the STEM fields, (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
Following the announcement in 2021, recipients learned the in-person awards ceremony in Ottawa would be postponed due to the pandemic restrictions at the time. As well as his innovative teaching approach and contributions to the PBB’s online education program, Willems is intentional with incorporating Indigenous content, including First Nations, Metis, and Inuit content into his teaching practice, which he called, “critical” to education.
“It was very good to be a part of and get to meet the Prime Minister and hear directly from him the value of the award,” and the value of education in the context of Canada’s future.
Willems said the experience has encouraged him to continue growing and innovating as an educator.
“I mean, I am certainly honoured; it was definitely unexpected. I think what’s next is just to continue to challenge and experiment, I think it gives me encouragement and validation to keep trying new things.”
“I don’t necessarily feel deserving of it every day. It’s one of those things where I told my students when I won, I’m like, ‘please don’t expect the best teacher in Canada out of me every single day,’” he laughed, and added, “I’m going to keep trying and failing at the same time, and that’s okay.”
“The reality is, I’m a person and I’m gonna continue to make mistakes, but I think that’s part of what makes me a good teacher, is that I will keep making mistakes and I’ll keep learning from them and being honest, with the kids, as I do it.”
“I don’t think, by any means, it is the peak,” he said, but rather the experience has been encouraging for him to “just keep trying.”