Steffanie Scott: Fostering Engagement Through Community Connections and Circle Pedagogy

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Steffanie Scott: Fostering Engagement Through Blogging and Circle Pedagogy

On the first day of class, Dr. Steffanie Scott introduces students to the course, activities, and assessments. Then, she invites their feedback. What do the students hope to gain from this course? Students were given a week to ponder this question and share their feedback. Dr. Scott embeds learner-centred pedagogy so that the course is not “fixed” when students first arrive. They co-create together and she meaningfully responds to their feedback. In this case, one clear message from students was to include field trips as part of their Sustainable Food: Regional Case Study course.

Steffanie was up to the challenge. Thanks to the community connections she had cultivated working with the Food System Roundtable of Waterloo Region over the past 15 years, Steffanie was able to quickly line up five field trips. This enabled students to connect with community members by visiting gardens, farms, and local organizations. To give back and deepen their reflections, students created public blog posts for each field trip (linked below):

  1. Wisahkotewinowak Indigenous Garden: learning and living on the land
  2. Crow Shield Lodge: the power of land and stories
  3. Fertile Ground Farm: living by the pillars of permaculture
  4. Community Fridge KW: it takes a community to feed the community
  5. Cambridge Food Bank: rethinking food programs

Here’s an excerpt from the Crow Shield Lodge: the power of land and stories blog post by Cristy Argueta, Tridha Aravind, Julia Avinson, Mehrzad Batliwalla, Elena Brown-Hozjan & Marcus Meyer:

“The class was greeted by Joanne Jones and Tyzun James from Crow Shield Lodge. Everyone formed a sharing circle and Joanne posed a thoughtful question: what does a food system mean to you? After everyone had shared, she said that although all our answers varied, they all held one thing in common: relationships. A relationship holds the values of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity.”

Group of students in a circle
Circle pedagogy
The classroom is B2-350, one of Waterloo's new flexible classrooms. 

Dr. Scott embeds circle pedagogy as part of her teaching practice. Her students shared that being in circle “feels more human”. They get to see their classmates when they share. Some students said that this is the most they’ve interacted with their classmates in their whole undergraduate program.

Steffanie has participated in circles as part of Guelph Outdoor School and through Conrad Grebel’s Peace-Making Circles training program. The outdoor school sessions would typically begin with a gratitude circle under the open sky, each person sharing in turn something they’re feeling grateful for. This practice—which Steffanie has introduced into her classes at UW—connects participants as a community, and connects them to what is in their hearts, not just their heads. In doing so, folks slow down, and tune in to themselves and each other. Steffanie believes in the “revolutionary power of gratitude”, as Robin Wall Kimmerer calls it. Steffanie continues to explore ways to connect her students to themselves (through mindfulness and reflection), to each other and to their wider community—and to the land (specifically through food, in this course).

— Julia Burke, CTE