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Teaching Philosophy

© 2016 Jenny Salisbury 

Do not use or distribute without permission.

I have often said that if all theatre departments were closed tomorrow, I would not regret a single day I spent in a drama classroom, either as a teacher or a student. Drama and performance studies bring an approach to education that spurs curiosity, builds resilience, and broadens horizons for learners regardless of their backgrounds and professional goals. Strong drama classrooms lead to encounters with ideas, practices, and peoples one may never have otherwise considered. Through this exposure, students discover and hone their own creative voice and capacity to act upon the world with increasing sophistication and insight.

The foundation of my teaching pedagogy was inspired by the late Dr. Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart, whose work with inner-city high school students in Milwaukee led her to develop a model of learning that I work to bring to my classroom today. Calderone-Stewart’s model, The 4 Gs of Teaching, elegantly aligns learning cycles from a number of sources, but resonates with me most because its pedagogical goals necessarily extend beyond the classroom: it engages students’ individual contexts and passions, supporting their development as better thinkers, creators, learners, and leaders. Each class, whether graduate seminar or introductory scene-study, moves through four stages: 

1.    Engagement/Contact: grab the students’ attention while setting the tone and the topic for the class. My approach is to immediately invite my students to construct the class collaboratively. For example, for my lecture for DRE 122, “Modern and Contemporary Theatre and Drama,” on the rise of Canadian alternative theatre, I had 1970s Canadian music playing as students entered the class. When lecture began, we started with trying to name as many Canadian playwrights as we could, to see how many of them were connected to the rise of Toronto independent theatres, and once established, those points of contact shaped the development of the session.

2.    New Knowledge/Structure: give the students new information and clear projects. In my puppetry and found object unit for DRM 400, “Devising”, after our physical and vocal warm-up and class check-in, I began the focused work by inviting each student to choose an object out of an available collection and construct a scene depicting “a day in the life” of that object. After presenting, we discussed what actions specifically brought life and individuality to the objects.

3.    Application/Creation: get new work out of the students by applying the new knowledge immediately. The graduate students of PT 5234, “Self, Story, and Theology” were addressing rigorous theories of autobiography as a site of teaching. Each week, after thorough discussion of the course readings and lecture material, the students would apply the class insights to the telling of their own autobiographies. Week to week, the students would iteratively build on or redesign their three-minute presentation in response to – and often critique of – our ongoing exploration.

4.    Further Integration/Implementation: go employ these insights outside of the classroom, demonstrate real world consequences of this theory/practice. This final step cultivates the habit of insisting that knowledge interact with realities outside of the narrow confines of a course or classroom. In developing online curriculum for adult learners associated with Huron University College at Western University, our central goal was that the material covered in the course would be immediately applicable to the work of our students. This was not to undercut the rigorous theory and scholarship of the courses, but to insist that such learning is applicable to fieldwork. The value of critical thinking, critical listening, and communication/performance skills are ultimately determined by each student’s ability to apply them. To this end, our online courses were developed with continuous effort to connect students to one another and to instructors despite the often-isolating intermediary of the computer screen, and through these connections, encouraged them to question and demonstrate how the course material was and was not connecting to their real world work and experience.

Calderone-Stewart’s method guided my approach throughout my tenure as Program Coordinator of Ask & Imagine, a leadership-in-education course operated with the support of the Department of Theology at Huron University College. Through this decade of teaching, I worked to provoke students into considering and critically analyzing those narratives and performances of their everyday lives that may otherwise be invisible or ignored. 

Over the past three years, my teaching pedagogy has deepened to consider more experiences and perspectives, and to include the invisible narratives of the classroom, as well as my own unconsidered expectations as teacher and student. Working with the “LGBTQ Families Speak Out” team at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education has helped me to evaluate conscientiously my own teaching models and assumptions. I refuse to echo the abusive dynamics of current industry practices: to this end, I have challenged myself to let go of some of my reliance on lecture format and classroom management, and to allow students more autonomy and power within the course. This does not include a decrease in scholarly achievement – in fact, the opposite has typically been the case. I continue to reorganize my classes so that the students have space to teach and lead, set clear assignment rubrics, offer a variety of approaches for most major projects, and make myself available for ongoing student communication. 

I believe it is our duty as leading scholars in the field of drama, theatre and performance studies to insist on fair and increasingly barrier-free education; we must anticipate that each student brings a unique set of abilities, resources, and motivations. Universities should accommodate these ideals not only because they can, but because to do so makes our scholarship and our academic culture more nuanced and robust. Our students live and struggle with the rapid pace of change due to increased forces of globalization and media proliferation; it will be our students who advance industry and academy alike, through their strong and vibrant voices – not naïve to the realities of the world, but equipped and emboldened to change them.

© 2016 Jenny Salisbury 

Do not use or distribute without permission.

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