Linden’s Associate Principal Wins Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence: Recognized for Leadership in Education and Social Justice
Small School Now Boasts Three PMA Honourees
Tonja Armstrong-MacInnis, The Linden School’s Associate Principal, Elementary, has received Canada’s highest honour for teachers and Early Childhood Educators: a National Certificate of Excellence from the Prime Minister’s Award (PMA) for Excellence in Early Childhood Education. Just five Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) are honoured each year from across Canada.
Tonja, who teaches kindergarten in addition to serving as Associate Principal, is the third Linden faculty member to receive a PMA. The Linden School is an independent school for girls and gender-expansive students in midtown Toronto with 120 students in JK-Grade 12.
“For almost two years we have been living through a pandemic while witnessing historic moments in the fight for racial justice,” said her nominator and colleague, Beth Alexander. “Tonja uses her unique blend of skills and creativity to ease her students through these uncertain times, while creating magical experiences for them, particularly in inquiry and STEM.”
Tonja created and led her own anti-racism workshops for the Linden community and ECE peers. “Often, diversity training stops at an acknowledgement that the work is difficult and messy,” said Beth. “Tonja embraces the challenge of guiding colleagues through difficult but necessary conversations. She leaves her comfort zone in order to hold ourselves and our school accountable. Her courage has led Linden forward at a crucial time.” She also skillfully guides her young students through these conversations in an age-appropriate way, inspiring them to take action and create positive social change.
“Children are never too young to hear and think about ways to support people in our communities that experience injustices,” says Tonja. “Students in my care come together to move from thinking to action as social changemakers. National recognition sends a strong signal to all educators about the importance of continuing this work. I hope that non-performative social justice practices become the norm across Canada’s education systems.”
Recognizing a community need, Tonja started a club for students who are racialized in all grades, carving out a space to talk about ways to navigate the world, to act for meaningful change, and to help students be effective allies.
During the earliests and most difficult days of the pandemic, many families remarked on the ease with which their children adapted to Zoom and online learning. Tonja delivered engaging programming by drawing on the strengths of Linden’s community. She enlisted high school students, families, and community members to read to the youngest students in the school, adapted lessons to the outdoors, facilitated events like meeting with our beekeepers, while supporting new teachers in adapting to the many-faceted challenges of the pandemic. Tonja deployed a wealth of strategies to keep students learning and healthy while online. She started her students’ days with movement or even a dance party, held individual check-ins with them to support numeracy, literacy, and social/emotional growth, and adapted hands-on classroom materials, such as base-10 blocks, to the digital format.
She also helped her young students through their fears and anxieties. “Tonja finds that wonderful sweet spot between supporting the particular needs of early years students and empowering them to recognize their own strength and autonomy,” said Beth. “Her students understand that they are able to recognize world problems and enact solutions that make the world a better place. Not only do her students feel proud of helping others, but they are able to channel pandemic worries into effective ways to manage stress: by taking action.”
Other PMA honourees on Linden’s faculty are Beth Alexander, Associate Principal, Middle and High School, who was recognized in 2016 for her innovative ways to engage girls in STEM. Athletics Director Deidre Macpherson was honoured in 2019 for her unique and inclusive athletics program.
“The Linden School is a beacon for talented, innovative and passionate teachers because we strike a balance between academic innovation and education for social justice,” said Principal Tara Silver. “It is impressive that Linden’s faculty boasts three teachers who have been honoured with this prestigious award. Their expertise spans a range of subjects, including STEM, health and emotional well-being, Early Childhood Education and ant-racist teaching.”
About The Linden School:
The Linden School is a socially progressive community where innovative best practices in girls’ education promote and strengthen student voice, well-being, academic excellence, and global engagement. Learn more at www.lindenschool.ca.
Photos of Tonja Armstrong-MacInnis with her students: