The Hub Katherine LeBlanc: One of Canada’s Outstanding Principals

Katherine LeBlanc: One of Canada’s Outstanding Principals

Congratulations to Katherine Leblanc, who was recently named one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals. Katherine is currently an Athabasca University (AU) student, taking the Doctor of Education in Distance Education program. We recently (virtually) sat down with her to find out more about her, her work, and how AU fits into all of that!

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First off, congratulations! Thanks for being willing to talk with us. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?

I have been teaching since 1990. I graduated from the University of Regina with my Bachelor of Education. In 2010, I went back to school to get my second degree and immediately after that began to pursue my master’s degree through AU.

In Saskatchewan, I first began working as a principal and have now been here in Nunavut for the last two years. I am the mother of two grown children, who both also pursued degrees – both in agriculture. I love playing sports and watching them, while also coaching teams since I first became a teacher. I truly love this aspect of my job as well.

I also love the arts, love reading, and exercise. However, my biggest passion has been raising my children and watching them in their sports and grow to be wonderful, caring individuals. My partner is a member of the RCMP, which has afforded me the opportunity to move around our country and enjoy the experiences and opportunities that come with that.

Katherine LeBlanc

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How did you end up as a teacher? What drew you into this profession?

I have an uncle that I truly admired. He was a teacher and a person I wanted to be like. I remember as a young girl thinking that I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

As I got older, there were many teachers along the way who were mentors and role models as well. There was one coach in particular that really made us work hard and I wanted to be a version of him.

Katherine LeBlanc

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Tell us more about your current role.

I am the principal in a remote Nunavut community of Rankin Inlet. I have about 330 students in Grade 7 through to Grade 12. We struggle with many things in the north, such a housing issues, the high cost of food, and the fact that we are isolated.

My role as an administrator can change many times during the day. Sometimes I am running the office and working with students and the community, and sometimes I can be teaching in the classroom, as we are often short of staff.

I am a strong advocate for promoting Inuktitut language and Inuit cultural values, even though I do not speak the language and am not Inuit. I truly believe that I need to work to help sustain culture, particularly by embedding culture into all curriculums in my school.

Embracing traditional learning, we have Elders in the school that I work with and learn from. We go out onto the land and experience igloo making, hunting, and fishing. I am also trying to work to help preserve some of our Elders teaching through digital storytelling. This is exciting work, but it takes time.

Katherine LeBlanc

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How does AU factor into your current role?

I have been so fortunate to have great educational leaders within AU. I have been blessed to have taken leadership classes in both my master’s program and now in my doctorate. These classes have helped me form how I want to lead and how I want to take on challenges in my leadership.

The ability to take courses online has been a tremendous gift. I have always lived in a rural and now a remote area. Getting to a university is difficult and AU provides a quality education in a convenient way for working professionals. I also have had fabulous instructors who are passionate about their work and inspire me. Through their teaching and inspiration, it has helped me to find my own voice through my leadership.

Katherine LeBlanc

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Why did you choose AU?

I chose AU, at first, by accident. When I was taking my Certificate of Extended Studies, the University of Regina suggested that I can take some of my courses through AU, as they would transfer the credit.

Needless to say, I was very excited at this opportunity as I love distance education (DE) and as I was currently teaching some DE classes, I understood the format.

After I finished my certificate, I began taking AU master’s courses. I felt it was an easy transition to make. I felt comfortable with the staff at AU and I found them to be very helpful. I loved the instructors and I knew that distance learning was the means I wanted to learn in, learn about, and teach. Because I was working full-time and at that time, I was also a single mom – this format met my needs.

Katherine LeBlanc

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How much time do you have left in your program? How will/has this program helped you in your career and/or in your life more generally?

I am in class four of six required classes in my doctorate program.  This program has challenged me.  I am often feeling out of my comfort zone, but am excited about the learning.  I also have bonded with some amazing people in my cohort and feel like I’ve made some life-long friends who support me.

The classes and the research I am doing has helped me understand my own work.  I have done a fair bit of research on colonization of the Inuit, mental health, and suicide issues that are a reality in Nunavut.  This research has helped me to understand my job better and to do a better job serving the community I have fallen in love with.  My research has compelled me to do what I can to help students preserve Elder stories and help ensure we preserve the language whenever we can.

