PROFESSORS RECOGNIZED FOR EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING
Professors Jennifer Martin, Child and Youth Care ’04, and Sharon Wong hail from different schools in the Faculty of Community Services (FCS), but they share one thing in common: they’re both award-winning teachers.
Specifically, Martin and Wong are the FCS recipients of the 2016 Deans’ Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in instruction.
A professor in Child and Youth Care (CYC), Martin is a leading expert on some of the field’s most challenging themes and issues, such as sexual abuse treatment, trauma-informed care and online images of child sexual abuse. While addressing those subjects in the classroom, Martin is sensitive to the fact they could cause some students to experience vicarious trauma. Therefore, to help students safely absorb course content, Martin integrates innovative stress-reduction approaches into her teaching. For example, she leads mindfulness exercises, initiates discussions about self-care and encourages students to explore their thoughts in a private journal. “I’m trying to create a safe classroom,” says Martin. “My hope is that students will internalize and apply those lessons so they can create safe places for children and families.”
Martin’s commitment to students’ well-being comes as no surprise to Kiaras Gharabaghi, director of the School of CYC. When nominating Martin for the Deans’ Teaching Award, Gharabaghi praised her passion, sincerity and “incredible heart.” He also noted her interest in teaching students how to connect with vulnerable children and youth using leading-edge interventions, such as cyber counselling and the therapeutic and safe use of social media.
“I have a wonderful opportunity to follow my dreams, do research and create new knowledge at Ryerson,” says Martin. “It’s such a joy to bring all that to the classroom.”
Like Martin, Wong is also keen to provide students with a high-quality learning experience – especially because she teaches a required upper-year course on research methods that involves statistics, a topic many students initially find daunting. A dietitian and a professor in Nutrition, Wong also teaches students how to use the software program SPSS Statistics. “Many students aren’t fond of working with numbers. It can seem intimidating at first,” admits Wong. “At the end of the term, though, students send me emails that say ‘I never thought I’d like research and statistics, but I do now.’ ”
So how does Wong help students overcome their aversion to statistics? By creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere in the classroom and by using “vivid examples” that are relevant to their lives, her students report. Wong is very aware of the need to find creative ways to explain complex concepts. She developed and teaches Knowledge Translation, the first graduate-level nutrition course of its kind. Knowledge Translation is a growing area of importance in nutrition communication. “Rather than just giving out information, it’s more powerful for dietitians to take a user-centred approach and help clients effectively apply their knowledge,” says Wong.
Cultural differences, for example, can affect what a client does with nutrition information. Therefore, Wong says, dietitians must be aware of their clients’ unique needs and tailor information accordingly. That philosophy also applies to Wong’s work in the classroom. “I start classes by asking students how they’re doing and what’s happening. I want real answers. How are they finding the course so far? What concepts are they struggling with? We can’t start learning until we know where each person is at,” she says.