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Kari-Lynn Winters’ (BA ’92) picture book collection could fill a room.
The Brock University education professor has long had an interest in literacy and children’s literature and collected thousands of colorful stories during her lifetime.
“I’ve always loved story time, especially the performances that come with reading a book aloud,” she said. “I collect picture books and read hundreds of them every week. They inspire my teaching and my own writing.”
Over the past 15 years, Winters has published more than 30 children’s books, an endeavor she began as a master’s student.
Despite her interest in literacy, becoming a writer, educator, and researcher was not part of Winters’ original career plan.
After high school, he pursued his passion for the arts and enrolled in Brock’s Drama and Theater Arts program (now called Dramatic Arts) with hopes of becoming an actor. After graduating, he attended the National Theater School of Canada and discovered that he enjoyed the technical side of theatre. He found work as an actor, stage manager and playwright in children’s theater and quickly rediscovered his love of teaching.
“I’ve always had a gift working with kids,” she said. “I enjoy teaching children of all ages, cultures and abilities.”
For a teaching degree and career, Winters attended the University of Toronto, focusing her studies on special education. For four years, he pursued teaching opportunities across North America. Then, in 2001, after the birth of her son, Winters moved with her family to Vancouver to pursue a Master of Education and then a Doctorate of Philosophy in Literacy and the Arts at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
While there, he reconnected with a former Brock classmate who was looking for someone to write children’s plays for his theater company. In addition to pursuing graduate studies in education, Winter embraced the opportunity to write and act in plays.
“It was kind of fun,” Winters said. “My friend and I wrote and performed dozens of plays, which toured schools all over British Columbia.”
Winter’s playwriting helped hone her creative writing skills and attracted the attention of several UBC professors, including a published author, who suggested she publish her stories as children’s books.
“It came together for me while doing my master’s and my Ph.D.,” he said. “My theater background, my love of picture books and passion for teaching and research.”
Winters published her first children’s book in 2007 and has been publishing one to four books a year since then.
After graduating as UBC valedictorian in 2009 with a doctorate degree in literacy and arts education, Winters returned to Brock, where her diverse career began.
As a professor in the Faculty of Education, Winters teaches drama education, language arts, and dance education to teacher candidates and focuses her research on embodiment, literacy, children’s literature, equity, and multimodality.
He has used multimodality, which he describes as “all the ways one can think about thinking,” in his teaching and research long before multimodal theory existed.
“Some people think in pictures, others in words or songs,” she says. “It’s about how each person represents and constructs meaning.”
Winters often uses sound, visuals, props and physical movement in her teaching and research projects as well as in her school visits.
Recent research projects include an online drama about equitable education during a pandemic; a Storywalk literacy project, where participants walk along a path, stop reading plaques and actively engage in curricular activities from a storybook; a live production about decolonizing Canada, which explores the similar experiences of Aboriginal peoples and immigrant settlers in Canada; and an investigation into why teacher candidates need arts-based courses in their teacher education programs.
“I try to bring together all the things I’m interested in — equitable arts education and research, literacy and performance,” says Winters.
Focusing on his interests and talents has led to a varied, yet successful career. It’s also at the heart of the advice Winters gives to her teacher-candidates.
“Teach the kids, not the curriculum,” she says. “Create a positive, personal connection to children by mixing what you like with what they like. If you’re passionate about science and the child likes to move, why not dance in the solar system? Have the student use their body to show how windy Neptune is.” Or if a child loves art, have them draw or sculpt planets.
“Try to actively involve students, because you’re the only one who will learn if you talk to them.”