Lifelong learner uses the power of personal narrative to share a broader view of teaching and learning

Shirley Zouboules (MEd ’19) is a strong believer in lifelong learning. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, especially Canadian books, and taking whatever course, workshop or other learning opportunity that comes her way.

“I’ve always really enjoyed learning,” says Zouboules. “I find it just feeds me and whenever I’m feeling stressed, it may sound bizarre to some, but that’s when I take a course. I feel the need to learn so I will go search online for something new. I’m a big fan of free Moodles!”

Currently, in her second year as the Assistant Superintendent for Yellowknife Education District No. 1, Zouboules is responsible for a range of programs including curriculum, language and inclusive education. Prior to starting this position, she completed her Master of Education at the Okanagan School of Education.

Zouboules had known for a long time that she would pursue her master’s degree, but it took a few years (and some encouragement) for the timing to be right. For the last decade, she had been gathering experience and knowledge from her courses and reading, and it was during a conversation with Dr. Leyton Schnellert that he encouraged her to take all the information she had amassed and consolidate it.

“It probably wasn’t the best time, but it was a good time,” says Zouboules with a laugh. “My two kids were grown up, but I was still the principal of an elementary school. It was very, very busy, but it was really good.”

The Okanagan School of Education was a natural fit for Zouboules. She had a longstanding professional and personal relationship with Dr. Schnellert from his work with her district and was familiar with his and the School’s general practices.

“Dr. Schnellert and the School have this outlook of it’s not what we do to kids, it’s what we do with kids and one another, and it aligned well with my own personal philosophy about teaching and learning,” says Zouboules, “In addition, I was able to complete most of my courses online, making the program fit in my schedule.”

Her inspiration for her capstone project was a question she had wrestled with almost her entire life while growing up in the Northwest Territories.

“How do we help people who come to the north for education purposes really value what’s already here? What already incredibly powerful knowledge and learning is here?”

In her capstone, Supporting the Integration of Indigenous First Nations Curricula, Zouboules’s research explored the need for contextualized pedagogy. Specifically, she focused on how non-Indigenous educators could integrate local Indigenous curriculum and the importance of designing learning experiences rooted in the local environment, culture, land and history.

Her capstone also takes a unique approach in how she shared her learning journey – she wrote it as a personal narrative.

“It’s storytelling. It’s not the research or the regurgitation of a lot of other research, it’s my story, it’s my journey, and it’s very much in alignment with what the north taught me about learning and teaching.”

The north is a special place to Zouboules. She was born and raised in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories with her three brothers and her adopted sister, who is Chipewyan. As a platinum blonde non-Indigenous child, Zouboules never felt out of place in her small community. She enjoyed learning on the land and listening to the stories shared by teachers and elders alongside her peers.

If you’re thinking about joining the education team in northern Canada, Zouboules has shared some advice:

“Be humble and don’t make any assumptions. If you are coming to the north, or if you’ve recently moved here, be humble. Be humble by the land, and be humble by the people in their knowledge and powerful history. I am every day.”

While she admits the weather may be (extremely) cold at times, the people are always warm-hearted and welcoming.

“You will not find a heartier bunch of people anywhere on the planet,” she says with a smile. “They will give you the shirt off their back. I have such great memories, friendships and relationships that will never end. Even after all these years, I can still walk through local stores and have elders come up to me and say me ‘oh, you’re Jackie’s daughter!’ They know you. They never forget.”

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