June 4, 2021
Class of 2021: 'My classroom is a classroom of scientists'
Savannah Poirier Hollander believes relationships built on respect and reciprocity lie at the heart of successful teaching and learning. As she embarks on her career as an educator, Poirier Hollander has committed herself to fostering such relationships with her students.
Before returning to campus to earn a Bachelor of Education degree at the Werklund School of Education, Poirier Hollander worked at the University of Calgary’s Biogeoscience Institute (BGI) as the school program co-ordinator. She facilitated two- and three-day environment and ecology-based education programs for K-12 schools as well as professional development programs for preservice and practicing teachers. As much as she enjoyed this position, she came to realize that something was lacking.
“I was missing the long-term relationships that come with classroom teaching. I decided to pursue a teaching degree because I wanted to be able to build these relationships with students while still focusing on outdoor, experiential, inquiry-based learning,” she explains.
Blending science and spirit
Poirier Hollander credits her five years at the BGI for providing her with a new understanding of teaching. “Education can be exciting, it can be outside and it doesn't have to be separated by subject or discipline.”
It is this interdisciplinary philosophy that informs Poirier Hollander’s teaching practice.
“My classroom is a classroom of scientists. I see science as the perfect frame for all other subjects through exploration, reflection and personal connection. Scientific exploration can be more than science; it can include art, writing, poetry and social issues.”
It is also this conviction that guides her approach to ecological and environmental education. Poirier Hollander sees overlap and connections between Indigenous ways of knowing and Western methodologies; both modes acknowledge the complex and cyclical nature of the environment, and, while the western tradition focuses on objective understandings and data, Indigenous understandings of environment include spirit.
“Science and spirit are linked and inseparable. Ecology is moving slowly towards a more holistic understanding of our environment and I think the missing piece is an Indigenous perspective.”
Serving the community
During her time in the Werklund School, Poirier Hollander explored her ideas about integrative teaching through a Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) award. Rather than pursue a project that would aid her career, she designed one she felt would benefit her community.
The project, a virtual medicine plant guide for students, was a partnership with fellow student Tessa Wolfleg. The duo met with several Elders who shared substantial knowledge of local vegetation as well as direction for reading and interacting with the land in a respectful way. In addition to bringing Indigenous knowledge into the classroom and recording this knowledge for future generations, the goal was to help urban Indigenous youth to build or maintain connections with cultural traditions and scientific exploration.
“Plants have a central place in our spiritual life and physical well-being as medicine. Bringing people outside, learning about plant ecology as well as the cultural and spiritual significance of each plant feeds our physical body, impacts our mental well-being and contributes to our spiritual understanding of our place within the cycles of life.”
As a Cree/Métis woman, Poirier Hollander valued the opportunity to build relationships with the Elders who shared their time and insight for the project.
Establishing a foundation for learning
Looking forward, she aims to secure a teaching position in rural Alberta, where she hopes to nurture both the natural curiosity and well-being of her students.
“I’ve learned that teaching is not a matter of deciding whether to prioritize academic learning or focus on emotional well-being; this choice is an illusion. Without well-being, there is no learning. Building relationships and building trust with my students is laying the groundwork for them to come to academic learning.”