• Geography teacher from Ottawa on Can Geo Education's Summer Institute

    Allison Fuisz knows how to keep busy, even during summer break. She recently returned from Canadian Geographic Education's Summer Institute in Alberta and is about to set off on an expedition with National Geographic to Iceland. (Photo: Tanya Kirnishni/Canadian Geographic)

Allison Fuisz has an endless curiosity about the world and considers herself a “lifelong learner,” something she encourages in her students as well. Fuisz teaches geography, history, French, and science through her Grade 7/8 French Immersion and gifted classes at Bell High School in Ottawa, Ont. Her love of geography and history stems from her childhood in the Ottawa Valley, where she spent much of her time outdoors. As she got older, she gained a deeper appreciation for how humans interact with the natural world and each other. Fuisz is a National Geographic mentor, helping other teachers achieve certification, and was recently chosen as a 2019 National Geographic Grosvenor Fellow.

On the common thread that runs through her lessons

Curiosity — and moreso the attitude of respectful curiosity. When we look at geography, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are at the heart of a lot of what I do with my students. It’s my hope that they realize that every small action has a reaction and you have no idea the impact that you’re going to have. I want my students to be curious about the world around them, and to be changemakers of today and tomorrow. I want to leave them feeling empowered, that their voices do matter, and that we can together make a difference. A lot of the discussions in our class stem from: How can we make this better? What are you doing? I want them to see the good in the world and to continue on that path.

On how she builds lesson plans based on the SDGs

I think one of the best ways to do this is to have them explore for themselves and have one-on-one conversations. I have students look at the SDGs and we unpack them together. Once the students understand the goals, what they mean to them and our future, they get to do whatever they want. One student was looking at the goals from the mental health and well-being perspective. Another student was looking through a science and geography lens at the fabrics and dyes we use and how that affects life on land and water. I’m there as the conductor of their learning. I can pose questions to them to further their thinking on the actions that can be taken toward achieving the goals. That really works well when you can guide students toward their interests so they can explore their own learning. Every student is so different, and you have to be mindful that they have a lot to say and we have to listen.

On what resonates with her students

For my students, it’s about realizing that process of learning for themselves. The other takeaway is that they become more resilient in their learning. The process of iteration, knowing that the first time didn’t work, they recognize that it doesn’t always come easy and that you just have to push through and seek support. A lot of them begin to realize that without communication with others, our projects won’t necessarily come to fruition. They can see how their actions can inspire others, but also that they themselves need to look toward others to get to where they need to be.

On what her students are doing beyond the classroom

I’ve seen a few students go to social media, recognizing that they can influence their peers online to be more cognizant of their actions. I had one student tweet at the city level about garbage. A couple of other students took their mental health ideas and offered in-school learning sessions on mental health. I’ve had a couple kiddos come in and, in support of a local organization, say, “This is where my allowance went to, because I realized that they need it more than I do.” Some kids are learning about plastics, and I’ve seen their lunchboxes change. These are all things to be celebrated. Somewhere along the learning process things have changed and they are responsible for these small, positive changes that they’re sharing with their peers and families.

On her message to other teachers

Don’t let yourself be an island. By using social media and asking questions, you can grow. Taking educated risks in your practice is a must, because that is what we’re asking students to do every day. Understanding the curriculum is one thing, but I can’t stress enough the need to build healthy and strong relationships with your students, to really know who they are. When we know our students, they feel comfortable coming to us in a safe environment to share their ideas, and to be creative with the curriculum, look at the big picture, and plotting the connections between subjects becomes so easy.