February 7, 2019 - 11:15am
It’s likely not a concept at the forefront of teaching strategy discussions, but for Marilyn Funk, it is the most crucial aspect for creating an engaged learning environment for students.
“If I am grounded in who I am and model kindness, then our students will hopefully carry that forward as well,” says Funk, VIU’s Teaching and Learning Specialist. “This is not just about today in the classroom; this is about their life and how they want to live it.”
From an early age, Funk knew she wanted to live her life supporting the environment.
“My parents were always outdoors – picking berries, fishing in lakes – we did everything outside,” says Funk. “I had this connection to the environment and I knew I wanted to protect it.”
For twenty years, Funk worked as an environmental officer in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. She became aware of the societal injustices and biases that were evident in the workplace and decided to became a provincial training officer in hopes to improve the conduct of employees with a well-designed training program.
“I discovered that these behaviors were embedded in the content of the training curriculum. If I wanted to make a difference I needed to start at the education level,” says Funk. “If I could undo these biases in the classroom, then students could carry forward strong, positive values as they pursue their careers.”
In 2005, Funk accepted a job teaching at VIU in the Resource Management and Protection Department. Her mission was to bring out the best in her students by modelling the behaviours she wished to see in the classroom.
“I became hyper-focused on catching any minor biases and ensuring all voices were heard by others without judgement,” says Funk. She began experimenting with teaching strategies to create this positive and respectful environment.
“I realized the students have to create their own journey – this is about them,” says Funk. “I shifted the dynamic of the classroom from lecturing to group discussions and sharing ideas.”
Funk noticed the students were making new meaning of the curriculum – some parts of the content where she would spend long periods lecturing to the students, they were now flying through it. Funk began seeing a progressive shift in classroom dynamics. Perspectives were rolling in the classroom and everyone was able to hear each other’s views in a respectful way.
“Marilyn’s teaching style has made learning for me a very engaging and exciting experience. It has also taught me to think outside of the box and to not be afraid to engage in group discussions,” says Avryl Brophy, VIU Bachelor of Natural Resource Protection student.
Funk was very excited about what was happening in her classroom, and decided to accept a two-year position in VIU’s Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning as a Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Specialist. Her objective was to provide insight into how education may or may not foster a sense of justice, responsibility and community in students.
She’s been working with VIU faculty members from a variety of disciplines to discern different ways of approaching teaching. Funk is also working with the trades, humanities, social and applied sciences, supporting students-as-partners groups, and co-presented with different colleagues at teaching and learning conferences.
“What I’ve realized in this role is everyone who works at VIU really cares deeply about our student’s academic journey,” says Funk. “We can make the biggest impact in our students lives by giving them the tools and knowledge to not only succeed in their careers, but also to know themselves, lead from the heart and to be kind to others.”
Rae-Anne Guenther, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University