Faculty Feature | Learning through teaching: Professor Laurel Waterman’s inspiring approach
Professor Waterman on her journey from student to instructor.

For more than a decade, numerous Professional Writing and Communication (PWC) students have crossed paths with Professor Laurel Waterman’s sharp edits and engaging classes. As she elevates her students’ expertise in the writing field, she is inspired in ways that impact her own teaching, learning, and writing paths. For Professor Waterman’s endless curiosity, teaching is the most important step of a learning journey.  

In her undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia, Professor Waterman studied political science. She hoped to gain a better vision of the global governmental system and structures in place.  On her first day, she thought: “I’m going to change the world.” By the time she graduated, she thought: “I’m going to make a local change in the world,” later becoming a professor. 

Professor Waterman started her teaching career at George Brown College. There, she developed a variety of classes such as Speaking with Confidence, Lifestyle and Wellness, and Food and the City. Her inspiration came from four months spent in India when she was nineteen. While Professor Waterman taught at George Brown, she learned how to teach by completing her Master’s in Adult Education and Community Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). 

When she needed to pick a subject for her master’s thesis, the choice was tricky. What comes next might be familiar to you if you’ve ever attended one of her classes. Her supervisor asked the class to take 20 minutes to write a list titled “What do I need to know?” As Professor Waterman built her list, she realized that food was a recurrent topic. She focused her master’s thesis on food and sustainability due to her interest in environment and climate change. 

Professor Waterman interviewed four different food activists for her thesis and asked them: “How do you eat in a sustainable way?” She noticed that everyone had different visions on the topic, but the most important aspect was simply to “be aware of our eating practices.” In completing her thesis, she wrote a book titled About Local Food

Writing and reading have always been fundamental in Professor Waterman’s life. However, she only realized the extent of her interest when she met professor and former PWC director Guy Allen at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). She attended his graduate-level Expressive Writing class at OISE and stumbled upon writing freedom. “Guy Allen is one of the most influential teachers I ever had. He became a mentor and a good friend,” she says. 

Soon after, Professor Allen asked her to apply to UTM to teach WRI325: Community and Writing because of the topic of her master’s program. As Professor Waterman enriched her professional writing knowledge, she transmitted it to her students. She attended writing workshops to deepen her learning and created new classes at UTM. “Part of my philosophy of teaching is to always attempt to be a student at the same time. Being a student humbles your teaching and keeps you connected to the student’s experience,” she adds. 

Professor Waterman created WRI488: Food and Writing based on her food and sustainability research. She considers food as a central part of our individual cultural identities and admits to learning so much from the personal narrative stories developed in this seminar class. However, her favorite class remains WRI365: Editing: Principles and Practices. “The editing course is the course I am proudest of because it is the hardest one for me to develop and execute,” she continues. 

When asked about her best UTM memory, Professor Waterman didn’t know where to start. Her driving force as a teacher is to see her students succeed and access opportunities. “The Mindwaves and Compass launches every year are really special. I just feel so proud of the students,” she confesses.  

Professor Waterman feels privileged to be part of the PWC program—not only because she meets promising writers every year, but also because she develops strong bonds with her students. “My students put so much of themselves in their writing and I’m so privileged to read it,” she explains. “I learn about their lives in a way that I wouldn’t be able to if I was teaching something else.”  

Professor Waterman cherishes personal narrative writing that she considers academically relevant. “Learning how to write about significant personal experiences in a clear and engaging way is such an important educational practice,” she describes. “It empowers the writer and develops empathy, compassion, and connection with the readers.” 

The importance of writing in her life grew exponentially three years ago when her husband suddenly passed away due to heart failure. “I was completely destroyed and all I could do in the aftermath was read and write,” she says. “I wrote for hours every day, and it was my anchor to the world. I wrote down all my memories with my husband, as well as my deeper thoughts and even if it was extremely painful, it was also therapeutic.” 

The shock of her husband’s death, followed by her grieving experience, shifted Professor Waterman’s research interests. Last September, she started her doctorate at OISE’s Department of Pedagogy and Curriculum. The focus of her research is consciousness studies and well-being in education. By studying this topic, she hopes to unveil a new understanding of consciousness. Currently, most fields describe that the brain creates consciousness. However, Professor Waterman explains that consciousness is present even when the brain doesn’t work. To learn more about the subject and challenge the general perception of consciousness, Professor Waterman plans to develop a graduate-level class at OISE to bring consciousness studies into education and start discussions with her students.  

For the first time since she started teaching, Professor Waterman began September exclusively as a student. In fact, after the birth of her daughter last May, she will remain on maternity leave until the end of the 2021-2022 academic year. “Being a student and not a teacher at the beginning of the year is great because I have so much less to prepare,” she laughs. 

Professor Waterman’s fulfillment in the professional world comes from her ability to keep an open mind and clearly define her passions and interests. When it comes to advice for current PWC students, she smiles and says: “Always be curious and passionate and write about all the things you’re curious and passionate about. Write about what you love, and good things will happen for you.”  

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