A Bridge in the Room

Before the holidays I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah Sherry, a high school teacher (who prefers to be called a “facilitator”) and some of her students at the CICO Education Program (Community In, Community Out) in Toronto’s Annex district. Leah teaches media literacy at CICO. I initially met her at a workshop she gave at OISE during their Spotlight on Media Literacy Conference. She shared with us her teaching methods and experiences with students who have struggled with the traditional, public school system.

Leah immediately struck me as a fun and ambitious educator who takes her job seriously. It, therefore, came as a shock when she announced publicly that she “hated” being a “teacher”! I knew at

Me/Colleen and Leah

that moment that we’d have to be friends. Despite her passion for working with students, following the norms of the profession (e.g. teaching methods and expectations) does not resonate well with her; perhaps because these norms do not always resonate with her students.

In the first audio clip below, Leah shares some of her ideologies about education, such as: the benefits of student-centered learning being a bit of a myth, and how risk-taking with learners can be immensely valuable–as she discovered during a film-making workshop that she organized for her class one year. It was also interesting to hear the story of one of her student who was not attracted to media creation for a class assignment despite his passion for art outside of school. From my own observation of media-makers who create media-making workshops for “at-risk” youth (I HATE that term but an alternative escapes be right now), the results of the experience are not always positive. Film-making, for example, is not easy and some students bail on it before the intended production is complete. Educators should not assume that media-making is a sure fire way to excite and motivate learners.

Leah Sherry

Nikki, Andres, Aram

Leah invited me to CICO shortly after our interview to meet her colleagues and some of her students. I expected to share my project plans and ideas with them and exchange ideas over the course of 30-60min tops. Two and a half hours later, H4N recorder patiently absorbing the atmosphere, we concluded our meeting with an overwhelming, cathartic feeling. Before my eyes, four educators and a few students began to divulge their views about the purpose of education, best practices, how they wish to be addressed by one another, and the list goes on. The bridge of communication that I hope would emerge from my installation was happening live!

Here’s a clip that includes a great moment with Nikki, a CICO learner, who expresses how learning is difficult for her and why. She proposes how history, for example, could be taught more effectively and be made more relevant for her, and undoubtedly others. What a fabulous dialogue and response by the educators (Leah, Mary, Aram & Bruce) in the room!:

A Bridge at CICO

Before leaving I extended an offer to anyone who would like to partake in an advisory group for this thesis project, namely the installation. We also bounced around the idea of a panel discussion in the spring that would include educators, learners and principals (from public, private and alt. ed environments); it would invite answers to key questions such as how education should be conducted, by whom and for whom.

Would you attend? What questions would you want to ask this panel?

About cayoup

Colleen Ayoup was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. She has been engaged in media creation for nearly twenty years. After attending the Dawson Institute of Photography (Montreal), she worked as a commercial photographer for several years until the craving for different creative pursuits gave way. This desire led to two subsequent degrees in Psychology/Film Studies and Film Production (B.A., B.F.A) at Concordia University in Montreal. Her short fiction films and documentary, Kings (2001), about drag-king culture in Montreal toured festivals internationally. In 2004, she joined the National Film Board of Canada where she coordinated Doc Shop, a program designed to give emerging filmmakers an opportunity to learn trade skills from industry professionals and produce a short documentary for broadcast on CBC. She also contributed to the development and creation of CitizenShift (citizenshift.org), the NFB’s first social-media website that she subsequently coordinated for five years. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program in Documentary Media at Ryerson University (Toronto, ON)