– Cindy Gannon

My Metaphors of Teaching and Learning: Notes toward a Philosophy

When I began teaching at MacEwan College in the early 80s, I signed up for a professional development workshop given by Catalyst Theatre and billed as "Using Drama Techniques in the Classroom." The intense young facilitator greeted the half dozen faculty participants by challenging us to name a metaphor that captured the essence of our teaching philosophy and methodology. I blanked. When my turn came, I blurted "Chinook." The metaphor burst forth unpremeditated, under pressure. When I look back, though, I see its truth. As a young teacher, I was, I hope, warm, welcoming and encouraging of growth, but I acknowledge that I was also disorganized, random and possibly a bit unsettling.

As my practice became more thoughtful (encouraged and shaped by my reading of Paolo Friere, Parker Palmer, bell hooks and others), my metaphor, predictably, changed. A new metaphor of the river guide emerged: I explained to my students that I would work to study and plan the river journey as well as I could, so as to earn their trust and encourage their progress, but that I could not take any one's journey for them. The best learning journeys are the ones in which everyone contributes . The rewards are the excitement of individual and collective discoveries, the connections of the new and the known, and the desire to express these truths.

Looking back over my 30 year teaching career, I see that once I began teaching creative writing more exclusively, my metaphor changed and evolved. I see myself now as an artistic midwife/coach, helping writers shape work that is the best it can be.

My long-term involvement with my mentor, David Gottshall, founder and director of the international Great Teachers movement, has led me to a deep commitment to the metaphor of the bowl as a guide for the most productive teaching/learning experiences. My writing classes and one-on-one sessions with writers are influenced by the metaphor the bowl. How so? Well, the bowl has an open, but rigidly minimal structure—that means it welcomes and accepts what is brought to it. Similarly, my sessions with writers are shaped by the time available to us, and where appropriate, by the generative prompts/topics I offer as inspirational springboards for writing. But most importantly, I welcome what each individual brings to share and work on.

What do I bring to the potluck feast? Imagination, and decades of experience as a wide-ranging reader and writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I bring also editing experience and experience of publishing my own and others' original work. In my creative writing classes at MacEwan, I encouraged each writer to edit and publish his or her chapbook of original writing in a variety of genres. The results affirmed my belief in the deep originality and creativity of individuals in the context of a supportive creative environment that encourages excellence.

 

From Chinook to River Guide to Bowl-Maker and Creative Coach, what remains constant for me is my enthusiasm for working with people who commit to creative expression. I love facilitating poetry and writing workshops for writers of all ages. I have facilitated poetry workshops for junior and senior high schools, Edmonton`s Stroll of Poets Society, South Edmonton Seniors Association, Spruce Grove Writers Circle, and others, and am happy to share the endorsements of participants, teachers and organizers.  I have also been a mentor through the Writers Guild of Alberta.  I am one of the poets for Edmonton Poetry Festival`s Poets in the Schools program: 
http://www.edmontonpoetryfestival.com/poets-in-the-schools/

 

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