Teaching students through experiential learning

By: Omman Hussain
Monday, March 9, 2009

When Katina Pollock worked as a skating instructor to help finance an education degree, she had no way of knowing she would go from teaching in a rink to teaching at The University of Western Ontario.

Pollock, who had completed a bachelor of science at Acadia University “purely out of the love of learning,” taught skating to help pay for a second degree.

“I thought that an education program would help me as a professional instructor,” she says. “Once I started the program, I fell in love with it.”

So, she put down her skates in favour of pursuing a teaching career.

Pollock joined Western in January 2008 as an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education.

“I can relate quite well to my students,” she says. “It’s so fresh in my mind, being a student.”

Pollock teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses, and also teaches in a master of education program being piloted with the Thames Valley District School Board. In the current term, she is teaching a policy course, where her class will collaborate with their peers at the University of Buffalo via videoconferencing.

“This is going to be exciting,” she says. “I’ve come a long way from living in a small community.”

The youngest of three girls, Pollock was born in a village in Newfoundland and Labrador to a physician father and nurse mother. Family and community were important to her parents.

“Family is a part of community,” Pollock remembers her mother explaining. “We try to make sure that the community is healthy, so that in turn the family ... is healthy.”

Pollock began teaching in a Nova Scotia high school after graduating from Acadia. She is fondly remembered by a fellow teacher, Melissa McNeil, who was also her roommate.

“Living with Katina those two years was a wonderful experience,” McNeil says from Halifax.

McNeil recalls Pollock as being very organized, a hard worker and having a “big heart.”

Pollock liked cooking, often trying new recipes and even regularly packing lunches for McNeil.

But McNeil’s most vivid memory was of Pollock’s passion for her profession.

“She was a wonderful teacher. The students really loved her.”

During her years of teaching, Pollock began to question why some students were more successful than others. As an educator, she wondered whether this difference was partially due to the teaching methods being used.

Pollock’s desire to find answers, combined with her love for travel, prompted her to leave teaching to pursue graduate studies at Memorial University’s England campus.

While she was there, she travelled across Europe, visiting France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Denmark and Greece. She visited Amsterdam to see Anne Frank’s house; toured war memorials in Germany’s concentration camps; frequented London’s National Art Gallery; and saw a performance at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

Pollock’s journey enhanced her belief in experiential learning. “Education does not necessarily occur within four walls,” she says. “If I had a magic school bus ... students would probably be travelling around the world seeing, experiencing and reflecting.”

Home is still important to Pollock, too. Despite her move to London with her longtime partner Jim Ryan, she still wants to maintain those earlier connections.

“I was pretty well born on the water, and I miss that,” she says. “I miss those experiences that you don’t necessarily get living in other places.”

But her desire to give back keeps her constantly motivated.

“She has a passion for what she does, a passion for education,” says Ryan, a University of Toronto professor of education currently on sabbatical. “She was looking forward to coming to Western, and she’s glad to be here.”

Katina Pollock

Graduate courses taught: policy, leadership, research methods

Dietary preference: ovo-vegetarian (no meat/poultry)

Other professions considered: doctor, truck driver

Favourite food: sushi

Favourite TV shows: Lost, CSI

Recently read: Harry Potter series

The writer is a graduate student in Journalism. This regular feature profiles new faculty members on campus