Our Voices Have Power Transcript

I am a longtime friend of Lisa Howell, who is unable to be here due to her father's critical illness. And she wants to dedicate her words to him.

As a fellow teacher and former GG recipient myself, I can attest to how ardently Lisa lives her beliefs. I am honoured on this occasion to be her voice, and I will just read her speech.

So, good afternoon. My name is Lisa Howell and I am honoured to be here with you today. I’d like to acknowledge that we are on the unceded lands of the Algonquin people.

It is humbling to be a recipient of the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Like many of you, I am a teacher because I believe whole-heartedly in the transformative power of education. I believe that all of our students can experience the “transformativeness” of education when they are empowered to ask questions, make mistakes and learn from a place of emotion, not only cognition.

I taught at Pierre Elliott Trudeau School in Gatineau, Quebec, which is about a 15 minute walk from here, just across the river, for twelve years before taking a leave to begin my PhD and teach at the University of Ottawa this past September.

For most of these years, I taught children aged 10-13 who were marginalized by the circumstances of their lives, namely poverty, race, birthplace, parental support and learning abilities.

Despite the tremendous challenges in their lives, my students were able to work and learn as a community in our classroom.

Each morning we began our day with a class meeting, followed by a circle. Decisions about everything from seating arrangements to classroom jobs to learning goals to  assessment were made together.

I taught my students to use their voices by consistently giving them opportunities to practice.

My passion for teaching Canadian history comes from a social justice perspective by teaching and learning with my students. For many years, we have worked with Cindy Blackstock to help bring an end to discrimination to Indigenous children, learning about both past and current injustices in our collective Canadian history.

Last year, my students wrote and filmed a Public Service Announcement to educate the public about Jordan’s Principal. We decided to do this because after researching and learning about Jordan’s Principal, my students believed that they had a responsibility to take action.

Together, we devised “committees”- script-writing, narration, and artwork. In this way, each student was able to participate in a way that felt safe and meaningful for them.

The PSA was aired on national television and radio, as well as social media. You’ll get to watch it in a moment.

You will see the faces and hear the voices of my students. These are students who have not often had opportunities or the desire to be heard. Yet here they are, speaking up because they believe in their hearts that their message is essential and critical for people to hear.

They also believe that their voices have value…in their classroom, in their communities, in this country, and in the world.

And isn’t this what we all want for our students? Not only to think deeply and critically, but to also decide to take action?

So, here they are.

And I think she has the PSA coming next.

Lisa says thank you and we say thank you to Lisa.