Who I Am
Some Thoughts about Teaching
PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
My purpose is to develop an awareness of power and hegemony and instill a commitment to creating a democratic, cooperative and socialist society, and a sense of our interconnectedness. As American playwright, performer, feminist, and activist Eve Ensler (1953-) says, “We’ve become passive recipients of a culture that is not only dividing us from each other but from ourselves.”
One of the most important roles of education is to help learners realize and understand a sense of universal interconnectedness. I see the role of education as helping others to develop a capacity to think for themselves, holistically – to look at the whole as well as the parts – and to consider the complex relationships that connect them to others on the planet as a whole. This kind of teaching fosters the capacity for making wise decisions and informed ethical choices in a world of opposing forces.
The development of autonomous thinking includes analytic and problem-solving skills, and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from observations while synthesizing and integrating experiences, information, and ideas (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Developing thinking skills also requires trusting relationships and a supportive environment. It calls for a culture of creativity and openness that encourages experimentation, questioning, and risk-taking. Learners need to have opportunities to become aware of their assumptions, perspectives, and values. They are encouraged to develop an informed concern about contemporary social issues while respectfully listening to and considering the views of others. Through challenges and positive experiences that include questioning the status quo, learners can reflect on the world beyond the classroom.
The role of education, then, can become a pathway to empowerment. It can promote a lifelong love of learning and a commitment to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship as we face the greatest challenge of all time – the survival of the human species (Hahn, 2013).
In my teaching I try to negotiate power and recognize my power and bias. This practice is evolving as I uncover the deeper layers of internalized beliefs acquired throughout my life. According to Brookfield and Holst (2011), radical teaching, arising from a socialist belief system, stems from a skilful manipulation of the learners and curriculum. They point out that this approach requires a careful balance between control and letting go. To engage students, radical teaching taps into their experiences but reveals the values of capitalism and white supremacy that are rooted in their lives. I use arts-based methods and employ as many of the tools of the teaching trade as appropriate, according to my understanding of the learner’s readiness and the learning context.
In a world in which images are ubiquitous, teaching visual literacy, as I do, is not only essential but also a powerful force for change. I have both witnessed and experienced transformation. My Master’s research will explore the use of art to help foster Transformative Learning, defined as “a comprehensive and complex description of how learners construe, validate, and reformulate the meaning of their experience” (Cranton, 1994, p. 22.). These experiences offer the potential for learners to change their meaning schemes (specific beliefs, attitudes, and emotional reactions), which can in turn lead to a change in perspective (Mezirow, 2002).
In my position at Peterborough Alternative and Continuing Education (PACE), I have flipped the classroom design and invite learners to use critical thinking and imagination to solve creative, real-world challenges, and develop the flexibility and resilience to excel at their own pace. Flexibility, innovation and creativity in teaching and learning increase student achievement, closing learning gaps and leading to greater success. My courses build on learners’ interests and understood needs. In this studio atmosphere, students develop problem-solving skills and independence while receiving ongoing support from both teacher and peers. I no longer teach from the front of the classroom, but act as a guide and facilitate one on one or in small groups. The approach is about more than just creating a safe space. The nature of the space is democratic, with decision-making shifted to the learners, who have ownership of the process. They become engaged in their learning and empowered, with the process thus challenging and transforming patterns of social exclusion and power (Gaventa, 2006).The creation of a safe and trusting community means that conversation flows easily, organically, from one to another. Students become more confident and better prepared for graduation and the ever-changing world beyond.
A truly student-centred approach requires sensitivity to an individual’s capacity to go beyond the personal challenges of her or his life and immediate needs. Supporting students’ emotional health and well-being is the first step. As an artist, rather than being the “expert” of the class, I encourage playful experimentation and join in. I use art-making to promote self-esteem/self-confidence and create a nurturing space. In the inner-city school community where I work, the population has experienced a great deal of trauma, and this kind of approach may be the only way to engage in effective learning.
TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION
I am committed to honouring and serving the aims of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations by learning about the treaties, land claims, residential schools, and traditional teachings of culture. This year I have designed a new course at PACE, Expressions of Art in First Nations, Metis and Inuit Culture. I have collaborated with First Nations community members and have sought guidance regarding the curriculum. I feel it is important that this teaching is about building relationships with the Indigenous people, and infused with a great deal of honour and respect and is paramount for all our students.
This commitment extends to my personal life. As an artist I am a member of Zoong’de: Strong Heart, a multidisciplinary community project devoted to the impact of missing and murdered Indigenous women, the resilience of sexual violence survivors, and the relationship between land, water, body and violence, supported by the Ontario Arts Council. As part of a group of eight indigenous and settler artists I will be providing art workshops in First Nations communities.