Community, People

School visit leads to global odyssey

April 30, 2021

Alberta O’Neil

A school visit from two psychologists sent Alberta O’Neil on an education odyssey spanning the globe.

It also taught her an important lesson about the classroom –  teachers must understand how children learn because it’s the key to students’ success.

Her epiphany occurred in 1989 when two psychologists observed her classroom for the entire school year. The goal was to help O’Neil and her students understand students’ learning styles and how O’Neil could use these styles to help them learn.

The psychologists were from California and they worked with London Life Insurance Company where they were responsible for developing systems that put the right employee into the right working position at the company. These systems were successful and London Life recommended the psychologists apply their skills to the classroom. They approached the Board of Education, which approved their request, said O’Neil.

It was an amazing experience for O’Neil because the skills she learned increased her confidence in the classroom.

“I was a very timid teacher. I kept to myself but once I went through this training, I became a little more open to everybody,” said O’Neil.

When the school year finished, O’Neil was selected for further training with the psychologists.

This is when her odyssey began. First, she went to San Diego for two weeks.

O’Neil worked with students to see what types of learners they were. Then, she travelled to Sweden and England where she worked with students and teachers on human dynamics.

“That was quite an experience and I learned a lot from it,” said O’Neil. “I wish more teachers would learn about the learning styles of children so they have a better idea of how to help those children.”

When she returned to Canada, she wrote about her experiences for the Federation of Women Teachers. She wrote an article, “Learning about learning styles,” for the organization in 1989 and she also wrote two books on human dynamics. The first, an introduction, explained the different ways people learn while the second book provided activities to help students learn, said O’Neil.

O’Neil trained to become a teacher at the London Normal School where she learned to have a positive attitude and care for the welfare of others.

After graduation, O’Neil started her career in a one-room country school in 1955. She taught 20 children from grades 1-8. After taking a year off to start a family, she became principal of a two-room school in Putnam, Ontario. When the school closed, she declined an offer to become principal in Willowdale, and instead, taught grades 5-6 as well as rotary subjects for grades 7-8. She also coached girls’ volleyball and basketball.

“Teaching didn’t feel like a job,” she said. “I really enjoyed teaching and the interaction with the children.”

She spent her entire career in the elementary school system and was active in the Federation of Women Teachers. Reflecting on her career, O’Neil’s advice for teacher candidates entering the profession is to enjoy what they’re doing and know the children, especially their learning styles.

“Everyone functions in a different way. Once they learn then they know how to apply things,” said O’Neil. “All the children have to understand that everybody is different.”

After retiring in 1991, O’Neil has kept busy. She was on the board of the Ontario Teachers’ Insurance Plan and Teachers’ Investment Group and is currently on the board of the Ocean Trillium Suites in Florida. She’s also a member of her condominium board and inter-church committee. She’s also a Mary Kay Beauty consultant.