Finding ways to engage students and encourage their personal growth is at the heart of teaching excellence, says Lee Willingham, associate professor in the Laurier Faculty of Music and director of Laurier’s Centre for Music in the Community.
Recognizing the potential that students possess when they make a connection with their course content, Willingham strives to create opportunities to integrate the perspectives, experiences and ideas of his students into the process of knowledge creation.
“In my classroom, we aspire to construct our knowledge together,” says Willingham. “When they’re given safe and supportive conditions, students buy into that.”
Willingham works with his students – many of whom aspire to be music educators themselves – to develop their authenticity as musicians and to think deeply about who they are.
For Willingham, encouraging his students to incorporate a reflective component in their studies fosters more than just academic growth.
“We’re opening up students to be who they are, and to become fully formed as adults,” he says. “Through reflection and critical thinking, we see these wonderful individuals start to develop, and that is very exciting.”
“I am personally inspired by the wealth of ideas and creativity and imagination that comes from our students. They come here to learn. Everything we do, then, is to optimize our teaching.”
Willingham attributes his passion for teaching to two of his high school teachers. As “huge mentors,” they inspired Willingham to pursue a career in which he, too, could work with people who shared his enthusiasm for music, community and teaching.
He has found it all at Laurier.
“There is a robust culture for teaching and learning at Laurier that is well supported at the faculty level and within the administration,” says Willingham. “There is a spirit of collegiality among faculty who are open to creating space for innovative and creative paths that ultimately enhance opportunities for our students.”
Since joining Laurier’s Faculty of Music in 2004, Willingham has been instrumental in developing successful university-community relationships. As the director of the Laurier Centre for Music in the Community, Willingham aims to provide a scholarly research environment that explores the applications of musical practice on individuals and communities. The centre collaborates with various groups on topics related to music and inclusivity, lifelong learning, social justice, and health and wellness.
Willingham also led the launch of Laurier’s Master of Arts in Community Music program in 2013. The first of its kind in Canada, the program takes an interdisciplinary approach to music education that incorporates leadership skills for application in community settings such as schools, seniors’ homes, hospitals and places of worship.
After more than 30 years in education, Willingham continues to draw inspiration from his students.
“I am personally inspired by the wealth of ideas and creativity and imagination that comes from our students,” he says. “They come here to learn. Everything we do, then, is to optimize our teaching.”
Laurier prides itself on a culture that fosters, supports and celebrates teaching excellence. Learn about Laurier’s other award-winning teachers and how they engage students and inspire a love of learning.
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