For Jodie Gateman, the traditional classroom environment is something that stifles a student’s creativity, causing that person to lack innovation in the workplace later in life.
“Creativity is being drained out of young kids as they go through school,” says the founder of the Green Learning Academy (GLA), which is considered an alternative education institution. “Everyone is organized in their little rows sitting at attention, listening to what the teacher says.”
The bottom line? The entire system is too hierarchical.
But Gateman, a bubbly, mile-a-minute kind of person, is doing something to address that problem. At her school, students learn to fire their creative synapses, so it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be able to infuse the economy with fresh ideas.
Gateman established the GLA in 2000. It currently has 101 students from Kindergarten to Grade 9. That first crop of students will start graduating from high school in 2013, and this city will reap the benefits, says Gateman.
“Calgary will have the first graduates of the Green Learning Academy, which means Calgary businesses can employ a highly creative group that nobody else has access to.”
Gateman’s school uses a student-directed method of teaching, the gist of which is a student tells the teacher what he or she needs in order to achieve educational success. While the teacher still guides the students in what they need to learn, it is the students who get to decide how they will go about learning the material — through a book, online tutorial or by picking the brain of their teacher.
“If a kid is passionate about videography, they can use that medium instead of writing an assignment to be tested,” says Gateman.
This unconventional approach to teaching was born out of a request by the Alberta government to the University of Calgary’s Centre for Gifted Education to develop a program to keep gifted and talented children engaged in a regular classroom.
After working with the program, Gateman, a teacher since 1997, realized the approach would benefit all students, not just the brainiacs, and started GLA.
While Gateman doesn’t have any statistical evidence to show the benefits of the GLA approach over other teaching methods, she says the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming, as is the positive feedback from parents. And, she says, “The kids love it.”
A new chapter of GLA will be opening in Austin, Texas, in 2010. Gateman has also purchased the complementary program Creative Kids, a program that provides infants to five-year-olds the opportunity to use art and music to get their creative juices firing.
Creative Kids now offers programs at eight community centres throughout Calgary.
Also on Gateman’s list of accomplishments is the Green Leaning Foundation, which she established in 2006. The foundation gives out $25,000 to $35,000 in scholarships every year to students who can’t otherwise afford her school’s $6,000 to $10,000 per-year tuition.
Gateman’s commitment to children and families goes beyond her own schools, as well. She volunteers with The Children’s Cottage Society, a non-profit that offers crisis, respite and support services to families in need, and every month she dedicates about five hours toward building and executing educational courses for people at the Cottage.
On top of all of this, Gateman also lives on and helps operate a 4,700-acre farm with her husband and two sons, and still seems to have energy to spare. When asked where she gets her liveliness from, she says, “I’m a Leo! And I think I also get it from my mother.”
Whether it’s her astrological sign or her genetics, there’s no disputing her drive or the strength of the vision that guides her untraditional methods.
Why she’s the top: Owns and runs a private school and education foundation, volunteers with The Children’s Cottage Society and is committed to developing a new form of education.
The key to her success: Gateman fully believes in her ability to make a difference through education and continually strives to push boundaries. “Walk into one of our classrooms and it’s organized chaos,” she says.