Applied Health Sciences profs recognized for teaching and research excellence

Tim Fletcher approaches teaching with hope and intent that the knowledge he shares will have an impact far beyond his own students.

The Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Brock University teaches aspiring elementary and secondary school educators and coaches the principles of physical education, including fundamental movement skills, games and reflective practice.

“When you are responsible for teaching students how to teach other students, the potential ripple effect is in the thousands,” says Fletcher, who was recognized by the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences with the 2021 Teaching Excellence Award during Brock’s Virtual Spring Convocation on Friday, June 18.

Fletcher has instructed at the post-secondary level for 10 years, eight of them at Brock. Prior to teaching university students, he spent five spent years teaching high school health and physical education, which is a career goal for many of his students.

A key component of Fletcher’s teaching philosophy is developing relationships with students by finding commonalities and nurturing connections.

“Being relatable to students is one of the most important things a teacher can do,” he says. “Without that, learners might not feel safe to take risks. Physical education requires students to perform in public, so it is important they feel comfortable.”

Fletcher also encourages his students to show compassion and understanding for experiences different than their own. He recommends his students reflect on the knowledge they learn as part of their degree program with two different perspectives: as a future teacher and as a learner.

“It is quite challenging to think about being in these two roles simultaneously, but it’s an important part of becoming a teacher,” he says.

Once it is safe to do so, Fletcher recommends graduating students travel to different places before committing to a career or pursuing further education. He says it is a great way to gain perspective and better relate to others.

“Many of our graduates have double their current age of working life ahead of them, so I suggest they take the opportunity to see the world and embrace different experiences,” he says. “It took me travelling overseas to get me to learn what I wanted to do. I didn’t think I would teach teachers to teach, and once exposed to research, it helped me realize this is my dream job.”

Fletcher’s research now focuses on how teachers implement pedagogies (the methods and practices of teaching) that support meaningful experiences for learners in physical education.

Also recognized is Health Sciences Professor and Senior Research Fellow Terrance Wade, who is the recipient of the 2021 Research Excellence Award from the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences.

Wade joined Brock University 18 years ago when he was awarded the Canada Research Chair in Youth and Wellness.

As a sociologist, his research is interdisciplinary and focuses on the social and structural determinants of mental and physical health and behaviour across a person’s lifespan, with an emphasis on children, adolescents and young adults. He has more than 100 publications and has been awarded more than $21 million in grants as both a principal and co-investigator.

Some of his research areas include examining the health and developmental trajectories among children with behavioural concerns, children with developmental co-ordination disorder and children exposed to maltreatment and abuse.

Wade’s interest in helping children with a history of trauma began while he was working in a research institute at the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“I had visited the Interagency Preschool Program, and children there as young as three, four and five years old — at such an age of innocence — had already experienced trauma, such as physical and sexual abuse and severe mental health, drug abuse and violence in the home,” he says. “And the troubling part is that the number of children known to the authorities makes up only a small proportion of the total number of children that experience severe childhood trauma.”

In fact, more than one in four Canadian adults report experiencing abuse and trauma as children, which Wade says can set them on a downward trajectory involving drug and alcohol abuse, relationship and job instability, and more. This leads to their longer-term health consequences and creates an intergenerational cycle where their children are exposed to similar trauma and the process begins all over again.

Wade’s current projects have him teamed up with Brock research colleagues from Health Sciences and other departments to study the links between childhood trauma and health outcomes, such as heart disease and allergies and asthma.

“It’s nice to work with transdisciplinary teams because we’re researching complex problems that need complex solutions,” he says. “At Brock, I have an opportunity to tap into the expertise of domains and disciplines I wouldn’t normally work with, such as immunology and physiology.”

The longitudinal cardiovascular study, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, examines how childhood trauma leads to poor cardiovascular health as young adults and how mental health, lifestyle behaviours and biological mechanisms intersect in this process and lead to future cardiovascular disease.

In addition to maltreatment, abuse and severe household dysfunction, Wade says the teams are looking at factors such as eating disorders, physical activity and resiliency.

“We want to better understand these pathways so we can help kids and young adults and intervene in their life course before they go on to develop cardiovascular and other diseases,” he says.

Wade hopes to continue the studies longer term to examine children’s ongoing health trajectory. He also hopes the knowledge derived from these studies will lead to a deeper societal understanding of the health effects of childhood trauma, so people can speak more freely about their past experiences and help will be more readily available to break the intergenerational cycle.

“Every answer I look at as a researcher brings up new questions,” he says. “I wake up every morning and wonder, where we will go next?”

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