Professor sparks love of learning in student

NANAIMO – Teacher returns to VIU for master's degree.

By Marilyn Assaf

Several years ago, Denise Spencer-Dahl was a volunteer at an inner city school in Saskatoon teaching piano to vulnerable students. A friend suggested a teaching career might be a good fit. The friend was right.

Spencer-Dahl has enjoyed a successful career as a primary school teacher in Qualicum school district for nine years. Next week, she graduates with a master’s degree in education in educational leadership from Vancouver Island University, and receives the Governor General’s gold medal for academic excellence. She achieved the highest grade point average of all master’s students at VIU.

Spencer-Dahl completed her first degree – a bachelor of science in zoology – without much thought about teaching. Years later, she took a history class with Helen Brown as a prerequisite to the bachelor of education program. It sparked her love of teaching and learning.

“Although she probably has no idea, Dr. Brown completely changed my view about what learning could look like,” said Spencer-Dahl. “It was the first time in my life that learning was fun and interesting.

“I want to create that environment for my own students. I don’t want anyone to have to wait until they are in their late 20s to experience the excitement of being curious and wanting to learn something new.”

Today, Spencer-Dahl inspires her young charges in a combined kindergarten/Grade 1 class at Winchelsea Elementary School and co-chairs the district professional development committee.

“I decided to return to school to obtain my master’s degree because it enabled me to participate in sustained, job-embedded professional learning that I could adapt to my own unique learning environment,” she said “The master of education in educational leadership program has been some of the richest professional learning that I have done in the last nine years

“The faculty at VIU created a space where we were free to learn, challenge and grow our ideas. I have met some fabulous innovative educators via this master’s program. I hope that we can continue to inspire one another to stretch our own teaching practices, whether as teacher leaders or as formal leaders within our respective districts.”

When she graduates, Spencer-Dahl’s cheering section will include sons Matthew in Grade 2, and Trevor in kindergarten, who will watch the ceremony over the Internet with her dad, Don. Her husband Jeff, sister Jennifer, and mother Evelyn, will attend the convocation ceremony at the Port Theatre.

“I hope that my children see me as a role model for life-long learning whether it be through formal studies or experiential learning,” Spencer-Dahl adds.

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Denise Spencer-Dahl is the fourth of four profiles of VIU students in the News Bulletin’s Saturday edition prior to graduation June 3-4.