Givology Staff's Blog

Interview with Kyle Hill, Cofounder of Teach for Canada

Kyle Hill is one of the co-founders of Teach For Canada, a nonprofit that aims to reduce the disparity in Canada's education outcomes. Their approach involves helping students and teachers succeed in remote and indigenous communities. They select teachers who, after joining Teach for Canada for the summer, participate in an intensive, community focused preparation program, designed and led by education experts, master teachers, school and community leaders, and elders. Recently they have also worked with indigenous and education leaders to further their program design at this early stage.
[b]1. How did you decide to get involved in trying to improve education in Canada? What was your inspiration?[/b]
For me, the numbers were enough. On First Nation’s reserves in Canada, the graduation rate is 40%. Among the Inuit, that same number is only 25%. And in rural Canada, dropout rates are twice the national average.
These facts are surprising. They contradict the comfortable assumptions that we make about education in Canada. Our school system is unfair; we are failing to honour the basic conviction that every Canadian student deserves an equal shot at a world-class education.
But the personal inspiration for Teach For Canada came from a teacher. I grew up in a rural community called Yarmouth, in an Eastern Canadian province called Nova Scotia. Almost four hours to Halifax—the nearest city and airport—it isn't easy to recruit and retain excellent teachers in Yarmouth. But my high school physics teacher, Robyn McKenzie moved her life to Yarmouth well over three decades ago, and she has produced a generation of physics students over that time. She inspired me, motivated me, and give me a role model in whom I could recognize their own potential
Teachers like Robyn McKenzie change our education system one pupil at a time. Classroom by classroom, teacher by teacher, student by student: we can make education more equal.
[b]2. How do you measure your impact on students?[/b]
Measurement in education is a sensitive subject, and one that we're giving careful thought.
Too much measurement—particularly with standardized testing—can encouraging rote learning and force teachers to tailor their efforts "to the test," while offering only a narrow measure of student ability. But no measurement at all makes it challenging to ensure that schools perform properly, and the education system remains accountable.
Teach For Canada doesn't yet have teachers in classrooms, and we are currently weighing the measurement challenges against a natural desire to know how well our program is performing—and how we can improve. In time, with appropriate consultation, we will release our measurement framework.
In addition, research involving individuals in remote and indigenous communities in Canada has often been defined and carried out by external, non-community-based researchers. The approaches used have not always reflected the world views of the individuals in the communities that were being researched, and the research has not necessarily benefited the individuals being studied or the communities.
Any measurement of impact will be refined as we build relationships with communities, and it will only be conducted with community-based support. It is premised on respectful relationships and respect for community customs.
[b]3. In starting Teach for Canada, what was the best advice that you received or lesson that you learned along the way?[/b]
"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn." Or, said another way, "you never really learn much from hearing yourself speak."
From the outset, Teach For Canada has been listening to and learning from leaders' indigenous communities, education, and other fields. Our willingness and desire to continue asking for advice, and then to act on that advice, is a critical quality for any organization seeking to make education more equal.
One example: initially, Teach For Canada was intended to be a close version of the Teach For America program. But after listening to and learning from Canadian educators and other Canadian leaders, Teach For Canada will not recruit candidates who do not have education degrees. Instead, we will recruit top graduates from Bachelor of Education programs, offer additional cultural, historical, and pedagogical training and support, and place the teachers in schools that face recruitment and retention challenges—which are typically remote and indigenous communities.
Our desire to learn from experienced voices continues to guide every decision we make, and learning remains a core theme of our organization.
[b]4. What’s the greatest challenge that Teach for Canada faces today?[/b]
Our greatest challenge—and one of the greatest challenges facing Canada—is the legacy of outside involvement in remote and indigenous communities.
Many indigenous leaders are rightly skeptical of outsiders’ attempts to improve education in their communities. Much of the inequality that Teach For Canada seeks to address is itself the legacy of residential schooling—the calculated destruction of indigenous languages, cultures, and communities in the name of education.
Our organization’s core values—humility, culture, collaboration, and transparency—represent our strategy for building trust among the leaders of the communities we intend to serve. Ours is not a top-down model; though Teach For Canada will build and maintain institutional infrastructure for the recruitment, preparation, and support of teachers in rural and indigenous communities, our true mission is to create a tool-kit for community and school leaders to design and implement truly local approaches to the challenge of educational inequality. We will not impose our resources on any community that is not keen to partner with us, nor will we insist on any pedagogical method or teacher selection methodology that does not earn the buy-in of our community and school partners. We will also make a concerted effort to ensure that our cohort of teachers represents the backgrounds of the students whom we aim to serve, including by prioritizing the recruitment of indigenous education graduates.