The AU instructors and advisors have helped me to really believe in my potential, as well. I never thought 15 years ago that I would be in a doctoral program.  I actually had no aspirations to do so either.  It was some of the instructors at AU that inspired me and because of their feedback, made me dig deep and helped me to see my own potential.

Katherine LeBlanc

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Can you tell us a bit more about the award that you recently won?

The award I was honoured to win was Canada’s Outstanding Principal Award. This is given to 30 principals across Canada. With the award, we were given a four-day leadership seminar at Rotman’s School of Management in Toronto, as well as attending the gala that honoured all of the recipients. Members of my staff, a student and his parent, and a former colleague from Saskatchewan nominated me and did the application.

Katherine LeBlanc

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What’s a piece of advice you’d like to share with the AU community?

Believe in yourself, as you can do big things – no matter where you began. I have very humble roots. I did not grow up with very much and I never dreamed that when I became a teacher, I would be recognized at a national level. I have always believed though that I had to work hard to show my children the importance of hard work, just like my parents did for me. I also wanted to lead by example. How can I tell people that I value education, if I am not willing to walk-the-talk?

I also want people to know that the AU community is incredibly supportive. They have been fabulous to me and AU provides many educational opportunities.

Katherine LeBlanc

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What is the one thing that really drives you?

I have to say, family drives me. I wanted my children to know that you are never too old to learn and that education is the one thing that can never be taken away from you. I have an incredibly supportive husband who also believes in education and this has kept me going when time constraints and deadlines were looming. With our four children (his two and mine) and me in university at one point, he kept everything else working. I could focus on work and school, and he did the rest!

I also want to teach teachers. It was through leadership opportunities that I came to understand that I wanted to teach at the university level, so I needed to make it happen. I value education and am excited to learn.

Katherine LeBlanc

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Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us?

I am extremely grateful for the support AU has given me. I have met wonderful people through both of the programs that I have taken with AU. There are amazing instructors here, plus fabulous and supportive staff and material that has helped guide my leadership. The program is very supportive of personal issues that arise. Through some tumultuous times, AU has always showed me support and understanding, and for that, I will always be grateful.

I would also like to add, for those who still feel like the only way to get a quality education is through a traditional bricks-and-mortar delivery – I’d say they are wrong. Distance learning affords so many opportunities, and for me, has created some amazing communities of learning. I am proud to be an AU graduate and hope to soon have my doctorate, which I will proudly say is from Athabasca University!

Katherine LeBlanc

See what some of her nominators said about her:

  • Although Katherine has only been in Rankin for a short time, she has promoted cultural change in the school. As a leader, Katherine’s main focus is to ensure her students have a safe and caring environment. Not only does she welcome her students when they arrive to school in the morning, she gets to know them, their interests and has built genuine relationships with them. She can often also be seen with a badminton racquet in her hand after school as she challenges the students. Building these relationships outside of the school day, has allowed her to have more candid discussions with students at the school about their goals, academics, and behaviours.
  • Katherine believes in the importance of sustaining cultural connections with her students. It is her goal to have her staff embed Inuit culture into their curriculums, invite Elders into the classroom and take opportunities to learn more about the Inuit culture. She has made the high school an inviting place for Elders and recognizes the value in their teachings. Elders feel integral in the education of the students as Katherine has ensured that classrooms have Elders working alongside students.
  • Katherine is also a huge supporter of the ConnectEd North program. This program allows teachers to connect their students with people all over the world. This virtual classroom lets students connect with the outside world in ways they may not otherwise have the opportunity to do. She personally has used this to allow her students to showcase the Inuit culture to other students in southern Canada. Although it has become an expectation that teachers incorporate this technology, teachers have embraced the opportunities and students have shared their enthusiasm.
  •  One of the areas where Katherine excels in instructional leadership is her work to improve literacy rates in the school. This is an area that she is very passionate about. In order to improve literacy rates, she works jointly with the learning coach to examine the benchmark assessments of the students and then with the literacy team to establish ways that teachers can utilize this information to ensure that the student’s needs are being met.

Katherine LeBlanc receiving her award from Debra D. Kerby, President and CEO of The Learning Partnership and Steve Kuwahara, Market Vice President, CIBC

Published:
  • March 16, 2019