KPU instructor speaks at UBC’s equity, diversity and inclusion event

Arley Cruthers spoke at the recent speaker series event, and touched on how teachers can provide a better learning environment for students

(Flicker/Raul Pacheco-Vega)

(Flicker/Raul Pacheco-Vega)

The University of British Columbia’s School of Journalism, Writing and Media held an online workshop for their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Speaker Series on Nov. 1. The School of Journalism collaborated with the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems to deliver the event. 

Arley Cruthers, applied communications instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, spoke at the event and detailed how she incorporates inclusive teaching in her classroom. 

Cruthers got involved with the event after Leila Ferreira, the moderator, contacted her about the speaker series through Twitter after learning about some of her teaching styles through social media. 

Cruthers began by acknowledging that she was speaking from Musqueam land. The main topic of her presentation was about how teachers can work to incorporate “inclusive pedagogical practices” in a way that makes sense for their style of teaching, their students, and classroom. 

She mentioned the book “The Explosive Child” by Dr. Ross Greene, which gives advice on parenting, including how parents can switch their mindset from dealing with a misbehaving child to realizing their child is struggling and trying to understand why. 

“The lens shift is the most crucial part of the model and the most difficult because it’s something that you need to keep doing over and over again,” Cruthers said at the event. 

In a follow-up interview with The Runner, she says this lens shift is something she would like teachers to apply in their classrooms. Some teachers often shift to blaming their students for not doing well, instead of trying to understand other problems they may be struggling with, she says.

Cruthers teaches students who work full-time jobs while taking five courses in a semester. She says while outside influences on their learning are out of her control, they can impact what happens in her class. 

At the event, she asked the educators to provide an environment for students to thrive in because “students do well when they can and … every student belongs in the classroom.” 

In addition to applied communications, Cruthers has taught different types of classes such as entrepreneurial leadership and creative writing. She says inclusive teaching is different for each classroom. 

Before the semester begins, Cruthers says she thinks about what her class and students might be like. She factors in who her students are and the issues they may face when they start her class. Thinking about those things beforehand helps her make the class experience better. 

She offers her students choice in assignments, a text version of her lecture videos, and contract grading, which she says is her students not having individual grades on certain assignments and is more focused on the labour put into the course

“It is very hard to create inclusive classes when you don’t know who the students are going to be until you meet them. It’s really that particular mix of what inclusive practices, how you involve students in creating their learning. That’s going to look different from class to class,” she says. 

One difference from the K-12 system and post-secondary teaching is that the teachers who teach K-12 get trained in teaching, while only some post-secondary teachers do, Cruthers says. Some of them use the teaching styles of their teachers, which was something Cruthers did before realizing the method wasn’t working. 

“Making space for teachers to improve their pedagogy really is a systemic issue. We don’t have a lot of teachers … seek out that training, and it’s not like [they] get more money for doing so,” Cruthers says. 

At KPU, instructors teach an average of four classes each semester, which Cruthers says is higher than other institutions. When KPU instructors are assigned to big classes, they don’t have enough time to implement some of the inclusive teaching practices into their classes. 

Cruthers wants a look into how the teaching environment can be improved so that teachers are able to be the best at their jobs. 

“The one thing that I want people to take home is this is hard work … important work, teaching inclusively,” Cruthers says. “It’s all about working with your students to build a mix [that’s] sustainable for the teacher, and that is rewarding for the students.”