Ryan O'Connor, Class of '11 Faculty of Education graduate and current Memorial master's student, has found a winning way to connect with his students in the classroom.
Not only is he the Grade 5 teacher in the small northern community of Arivat, Nunavut; he's also his students' hockey coach.
"The connections I've made with players at the arena have allowed me to better connect with them as students in the classroom," said Mr. O'Connor, who moved to Arivat in 2011 to teach and co-ordinate the elementary science program.
"Students begin to realize that there is not a lot of difference between learning at the arena and learning in the classroom. They both require hard work, determination and most importantly, respect. They start to understand that both solving a math problem and scoring a goal take effort and teamwork."
Mr. O'Connor channeled his love of sport into his new home almost immediately upon arrival in Arivat, a mostly Inuit hamlet located on the western shore of Hudson Bay in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. Arivat translates into English as "bowhead whale."
He started out coaching soccer; when renovations to the community ice arena were complete, he set his sights on hockey. Like so many Canadian kids, the Nova Scotian grew up on the ice. While completing his bachelor of education degree at Memorial, he played in the Avalon East Senior Hockey League for the Northeast Eagles.
"Remembering all of the great opportunities afforded to me by my family, teachers and past coaches, I wanted to give those same opportunities back to the youth of Arviat," he said.
With the help of other teachers and the community, Mr. O'Connor helped create the Amaqqut Minor Hockey Association. Winters in the area dip to -50 C, and there is often little to do, so the organization is thriving.
Since 2012 the association has hosted two territorial tournaments and sent numerous teams to compete in tournaments in both Manitoba and other parts of Nunavut. The administrators report an increase in the number of local coaches and parents getting involved, and hope the trend continues.
"What I love most about both teaching and coaching is that you get to see all students in a positive light," said Mr. O'Connor. "Not all students excel academically and often we make a judgment on their abilities without digging deeper; myself included.
"Some are excellent athletes, but struggle in the class room; others prefer to stick to academics. At the end of the day your students just want you to be proud of them, and they are most proud of themselves when they can demonstrate for you who they are and what they are best at."
Mr. O'Connor is currently working on his master of education degree in information technology through Memorial, while teaching and coaching in Arivat.
He's also caught the attention of Hockey Canada. Read his profile at: http://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/news/oconnor-looks-for-northern-exposure-at-u17-camp-here.