A Westwood Collegiate teacher has just received the prestigious Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Kelly Hiebert was recognized for his ongoing work in Holocaust education, including the creation of a student-led documentary on the subject entitled Truth Against Distortion: Survivor's Speech Out Against Hate.
The history teacher attended the award ceremony in Quebec City in November 2022, where he was joined by five other teachers from across the country receiving the same top history honours. Canada's first Indigenous Governor General Mary Simon presented the awards.
“It was an unbelievable trip. I felt so honoured to be recognized and acknowledged by Her Excellence," said Kelly. “I was even able to sit down and take part in a round table discussion with Mary Simon about how we can make Indigenous education more inclusive."
Kelly's road to Quebec City began last year when his colleagues nominated him for the award. He was honoured but wasn't expecting to win.
“I participated in a panel discussion. Then it was sit and wait. When I received an email that I'd made the first round of cuts, it became a little more real," he said, comparing the process to trying out for a coveted hockey team. “It kind of pumped my tires and motivated me to work harder."
In October 2021 Kelly received a call from one of the award directors letting him know he'd won.
“I can't describe the feeling. It's very personal to me. It really validates my philosophy on education to empower students and to give them agency over their learning so they have more control over what and how they learn."
Making Holocaust Education Relatable
Kelly is a founding member of the Westwood Historical Society, a group of students from the school that studies and promotes history.
The students in the group created the Holocaust documentary after a 2019 school trip to Holocaust historical sites in eastern European and talking with survivors living in Winnipeg. The group premiered the video at their school in May 2022 and showcased it again in November 2022 to coincide with Holocaust Education Month.
Kelly is spearheading another school trip to Eastern Europe to focus on the victims of the Holocaust in March 2024, tentatively including Poland, Slovakia and Austria.
“The trip sold out in 10 minutes. We were supposed to have 25 students but expanded it to 33 to accommodate demand," he said, adding that he is a major proponent of experiential learning.
“It's really important for the students to understand the dehumanization," he said. “You connect differently once you have been there. The learning is on a more personal level, which creates meaning for the students. The learning is through the roof. That is a big part of why I want to do this."
Finding His Passion
Kelly is currently working on a master's degree in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the University of Manitoba with a focus on genocide and Holocaust studies. But he hasn't always been so keen on teaching and learning.
“My school experience growing up wasn't very good," he admitted, citing a lack of inspiration. “I didn't know I wanted to be a teacher. But it ended up working out."
Kelly discovered his passion for history and Holocaust education while taking history at the University of Winnipeg. “One of my mail goals as a teacher is that each student is respected and acknowledged," he said.
With over 16 years of teaching under his belt, he feels the lessons of history are just as relevant today.
“This work is important to me because we are seeing a continuous rise and normalization of antisemitism and hate in any form in many public figures and celebrities. This is leading people to think this is okay," he said, pointing to disinformation tropes on social media and the increasing influence of algorithms that prioritize inflammatory content and contribute to polarization.
Kelly says teaching citizenship is an important part of countering these trends by celebrating differences. “This is a humanitarian issue, and it needs to be combatted with education," he said. “We're always going to have problems, but we need to sit down and discuss them."
Kelly's work on Holocaust education will continue. But along with the Westwood Historical Society, he will also be focusing on working towards the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
His students visited the Forks for Orange Shirt Day this past September to learn about residential schools. They also took a field trip to the Portage la Prairie Indian Residential School, where students heard from two Survivors.
“We're working towards building authentic relationships with Indigenous communities," he said, noting it's important for Elders and Knowledge Keepers to speak to staff and students to help them understand what's been lost."
Kelly teaches grades 9 to 12 at Westwood Collegiate. He also teaches in the International Baccalaureate program.
Congratulations Kelly on your award!
(Top image): Teacher Kelly Hiebert with Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, the Governor General of Canada. Kelly received the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching on November 22, 2022. (Photo credit: Sgt. Mathieu St-Amour, Rideau Hall).
(Middle image): SJASD teacher Kelly Hiebert, along with other award winners and Her Excellency Mary Simon, participate in round table discussions focused on how to make Indigenous Education more inclusive. (Photo credit: Sgt. Mathieu St-Amour, Rideau Hall).
(Third image, from left): Former Westwood Historical Society members and Westwood alumni Nathan Varghese, Blake Edwards and Megan Morant, along with teacher Kelly Hiebert at the second screening of Truth Against Distortion on Nov. 15, 2022.
(Fourth image): Kelly Hiebert by a historical piece of artwork inside La Citadelle, where the Governor General lives during the year.