Learning on the Job: Reflections on Being a Faculty Associate at Simon Fraser University

I have recently completed a two-year contract as faculty associate at Simon Fraser University. Working in Professional Programs, I was responsible for teaching and supervising pre-service teachers in K – 12 classrooms. I worked in schools from Surrey to Chilliwack and everywhere in between. It was an amazing opportunity to connect with and talk to teachers in various districts and in diverse communities. Through these experiences I have learned a lot about education and even more about me. The FA experience is described as an experience “rich in human drama – full of conflicts, dilemmas, successes, and failures, all lived intensely in a short time” (Beynon, Grout & Wideen, 2004, pg. 18). Truer words might not be written!

I can honestly say I have never worked harder or felt more rewarded than I did working as a faculty associate.  I couldn’t have imagined the personal and professional growth I would experience as a result of the job. I was given new perspectives to look from, new ideas to reflect on and new people to learn with, and from. All of my colleagues came with an amazing breadth and depth of knowledge about teaching and learning, and my students came with a thirst for new learnings and new understandings about teaching and learning. It was a place where the lines between being a teacher and being a learner were significantly blurred. I often feel I took from the experience more than I put in!

Ultimately, it was a transformative experience, both personally and professionally. I am now left looking to reintegrate into the Surrey School District and take what I have learned over the past number of years to serve the students I will teach in September. The next adventure on this journey awaits!

Below are some musings / reflections on some the things I’ve learned working as a faculty associate. Enjoy!

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals who can go it alone.” Margaret Wheatley (2009)

The key thing I take away from the FA experience is the importance of relationships; all relationships. As Margaret Wheatley says, relationships are all there is; after experiencing two years as faculty associate I am convinced she couldn’t be more correct. The relationships started with my module partners, then to the coordinators, to other faculty associates and then continued out to my students, their school associates and the principals in the schools; each relationship requiring a different approach, a different type of nurturing. All of these relationships provided me with feedback about how I was performing my roll as a faculty associate as I experienced seemingly hundreds of interactions a day! As expected not every interaction worked out as I might have wanted, but all of them allowed me to learn more about me and how I can best interact with those I am working with. I’ve learned a lot about people and how different contexts and conditions can change the way we interact with one another. But ultimately I’ve learned that working together we’re better than going at it alone.

“As non-Aboriginal educators, we have come to acknowledge and appreciate that Aboriginal education is for all learners – of all ages… We need to build curiosity about our history as well as increasing our knowledge of Indigenous principles of learning, which we can incorporate into our inquiry work.” (Halbert and Kaser, 2013)

I started as a faculty associate in the same year the TRB mandated a required course or course equivalent in Aboriginal Education and Canada’s colonial history. Working with Dr. Susan Dion I was challenged to examine my relationship with First Nations People and how I, as a settler, have benefited from Canada’s colonial relationship with Aboriginal Peoples. What this marked for me was the beginning of an odyssey that allowed me to explore my relationship with, and assumptions of, First Nations People, and begin the work of critically examining where my perspective came from. In working with K’aui Kellipio and others in the SFU community I allowed myself to be vulnerable as I reflected on my story and how it connects to the stories of Aboriginal People. I see there is much work still to be done and will continue to be an ally as our school and classroom communities continue to take up this important work.

Learning From vs. Learning About

In her text, Susan Dion also makes the distinction between ‘learning from’ Aboriginal people versus ‘learning about’ Aboriginal people. From my experience in public schools I was taught about historical Aboriginal people and learned nothing of the more recent history of Residential Schools and the more recent post-colonial history of Canada. I learned ‘about’ Aboriginal people. This past year I had members of our module read novels written by Aboriginal authors with the stipulation that students’ purpose for reading was to ‘learn from’ aboriginal people. In one reflection a student of mine wrote:

“As I began my novel, “As Long as The Rivers Flow”, I began hearing and feeling rather than looking. As soon as I was emotionally invested in the story I decided to just read the novel and see what came up for me. I was simply reading, nothing more and nothing less. To my surprise I heard the story and felt the pain of the heroine in my novel. Although, the story is much the same as others I have read, I stopped looking for something new and began listening to the characters I was meeting throughout the novel.”

“In law, it is commonplace for historical agreements to impose a burden on upon succeeding generations. As a result, the successors of those who signed the original agreements face many dilemmas. In the past, the Canadian government has pretended that treaties belong to some obscure prehistory” (Battiste and Barman, 1995, pg. 255).

This idea of being burdened by the history of our country is one that I acknowledge and work to address in my context and my practice. I acknowledge the land that I work on and that I have benefitted from the historic relationship our government has had with Aboriginal people. I will continue to work alongside those working towards reconciliation. For I know that it is not my responsibility to right the historical wrongs, but rather work with others towards a better future.

“I was with it down there; I just couldn’t see it.” (Goldsworthy, 2001)

Finally, I want to end with a metaphor that really highlights my beliefs about learning. The following is a passage out of a paper I wrote in December of 2013. I was inspired by the artist Andy Goldsworthy to see reconstruction as a way to understand things that didn’t go as expected. It speaks to the notion of learning from one’s mistakes.

Failure, reiteration, recursion are all fundamentally important to the work as they are to my research and my discovery of self. Ultimately through failure and setbacks one can come to understand themselves. Goldsworthy states, “For the moment when something collapses it is intensely disappointing… each time, though, I got to know the stone a little more. It got higher each time. So it grew in proportion to my understanding of the stone… and that is one of the things my art is trying to do. I obviously don’t understand it well enough… yet.”There is hope in these words. Through a continuing reconstruction of self through a variety of experiences with our medium and ourselves, we can come to understand ourselves, our motivations. And he states, “the real work is the change” (Goldsworthy, 2001). I have experienced the change.

Thanks for taking the time to read, and I hope to cross paths with you in the future.




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