FACULTY FOCUS: Kari-Lynn Winters’ storied career in children’s literacy, arts education

Note: Faculty Focus is a monthly series that highlights faculty whose compelling passions, innovative ideas and various areas of expertise help weave together the fabric of Brock University’s vibrant community. The full series is available on The Brock News.

Kari-Lynn Winters’ (BA ’92) picture book collection could fill a room.  

The Brock University Education Professor has long held an interest in literacy and children’s literature, and has collected thousands of the colourful stories over her lifetime.  

“I’ve always loved story time, especially the performances that come with reading a book out loud,” she said. “I collect picture books and read hundreds of them each week. They inspire my teaching and my own authorship.” 

Over the past 15 years, Winters has published more than 30 children’s books, an endeavour she started as a master’s student. 

Despite her interests in literacy, becoming an author, educator and researcher wasn’t part of Winters’ original career plan.  

After high school, she followed her passion for the arts and enrolled in Brock’s Drama and Theatre Arts program (now called Dramatic Arts) with hopes of becoming an actor. After graduating, she attended the National Theatre School of Canada and discovered she enjoyed the technical side of theatre. She found work in children’s theatre as an actor, stage manager and playwright, and quickly rediscovered her love for education.  

“I’ve always had a gift when working with children,” she said. “I enjoy teaching children of all ages, cultures and abilities.” 

In pursuit of a teaching degree and career, Winters attended the University of Toronto, focusing her studies on special education. For four years, she followed teaching opportunities across North America. Then, in 2001, after the birth of her son, Winters moved with her family to Vancouver to pursue a Master of Education and then a Doctorate of Philosophy in literacy and the arts at the University of British Columbia (UBC).  

While there, she reconnected with a former Brock classmate who was looking for someone to write children’s plays for her theatre company. Winters seized the opportunity to write plays and act, while also continuing her graduate studies in education.  

“It was kind of fun,” Winters said. “My friend and I wrote and performed dozens of plays, which toured in schools all over British Columbia.” 

Winter’s playwriting helped hone her creative writing skills and caught the attention of several UBC professors, including a published author who suggested she publish her stories as children’s books.  

“It all came together for me while doing my master’s and my PhD,” she said. “My theatre background, my love of picture books and a passion for education and research.” 

Winters published her first children’s book in 2007 and has continued to publish one to four books a year since then. 

After graduating in 2009 as UBC valedictorian with a doctorate degree in literacy and arts education, Winters returned to Brock, where her varied career journey began.  

As a Professor in the Faculty of Education, Winters teaches drama education, language arts and dance education to teacher-candidates and has focused her research on embodiment, literacy, children’s literature, equity and multimodality. 

She has used multimodality, which she describes as “all the ways that one can think about thinking,” in her teaching and research long before multimodal theories even existed.  

“Some people think in pictures, others in words or songs,” she says. “It’s about how each person represents and constructs meaning.” 

Winters often uses sounds, visuals, props and physical movements in her teaching and research projects, as well as her school visits.  

Recent research projects include an online play about equitable education during the pandemic; a Storywalk literacy project, where participants walk along a trail, stopping to read plaques and actively engage in curricular activities from a storybook; a live production about decolonizing Canada, which explores the similar experiences of Indigenous Peoples and immigrant settlers to Canada; and an investigation into why teacher-candidates need arts-based courses in their teacher education programs. 

“I try to bring all the things I’m passionate about together — equitable arts education and research, literacy and performance,” says Winters. 

Focusing on her interests and talents has led to a diversified, yet successful career. It is also at the heart of the advice Winters gives to her teacher-candidates.  

“Teach kids, not curriculum,” she says. “Create positive, personal attachments to children by blending what you love with what they love. If you’re passionate about science and the child loves movement, why not dance the solar system? Ask the student to use their body to show how windy Neptune is. Or if a child loves art, have them draw or sculpt the planets.  

“Try to actively engage students, because if you just talk at them, you’re the only one learning.” 

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