For Leanne Taylor, the most rewarding part of receiving the Faculty of Education’s Award for Teaching Excellence has been reflecting on how students “take the wheel” after they leave her course.
The Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Studies, who received the honour as part of Brock’s Virtual Spring Convocation on Friday, June 18, teaches about equity and diversity across undergraduate, teacher education and graduate Faculty of Education programs.
While she has a passion for social justice education, driven in part by her experiences as a racialized woman, it has taken time to learn how to navigate students’ resistance to anti-oppression work.
Over the past decade at Brock, Taylor has found that building community and nurturing meaningful conversations help students to challenge biases and move out of their comfort zones.
“I learned that I can make a bigger impact by bringing people along rather than calling them out,” she said.
Students are encouraged to start where they are, regardless of their knowledge or experience, and Taylor nurtures a critical but open environment for all students to challenge their thinking around inequity while learning from systemically disadvantaged communities.
Grounding her courses in real-world events is an essential part of Taylor’s approach to teaching. She edits her courses every year to reflect societal changes and popular culture, looking for new ways to connect with students and help them understand how discourses of race, gender, sexuality, class and colonialism shape identities, opportunities, policy and actions.
Taylor has noticed that students are better informed about many social justice topics than when she started teaching, but many remain uncertain how to take meaningful action inside and outside the classroom.
As well as helping her students understand themselves and their world, Taylor is also preparing them to see their role as “educational change agents” — no matter what subject they teach.
“I want my students to ask questions about the world around them, to see contradictions and advocate for change,” Taylor said. “A key part of this is making sure their students learn to do the same.”
She wants her students to feel empowered to take risks and make a difference in their future students’ lives, even if they sometimes feel powerless to change larger social or educational structures.
“There’s always space to make change in the cracks,” said Taylor, who models this approach for her own students by looking for space to be more equitable in her teaching and interactions inside and outside the classroom at Brock.
“This work is not always easy, but I am inspired by the actions students are taking in their teaching and lives,” she said. “I hope they keep pushing boundaries.”
Along with Taylor, Susan Makkreel De Silva Piques and Neivin Shalabi were also recently recognized for their teaching and impact on Brock. De Silva Piques and Shalabi are the recipients of the 2020 Faculty of Education Award for Excellence in Sessional Teaching.
Encouraging her students to make positive change in their communities is built into the learning environments Shalabi designs for her Faculty of Education students. She hopes they will become becoming caring professionals who champion justice.
As a member of several visible minority groups, Shalabi repeatedly hears from under-represented student groups that they are able to relate to her.
“Knowing that I provide hope for individuals from diverse backgrounds who perceive me as a role model strengthens my commitment to hard work and excellence so that I can better support them,” Shalabi said.
She provides opportunities for her students to take ownership of their learning and get out of their comfort zones so they can realize their full potential. Service-learning, for example, is a core characteristic of her teaching. Through this form of experiential education, her students apply their learning by making a difference in the community.
Like Shalabi, De Silva Piques, an instructor for Brock’s Teacher Education programs, is motivated by the impact she makes on her students and aims to empower them as learners.
She became an educator to make a difference in the lives of those she teaches and to inspire students to want to learn on their own. She describes her teaching style as constantly evolving and student centred, guiding students to become involved in their own learning.
Her advice to students as future educators is that they need to remain lifelong learners who engage students through authentic and innovative instruction.
“I feel honoured, humbled and proud,” De Silva Piques said of receiving the award.