When Creative Writing lecturer Sheryda Warrener discusses her pedagogical approach, she focuses on attention and connectivity. She wants her poetry students to learn how to pay close attention to the world around them. She challenges herself to build meaningful connections between learners, instruction and writing.
Sheryda’s unique course design – placing her students and their creative process at the forefront of instruction – earned her a UBC 2020-2021 Killam Teaching Prize. This annual award recognizes excellence in teaching across UBC as determined by students, faculty and alumni.
“Sheryda models what it means to be not simply a writer, but a member of a vibrant, supportive literary community. Sheryda is an excellent poetry teacher, a strong support and mentor of her colleagues, and an inspiring example of what’s possible when you pay close attention to poetry and to people,” says Creative Writing lecturer Sarah Leavitt, who supported Sheryda’s nomination.
In her courses, Sheryda uses a range of strategies to help learners express their thinking-in-process: mind-maps, digital annotations, virtual exhibitions, self-directed field trips, blogs and documentation of creative research. These exercises activate the potential for transformative learning by placing students in direct relationship with their questions, preoccupations, materials, memories and imagination.
“When I root my courses in the broader, process-based questions about creativity, individuals are better equipped to navigate barriers imposed on their creative practice, freeing up the space necessary for natural, spontaneous expression.” says Sheryda.
“I position myself as a collaborator with the students, weaving interconnections among materials, spaces, people and ideas. These material explorations make the capabilities of individuals within the group visible, invite natural critical reflection, and become the content of poems.”
Sheryda distinguishes herself an instructor by applying the same observational intensity to teaching that she applies to writing poems.
As an instructor in maker-centered classrooms, Sheryda has experienced students of diverse races, ethnicities, gender identities, socio-economic backgrounds, ages and abilities find commonality. Her approach ensures students are seen and heard as their full selves, with their own passions, knowledge and experiences to share.
Her students recognize the value of this approach:
“The language Sheryda uses is free from judgement and helps her students turn off the internal editor that so often inhibits writing first drafts. Instead of assignments she uses the word experiments and reminds us that our creations in class are on-going, living projects,” says former student Jennifer Irvine.
Sheryda is the third instructor in the School of Creative Writing to receive a Killam Teaching Prize, preceded by George McWhirter (1997-1998) and Sue Ann Alderson (1990-1991).
“We are very lucky to have an instructor of Sheryda’s calibre at UBC Creative Writing,” says Alix Ohlin, director of the School. “Her passion, energy, and commitment to teaching make our community a dynamic and inclusive place for writers. We congratulate her on this very well-deserved recognition.”