2021 Brock University Award for Excellence in Teaching for Early Career Valerie Michaelson

Valerie Michaelson, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences

“Passion and compassion.” This is how Dr. Michaelson’s teaching is described by her students, colleagues, and the community. Her depth of commitment and activities related to teaching and learning at Brock at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are exemplary and demonstrate a true passion for education and inspiring change.

Dr. Michaelson’s current and former students consistently speak to the transformational nature of their experience in her classes. “[She] opened my mind and changed my perspective on what learning is.” Many current and former students comment that learning from Valerie has shaped the trajectory of their educational and professional careers. It is Dr. Michaelson’s goal that “every student in the class will see themselves in the curriculum,” demonstrating her ongoing commitment to empowering her students and also finding ways to connect her students’ lives outside of the classroom to their learning. Notably, Dr. Michaelson’s has incorporated experiential learning opportunities for students into every courses she has taught at Brock in her ongoing effort to make learning meaningful, transformational, and personal for her students.

Of particular note about Dr. Michaelson’s teaching is her unwavering commitment to social justice, equity, and change. She challenges colonial teaching and evaluation methods and works diligently and respectfully to incorporate multiple ways of knowing and being into her teaching practice. Valerie herself attests that “my teaching is driven by my commitment to advocacy: to transforming students’ understanding of the world, and to helping them to think critically about their own place and responsibilities in it. Facilitating a ‘radical space of possibility’ belongs at the centre of my philosophy of teaching.” While Valerie humbly expresses that she is at the “early stages” of decolonizing her pedagogical approaches and classroom, indigenous students, colleagues, and community members resoundingly express that she teaches in a “good way.” According to a colleague, “her students engage in critical thought and dialogue around their own way of seeing, including their biases and assumptions, in order to think beyond themselves about race, gender, equity, and language to ultimately change how they see the world.” Dr. Michaelson works intentionally and diligently to have a diverse array of voices and perspectives represented in her classroom without speaking on behalf of any individuals or communities. “Implementing equity is not just a box to be ticked off on her teaching repertoire but is genuinely upheld in her classroom. She regularly goes out of her way to understand the student experience and adjusts her teaching and feedback to ensure students are receiving the highest level of education.”

Described by members of Brock’s Indigenous community as a “bridge builder”, Valerie consistently looks for ways to collaborate with other educators in an effort to enrich her students’ learning experiences and to effect change. Many comment on her humility – “she is the first to shift credit to others … she is insistent that we have all been educators of her students and deserve ownership for the successes.” This commitment to collaboration is echoed by Dr. Michaelson’s teaching assistants and instructional partners, all of who remark on the respect she shows for diverse ways of knowing and learning and her insistency on collaborative partnerships in her teaching.

Dr. Michaelson’s commitment to teaching is also demonstrated through participation her Scholarship of Teaching and Learning activities. As the recipient of multiple grants, Valerie is committed to continuous learning, dialogue, and research dissemination related to teaching and learning.  Additionally, Dr. Michaelson has worked to share her experiences and knowledge with her colleagues in the Department of Health Sciences in order to amplify indigenous voices. As one fellow faculty member remarked, “her expertise has been generously shared in a way that has grounded our entire department in critical reflection around indigeneity and decolonizing our curriculum and institution.”