Catching Up With The Institute Man

Catching Up With The Institute Man

As you may know, this year Inside Education celebrates our 30th anniversary; and Bruce Wilson has been with us almost the whole way. Around here, we call him the Institute Man. A teacher with the Calgary Board of Education for 37 years, he’s experienced quite a bit with us over the years and was kind enough to share some memories of his time spent with Inside Education.

BruceAfter a long career of teaching, what’s the one thing you’re going to miss the most?

The one thing I will miss the most is the smiling, cheery faces of my students as they arrive in the morning or after lunch.  Their enthusiasm buoys me up for the rest of the day, and I can “capture their energy!” for myself.

Can you share some of your memories of your time spent with Inside Education?

1991 was my first experience with the two week long Forestry Institute in Grande Prairie.  It was an epic session; we were given expectations of journalling, evaluations, responses, group presentations and no air conditioning at the college that summer – it was under repair.  We sweated it out in more ways than one.  A memorable moment was a helicopter trip flying above the many cutlines in the forest cover, realizing the impact of seismic exploratory cutlines on the land as compared to the forestry industry.  Another first was touring the Peace River Daishowa Plant, where we were able to observe the industrial processes behind the production of paper, which was new and somewhat controversial in Alberta at that time.  A lasting memory was after the Institute – I went camping at the Provincial Park near Grande Prairie, and one of the more controversial guests invited me on their sailing boat to spend an afternoon of fun and relaxing with a beverage.  I enjoyed the hospitality of the local residents, as well as the “culinary” delights that were prepared by Jim and Wendy Martin and Bev Yee! And of course that is where I met Steve [McIsaac] and Christine Della Costa for the first time.  You might say I was hooked on FEESA Institutes for the next 10 years – from Water to Waste, Atmospheric Change to Stamp Around Alberta’s Natural Regions – I did them all!

You’ve been involved in so much outside the ’traditional’ classroom, in programs such as A+ for Energy. How important have these programs been to your teaching?

These programs, offered by a variety of partners, allow the “real world” outside the classroom to come in. This is especially important for those teaching an elementary audience, as you cannot go out as easily as high school classes can for field trip offerings.  Many of the programs are bias-balanced, allowing controversial viewpoints, and opposing ones to be shared with students, on a formal basis.  This then opens up the conversation with them around the issues, many of which do not always seem relevant to urban-based parents in Calgary or Edmonton (for example, forestry landscape change; clearcutting; impact of wind turbines on the landscape).  Also, first-hand information leads to first-hand contacts through the companies or organizations involved, and students could then write (as they did back then), phone, or email their contact person to get questions answered.  The real-life learning can happen in the classroom, but you need the tools to do so, and the willingness to be flexible with your timetable and schedule.  Large amounts of time is needed for students to process through what they are seeing, hearing and feeling and you cannot just assign them to one 30 minute period a day, for example, to do this kind of intensive examination and research and synthesis of their learning.  I hope these hands-on type of programs that bring in experts into the classroom continue for the future as they have served me well over my years in the elementary classroom setting.

Any advice for the next generation of environmental educators?

Don’t be afraid to tackle “sticky” environmental issues or concerns.  They may impact some of the parents in the class, but many will impact the generation in front of you that you are teaching. Either directly or indirectly, global climate change is a reality, and we need to look at all the ways that we can deal with environmental change – whether popular or not!  Hang in there with your thoughts, but be respectful and always bias-balanced – presenting both sides of the issue is essential for a well-rounded student inquiry into any topic.

What are your plans for the next phase of your life?

I am planning to go camping on the weekdays this summer and fall, for the first time ever! Next February and March, my wife Carol and I are embarking on a first-time trip down under in New Zealand – three weeks motorhoming on the South Island, and three weeks in B & B’s on the North Island.  Not to mention four days on the way down in Fiji, for some well deserved R & R.

Well deserved indeed, Bruce. Enjoy! And thank you for letting us be a part of your teaching journey throughout the years.

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