Some write very well; others prefer to present their ideas orally to the class.
They want choice within structure; they want justice—even in small things.
They are conversant in social technologies—and don’t mind if I’m not!
When I give them space, they come up with ideas I would never have thought of.
They laugh at me when I mess up and go along with my “experiments.”
They are unique—the student who volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, the one who submitted an alternative book for an assignment, or the one who makes music for cancer research.
—Rosemary Polegato, “Who Were in my Three Courses?” STLHE/SAPES Newsletter, March 2011
A teacher is like a gardener. Just as plants are at the centre of any garden, students are at the very heart of the teaching and learning landscape. My goal is to contribute to the development and support of students as they strive to achieve their academic and personal aspirations. Both teachers and learners need to care about learning, because we share mutual goals for learning, success and achievement.
Caring about student learning goes beyond creating a supportive class atmosphere. It also makes educational sense to allow space for students’ unique potential. I strive to create spaces that expand their horizons, foster independent thinking and reward intellectual curiosity, while still helping them to discover themselves as learners and as people. I have learned that being attuned to my students’ aspirations and goals helps to achieve learning outcomes: A student employed at a pub extended his class knowledge to help green the campus pub, and a student of Chinese ancestry learned about consumer behaviour through an analysis of his family’s annual ritual visit to his grandfather’s resting place.
I offer a repertoire of experiential approaches, including community-based projects, to motivate students to care about their learning and to make connections to their own lives. Culture Days, a national program, provides the context for a community-based project that gives students real-world experience and fosters local engagement with the arts and culture sector. As a major assignment in the Arts and Culture Marketing course, the project lays the groundwork for the development of leaders in the arts and culture sector, people who may be future board members guiding the success of small or large cultural organizations, parents advocating for the arts in schools, or practising artists. Students tackle this project with energy, initiative, resourcefulness and innate talents.
They do all the marketing, including the design of the event name and logo, and handle a budget and the media. The event features Mount Allison student artists, musicians and actors sharing their talent and creativity at 10 downtown Sackville business venues. Students learn to collaborate with the performing artists, as well as with the larger Sackville community. In the past four years, the people of Sackville encountered the resulting expressions of creativity while they shopped, ate, did their banking and picked up their mail, including: a saxophone quartet at the post office; creative writing and poetry reading at Mel’s Tea Room; a community canvas at RBC and a jazz combo at Scotiabank; chalk art and contemporary dance on the sidewalk; and a trombone player at Fog Forest Gallery.
Students experience a tremendous sense of accomplishment when their efforts reach fruition. The most rewarding feedback is when I see that students accomplished more than I could have hoped for them, that they embraced learning opportunities and made them their own. They are rooted in gardens of their own making; they see themselves as co-creators of their own learning. They cared enough to make connections.
Rosemary Polegato is a professor in the Department of Commerce, Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies at Mount Allison University.