The world is a classroom for professor Joanna Sheppard.
From September to April, she teaches kinesiology at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in British Columbia (primarily at the Chilliwack campus), utilizing classrooms, gyms, fields, and hallways as sites for instruction.
It’s not unusual to see her students setting up PE-style games on the greenspace on campus, or walking to the nearby gym carrying hula hoops.
Then every spring, she brings 35 UFV kinesiology and education students to Antigua for an intensive four-week experiential learning opportunity that places students in elementary schools to provide life skills enhancement to school children through health and physical education activities. (This year’s trip was cancelled due to COVID-19.)
This dedication to teaching has led to the Langley woman being named the recipient of the UFV teaching excellence award for 2020.
“Joanna is a talented teacher who has an incredible gift of being able to connect with students and inspire them to learn,” says her colleague, UFV professor emeritus Kathy Keiver.
“She is passionate about her teaching and this passion is infectious. Her connection to students has long-lasting impacts on their professional practice and lives. Joanna cares deeply about her students, serving as a role model and mentor,” Keiver added.
“Her ability to engage students, her use of innovative active learning strategies and field experiences in her teaching, and how much she supports and cares for her students, all deserve recognition.”
Sheppard’s belief in integrating the whole university culture into her students’ learning experience means that she brings her classes to guest lectures and encourages them to attend special events, and has them make their presentations and set up displays in common areas like the atrium on the Chilliwack campus.
She also connects them community events such as health fairs and the Terry Fox Run.
“The classroom is not the only teaching environment,” she said.
“I believe in utilizing all the spaces, people, and services that make up a campus to model for students how we all work together to support and educate them,” Sheppard elaborated.
Another defining aspect of her approach to teaching is that Sheppard believes in allowing her personality and life experience to inform her interaction with students.
“I believe in approaching teaching with responsible enthusiasm. I embrace allowing my personality to show in my lectures and interactions with students so that they see me as a whole person, and I encourage them to do the same in their practice, balanced with professionalism.
“I share this part of me to create an environment of trust, commitment and passion. I want my students to know that they are more than just a number. They each have their own story, their own journey – and the time we spend together is important not only professionally but personally.”
At the core of her practice is her dedication to helping her students develop as people, as well as professionals, and to then take that legacy into their own careers.
“I come to the practice of teaching with a philosophy of care and compassion,” Sheppard said.
“I want to help my students be the best student they can be, to really push their practice, utilize the information they’re absorbing, and then take it and apply it in the community.”
Sheppard also supports student engagement in the UFV community through her involvement with the Kinesiology Student Association (KINSA), the KINPALS mentorship program, and UFV FUNdamentals (a spring break camp for youth that she runs at the Abbotsford campus).
Sheppard’s scholarly interests include qualitative research in physical education curriculum models; teaching games for understanding; social and personal responsibility through physical education; life skill development; physical literacy; and open-ended questioning within a provincial, national, and international environment.
She brings what she’s learned from her research into physical literacy and the pedagogy of physical education to her teaching practice.
And she is a lifelong learner herself, engaging in opportunities to improve as a teacher.
“I have appreciated my decade at UFV. My teaching practice has improved and I have grown professionally through the opportunities offered to me through the Teaching and Learning Centre and professional development opportunities. I’ve become a stronger professor and teacher and that helps me help students with their own educational journeys.”
These days, Sheppard is learning a whole new role, that of mother.
She and her wife Celine welcomed baby Jack Roland in December.
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