When we speak to students about “passion and compassion,” it’s easy to point to our teachers as shining examples. They are the ones who model the way for our students, as passionate and compassionate educators.
Perhaps that’s even more pertinent with those working closely with our youngest students at the Junior School. These teachers welcome curious and nervous students who’ve never been to school before, and lay the right foundation to ensure these children love learning and being at school.
And for 16 years, Margaret Lincoln did just that at SMUS as a beloved Kindergarten teacher and Junior School program specialist.
“Every child should have a great and wondrous school experience where they really feel loved and they feel seen. I think that’s the most important thing an educator can do,” she says, reflecting on a career spent dedicated to working with and caring for children.
Originally from Glasgow, Margaret and her family immigrated to Canada when she was a child and they settled in Montreal. Going through school, she says she was initially planning a career in social work, but an eye-opening volunteer experience that was a prerequisite for the social work program changed the trajectory of her life’s work.
“I was assigned to a family, and I found I was most drawn to the youngest child. I remember feeling very empathetic toward her, and something in me just switched. ‘Where else can I make a fundamental contribution to children?’ I had a feeling that teaching would be somewhere I could find myself.”
Sure enough, teaching was a great fit for Margaret. While her teaching degree from McGill University specialized in Grades 4-6, the first half of her career was spent in Quebec and Ontario working with children of all ages: from toddlers through to Grade 11 students.
“My first job was in a toddler program; I’ve never learned so much in my life. It was a great training ground for working with children forever,” Margaret says. “When you’re working with young children and you have to lead them through the program that’s being offered, you quickly learn about all of these developmental stages. You do a lot of try, fail, repeat until you get it because you learn from where they are developmentally. I learned so much about being responsive to children.”
Joining the ‘Magical’ SMUS Community
When she came to Victoria and SMUS in 2005, she brought with her a wealth of knowledge from teaching and being a mom to two young girls: Hannah, who graduated from SMUS in 2014, and Elise, a Lifer who graduated in 2018. Her approach to her work perfectly suited the Junior School.
“I remember thinking that first year how special of a community this was. At that point I kind of came into my own in terms of teaching; consolidating all those experiences I had. And it was fantastic, it was kind of magical,” she says. “That had a lot to do with the children, the families, the colleagues; all of those pieces coming together. I felt like I was very much a part of the bigger fabric of the school where there was a feeling of ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’”
Margaret spent 11 years teaching Kindergarten students before moving into an administrative role as Junior School program specialist. She says she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to see dozens of her students go through 13 years at the school as Lifers, many of whom would return to the Junior School for the annual Lifers Lunch before graduation.
“I would always get very excited. I loved hearing about their memories, especially about Chester (a stuffed raccoon mainstay at the Junior School), and having them walk through the school. They would walk into their Kindergarten space and talk about certain things, ‘This was here, that was there.’ It made me realize that children’s memories are really strong and formative at that age. It’s even more reason for us to be so intentional about what we do for children and how we provide for them in those early years.”
Supported by then-Director of Junior School Nancy Richards, in 2010 Margaret helped initiate the shift to adopt a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach to teaching in the primary grades. Through this approach, students are given time and space to explore and express their interests in ways that are meaningful to them.
“This was transformational as an educator. All the things I’ve felt about children and their competency and how full of potential they are is embodied in that approach,” Margaret says. “That elevated the experience for me of what it’s like to be working alongside children.”
Retirement and Reflections
Margaret retired from SMUS this month. Retirement will include more time spent with her husband, Michael, and daughters, cooking, reading, travelling and enjoying nature. She also says she doesn’t yet feel finished with professional work, and will pursue further endeavours “that elevate the wellbeing of children and contribute to what I think children deserve, which is a high-quality, wonderful childhood.”
Reflecting on her time at SMUS and her career as an educator, Margaret says she felt like the Junior School – working directly with young children alongside passionate and compassionate colleagues – was the right place for her.
“I knew that there wasn’t anywhere else to go to find anything greater than what I have here. Working with this age group, there’s so much joy in getting to know these students as little people. They constantly surprise you, they constantly inspire you,” Margaret says. “Being in their presence changes how you think about the world, it changes who you are. You have a heightened sense of appreciation, playfulness and joyfulness. I can’t imagine a better life’s work. I really can’t.”