Students in Mary-Lynn Epps’s Grade 4/5 class at Randerson Ridge Elementary School are sometimes so excited about what they are doing in class, they ask their teacher for permission to stay in at recess and lunch to continue working on their projects.
Epps, who has taught for more than 30 years in Nanaimo, encourages her students to take responsibility for their own learning and personalize the education experience.
And her willingness to share what she does in the classroom with others – most notably with student teachers – has earned her the Teacher Educator of the Year award from the Association of B.C. Deans of Education.
“It’s exciting because you’re passing on a lot of what you’ve learned over the years,” said Epps. “I figure it gives them a head start. It takes 10 years to get established as a classroom teacher, to really feel like you’re on top of your game. If you know these are things that are working, the sooner a teacher can learn about that the better it is.”
Epps, who has worked in elementary schools and high schools, as well as at the district level in curriculum implementation and as an enrichment/gifted resource teacher, formed a partnership with Vancouver Island University education professor Paige Fisher about three years ago after hearing about some of the innovative teaching practices she was teaching to students.
“I said to her, ‘We’re doing all these things you’re talking about,'” said Epps.
Since then, VIU student teachers have come into her classroom to see teaching theories put into practice – at least 70 students have observed the class just this year.
“A lot of the theories are quite complicated,” said Epps. “I think it clarifies it, being able to see it with students.”
Her own students also benefit a great deal from the arrangement, she added, because they get to become the teachers, sharing their learning with VIU students. This makes them more confident and articulate learners, she said.
Epps also runs workshops on those innovative teaching techniques at VIU and elsewhere, including presenting at international conferences as far away as Turkey and Malasia.
The innovative teaching practices Epps employs include creating a community of learners in her classroom, which means that students design their own plans to become successful learners and take responsibility for their own learning.
“They’re always fixing up their own mistakes,” she said. “That way they become more self-directed learners in the future.”
Epps also uses inquiry-based learning, where all students are given learning opportunities around a main question and then develop their own question that relates to the classroom-wide question. This engages students because they decide where they want to go with their own inquiry projects, not the teacher, she said.
“If my students come out with a love of learning and excitement of learning, to me that’s the biggest success,” said Epps.
Everything that she’s done has been as part of a team, Epps added, and colleagues Terrill MacDonald and Lynn Brown also deserve recognition.