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AshleyAshley Yoannou, MT '14

Ashley Yoannou is an OISE alumna from the two-year Master of Teaching program. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree with High Distinction from the University of Toronto. Before joining our OISE community, Ashley held progressive executive positions on multiple boards, councils and student organizations. In recognition of her efforts over her four years as an undergraduate, Ashley received the Principal's Involvement Award, which annually recognizes the outstanding contributions of students in their final years of study toward enhancing campus spirit and student engagement. We had a chat with Ashley about her journey and what being an OISE alumna means to her.



Do you have a favourite memory from your time at OISE?

Reflecting on my two years, a definite highlight was volunteering at guest lectures and faculty presentations organized by the OISE Alumni Association (AA). Attending these events afforded the opportunity to meet and work with other enthusiastic volunteers, but more importantly, to network with OISE graduates who are leading professionals in education, both locally and abroad. One of my more memorable evenings at OISE was volunteering at an event where I heard Assistant Professor Suzanne Stewart speak about intergenerational trauma, and its intersection with residential schools and education. Many alumni actively contribute to their respective fields, and sessions like this highlight the richness of their diverse experiences and knowledge. I met professionals involved in policy writing, curriculum development, health care and corporate training, as well as administrative leaders within levels of governments, boards and schools. Being in their company offered me a glimpse into this vibrant professional community. It was humbling to be surrounded by such well-spoken and well-read individuals. I am proud to be joining this community! 

How has OISE and your program prepared you for a career in education?

Whenever I am asked by teacher candidates at open houses or information nights what OISE did for me, I always say that the transferable skills I developed at OISE and through the Master of Teaching (MT) program positions me to enter a variety of working environments, not limited to the classroom. The MT program equipped me with practical tools and theoretical knowledge to feel confident in a classroom, and also exposed me to a variety of educational settings. My four placements offered experiences, ranging from teaching International Baccalaureate and Section 23 program, to teaching ESL courses and international students. The practicum requirement, in addition to the development of my philosophy of education and investigation of my own research interests, has prepared me for a rewarding career in education.

To be an educator is to facilitate conversation, negotiate diverse perspectives, navigate difficult issues and teach concepts in accessible ways, which makes our skill set applicable to different sectors. I have a passion for working with people, and OISE allowed me to explore that aspect of my character and present myself in such a way as to be noticed by similarly motivated individuals in a variety of industries. Becoming involved with campus initiatives, committees and alumni events therefore, was invaluable for my personal and professional growth. For instance, the Education Connection: Fostering Paths Beyond OISE conference was incredibly informative because it highlighted ways to use my degree that I had not considered when first accepting the offer of admission.

I enjoyed contributing to the OISE community while enrolled in the MT program, but also as a volunteer with the OISE AA and student organizations on campus. The atmosphere at OISE promotes the sharing of experiences and ideas, which appealed to me when I initially applied. There was a welcoming spirit due to the collegiality and openness of its population. I have had the good fortune to interact with individuals willing to provide tips for transitioning from student to professional, including interview strategies and dossier formats. OISE has also provided valuable opportunities for networking and ongoing professional development. At each of the OISE AA events for which I have volunteered, what continuously impressed me was the willingness of OISE alumni to answer questions and share their perspectives. If I could have done anything differently, it would have been to attend more events featuring guest speakers. Continuous learning is imperative in order to remain marketable and well-informed, and I wish I had set aside more time for these sessions.  

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment, both personally and professionally?

While enrolled in the MT program, I was fortunate to receive a Social Sciences Research and Humanities Council (SSHRC) Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Program Master’s Scholarship to support my research on academic integrity and cultures of honesty. In particular, this research investigated to what extent, and with what results for classroom practices, Ontario secondary school teachers discuss and uphold academic integrity in humanities classes (English, History and/or Philosophy). It queried how dialogues about plagiarism, one of the most common types of academic dishonesty, are framed, and how assessment practices respond to this type of academic dishonesty. Attempting to gain insight into the intersection between technology and plagiarism, my study also explored the role of an Internet-based plagiarism prevention service in the broader discussion of ethical academic conduct. To be the recipient of this recognition was truly an honour, and I thank my research supervisor, supportive faculty and administrative staff at OISE who guided me through the SSHRC and Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS) application processes. Success is rarely a solitary act, and this experience further reinforced how the community at OISE nurtures student growth and potential. I fully endorse the role of mentors in our lives, and the learning-from-others piece. Being open to advice and soliciting constructive feedback helped make my SSHRC scholarship a deeply personal and meaningful professional achievement.

What would you say to a teacher candidate currently attending OISE for their academic pursuits?

At Initial Teacher Education (ITE) open houses and graduate program information sessions, I am often asked a similar question. Although the specifics change depending on the nature of the conversation I have with incoming or prospective candidates, there are three key messages I want to pass along:

1) Push yourself to try new things. Look at each day as a new learning experience, and do not be afraid to take chances that may benefit your personal and professional growth. This extends to the courses and subjects one teaches. You might be responsible for subjects that are outside your teachables, but that should be framed as a challenge you rise to, rather than something that you preemptively dismiss. Keeping a positive attitude can make a significant difference in how you view your experience as a whole. Even if things do not work out as you initially imagined, you are better for having the experience for future reference. So, embrace things that are outside your comfort zone, and remember that OISE support is available. Be proactive to seek it and ask for assistance.

2) Be a humble, active listener. Pay attention to the wisdom of the experienced professionals around you and take the opportunity to learn from them. In practicum placements for instance, respect the guidance of your Associate Teacher and department staff, as well as the feedback from your Faculty Advisor, administrators and other members of the school population.

3) Remain open-minded in order to see things from different perspectives. When I was a chair for a paper presentation session entitled “International Experiences in Canada and Abroad” at the Dean’s Graduate Students’ Conference in 2014, I was reminded how unique approaches to research topics can initiate valuable debate. Hearing from these Ph.D. candidates and the interesting questions from the audience demonstrated the importance of being flexible and having conversations that encourage varying opinions. Adapting our own understandings in consideration of alterative views can be difficult, but it is being open to the possibility of change that is critical to individual growth.

Now that you have graduated, what do you look forward to doing in your ‘not-so-free’ time?

If there is one thing I have learned, it is to remain in contact with individuals who inspire you to confront challenges, and motivate you to work in environments that are stimulating. Since completing the MT program, I am dedicating more time to my community. One of my most exciting involvements is with the Trillium Health Partners Foundation as a fundraising volunteer. This relationship has been incredibly important to me since my student council presidency in 2007, and I make it a priority to remain connected and involved with campaigns. I genuinely enjoy volunteering because it involves two things I love: meeting new people, and hearing about their interests and backgrounds. Caring and giving back, no matter how extensive the contribution, is meaningful to the individuals whose lives you influence through your actions. The experiences gained, the skills developed and the friendships forged have contributed to shaping my authentic self. Outside of the office, finding work-life balance remains a work in progress. Learning how to efficiently manage stress remains a personal challenge, but one that I recognize as necessary for physical and mental well being. I am an avid Toronto Blue Jays and Raptors fan, and I also thoroughly enjoy musical theatre, doing pilates and experimenting with new recipes in order to help me achieve a sense of calm and avoid burnout.