Alicia Hawryluk is an Upper School history teacher and history enthusiast. She teaches Grade 10 Canadian History, Grade 11 American History and Grade 11 Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology.
Ms. Hawryluk received a BA in history at the University of Western Ontario, her PGCE in history and special education at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and her Masters in twentieth century international relations at the London School of Economics. She joined Crescent School in September 2015.
When did your love of history begin?
I think that it was in Grade 10 when I started to see history as a story, a really exciting story with a plot line, characters, a setting, themes and I thought it was just fascinating. I had such a passion for history and I think that is why I wanted to become a teacher – I wanted to show young people that history was actually really exciting. I knew that I wanted to be a history specialist and it was really important for me to bring that passion to my students. What brought you to Crescent?
After I graduated, I had a series of contract positions teaching in Europe and at several CAIS schools (Canadian Accredited Independent Schools) in Ontario. The year I joined Crescent I received four teaching offers! I chose Crescent because the courses I was offered were exactly in my area of specialty and the subject that I am so passionate about. I visited Crescent and I really knew that this was the place for me.
One of the things I love about a school like Crescent is that the students are motivated to learn. So I get to focus on the academics and not be constantly monitoring students and asking them to listen. What is your teaching philosophy?
Reaching every student is an important goal. I use stories in my approach to teaching history because they are something that students can relate to and appreciate. Getting them to see it that way hopefully means they’ll enjoy it a bit more instead of seeing history as a series of dates and facts. Asking them to understand cause and effect – how things happened, why things happened and the future impact – that’s what’s going to allow them to remember things.
Also, giving them as much choice as possible in not only what they’re learning but how they’re learning it. I want them to want
to do something and not feel like they have
to do something. Allowing for as much student differentiation opportunities as possible helps achieve this goal. What is unique about some of the things that take place in your classroom?
Assessment is one of the things that I care about most, and it’s certainly one of the things that the students care about most. I try to have different types of assessments. It’s important to have formal tests and essays because these skills are needed for university. However, other methods of learning can pique their interest and excitement. This is where project-based learning comes in to play in my classroom. These projects offer exceptional choice and personalization that really appeals to the boys. How do student benefit from this type of assessment?
They may have a particular interest in an era, a historical figure or in something that they want to learn more about. I give them the choice and freedom both in what they want to learn and how they want to share this learning. So it becomes something they want to do, not something they’re forced to do. One of my incoming Grade 11 students visited the Lincoln Memorial last summer and actually emailed me before school started, saying he heard about the president’s project from last year and he wanted to study Lincoln. At the beginning of the year I had guys saying to me, “I am so interested in Vietnam, I want to do LBJ”. They’re already interested in the project and I haven’t even assigned it yet!
I also believe, particularly for my Grade 11 students, in the importance of self-regulation. They’re starting to make more decisions for themselves and have their teachers intervene less. My kids are so mature and they’re able to do this well. How would you describe your experience in the classroom?
I have so much pride. I watch these students present and I am blown away. They are inspiring me. I think how lucky am I to work in a school where I am astounded by my student’s work. You clearly are a master of Active Learning in your classroom. What other teaching principles or pedagogies do you use?
Relational learning is something that I care deeply about. One piece of advice I received from Headmaster Mike Fellin when I first came to the school was to be myself, and I think that is one of the reasons I have a good relationship with my students. When you’re new to a school, you feel that you need to be strict, you need to be hard-lined to establish the “I’m the teacher” persona. But I realize that being myself is most important. They’re seeing me excited about a project or seeing me genuinely happy for them when they’ve done incredible work. Being myself has definitely nurtured and fostered the relationships I’ve had with my students. Being someone that you’re not is exhausting anyways. What is the future of your classroom work?
The first year you teach a course, mistakes are inevitable. By the second year, you’re getting it. This is the second year that I have taught American History and I feel like I totally know what I need to do for next year, what changes I need to make, which units I need to get through faster in order to get to what the students really like. I do think that the longer you teach a course the better it becomes. How can other students and faculty tap in to this great work?
Library technician Lisa Elchuk and I will be starting a PLC (professional learning community) on Project-Based Learning next year to hone our practice with like-minded individuals at Crescent. I am working with two of my Grade 12 students to use their Cold War history project as a pilot for the PLC.
We are also planning an offshoot of this PLC for students, essentially developing a club where students can access help for their bigger research projects. It could be a weekly club where they show us what they’re doing and we give them ideas about how they can improve them, make them better. Alicia Hawryluk's Crescent Voices Blog