The ‘Kenton Girls’ are educating the educators

Passion for teaching and lifelong learning leads two Manitoba teachers on a unique adventure

Educators Leah Obach and Devon Caldwell are adding "teaching teachers" to their resumés.

As teachers and students from across the province headed back to school this fall, two women from Kenton embarked on new roles in the classroom of life.

As educators, they have become teachers to the teachers, by taking their classroom roles to a whole other level with KG (Kenton Girls) Education, an online and in-person professional learning opportunity for fellow educators.

“The goal of KG Education is to support educators with meaningful technology infusion through online and in-person professional learning opportunities,” said co-founder Leah Obach. “We hope to help teachers create rich learning experiences for students by sharing our ideas and building a community of educators who are committed to ongoing professional growth.”

“We are both really passionate about quality professional learning experiences for educators,” Devon Caldwell, KG partner, added. “More specifically, we want to offer the kind of professional learning that we’d love to take part in ourselves – coming together with other like-minded educators and blending current research with practical knowledge that can immediately be implemented with students. We believe that technology plays a vital role in creating rich, hands-on learning experiences for teachers and students, and technology is interwoven in all that we do.”

Although KG Education wasn’t officially launched until May of this year during the Riding the Wave conference in Gimli, Manitoba, the union was inevitable. The groundwork for their new venture began years ago.

“Devon and I have talked about creating something like this for years,” said Obach. “We’ve always been committed to professional growth and online sharing. We’ve been co-presenting workshops for over a decade and this felt like a good time to expand on what we can offer.”

Ironically, the two women say while they grew up in the same small town, they didn’t actually know one another very well until Caldwell invited Obach to student teach with her back in 2008.

“While she was in my classroom, I decided to apply to the Microsoft Innovative Teachers program and asked her if she’d like to help me develop the proposal,” said Caldwell. “I soon realized that we were better together — our project was chosen as one of three in Canada, and we were off to Hong Kong to compete in a Microsoft Global Forum. From that point on, we have worked on countless projects, delivered hundreds of presentations, and basically been inseparable. On a Microsoft trip, we became known as the “Kenton girls” and the name has definitely stuck.”

Both graduates of Brandon University’s education program, they have taken their education as well as their roles as educators very seriously. Both have earned their master’s degree, (Obach in educational technology and design, and Caldwell in special education) and Caldwell currently is completing her PhD.

As well, they have racked up the awards with both having been named as ManACE (Manitoba Association for Computing Educators) teacher of the year, as well as both being a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Fellow. Caldwell won the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence, and Obach won the CDW Canada teaching with technology award. Combined, they bring an arsenal of knowledge and excellence to the table in KG Education.

“I’ve always loved learning — and school,” said Obach. “Being a teacher allows me to continually be a learner. I enjoy supporting others in their learning, whether it be students or fellow educators. I think education is a powerful factor in shaping our society, so having a role in education is very rewarding to me.”

Caldwell added, “I love teaching because it is constantly changing and full of never-ending challenge. It’s impossible to get bored as an educator — there are always new curricula to implement, new practices to experiment with, and new students to guide. Possibly what I like best about teaching is I feel that I’m doing important work that makes a difference in the world.”

The two have managed to find the delicate balance between work/wellness/life, regardless of the challenge it presents. In fact, that’s another reason behind creating KG Education, and fortunately, Caldwell is also an accredited yoga instructor with a thriving yoga practice. This provides the wellness component to their business and helps marry the two concepts together.

“When Leah and I decided to form KG Education last spring,” said Caldwell with enthusiasm, “yes we wanted to deliver some amazing professional development learning experiences to teachers, but we wanted to blend in what we feel is a missing ingredient, and that is wellness for teachers.

“Wellness is a huge priority for both of us. Teachers taking time to practise self-care and connect with other educators on a regular basis is vital to our ability to function as successful, inspiring teachers. As a result, we’re designing day-long learning retreats that include wellness practices, community building, and professional learning.”

Their first learning retreat is in the works for October and is themed “Math Everywhere.” The workshop is unique in that the day starts and ends with yoga and meditation.

“Our goal is to integrate wellness practices and movement to help educators prioritize wellness and also to enhance the learning experience!” said Caldwell eagerly.

The other thing that makes their first-ever learning retreat so special, is that it is being held in their hometown of Kenton, and focuses on providing opportunities for rural educators.

“One of the big reasons we created KG Education here,” said Obach, passionately, “is that we think we can create meaningful learning opportunities for educators in our rural area. Rural teachers won’t have to travel far to take part in a workshop or learning retreat. We want to highlight that quality professional learning doesn’t need to take place in a larger centre.

“We are incredibly proud to be from Kenton,” she continued. Our community has supported us as we’ve tackled many different projects over the years. I think being raised in a small town has taught us to value hard work, entrepreneurship and community connections. Living rurally sometimes has its limitations, but we believe that we can accomplish big things, even though we are from a small town.”

Brenda Hunter writes from the Virden area.

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