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SFU geographer receives Excellence in Teaching Award for commitment to growth, decolonization and student needs

March 09, 2023

SFU geography lecturer, Leanne Roderick, is a classroom innovator integrating compassion into grading systems and decolonizing course curriculum to enhance students’ learning experience. Roderick is the recipient of an SFU 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award in the early career category in recognition of her commitment to personal growth and responsiveness to the needs of students.

Known as a thoughtful, engaged and collaborative teacher who is committed to action, Roderick credits remote learning environments during the pandemic for uncovering these attributes.

“They had always been under the surface but being a woman and so new in my career, I had felt a pressure to maintain some absurd version of professionalism and authority that had been handed down to me,” says Roderick. “I learned quickly that the remote classroom became the primary place where a lot of students were able to feel connected and find a sense of purpose in those early days. This all shifted something profound within me - I gave myself permission to do away with what I ‘thought’ a lecturer should be, and to allow the qualities and values about myself that I had previously suppressed in the classroom to take a front seat.”

In 2021, Roderick received a Learning Development Grant from the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning to explore how an ethic of care can be used in virtual classrooms and its impact on student motivation and meaning-making. In the Summer 2022 semester, she piloted a labour-based grading system in GEOG 100: Introduction to Human Geography.

Labour-based grading values the work put into a course, rather than the quality of the outcome. Roderick explains that this system, derived from Paulo Freire’s anti-oppression pedagogy, is an anti-racist, anti-bias approach to grading, that emphasizes inclusion.

“I was driven to do this out of a desire to learn how compassion and care might be systematized into online learning, and from my own sense of curiosity,” says Roderick. “It gives students from different backgrounds the opportunity to focus on process, reflection, and improvement.”

In early 2022, Roderick began teaching GEOG 162: Canada, a legacy course in need of updating. “I had heard rumours that previous students found the course problematic, not very engaging, and not valuable,” she says. Roderick explains that the course relied on a textbook based on settler-colonial viewpoints and presented many geographic and historic occurrences unproblematically. After learning this course was part of the Teacher Education Program (PDP) at SFU, she knew change was needed.

“The fact that most of the students taking this course plan to move on to become primary and secondary-school educators made it all the more important to me that this course undergo an overhaul from the ground-up,” says Roderick. “How they learn about Canada’s histories and geographies, and whose voices and stories are centred, has the very real potential to have a ripple effect far beyond the course itself.”

Later last year, Roderick and Nadine Schuurman, a fellow SFU geographer, were awarded an Innovations in Indigenous Teaching and Learning project grant from the Faculty of Environment to decolonize the course’s curriculum.

Roderick and Schuurman are now in the process of decolonizing the course by developing podcasts and licensing art and media that record and document the stories and voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.

“Student feedback has been positive thus far. They say what they are learning feels relevant, challenging, and motivating,” says Roderick.