By Ayodele Olagunju, Doctoral Candidate, School of Environment and Sustainability
My time working on a graduate fellowship at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness highlights a most significant period in my graduate program. As a doctoral candidate with a deep longing to be part of a vibrant academic community, I did have a clue of my job description, which was to support some GSR classes, among others, and I was confident it was going to be a two-way opportunity both to equip and to be equipped in the areas of effective teaching. The only fear I had then was that despite a fair amount of exposure to teaching at the university level, teaching about teaching was not a familiar terrain for me. But sometimes in life, to discover what you are good at, you need to get the opportunity to try, sometimes to fail, at other times to surprise yourself, and eventually to succeed.
During my time at the Centre, I had opportunities working with great colleagues—faculty, staff, and students. I explored, engaged, learned, and evolved. In the process, I became much more aware of myself as an instructor through reflective practices and interaction with colleagues. Over time, it became increasingly clear that what stimulated my interest in the fellowship originally was my desire to always be the best I could through openness to learning and willingness to take intelligent risks as an instructor. From my experience teaching as a sessional in the department of geography and planning at the university, I had known at least from student feedback that my teaching strengths include my ability to experiment with different learning activities in order to cater to diverse a student audience, to facilitate an interactive and safe learning environment where students can have poly-logic conversations, and to provide constructive feedback during the learning process. However, it wasn’t until this fellowship that I was able to put these qualities into perspective, as I had to shift my role from learning about teaching to contributing to teaching about teaching. With this opportunity, I developed the confidence to share my stories—successes and failures—with graduate students and colleagues who enrolled in the courses I was part of.
Pondering on my experience at the Centre, there are two key take-aways for me as an instructor. Firstly, my experience reinforces my long-held belief about teaching, particularly that a teacher is a leader—a builder of dreams, a model, a motivator, and a mentor. The teaching team I worked with exemplified these characteristics in the way the classes were facilitated and from the various formative feedbacks obtained from students in the process. Secondly, and more importantly, is that an effective teacher is a life-long learner. Like we say in sustainability parlance, sustainability effectiveness is a journey, not a destination. So also is teaching! It is a journey of learning, of giving and receiving, of reflection, of discovery, and of accomplishment! The experience has been a real challenge as I have entered an unfamiliar territory, but an essentially transformative one. The fellowship has not only enabled me to advance my teaching skills, it has also helped me to re-evaluate my approach to teaching and learning, to observe model teachers, and more importantly, to be inspired to take risk by stepping out of my comfort zone, both at the Centre and in other classes I teach on campus.
And if, in this process, my contributions have enabled graduate teachers enrolled in our classes to become more confident, more aware of their actions and beliefs as teachers, and more effective and engaging teachers, there is no greater sense of fulfillment better than this for anyone with such opportunity. My experience is that what I have learned through this fellowship is both reassuring and transformative, and offers a springboard to future teaching successes. The course on the Philosophy and Practice of University Teaching is definitely one that cannot easily go away; I have learned about teaching and learning in a more practical sense as a member of the teaching team. Many of the questions I had before taking up the fellowship have now been dealt with, and it’s time to move on with those valuable insights with the hope that I can inspire others with them.
I am thankful for the great relationships I have built with students and colleagues across the campus, who repeatedly motivated me through their comments, feedback, and inspiring personal stories about teaching and learning. Thanks to the great team at the Gwenna Moss Center for Teaching Effectiveness, and to Dr. Kim West in particular, for being my guide on the journey, and for the opportunity to contribute my perspectives to the team. Life is a continuum; the end of one phase is the beginning of another. While the interval between the two offers opportunities to explore, to discover, to be challenged, and to adapt, endings are an opportunity to assess, to reflect, and to be motivated for the future ahead. And whatever direction the journey of life takes me; the Center will always be part of me.