Donna Armstrong: Balancing curriculum, student interests and global needs

Year: 2018 – Province: Alberta

Transcription – Donna Armstrong-2018 Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence

[Black screen fades up to close-up of woman in interview setting, against a mottled background. Music playing.]

[Caption: Donna Armstrong, Crescent Heights High School]

[Donna speaking in interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by still photos, as follows: Donna and three female students in front of laptops; and Donna in a studio in front of a microphone with headphones on listening to a man, also wearing headphones.]

Donna Armstrong: The number one factor contributing to my students’ learning has to be positive relationships. In my classroom, we try to create a safe and caring environment, where all students are encouraged to explore, and to contribute, and to create, and to connect to others. We make sure that everybody is able to contribute in their own way.

[Donna speaking in interview setting, with cut near the end to voice over and still photo of Donna and a smiling young man in front of a computer with a large-print keyboard.]

Donna Armstrong: I have three rules in my classroom. The first one is respect, trust and performance. And, within those guidelines, we try to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity, that everybody is able to express their ideas with constructive criticism, able to explore the different technologies, with assistive devices, if necessary, so that everyone feels like they belong.

[Donna speaking in interview setting then cuts to voice over with still photos, as follows: a computer lab; Donna and several young women posing in matching t-shirts, with cameras; and Donna with a video crew in front of lockers.]

Donna Armstrong: The idea behind communications technologies is that we are able to give students meaningful opportunities that use industry-standard software and concepts, and that they are able to use those transferable skills into the workplace or post-secondary.

[Cut back to Donna in interview setting, and then voice over continuing with video of Donna addressing fellow recipients at podium. Cut back to Donna speaking in interview setting to conclude.]

Donna Armstrong: My biggest piece of advice for pre-service teachers is that in university you learn all about classroom management and the curriculum, but the foundation is building relationships. So, for me, making sure that when a student comes to my classroom that they feel like they belong, they feel like they can contribute, they’re somewhere where people care about them, because I’m their biggest cheerleader.

[Fade to black.]

[Cut to white screen, with the Government of Canada FIP followed by the Canada Wordmark.]

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Donna Armstrong

Crescent Heights High School
1201 Division Avenue
Medicine Hat, Alberta T1A 5Y9

School telephone: 403-527-6641
School website:

Subjects and grades taught:  Multimedia and Communication Technology, grades 7–12

An informed, perceptive and passionate advocate of the safe, ethical and respectful use of media and the Internet, Donna Armstrong has three rules for her classroom: trust, respect and performance. She is a lifelong learner, and creative and critical thinker who contributes to education both locally and abroad.

Teaching approach

Integrating many disciplines, Donna builds her classes on an underlying structure of individualized hands-on strategies and problem-solving activities. Her lessons balance the Alberta curriculum, student interests and the local, regional and global demands of the real world.

In the Classroom

  • Presents technology as a vehicle for students to connect, create and celebrate: students took holiday photos with DSLR digital cameras, and made greeting cards to sell; others wrote and illustrated a children's book for exchange with schools in the Caribbean
  • Incorporates learning opportunities as they arise: students produce advertising materials for businesses, print t-shirts for school teams and clubs, film and live-stream volleyball and soccer tournaments, and create orientation videos to help Grade 6 students transition to the school
  • Employs assistive devices to meet wide range of special needs: drawing tablets supplement keyboards, noise-cancelling headphones help students who are easily distracted, text-to­speech software supports visually impaired students, iPads extend accessibility beyond the classroom
  • Extended her Master's thesis research to include a collaborative learning activity: students exchanged photographs with peers in Ethiopia depicting learning in their respective schools, and were challenged to understand and appreciate the images their African counterparts selected

Outstanding achievements

  • High retainment rates and achievement by students of widely varying backgrounds, interests and skill levels are hallmarks of Donna's classes
  • Students regularly receive individual or group awards (local and provincial) for photography, yearbook cover design and animation
  • Leads program development: for example, Donna transformed a program based on darkroom photography, manual production of print materials and silk screening into a fully digital approach to design and production of multimedia materials; created multimedia courses for three grades
  • For five summers, Donna organized and led multi-week workshops in art and design, English and computer literacy in Africa, the Caribbean and South America

Rave reviews

"Ms. Armstrong is an exemplary teacher, cultivating students' talents and encouraging their exploration of media careers. She is the kind of teacher you hope your own children will encounter during their time in the education system.”