My teaching philosophy is defined by a relational pedagogical approach, which I have developed over six years of experience teaching philosophy, English literature, and academic writing. For me, this means helping students to see themselves as active participants within a living intellectual, literary, and historical tradition, rather than as passive recipients of an inert mass of knowledge.
I utilize this approach when structuring course material by first grounding authors and texts in their historical, cultural, and social context, before encouraging students to connect themselves and their own communities to this history. It is my experience that students respond most strongly to curricula and coursework that represents texts as human-made objects, and their authors as flesh-and-blood people, rather than as timeless and unchanging names and things above and beyond their individual horizons. By situating texts and their authors in the social and cultural world, I help students understand how these authors shape their milieu, and are in turn shaped by their own interpretive and intellectual struggles. For instance, in my Introduction to Philosophy course at Brandon University, I provide students with detailed background material on each philosopher and topic we discuss and devote the first part of each class developing with students the significance and influence the historical situation of each philosopher had on their works and ideas.
Furthermore, a relational pedagogy is best put into practice through a “lead from the side” way of teaching. For me, this means simultaneously embodying the roles of educator, mediator, and participant. From day one of the semester, I express values of intellectual curiosity and mutual respect, as well as a consistent (and genuine) enthusiasm for the course material. This helps foster a learning atmosphere in which the classroom can be an “ethical laboratory” wherein students may safely learn to challenge the ideas of each other and themselves through practicing responsible dialogue. This also means guiding students by example to learn how to articulate their ideas carefully and sensitively, as well as to listen attentively to their colleagues’ ideas. For example, I devote at least half of the weekly course hours in my Logic course to hands-on collective work with exercises. Beyond this, I strongly encourage students to organize their own study groups and work sessions, and am greatly pleased each time to see them take such initiative with gusto.
I take very seriously the fact that different students express a wide array of learning styles, and I believe that a relational pedagogy best reflects this. So while I do assess students’ learning outcomes through traditional methods like formal writing assignments and oral presentations, I always communicate this fact to students, and assure them that I will work with them to determine alternate means and accommodations by which they may demonstrate their knowledge. This includes scheduling and recording podcast interviews with peers, building visual and multimedia productions, and designing other creative applications of ideas. For example, when teaching Thomson Highway’s play The Rez Sisters in my Literary Studies class at Brandon University in Summer 2022, I gave students the opportunity to imagine themselves as participants in the production of the play, and create a production design document in lieu of writing a critical argumentative essay. Many students eagerly took this opportunity, and made dossiers with casting ideas, set and costume designs, lighting directions, and detailed instructions for stage blocking. I was very pleased to see them actively grasp and apply the dual nature of drama as works of literature that are both interpretive and performative, as well as the collective role that audience and production do to bridge these dimensions.
Above all, my style of teaching affords me the privilege of watching students grow as creative, critical, and responsible individuals by cultivating connections to texts and ideas on their own terms. It is a true joy to witness them do so in the spirit of creativity, charity, and generosity.