More than 300 social studies teachers from across the province were students for a day on October 25, during their annual professional development conference. Held for a fifth year at Saint Mary’s University, the event included more than 30 workshops around the theme Cultural Connections, some led by professors in the Faculty of Arts.
“It is such an important and powerful connection that must be kept between our learning institutions, especially as students transition into colleges and universities,” said Dr. Benita Bunjun of Social Justice & Community Studies, whose session focused on cultural relations in the classroom. “I think it’s really important that every year, these workshops show a diversity of people sharing expertise, a multiplicity of people who are educators, transferrers of knowledge, keepers of knowledge.”
She and Dr. Rohini Bannerjee of the Modern Languages & Classics department have been involved in the conference for several years.
“I’m always a little bit nervous about teaching teachers, but it’s also a great privilege because it helps in reminding all of us why we do what we do,” said Bannerjee, who taught a session about the Jewish experience in Mauritius during the Second World War. “Why we find teaching so important, and why being in the classroom with diverse points of view is important. Maybe when they come to hear me speak, they might see that my own lived experience is pretty diverse and that cultural connections are part of my everyday. At the same time, as teachers, we need to help our students create their own stories.”
The conference also included an education trade exhibition and a keynote address by Weldon Boudreau, an Acadian singer and teacher at École Beaubassin. Several off-site sessions took place at the Africville National Historic Site, Ross Farm Museum and the Treaty Truckhouse at the Sipekne’katik (Shubenacadie) River, where participants met with the Grassroots Grandmothers and Water Protectors.
“We really wanted to focus on the role that teachers play in the lives of students when it comes to students’ own cultural identity and how we can effectively celebrate students’ identities by bringing it into classrooms,” said Maureen McNamara, President of the Social Studies Teachers Association of Nova Scotia. “That’s why we asked Weldon to be our keynote; he had a really important story to tell about what it means to be proud of who you are and where you come from, and to understand who you are as an individual. Individual identity is really integral in creating meaningful learning experiences for students.”
Other Saint Mary’s faculty members who led workshops were Prof. Shana McGuire of Modern Languages & Classics on teaching about francophone cultures through film, Philosophy Chair Dr. Shelagh Crooks on strategies for teaching critical thinking; Dr. Rosana Barbosa of History on music and soccer as cultural history teaching tools; and Dr. Min-Jung Kwak of Geography & Environmental Studies on international students in Canada and their families.