At first, Associate Professor of Education Studies Spy Dénommé-Welch was hesitant to put himself forward for the 2020 Award for Teaching Excellence, but with a little encouragement from his colleagues, decided to go for it.
The effort paid off, with Dénommé-Welch being named this year’s recipient from the Faculty of Education.
“I really am super grateful that the work I’m doing has been recognized by students and peers,” he said.
Since joining Brock University in 2015, he has taught Arts Education and Indigenous Studies courses in the Faculty of Education, but has also taught outside the Faculty, including in the Social Justice and Equity Studies program.
Understanding education as a vehicle for social and personal change is central to Dénommé-Welch’s approach to teaching.
“I had seen early on how education can actually be used for very destructive purposes,” he said. “We’ve seen globally how it’s been imposed, and I still think that we haven’t quite figured out how to have more inclusive models of education or ones that restore ways of seeing education that have been really harmed by particular models of education and pedagogy.”
As well as helping future educators understand different ways of seeing education, he also hopes to help his students become more adaptable, resilient, joyful and creative in order to make them more compassionate toward themselves and others. Dénommé-Welch says these are all important qualities for educators, and how he instilled them into his own classrooms changes based on the topic, but he always prioritizes creating a sense of community.
“I generally start by creating a space where students can feel free to build connections with each other because I think creating that culture in a classroom is a great way to segue into deeper topics,” he said.
Uncovering students’ existing knowledge and perspectives helps Dénommé-Welch build a foundation for engaging in complex and difficult classroom discussions around education or social issues. He also tries to be responsive to current events that emerge during a course.
A talented musician, Dénommé-Welch often incorporates hands-on activities into his classes to offer different ways for students to approach course content and discourse.
“I think it helps add some deeper layers when we start to approach it from more of an action-based or place-based approach,” he said.
Many of these exercises encourage students to be creative in their thinking and coursework, a skill Dénommé-Welch sees as critical for individuals and communities.
“There’s creativity everywhere,” he said. “That’s how people find really interesting ways to solve something that might be an immediate or a long-term problem. If we’re limiting possibility all the time, we are really limiting potential in a single human being, but also as a community, as whole societies, as the whole globe.”
While he’s recognized as a successful educator, Dénommé-Welch is always ready to learn alongside his students, noting that failure offers the opportunity to gain new insights, build resilience and make room for all types of learners. It’s one of key ingredients in his ability to be an exceptional educator.
“I’m modeling failure, too,” he said. “I’m totally willing to fail. I’m willing to try this out and show you that even if it doesn’t work out, it’s not a big deal.”