Pieter Toth: Changing the world one young mind at a time

Year: 2018 – Province: Ontario

Transcription – Pieter Toth-2018 Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence

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

[Caption: Pieter Toth, Dundas Valley Secondary School]

[Pieter speaking in interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by video and still photos, as follows: Pieter addressing fellow recipients, speaking into a microphone in front of a screen; Pieter sitting on the ground holding a cardboard sign that reads “Almost half the world—over 3 billion people—live on less than $2.50,” with student lying in front; and grinning Pieter holding his hands up in a heart shape.]

Pieter Toth: I feel that the number one thing that contributes to student learning is engagement, so being able to make a connection. So, engagement in terms of how do we get them feeling like they’re part of something more than just a person sitting in a room listening to another person standing in a room. The biggest thing I’ve found, in 25 years, is what brings students to a classroom and makes them want to be part of a classroom, is that they feel they are making a difference. So, they way they can make a difference is by making your curriculum real, by making the projects that you do real-life. I have three questions on the wall of every classroom I teach in: What are we learning today? Why are we learning it? And, how does it connect to our lives?

[Pieter speaking in interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by still photos, as follows: Pieter standing in resource centre, with couches and stacks of books behind; and Pieter joking around with a male student at a desk, with others working at computers nearby and in the background.]

Pieter Toth: I think if I could create the perfect space, it would be a balance between room and functionality. I would love to see couches and chairs in an area. I’d love to see computer stations in an area. I’d love to see a variety of different technologies. That’s the physical part of it, but it’s the emotional, it’s the intellectual part of it that’s also really important, because they have to feel safe. Part of the things we do, is we design the classroom, so every time I teach that course, the classroom changes. We do research into different designs. We do research how to do the technology, how it should look, and then the students, in their groups, take the room that we have, they measure it out, and they look at everything that’s in there and they think, ‘How could we rearrange this’ to fit what their needs are? I think that technology is one of the keys to any learning process. And, the reason is that it’s part of the reality of the world we live in. Technology is a tool, like anything else. It can be distracting. It can be destructive or it can be constructive; it can be a device that opens up the whole world to them.

[Cut to voice over with selfie of Pieter in classroom, with students behind, some looking a camera, others unaware and working at their desks. Cut back to interview setting to conclude.]

Pieter Toth: One of the sayings that’s on my wall—one of the Toth-isms—is that learning begins where Google ends, so my focus becomes less of, ‘Here’s a whole bunch of facts,’ and more of, ‘How do we apply these facts? How do we make connections at a higher level?’ because we don’t have to worry so much, you know, about how do we get this information that are the building blocks, because it is available.

[Cut to video of Pieter addressing fellow recipients, followed by shot of audience listening, with voice over, as follows.]

Pieter Toth: My biggest piece of advice for pre-service teachers is the 360-degree feedback approach. So, they have to focus on themselves as learners and know who they are as people before they can become the best teacher they can be.

[Cut to still photo of Pieter with a cup of coffee, giving a thumbs-up. Cut back to interview setting to conclude.]

Pieter Toth: So, the more transparent you can be, the more authentic you can be as a person, as a teacher, the more effective you will be. That networking, that mentorship—that to me is absolutely critical to figuring out who you are as a person, who you are as a learner and who you are as a teacher.

[Fade to black.]

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

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Pieter Toth

Dundas Valley Secondary School
310 Governor's Road
Dundas, ON L9H 5P8

School telephone: 905-628-2203
School website: www.hwdsb.on.ca/dundasvalley


Subjects and grades taught: Business and Social Justice, grades 9–12

Pieter Toth connects student thinking to curriculum expectations. He also find ways to link what happens in the classroom to the school's vision of building an empathetic culture of respect and learning through the lens of human rights and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Teaching approach

Pieter is a natural at building strong, authentic relationships based on trust and honesty. He takes the time to connect with his students every day, to make them feel valued, encourage them to take risks and go deeper with their thinking and learning in order to make the world a better place for everyone.

In the Classroom

  • Challenges students to work outside their comfort zone: for each project, students present their work differently (with a song or by coaching experts to present for them); Pieter "fires" people from groups and moves them to another, so students learn to adapt to project team change
  • Provides opportunities for students to walk in the shoes of others: a "sleep out" saw students on the streets for a day, with no technology, food or water; the generosity they experienced inspired them so much that they later went out on their own to give food and drink to the homeless
  • Removes social status in his classes, training students to be accepting of and positive about their peers so they can be the same for themselves
  • Fosters community contacts and networking opportunities so students understand how to work with others to make an impact

Outstanding achievements

  • Students organize and run community and charitable events that attract thousands of people
  • Mentored student to become student trustee with the school board and join the Ontario Student Trustee Association to make her voice heard in discussions about education at the provincial level
  • Instrumental in developing provincial education ministry network for knowledge building and innovation for secondary teachers, with student presentations featuring prominently

Rave reviews

"Pieter causes a chain reaction of pure, almost unbelievable learning experiences in every one of his classes, and because of his influence on so many young minds, he is one of the minds that will change this world into what it deserves to be."

Student and Nominator