More than 300 social studies teachers took part in “Calling All Citizens”, their annual provincial conference hosted October 26 for a fourth year at Saint Mary’s University.
“I think we would all agree that social studies education is more important now than ever,” said Maureen McNamara, a Cape Breton teacher and president of the Nova Scotia Social Studies Teachers Association (SSTA). “We must continue to help our students not just to understand our rapidly changing world but their role as citizens. In doing so, we must create safe spaces for discussion and debate, not argument and polarization.”
The event included a trade exhibition, 30 workshops – including 10 led by Saint Mary’s professors and staff – an AGM and several off-site sessions at locations such as the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre. The day began with a spirited keynote on fostering ‘civic competence’ and community service in Canadian schools, by Dr. Alan Sears, Professor of Social Studies Education at the University of New Brunswick.
Dr. Margaret MacDonald, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, welcomed the teachers to campus and highlighted the sessions led by Saint Mary’s professors and staff: “We're talking about Mi'kmaq music and art, human resilience in the face of mental health challenges, competencies related to intercultural learning, strategies for accommodating racial and religious differences, field schools in The Gambia, and even sessions off-campus such as the hands-on archaeology at Grand Pré National Historic Site,” she said.
Nova Scotia teachers, museums and educational organizations lead the other workshops.
“Together, this roster offers teachers of all grades a rich professional learning day that can only benefit our students in the end,” said Wendy Driscoll, conference co-chair. “The SSTA is proud of our partnership with Saint Mary's University because it brings together teachers and professors for the common purpose of student achievement.”
These connections are a highlight of the annual event for Joe Bellefontaine. The Grade 9 teacher at Riverview High in Sydney has also taught with the Chignecto and Annapolis Valley school boards, and has a SMU Bachelor of Arts degree in geography and geology.
“People in universities are leaders in their field, so it's great to see their ideas and what they’re working on,” he said. “They have access to different resources, and they're really willing to talk to teachers and to make those connections with public school systems.”