Teachers get a shot of wellness

March 09, 2006, volume 35, no. 5
By Kate Hildebrandt

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Teachers today face greater public scrutiny, increasing expectations and demands for accountability.

"Teachers believe these conditions sometimes interfere with their ability to educate young people, to the extent that a sense of hopelessness can set in," says Allan MacKinnon, the faculty of education's director of field programs. "When teachers come to our program, they find renewed purpose through engaging, relevant discussion and they learn how to build productive relationships with like-minded educators."

Field programs, says MacKinnon, is like a shot of wellness for teachers, which explains why the program is so popular. Now one of SFU's and the faculty of education's highest enrolling programs in any semester with 600 to 850 participants, more than 2,000 educators have completed a graduate diploma in advanced professional studies.

Wendy Young, a teacher at Bramblewood elementary school in Coquitlam, says she experienced a huge learning curve during her graduate diploma studies and became very close with other program participants. "The instructors are amazing and the study is practical yet valuable." There's something too about SFU, Young emphasizes, that is integral to the program's success. "A high degree of trust is fostered within the classroom and there is a connection between every person in the room. The experience was intimate, more communicative and more meaningful," she says. "You just get how important it is to be more reflective and understanding to become an effective educator."

Field programs started in the mid-1980s when Stan Shapson, then-associate dean, opted to meet school districts' requests for non-credit in-services for teachers. "Now we have a huge nexus of relationships on campus and off," says MacKinnon, including program agreements with B.C. school districts in the Interior, the Northwest Territories and Vancouver Island. "Our reputation has grown thanks to graduates talking about their experiences."

Course content has equally flourished, says MacKinnon, with topics on literacy, technology, numeracy and special education, among others. MacKinnon notes, "Both the graduate diploma and master's programs are based on principles of self-regulation and self-assessment to help teachers become more self-aware and gauge their own vested interests." Teachers can follow up on what they've learned through mentoring supports like partnering with local services and school district leaders.

"It's a wonderful process," says MacKinnon, "to see teachers come to terms with the complex world of education while learning new ways to articulate their views and define what's important to themselves and their students." For more information, check www.educ.sfu.ca/fp/.

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