Meet Donna Gray – Alberta SPCA’s 2015 Humane Teacher Award Recipient
Donna Gray believes that creating caring and compassionate classrooms is essential to both character development and learning. Donna has taught a wide variety of students including those that have Down syndrome to Jr. Highs over the course of her rich career. She is currently at Springbank Middle School in Calgary teaching grade eight Language Arts, Social Studies and option courses in photography, leadership and debate, building compassion into everything she teaches.
She begins one of her core courses by asking students “Do you believe that one person can make a difference?” then challenges her students to prove it. And prove it they do. With her mentorship students have been involved in a wide array of service learning projects that have directly benefited animals, people and the environment. Her projects involve the entire school community, including other students she may not directly teach and organizing events for teachers such as volunteering at local community centres. Just some of her projects include collecting supplies for a local animal shelter, making pajamas and serving soup for the Calgary Boys and Girls Club, collecting hundreds of clothing items for the Calgary Drop In Centre, selling poppies for the Canadian Veterans Legacy Project and beautifying the school’s front foyer to create a warm welcoming space for the entire school community. She has taken her students into both the local and global communities to help others; students have volunteered at a local shelter and built houses for Habitat for Humanity in Ghana, Africa. “Compassion and resiliency are crucial skills built through connecting with others and empowering students that they can make a difference,” says Donna. Fostering these skills is accomplished by real life experiences and Donna finds ways to facilitate this. She is always looking for ways to collaborate with community organizations, is creative in thinking of ways to help others and plays a vital role in helping mentor new teachers.
Every Friday her class participates in Caring Cookies. Student volunteers bring in cookies to enjoy with the class while they take turns sharing something they are either grateful for, thankful for, simply anything they want to share. This modest gesture helps the class connect through fostering empathy and shared experiences. Students look forward to their Friday cookie sharing session and the concept has been adopted by other teachers.
Donna’s faith in her student’s ability to bring positive change to their world and beyond is what inspires and motivates her to provide her students with experiences where they can discover that they can truly make difference.