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G R E AT T E A C H I N G 19 March 2018 | Professionally Speaking PHOTOS: MARKIAN LOZOWCHUK To view our Great Teaching video archive, visit oct-oeeo.ca/GTvideos John Senisi, OCT, helps students use a critical lens to capture the big picture and the small details. BY STUART FOXMAN E ducators work hard to help students focus. That includes John Senisi, OCT, but he's referring to a camera, not their attention. The visual arts teacher starts with this premise: students are eager to be in school. "Most want to learn, they just don't want their time to be wasted," says Senisi, who teaches at St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic High School in Woodbridge, Ont., just north of Toronto. Here's his formula: connect the curriculum to something that matters to students. Tap into their natural curiosity. Give them autonomy. Get them to work together. "Then you just get out of their way," he says. It's important to teach the technical aspects of, say, composing a photograph. "But that's just a tool to facilitate their deeper learning," says Senisi, who this year is teaching Grades 9, 10 and 11. "I want students to feel like they have agency." What does he mean? Too often, he says, students become frustrated. They feel like they lack power. Or they don't see the links between their learning and the real world. Senisi wants students to make those connections and know that they can make a difference. The work they produce should actually mean something. Senisi's approach earned him a 2017 Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence. He was cited in part for encouraging lessons and projects that tie to social issues and community needs. Often, the projects involve students meeting or working with community leaders and organizations. For instance, a few years ago, one of his Grade 12 classes worked with the nearby City of Vaughan Archives to match historic images with their present-day locations, taking new shots of each. Besides assisting the archives, Senisi explains that the project helped students to understand vantage points: "To see with someone else's eyes is to more deeply understand our own," he says. The online version of the photo exhibit (oct-oeeo.ca/VaughanRetrospective) won a 2015 APEX Award, a competition for publication excellence, in the social media category. THINK LIKE AN ARTIST

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