Kathleen Burke awakens students through classroom engagement

Feb 01, 2016
Beedie School of Business senior lecturer Kathleen Burke.

Beedie School of Business senior lecturer Kathleen Burke.

Beedie School of Business senior lecturer Kathleen Burke’s first teaching position was an awakening – both figuratively and literally.

Burke’s first assignment as a teaching assistant while studying for her Masters degree tasked her with trying to rouse sleepy students from their slumber at 8.30am every week. It was a challenge she tackled with aplomb.

“I took it as a personal challenge to try to engage with these sleepy students to see the relevance of the subject matter to their lives,” she says. “In doing so the teaching bug bit me. I discovered that I liked doing this – finding the connections between the theoretical worlds and on the ground living.”

Despite having forged a successful career as a lecturer at a business school, Burke’s background lies in criminology and sociology. She describes the combination as being ideally suited to teaching business ethics, providing her with both an understanding of the social world, and in differentiating between right and wrong.

In keeping with the Beedie School of Business’ teaching philosophy, Burke prioritizes engagement in her classrooms. She utilizes a plethora of tactics to ensure her students remain engaged, such as social media, poetry, and short stories – and even one inspired by her friend Allison McNeill, former coach of the Canadian women’s national basketball team.

“When I watched Allison run a practice I noticed she never lets her players do any one thing for too long so that it does not become routine, so I try to run my classrooms the same way,” says Burke. “Short stories are imbued with metaphor, and those metaphors stick with students longer than a theory or concept. I believe there is great value in using both fiction and poetry in the classroom.”

Burke’s methods have obviously resonated with her students – she was the 2015 winner of the TD Canada Trust Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest teaching honour available at the Beedie School of Business.

“Winning this award is affirmation that the way I teach has value for my students, but it also lets me know that there is more I can do,” she says. “I see this award not as an end point, but as a comma – my teaching had resonance with the students so I need to carry that forward and extend it.”

Burke insists that her teaching style is a two-way approach – where she learns in the classroom at the same time as her students – and that she would not have won the award had her students not been willing to take risks in the classroom.

“I am routinely surprised by the ethical capacity of Beedie students,” she says. “Whenever I ask them to try something different they constantly make themselves available to different ways of understanding. It is amazing how time and again they make themselves available to learn in new ways.”

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