Get to Know the 2022 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Nominees

April 22, 2022

Throughout its 25-year history, MusiCounts has worked with thousands of dedicated music educators who share the belief that music adds possibilities for kids. It’s teachers who go above and beyond every day by building a place of belonging in the music classroom, and advocating for the importance of music education in every kid's life. The MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, presented by the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation, celebrates these educators and their continued efforts in the field. Each of the 2022 finalists have made strides in their schools and communities to ensure every kid gets to experience the unparalleled joy of music class. Get to know the five inspiring nominees for the 2022 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award.

Jewel Casselman - Lakewood School, Winnipeg, MB

Jewel Casselman believes being a lifelong learner helps her be the best music educator she can be for her K-5 students. In addition to participating in professional development workshops and maintaining active membership in local music associations over the years, she recognizes that “the music room is a community space where students and teachers are learners.” By learning from her students and taking an interest in their hobbies and passions outside of music, she’s been able to adapt her music program to reflect and cater to the students who participate.

Through the Orff approach to music education, Jewel incorporates many approaches into her curriculum (such as singing, improvisation, and both pitched and unpitched instruments) to ensure students experience music in a variety of ways - and have fun doing it. She advocates for students at every school in her division to start music education as early as kindergarten and for students to receive individual attention when they need it, because every kid deserves the chance to experience the joy of music without barriers.

Darren Hamilton - David Suzuki Secondary School, Brampton, ON

As a high school music teacher, Darren Hamilton recognizes the important role he plays in preparing students for the next phases of their lives. That’s why he strives to provide a well-rounded and diverse music education program. At David Suzuki Secondary School, he’s expanded the music education offerings from the traditional concert band program to also include music technology and hip-hop/R&B courses. By doing this, he’s not only created spaces in which students feel safe, seen, and engaged - he’s also provided an opportunity to develop a wide range of skills to introduce students to the scope of careers available to them in the music industry, beyond performance.

In Darren’s view,decolonizing the music classroom is one of the biggest challenges for this generation of Canadian music teachers to overcome, and he believes the solution starts in the education of educators themselves. Darren believes that “music education must reconcile with racialized and marginalized groups in society whose culture has been historically silenced and omitted from the curriculum. Every student deserves to see themselves reflected and represented in our music curricula.” When he’s not working with students at David Suzuki, he contributes to publications like Canadian Music Educator, presents at music education conferences and panels, and even co-authors teaching resources, all with the goal of helping his peers dismantle the systemic racism that exists within the field.

Sophie Jalbert - École Roy-Joly, Rivière-du-Loup, QC

It’s no secret that music education benefits children outside of the music classroom, in terms of both academic and personal success. That’s why Sophie Jalbert takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching music. By contextualizing math problems or assigning entrepreneurial projects through the lens of music, she aims to provide her students with a positive, memorable classroom experience that guides them through other parts of their lives. As she put it, “by learning music, I want to help my students become better humans.” In addition to teaching, Sophie is also working to complete her PhD in music education. Her research explores how entrepreneurial music education can help with executive function in elementary-aged students.

It’s important to Sophie that students, parents, and her community understand that it is not necessary to be a perfect musician or to aspire to pursue a career in music in order to have benefitted from music education. She finds every opportunity for her students to display this for their community through school concerts, cross-curricular projects with other classes, community rallies, and much more. Outside of the classroom, Sophie shares her expertise with future and current music educators, particularly in her role as an educational consultant for her school board. By doing this, she’s provided resources, workshops, and individual advice to ensure students at other schools in her board get the chance to become well-rounded learners through music.

Kelly Stronach - Mitchell Woods Public School, Guelph, ON

“Music does not need to be pretty to be meaningful. It is a joyful noise that every student must be allowed to make.” Kelly Stronach carries this philosophy with her in role as an elementary music teacher, and aims to eliminate all possible barriers to her students' learning. Over the years, she’s advocated for students at her school to spend more time in music class. As a result, she’s been able to get to know students better and incorporate music from cultures and genres that resonate with them. Between deepening the connection with students and the extracurriculars that she supervises (including the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and a rock band that rehearses before school to encourage school attendance), Kelly has established herself as an educator that students can learn from, feel safe around, and have fun with.

Kelly sees diversity and inclusion as an essential component of every music classroom, but understands why some teachers, especially those from the dominant culture, might be hesitant to approach these topics in fear of making mistakes along the way. She is continually learning, listening, and making space for experts when appropriate, and she encourages her peers to work through their discomfort to do the same. She’s contributed to her educator community by sharing resources, organizing professional development days, and hosting workshops on the relationship between social justice and music. There is still so much to do in the field of music education, but Kelly is actively trying to be a part of the solution to make sure students see themselves in every aspect of the music classroom.

Janell Toews - Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy, Canmore, AB

At Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy, Janell Toews wears many hats - she’s the grade 5-12 music teacher, the grade 9-12 guidance counselor, and the coach for several extracurricular sports. This has given her the unique opportunity to get to know her students on a deeper level, and in turn she can offer kids a music curriculum that best represents them. Her students trust that the music classroom is a safe space where they can bring - and more importantly, celebrate - their various cultures and identities. As Janell notes, “their courage translates into power in other aspects of their lives as I give them a place to build their self-confidence.”

The key to Janell’s success as a music educator has been creating a sustainable program that minimizes barriers for students. After successfully advocating for music education to be a curricular offering free from other course scheduling conflicts, she still faced one immense challenge: insufficient funding. Recognizing that the program’s budget would never be guaranteed to be adequate, she put on another hat - entrepreneur - and implemented a clever instrument rental program at her school to sustain funds. Eleven years ago, the school began charging students a nominal fee to rent their instruments for the year. Janell invested these fees back into the program, and has since increased the school’s instrument inventory sixfold. Now she is able to support students from low-income families with free instruments while continuing to invest rental fees back into the program to ensure every student has a chance to use a working instrument for generations to come.

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Watch The 2022 JUNO Awards

The recipient of the 2022 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, presented by the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation, will be announced live on The JUNO Awards broadcast on May 15, 2022. The Award winner receives a $10,000 cash prize, a significant contribution toward their school music program, as well as a JUNO statuette.

The MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award is presented by