Teaching Philosophy and Student Testimonials
I am passionate and committed to bringing my research knowledge of the entanglement of intersectionality and decolonisation to my teaching practice. My own queer and Caribbean diasporic identity greatly contribute to my dedication to building better decolonising teaching practices that are inclusive, equitable, and ethical. My classes are constructed with the intention of prompting students to think critically about everything being presented to them. By encouraging critical engagements with artworks and art theory, I am promoting a space for students to not just be a part of the arts, but also asking where the arts can go from here. Tools that help integrate these ideas into the classroom are encouraging students to be aware of the social impact of their own artistic practices; i.e. who does this work represent and how does it ethically contribute to my community?
I am dedicated to facilitating a learning environment that prioritises the students’ knowledge and knowledge building. Through the facilitation of a student-centred learning environment, my students and myself work to destabilise colonial concepts of mastery in education. Instead of working towards mastery, my students are given the opportunity to create, contribute to, and be involved in community and collaborative arts practices. Through a collaborative and community driven classroom, there is not singular core of knowledge but a broad network of understanding that gets passed between peers and is widely accessible. Student centred collaborative environments help students establish the tools necessary to build generative networks of support that can contribute to the sustainability of their careers in the arts.
My own artistic practice is rooted in interdisciplinary practices, so my classes tend to reflect this way of thinking and working. I enjoy finding methods that match the ideas, rather than moulding ideas into specific methods of working. With my students, I enjoy fostering this process further, as a way for them to find the methods they feel best suit their projects. Presenting students with projects that allow them to work between intuition and research gives them the necessary skills to build artistic projects beyond the classroom. Said projects include, asking students to construct a project in which a variety of media is used to create one cohesive piece. For example, a student’s final project might be an immersive sound installation built around a sculptural component that is activated through a live-performance. Assignments such as these are self-directed, encouraging independence and dynamism in creative production processes.
I feel that all of the information and artworks shared in my classroom must reflect the diversity of my students. In my courses, I provide an overview of historical and contemporary figures relating to the class topic. In these overviews, I prioritise Indigenous, Black, People of Colour, and queer artists, theorists, critics, and activists in order to decentralise the white heteronormative canon of knowledge in academia and the arts. From the information shared in lectures and class discussions, I work with the students to help them begin placing their own practices into a correlating field of practice. I also assign key theoretical texts relating to interdisciplinary practice, community engagement, and equity in the arts. Essays by bell hooks, Legacy Russell, Jose Esteban Muñoz, Andil Gosine, Anuradha Vikram, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith are examples of the theoretical texts that are assigned and critical in class group discussions are based on. These texts help students to develop a more cohesive connection to their field of practice. Research assignments that require the class to seek out specific artists and critical theory, give my students opportunities to familiarize themselves with vital academic resources such as library and museum archives. I often organize workshops through the university library for my students so they have a tangible understanding of how accessing information through their institution works.
Since I view the classroom as a space of collaborative knowledge building, I work hard to make information shared in and outside of the classroom (whether it be through an exhibition, newly published essay, or from a conference/symposium presentation) widely accessible. I distribute weekly ‘newsletters’ to my students with overviews of what happened in class that week, what we will be addressing in class the following week, and information on relevant course content related events. I also invite emerging to mid-career artists to come into the classroom to present their work and speak with the students about the trajectories of their careers. This gives the students opportunities to build broader understandings of how diverse the development of an artist’s career can be. When it can be arranged, the visiting artists also contribute to group critiques of the students’ artwork.
Group critiques are my favourite part of arts education at the tertiary level. I feel that they are spaces where community support, collaborative endeavours, and the value of constructive criticism begin to be built. In facilitating group critiques, I provide the students with rubrics in which they are asked to analyse and contextualize each artwork being addressed. So, should they be nervous to participate or unsure of what they can contribute, there are guides for them to refer to. Through these rubrics, I am building a space where my students can be more substantially supported to participate in classroom activities and learn.
Overall, my goal as an educator is to support my students in their artistic endeavours through a socially conscious lens. Through this lens, I am hoping to inspire a new generation of artists and arts academics whose practices are ethical, equitable, and inclusive.
‘As a student of VIS208 Performance Art with Dr. Vanessa Godden, their knowledge, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness always leads to pleasant surprises. In class, they start and end by checking in with each student. Often, we do relevant yet fun workshops, engaging with different materials and techniques from tethering ourselves with string to data moshing and glitching. Sometimes, we shake it out (a popular improv exercise). Outside of class, they send announcements and start discussions with references and tips customized for each student. They also listen to, and consider suggestions e.g. opening our crits to guests. As an experienced artist and academic, Dr. Vanessa Godden's knowledge, organization, and concern for our class' wellbeing (as a group and individuals) has made it an enriching experience, even through BB Collaborate.’
- Former student from Performance Art taught during Winter Session 2021 at the University of Toronto
‘I took Vanessa Godden's class at the VCA: 'Material Engagements with the Body'. This class related strongly to my own art practice and allowed me to work with objects I wouldn't have before thought of. I especially enjoyed that the class included weekly tasks relating to the topic with some theory and practical tasks. This class not only informed my practice in a sense of mediums but also by engaging me with other artists who have worked with material engagements of the body that I had not seen or heard of before. This class challenged my practice and broadened my knowledge. I enjoyed every facet of the course and felt like it was pivotal in my education. Vanessa was engaging, knowledgeable and encouraging throughout the class and afterwards. This class was the strongest and most relevant in my entire studies.’
- Former student from Material Engagements with the Body: Performative Gestures taught during Semester 1 2017 at the Victorian College of the Arts
'They were very kind, helpful, and patient. They were always willing to help students who were struggling and did well to make sure everyone was keeping up and improving.'
- Former student from Intro to Darkroom Processes taught during Winter Session 2014 at the Rhode Island School of Design
Images at top of page:
-Left Image: Performance Art class critique during Winter Semester 2021 at the University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada) also featuring guest critics Keiko Hart, Adrienne Matheuszik, and Arezu Salamzadeh
-Right Image: Material Engagements with the Body: Performative Gestures class critique during Semester 1 2017 at the Victorian College of the Arts (Melbourne, Australia)