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Being Schooled

School was excruciating for me as racialized immigrant child. It was more disciplining and coercive than supportive starting from the Euro-centric curriculum to the dynamics of power in the classroom. In our English as Second Language we all innocently laughed at the substitute teacher’s pronunciation of our multi-ethnic last names during attendance. In a burst of anger she shouted back: “you should hear how my family and I laugh at all of you when I tell them how you speak English!” Our laughter was stopped cold. I wanted to tell the principal what she said and how she said but did not know how as I was still learning to articulate myself in English.

High school was not much different. Eager to learn about my displacement from my place of birth and positionality in the world, I put up my hand in a World Geography course and asked…

“Why did North and Latin America develop so differently? Why was Latin America poor and North America wealthy?”

"I do not know. I am not a historian!" smirked my teacher to almost extinguish the flame for knowledge within me.

The class followed in a roar of laughter and I felt that it was all directed at me. Instead of leading me to diverse sources for the answers I sought, my teacher discouraged my curiosity and disempowered my longing to know.  

With the invaluable support of a guidance counsellor, Bill Heffernan, I held on to these questions and many more and was encouraged to be the first person within my extended family to enroll in university.  My guidance counsellor supported my participation in a global education experience in the Dominican Republic where I lived with a family in a marginalized community that sustained itself on sugarcane production. This experience allowed me to make connections with my family’s forced migration from Chile, working-class struggles and imperialism and in this way I found my calling to effect social change. I knew that university was the ideal place for me to be trained as critical thinker and agent of change through knowledge.

In university I studied international development, Latin American politics and the political economy of labour in order to understand global inequity, exploitation and social injustice. In university I could finally see myself in the curriculum and studied under unforgettable professors who taught me how to think and expanded my knowledge about the ways the world and power operate. In my graduate training I turned towards transformative pedagogy as a means toward social change and honoring holistic ways of knowing.   

I bring with me all that I have experienced and learned in life within and outside of the academy into my teaching.

Teaching Approach

My teaching praxis is premised on reclaiming the classroom as a space for empowerment and transformation for my students. Education is as much about learning as it is about unlearning. I seek to deconstruct Western colonial, racist and exclusionary worldviews that have clouded and erased diverse ways of knowing and understanding. I consider myself a feminist decolonializing teacher who leads students into a journey to ignite their capacity to dream and build alternatives to global inequities. I strive to empower them to counter the capitalist colonization of the mind that dictates that exploitation and injustices are permanent features of the world.

In my classroom I challenge hierarchy and fragmentation in knowledge production. I privilege the intellect along with the body and emotion. At the beginning of every course I explicate my transformative teaching practice by drawing an ivory tower on the board. The top of the tower is where scholars are busily dissecting the world in isolation and alienation from it.  They are (mostly) trained to privilege the mind that is concomitant with Western and patriarchal conceptions of rationality.  Objectivity is supreme and knowledge is pursued for knowledge sake.  The ivory tower in this way moulds a scholar and scholarship that is disconnected from the world and that disembodies the scholar from the rest of her body, emotions and lived experiences. I then explicate that we can understand this tower as disembodied scholar who only exists in the mind. The scholar’s knowledge is therefore fragmented, alienating and mostly irrelevant to the world he is seeking to understand. My teaching praxis is about putting the body, mind and senses together again in active scholarship.

My transformative pedagogy approach draws upon all senses to be and to learn in the world. It seeks to heal alienation and strengthens interconnections within students as whole beings, the ivory tower and community. It emphasizes that scholars live in the world and that the world, “technologies of ruling” live within them.  Therefore scholars have to know their positionality and fully inspect the lenses that have framed their consciousness and subjectivities. From here we can arm ourselves with new and more expansive and critical lenses to understand ourselves.

My teaching praxis seeks wholeness, integration and expansiveness of the ways we know and come to know about ourselves and the world.

It mirrors my community organizing approach;    

Community organizing is not only about putting “the community back together again” within a capitalist system that exploits, displaces and fragments, it is about defying the illusion that we are incomplete and broken. It is about delving into our spirit, power and wholeness as individuals in order to strengthen the collectivities that we form part within and across borders to erase borders among us. 