[b]5. Since Canada is considered pretty well off economically, do you meet a lot of people who are surprised when they’re told about the inequality in the education its citizens receive?[/b]
It’s true that Canada has one of the best education systems on the planet. For example, the Conference Board of Canada's most recent report card gives us top marks for high school and college completion, among other measures.
But in Canada, high quality masks deep inequality. Too often, Canadians take comfort in sunny statistics that offer a bird’s eye view. Zoom in, and the story is one of inequality and injustice.
On First Nations reserves, the high school graduation rate is 40%. In rural Canada, dropout rates are twice the national average. Schools in small communities face challenges recruiting and retaining teachers, particularly in math, science, and languages. And new teachers often arrive in remote and indigenous communities without the preparation and support to succeed—and stay—in the classroom.
For most Canadians, these facts are shocking. And that's part of the Teach For Canada mission: we will raise awareness about educational inequality in Canada, and our efforts will complement a range of other initiatives that are seeking to improve the quality of education in Canada's remote and indigenous communities.
[b]6. Five years from now, where do you envision your organization? What legacy do you want to leave?[/b]
Teach For Canada is motivated by a simple belief—that every child in Canada should have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
In five years, we envision an organization that has taken concrete, real steps to foster student success in remote and indigenous communities, while not sacrificing our community-focused mindset. We hope to have helped create a generation of young Canadians with open, non-judgemental, and inclusive minds that will ultimately build understanding between urban-rural and indigenous-non-indigenous regions of our country.
But, in the very long-term, we hope to shut our doors by creating a self-replenishing loop of local teachers. Our goal is to help more students succeed in school in the short-term, and to inspire those very same students to become teachers and to return to their own communities to teach.
It’s a daunting challenge for all Canadians, but we’re determined to do our part—and to help Canada’s outstanding education graduates do the same.
[b]7. Tell us a story about a memorable impact you've made on an underprivileged student?[/b]
Teach For Canada has not placed its first teachers in classrooms yet, so this story is a personal one.
In 2008, I ran public health seminars for the UNDP near Chernobyl, Ukraine. 25 years later, the area was still reeling from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Many locals ignored my seminars. But each morning, I went for a run. And each morning, a 10 year-old boy with long hair watched me through his bedroom window. A week in, he joined my morning run. The next day, two more boys joined. And by the following week, I had a tag-along crew of 10 children.
I was in Ukraine to teach public health, but my greatest impact was a sequence of 7:00am runs with the local boys. For six weeks, I promoted physical activity without using a single word. I was told that even several months later, the boys were still running—and enjoying the physical and emotional benefits that come from exercise.
[b]8. How can one person make a difference in the world?[/b]
More than anything, Teach For Canada is about young people who want to change the world. But to quote my friend Drew Dudley, "We've made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There's only 7-billion understandings of it, and if you change one person's understanding of it, you've changed the whole thing."
My friend Craig is a perfect example. Working with him on the Teach For Canada project, I have witnessed his industry, commitment, talent, vigour, and vision firsthand. These qualities—as well as the breadth of his interests and expertise—make him an incredible human being. But one additional characteristic makes him truly exceptional.
More than almost anyone I have ever met, Craig changes the world every day. He is among the most kind, humble, inclusive, accepting, and nurturing individuals we know. He personifies Teach For Canada's values of humility, culture, collaboration, and transparency. And by living these values every day, he constantly betters the world of everyone around him.
To make a difference in the world, you only need to change one person's world, and you'll have changed the whole thing.
[b]9. What advice do you give to other potential social entrepreneurs?[/b]
"If you work really hard, and you're kind, amazing things will happen."
[b]10. On a personal level, what does giving mean to you?[/b]
Giving is the patience a teacher shows when helping students with their homework after school, or when coaching the basketball team on Tuesday mornings.
Giving is what the Teach For Canada Circle of Advisors do when we call them with questions, and they give us their advice for hours.
And closest to home, giving is the thousands of hours I've seen Teach For Canada volunteers pour into this project.

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