Koren Lightning-Earle receives Pringle/Royal sessional teaching excellence award

Lightning-Earle praised for passion in teaching Indigenous law course

Priscilla Popp - 02 May 2022

A well-respected alumna and sessional instructor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, Koren Lightning-Earle, ’07 LLB, was recently announced as the 2022 recipient of the Pringle/Royal sessional teaching excellence award.

“It was very heartwarming.  I think every professor wants to have an impact on students.  You want to empower them.  I was so fortunate enough to observe the growth and transformation in my students as the course progressed.  It was very meaningful to me.  I am humbled and honoured to be a part of their journeys,” Lightning-Earle said of being chosen for the recognition, which is named in honour of Peter Royal, QC, and the late Alex Pringle, QC, each who were instructors at the Faculty.

Lightning-Earle started at the Faculty as a sessional instructor in 2021.  A Blue Thunderbird Woman who is Cree from Samson Cree Nation, she is teaching TRC, Law, Justice and Reconciliation (otherwise known as LAW 591).

“This course is one change toward those future generations.  I wanted them to truly engage with the material and reflect on what the TRC calls to action means to them, as individuals and future lawyers,” she said.

As listed in the course syllabi, learning objectives of the course include students being able to “critically engage with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s [TRC] Final Report and Calls to Actions” and students being able “to identify and articulate the impact of and relationships between historic injustices and societal narratives about Indigenous peoples, law, justice and reconciliation in Canada.”

In comments that were invited as part of nomination packages, one student said Lightning-Earle’s “… ability to be optimistic, practical, see change that needs to be made, and make it happen, are inspiring.”

Another said “Koren has a great understanding of how reconciliation is to be taught from an Indigenous perspective for a law school class of various types of students.  She is kind, thoughtful, and fair when going through materials.  Having people like Koren serves (at least for me) as a great example of how I can be as an Indigenous lawyer and advocate.  I was inspired throughout this course.”

Ensuring that learning is accessible to each of her students is a key element of how Lightning-Earle approaches teaching.  As one student noted “She delivered a hybrid class: offering both in person and remote zoom attendance so students can attend however they like for each class, at a moment's notice, flexibly, and with every opportunity to catch oneself up if they miss anything.”

Another said, “She also clearly and truly cares about the wellbeing of her students, and evidently enjoys teaching.  It means a lot to have taken a class with someone who is an expert, a practicing lawyer, a busy and high-achieving person, a mentor, and more.  I have grown academically and personally thanks to her guidance.”

Lightning-Earle listed three objectives when it comes to the courses she leads.

“I strive to make my classes engaging, challenging and welcoming.  I aim to create a safe learning environment where students can be vulnerable and open to the information they are receiving,” she said, also noting that teaching Indigenous material in particular requires unique considerations.

“When it comes to Indigenous content, it’s important to connect the head to the heart.  Learning about Indigenous history can be emotion-provoking and many students express how unsettling this particular content can be to fully digest.  It’s important to teach in a way that inspires critical thought, positive change and hope.”

The Faculty will host an in-person event in September to celebrate Lightning-Earle and Professor Jessica Eisen, who received the 2022 Tevie H. Miller Award for teaching excellence.