My teaching, research and community work are all linked together and come to full circle in what I term “spiritual multidisciplinarity.” I teach and model this type of multidiscplinarity for my students through my holistic work. One of my students wrote an essay for another one of courses on what she has learned with me in this regard which evidences the impact of my teaching praxis. (Excerpt from her essay in PDF)

Core to my teaching philosophy is that it is not enough to know but necessary to feel in order to fully embody change and knowledge. Students are concerned with obtaining an excellent final grade for their course work. However, I emphasize that the way to best position themselves for an excellent evaluation is to recognize the importance of the subjects we are studying to the world and their own lives. I stress how a university education is a privilege and a right that comes with responsibility. In my courses I usually delve into “difficult knowledge” involving power, oppression and injustices and my main task is to gently lead students in imprinting this knowledge beyond their mind so it can be fully embodied and mobilized in their lives beyond their offical transcripts; otherwise it is merely stagnant information.

In my courses I usually solicit anonymous feedback through index cards in order to gauge students’ engagement with the course. In the middle of the semester, one student expressed:

You’re doing an immaculate job at enforcing and producing your class mandate: transformative learning. The unorthodox and unconventional learning environment and participatory paradigm is certainly a “breath of fresh air”.

From formal written evaluations:

The course was informative, eye-opening, daring and I learned than I ever expected about immigration and migration. It was clearly a tough subject to teach but the course director made it seem effortless. It explored the underlying essence of what all these people went through. My perspective has become more fired up to make a change and be a better student and citizen. Refer to comment below for improvement. Truly unlike any other course.

It was the most open and comfortable discussion space I have been for a tutorial and was thoroughly impressed with the variety of forums that involved videos, diagrams, texts, guest-speakers and more. The only thing that could be improved would be to lengthen it so we can learn even more. –HREQ 3485 Fall 2012

Samples of unsolicited feedback from students:

Hello Professor Encalada,

I hope all is well. I want to express my sincere gratitude for all the efforts you have taken during the past academic year. From the day one, I enjoyed each and every class of yours and used to look forward to go to school everyday- which is such a surprise from a girl who used to dislike school.

You really made a great impact on my education. You made the class interesting and fun, and instilled me with the desire to continue learning. I really appreciate the way in which you helped me to learn in debt about human rights and migrant workers, which was one of the subjects I was unfamiliar with, and for taking time to answers questions/concerns I had.

You are a wonderful professor and I have no doubt you will continue to positively impact your students. I hope you have a wonderful summer break and keep in touch.

Thank you again for all that you do, it is much appreciated.


Sarah K.


October 2015.

The class you taught 2 years ago, Human Rights and Migrant Workers, has inspired and challenged me to take my thoughts and concerns into action; the most important lesson that I learned from your class was to be the change I wish to see. This lesson has stuck by me ever since.

Thank you for helping me to challenge myself and see what I capable of. And thank you for being one of the few great educators out there- your students are very fortunate to learn from such strong, inspiring and brave professor like yourself.

Dear Professor Encalada-Grez,

In fall 2012 I was enrolled in your HREQ 3485 Migrant Workers and Human Rights Course. This course and the stories you shared with the class inspired my future and  immediately I got involved in the Center for Refugee Studies. I am in the midst of pursing my certificate in Refugee and Migration Studies. I have also been actively following the news on the Justicia for Migrant Workers group on Facebook. I am coming to the end of my third year and I am contemplating different directions for my future. As you are very involved and have much knowledge in regards to community organizing and working with migrant workers I am wondering whether you have any advise on how to pursue a career in this field. I look forward to hearing from you.


Rebecca H.


Feedback from online teaching in Continuing Education, UBC, February 2016.

Dear Evelyn,

Your comment in our Module 4 discussion, "being uprooted, forced to leave due to violence and limited options and venues for survival is one thing and then there is the shock of a new country and the life long journey to feel settled, secure and belonging yet again somewhere. When we leave our countries we are like trees whose roots get yanked out quite violently and we never know if those roots will take to the new soil or if we will die in the attempt" left me aching for a way to acknowledge this statement.  My journaling this week led to sketching what I was taking in - the time spent focusing on yours and migrants' concerns was cathartic; we are taking in so much information.  You are inspirational!  It is my hope that your roots in Canada are filled with Chilean identity and love.

Best wishes,

Brenda  -image drawn by student in relation to my words/stories