Breanna Heels, works as a Vice-Principal at Bruce Peninsula District School in Lion’s Head, Ontario, the same school she attended as a student and the area she still lives in today. Yet she first got the teaching bug far from home, experiencing the thrill of how classrooms operate and inspire students while training for her Bachelor of Education on international travels in East Africa and Ecuador.
These travels sparked a lifelong passion for the environment, cultural history, sustainability and global citizenship. In 2016, as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow she travelled to the Arctic Svalbard, an expedition she credits with completely changing her worldview, and allowing her to bring the Arctic back to her students. A National Geographic Certified Educator, and also a Geo-Inquiry Ambassador for Canadian Geographic, she has based her teaching methods on the UN Global Goals, powered by the philosophy of think globally, act locally. Her teaching approach has always been that the classroom is a microcosm of the world and the world is our classroom, and she uses these two ideas to create a synergy to promote advocacy and action.
This translated into one of her students organizing a Fight for Girls run to promote gender equality, one organized a food drive to work towards the UN Global Goal of zero hunger, while another developed a social media campaign to raise awareness about poverty in Canada. Students became active participants in bettering their community and world, while growing to understand the significance of their place in it.
After seeing the success of this with her class, Breanna knew she needed to scale it, so more classrooms and students could see themselves as global citizens in an accessible and ready to use way. This led her to invent the Changemaker Classroom where each month classes from around the world complete challenges that work towards a different UN Global Goal. At the beginning of each month, teachers receive an email with resources and teaching ideas to help guide their class in learning about that UN Global Goal and completing the challenges. There are now 140 classrooms participating in the scheme.
She takes her students outside, and on trips to the Bruce Trail and Bruce Peninsula National Park, to do geocaching, learn about forestry, make art, engage in physical activity, and learn about their rural heritage and the local Indigenous communities that have been traditional custodians of the natural resources.
Within the school board, as a system leader and school leader, Breanna has presented and facilitated workshops about connecting students to the world, been a mentor to new teachers and presented to them about connecting their students to the outdoors, facilitated workshops on experiential learning and inquiry, led board-wide initiatives to get more classes involved in sustainability initiatives and presented to and with organisations including the Ontario Teachers Federation, Ontario Association of Geography and Environment Educators, Canadian Geographic, National Geographic and Google as a participant and presenter in hackathons.