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G R E AT T E A C H I N G 21 March 2018 | Professionally Speaking The Ontario Certified Teacher featured in this profile has been recognized with a teaching award and exemplifies the high standards of practice to which the College holds the teaching profession . Senisi became a practising artist and soon entered the Queen's University Artist in Community Education pro- gram, for those who want to teach. Since he started teaching in 2001, Senisi has empowered students to guide the class agenda and effect change, and to do it collaboratively. "My classroom is like a lab. We're exploring. I often don't know what we're going to do until I talk to the students." Early in the school year, he leaves some final projects and weeks of class time up for negotiation. It's no free-for-all; there are curriculum goals, but Senisi can allow considerable freedom because he creates a strong instructional infra- structure. On the class website he has organized tutorials, videos, handouts and assessments — content students need to progress in their studies. Senisi says it's hard for many teachers to give up control and have the faith that students will stay on track. To him, giving them that responsibility is an essential part of learning. "He totally flips the classroom," says colleague Lara Gudelj, OCT, a communi- cations technology teacher at St. Jean de Brebeuf. "It's all student-centred. It's about giving them the platform to express themselves, and encompassing community and teamwork in these endeavours." Gudelj says Senisi excels at helping students think deeply. She recalls a trip they took to New York City with their art and design students. One stop was the 9/11 Memorial. On the way, Senisi talked about the design competition to create the memorial. Most proposals had the monuments above ground. The winning entry was different — it had two large reflecting pools on the footprints where the Twin Towers stood. Senisi discussed how artists use positive and negative space. The artist with the successful concept showed the depth of the 9/11 wound by placing the monument far below the surface — it's a void. "I thought, I wish I were a student in his class," says Gudelj. "He brings relevance to what they're learning, so it makes sense to them and they can think like an artist." In New York, they also stopped at the Metropolitan Opera. While Gudelj took photos of the grandeur of the building, Senisi focused on the smaller details, like crystals. "We were at the same place," she says, "and he just had a different perspective." It's important for students to see the big picture, all the patterns and themes. But Senisi wants students to see the forest and the trees. That became particularly evident in one class. After briefly shuffling between two groups of students — instructing one on how to use a tripod, huddling with the other to review uploaded project files — Senisi led students across the road to a forested park where they continued a semester-long assignment. Student teams had used the GPS on their phones to pick an area in the forest with a 10-foot radius. On this day, as they did weekly, the students took pictures of that spot. The goal was to apply their photography skills to document the seasonal changes that occurred. It's just another way he encourages the students to pay close attention and reflect. In a nomination letter for the Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence, one of Senisi's former students wrote that his lessons transcended her education. "Mr. Senisi provides his students with skills that can be utilized in any subject, and well beyond graduation," wrote Josie Libertucci, now a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan Medical School. "Although I did not continue with the arts in my undergraduate degree, the skills I learned as Mr. Senisi's student — such as critical thinking and creativeness — were vital in my success." Senisi says he wants students to see differently, whether it be objects, their surroundings or the goal of their education. "That allows them to engage with the ma- terial in a manner that's not merely abstract or distant," he says. "We get the majority of our information from what we see, but we're not always aware of what we're taking in. Teaching my students to notice things others miss is one of my main objectives." PS How can you make the school environment more welcoming? Award-winning John Senisi, OCT, shares how to set the right tone and eliminate "hot spots." 1 Stand outside the classroom doorway to greet students as they enter. "It sur- prises them because it's rarely done. Let them know you appreciate a similar greeting. It establishes a friendly environ- ment and teaches them to be collegial." 2 Jump right in. "The first few minutes of class are crucial. Begin the day's agenda right away. You're demon- strating what a professional, productive work environment should look like." 3 Watch for danger zones throughout your school. "Do groups of students create zones of intimidation? We call those 'hot spots,' a perfect place for bullying. To identify hot spots try to be intuitive and empathetic. Are there any areas where you would not feel comfort- able? Where students feel too intimated to go? Disrupt those spots when you see them, and make the administration aware of those that are more established." 4 Look for "hot spots" in your class- room, too. "When I notice one form, I take everything off my desk and make the hot spot my new work area. Every part of the school environment should feel safe to everyone." 5 Don't get fooled by outward appear- ances. "Teenagers often act mature or tough but they're more vulnerable than they appear," says Senisi. "Regardless of what difficult situations they may bring to your classroom, they need you to make it a place where they're accepted and not judged for their mistakes." CREATING POSITIVE SPACE

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