2020 Sparks of Excellence Award Recipients
Rudina Jacaj is currently teaching an IELTS test preparation class and a CLB 1 class with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, which she joined in 2013. Changing hats has become the norm for her during the day. When she is asked “How can you do that?” she simply says “I love it”. Prior to this, she taught a variety of English language levels, including CLB 10, worked as a teaching assistant at Carleton University and as an EFL teacher in Albania.
Rudina strongly believes that taking risks, developing students` cognitive skills, and creating opportunities for socialization are the main pillars of language acquisition. In her lessons she frequently utilizes data-driven learning and linguistic risk-taking activities that require students to unravel a variety of linguistic mysteries, dare with language use beyond the classroom walls, and engage in enjoyable arguments.
She enjoys creating worksheets to investigate large volumes of authentic data, such as that available in the Contemporary Corpus of American English (COCA), and designing PBLA assessment tasks and rubrics. She loves participating in school fundraising events. Rudina takes immense pride in displaying students' work during Education Week, as well as in having her students succeed in the IELTS test and being admitted to colleges or universities.
Rudina holds a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies and is TESL Ontario certified (OCELT). Acknowledging how important professional development is for her peers and herself, she was a member of the TESL Ottawa Board from 2012-2020 as member-at-large and as membership secretary.
Diane McCargar began her teaching career in 1993 as a computer instructor in a storefront adult basic education program at the Ottawa Public School Board. With a Bachelor of Education specializing in Computer Science and Mathematics, she brings a unique set of skills to the field of literacy and language instruction. She strives to put students at ease and instill in them the confidence they need to tackle new challenges.
Her interest in curriculum development began as a contributor to and editor of CONNECT, a national newsletter for technology and adult literacy. Most recently, she has participated as a developer for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s Real World Assessment Task Bank and as the manager of the OCDSB’s module development project.
As an instructor and member of the board of directors of TVLT (New Language Solutions), she has witnessed the evolution of technology in adult education. At the beginning of her career, she worked with instructors, helping them to take advantage of technology as an educational tool that could utilize multi-media to motivate students and address their various learning styles. She was also instrumental in sourcing and acquiring educational software and equipment to support individualized instruction, allowing learners to work at their own pace and receive immediate feedback. As time progressed, she introduced instructors to technologies designed to assist students with learning challenges and overcome barriers, such as physical access to education.
In her current role as the technology support instructor for the adult ESL, LINC and LBS programs at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, she continues to support instructors as they navigate their way through online distance learning, as part of the response to the pandemic. She hopes to continue her work with colleagues, to ensure that both curriculum and instruction are informed by the multitude of ever-changing technologies that permeate all aspects of our daily lives.
Maha El-Otari holds a Bachelor of Arts in English language and literature and is a TESL Ontario certified teacher (OCELT). She has worked in the field of EFL and ESL for 20 years, starting at the post-secondary level and moving on to teach ESP classes for business, tourism, and journalism.
Living in Gatineau Quebec has provided her opportunities to teach French speakers and be in close proximity to join the Ottawa Carlton School Board’s adult education program. Starting as a substitute teacher at OCSB widened her knowledge in teaching various levels in different parts of the city. This made her aware of the necessity to tailor the lessons to the needs of the learners, since teaching the same lesson to a different class results in different outcomes. With this in mind, she was curious to experiment with PBLA as a pilot project, starting with literacy level and later with CLB 3 and 4. She has seen the benefits of task-based teaching with the learners, which encouraged her to participate in supporting teachers in implementing PBLA. She became interested in becoming a PBLA lead teacher and started supporting both LINC and ESL teachers in the program.
Maha is a bibliophile and cherishes being a member of a book club. In her free time, she loves being outdoors, especially hiking and cross-country-skiing in Gatineau park, which is in close proximity to her home.
Jacqueline Seijo is currently an ESL Instructor and EdTech ESL/LINC support lead with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She has been teaching at school boards and colleges in the Ottawa area since 2017. In 2013, she returned to Canada after being in Spain for 25 years. During her time in Spain, she worked at her own firm as a heritage architect and won several national and regional awards in architectural design. On her return to Canada, she chose to follow and develop her passion for teaching and trained in the TESL program at Algonquin College, graduating in 2017.
Technology is a constant in Jacqueline’s classroom, as she believes that learners should use and benefit from digital tools, applications, and platforms to improve their English language skills. This involves collaboration among individual students, pairs, and groups, as well as with other classes through project-based learning. As a result, communities are built and relationships are forged, providing an integral learning and growing experience.
She regularly invites guest speakers who participate in Q&A sessions with students, to exchange knowledge and experience. As a result, the course is enhanced with the colour and freshness of new faces from the community. She is convinced that true learning spans beyond the classroom, and that connecting with the community brings a rainbow into the classroom.
Jacqueline’s background and skills as an architect contribute to how she designs, creates, experiments, and processes her work as an instructor, in the search for continuous improvement and growth. Resilience is her greatest skill and she reminds herself daily that “Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Buddha
Nominations for the Sparks of Excellence Award are accepted in the summer each year and winners will be presented with their awards at the TESL Ontario Annual Conference each fall.