Sheri Fabian receives SFU's highest honour for teaching
By Christine Palka
Creating empowering classroom environments for students that celebrate diversity, accessibility and inclusivity is at the forefront of Criminology Senior Lecturer Sheri Fabian’s teaching philosophy.
It’s also the core reason she received recognition for her efforts with SFU’s highest honour for teaching: the 2016 Excellence in Teaching Award.
It doesn’t take official acknowledgment to find evidence of Fabian’s dedication to teaching – just ask one of the many students lined up outside her door during office hours. Fabian is known for her approachable, caring teaching style that she is constantly striving to improve for both herself and her students.
“One of my greatest rewards is when students tell me that their learning experience led to a better understanding of themselves, their view of the world, and better yet, when they email me long after a course ends to say how skills they learned in one of my classes have transferred to the workplace,” says Fabian, who is also associate director of undergraduate programs in the School of Criminology.
No matter what level Fabian instructs – she teaches eight courses a year ranging from large introductory first year courses to upper division and graduate seminars – she strives to push students outside their comfort zones by focusing on critical thinking skills, challenging their preconceptions and engaging them in experiential learning.
And while she expects her students to work hard inside and outside the classroom, she also expects no less from herself.
Fabian actively participates in ongoing reflective teaching practices that see her reworking her course materials to use a variety of evaluation and teaching techniques. She’s also well known within SFU and the broader academic community for her research on teaching and critical pedagogy. She’s releasing shortly a series of publications examining different issues in the field of teaching and learning, and has recently co-edited a popular book that speaks to her strong focus on critical thinking skills.
One way that Fabian challenges herself is in her dedication to tackling provocative, controversial or potentially divisive topics in the classroom. While Fabian could choose to avoid challenging subject matter in many of her classes, she instead decides to use it to help develop students who engage more empathetically with the world around them.
For example, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission met in Vancouver in 2013, Fabian incorporated the role of residential schools into the course content of her upper division seminar Minorities in the Criminal Justice System. Canada’s use of residential schools has contributed to the over representation of Indigenous peoples in all aspects of our criminal justice system.
Fabian chose to show the heart-wrenching film We were Children that highlights the horrors of residential school survivors in a documentary-drama format. Fabian set aside time at the end of the class to help students share their emotional responses to the film as she knew it was essential to create a safe environment for students to discuss what they’d watched.
“In my efforts to facilitate critical thinking skills in students, I have learned to go outside my own comfort zone, something I also encourage in my students. Rather than shying away from challenging and difficult discussions, I have learned to prepare students to feel discomfort and emotion, and warn them that they may struggle with materials,” says Fabian.
Fabian’s interest in creating learning environments that celebrate diversity, accessibility and inclusivity in the classroom has led to several conference and teaching symposium presentations, and her work was highlighted as one of SFU’s 50 Contributions to a Healthy Campus Community, along with a subsequent promotional video.
She’s also received several Teaching and Learning Development Grants (TLDG) for her interests in the scholarship of teaching and learning, her use of technologies in the classroom, and her interest in healthy classroom environments and experiential learning.
Her most recent TLDG awards include being co-investigator on a $10,000 project looking at the impact of emotionally and potentially triggering materials on students in large classroom settings. A second recently approved TLDG will see Fabian examining the experiences of Indigenous students at SFU, using participatory action research to directly involve Indigenous students on making improvements in the classroom.
“I am committed to objectives of active engagement with students, fostering supportive learning environments, and encouraging students to question, understand, and apply course materials and concepts to the world around them,” says Fabian.
“Most importantly, I continue to remind myself that teaching and learning are inseparable. To this end, my goal is to strive to inspire.”