Sharing Views along the Road – Shirley Hall


One of the greatest perks of attending a conference is the opportunity it provides to stay awhile, explore the surrounding area and meet the folks who call it home. This year’s conference of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) – pronounced “stell-ee” with affection – was held on Cape Breton Island. Cape Breton University (CBU) provided a beautiful setting for this year’s theme, “learning to live, learning for life”. Though my visit was brief, the island and it’s people left a lasting impression on me.

Starting with the ‘community’ cab ride from the airport (no single fares from Sydney airport that night!) through to the open and friendly banter of the conference organizers, hoteliers and restauranteurs, the generous nature of the people of the island became clear. I soon learned that Cape Bretoners are very much at ease sharing their views, be they landscapes, seascapes or tales of lore.

The sharing of stories was evident throughout the conference as well, with Dr. Richard Gerver opening his keynote address with “I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on teaching and learning…” He spoke frankly about his life experiences, many included in his new book, “Change”. I think I will make it one of my summer reads. Another wonderful plenary ‘conversation’ was hosted by the 3M National Student Fellows. They spoke eloquently and honestly about how we can all get caught up in the ‘cult of busyness’ and how important it is to take time to pause, to listen, learn and reflect. some other engaging sessions I attended covered topics such as the Sustainable Happiness project, (Dr. Catherine O’Brien., CBU), as well as research on the current state of SoTL in Canada (Dr. Brad Wutherick, University of Saskatchewan).

As we dug in to our amazing feast, the banquet evoked a different kind of sharing, with pieces of lobster flying across tables! The incredible musicians shared lyrical stories steeped in the folkore of the island and we danced and celebrated the night away with great enjoyment. The final great privilege of my journey was a fabulous roadtrip, driving the Cabot Trail with two colleagues. Our shared journey included lunch, lively conversation about the beauty of the place, and shared stories of life long learning. The experience of attending this year’s conference will not be soon forgotten, I will cherish this most memorable trip.

Wholeheartedness – Shirley Hall


It was easy deciding on a topic to write about today.

The heart…Love.

We are told that love is in the air, all is fair in love and war, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. There is much ado about love.

“Yes,” you may say, “this is true.” “But what does love have to do with teaching and learning?” Perhaps Thomas Carlyle said it best when he wrote, “A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge.”

Yesterday the entire CTE team participated in our annual PD Day. We had a lot of fun. We got to know one another a little better. We played games like “Two Truths and a Lie” using iClickers to reveal little known facts (and fibs) about each other. We laughed a lot. We shared a little more than we would have in a work setting. We risked being vulnerable – perhaps letting others get to know us just a little bit better. In so doing, a new level of trust was built. We are a fortunate bunch. We respect and care about one another.

But letting others see who we really are is risky. Yes, I want to live “wholeheartedly.” There are times though, that I feel fear – fear of not being “good enough” -as a worker, instructor, parent. Paradoxically, being vulnerable takes courage. In order for me to connect with students, colleagues, even family and friends, I have to let my guard down and be real, authentic. Risk showing who I really am. Fortunately, I have teachers who help me see that I am not alone in feeling apprehensive about this.

My most recent teacher has emerged from the pages of a book I have been reading. The book is by Brené Brown, it is called “Daring Greatly.” I suggest checking her out if you haven’t already. For a sneak peak into some of the wisdom of her book, you can also find her on TED talks. When I thought of love today, I thought of this book. From the dust cover, “Brown explains how vulnerability is the both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief and disappointment and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation and creativity.” She writes about the importance of recognizing our vulnerabilities, and accepting them as insights to greater meaning and understanding in our lives.

Chapter 6 of her book is titled, “Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work”, and holds many great examples of how to best lead. Brown’s description of a leader is “anyone who holds themselves accountable for finding potential in people and processes.” Further into the chapter, I found her idea of vulnerability being at the “heart” of the feedback process. I am working on adapting some of her strategies about student presentations and assessment into my courses. I think it’s worth the risk.

I would like to bring the spirit of wholeheartedness into my life and also my classroom, and by practicing some of the ideas suggested in this book, I have made a start. In the end, it is the loving thing to do. For myself, and others.

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly. How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. 2012. Gotham Books, New York.

F is for Facebook — Shirley Hall, CTE Research Associate

Recently on a snowy “work from home” day, my 15-year-old son received an assignment from his high school teacher via Facebook.  I was immediately envious that his teacher was able to communicate with him in this way. (My attempts at communicating with my son using ‘old school’ methods, such as talking to him face to face — or should I say f2f? — are typically met with blank stares). My only recent successes have come from updating my cell phone to a model that I can ‘text’ from, so now he will text me back, so I now have a slightly better handle on the everyday happenings in his life. That his teacher was communicating through Facebook seemed ‘cool’ (or should I say ‘sick’?) and I must confess that I was a little miffed that his teacher could enjoy the casual banter of a Facebook post, whereas I had to be satisfied with my rather stilted and formal texting. At least there was a connection of sorts through our phones.

I started to wonder if it might be viable for me to make use of this form of social media for connecting with my own students. I would like to connect like this, quite frankly, because I get that it is, as Wakefield suggests, “where students are”.  (see below for Kirk Wakefield’s February 27 article in Faculty Focus, the oniine version of The Teaching Professor, where he discusses aspects of the use of Facebook with his students.) Although my intentions are good, when contemplating this idea further, I instantly feel at a disadvantage. A large part of the reason that I feel this way is because I do not know the language of Facebook. For me it would be like wandering around in a foreign country without my Fodor’s. (There I go dating myself again, as I realize there are now ‘apps’ one can have on their cellphone that will instantly tell you your location via GPS as well as translating any language for you). Although I like the idea of connecting with my students within their realm, I fear there are likely protocols that need to be followed. For instance, are there Facebook “faux pas” ? I realize that the accepted communication style of Facebookers is not within my current vocabulary. (I might get an “F” in Facebooking). So, as unfounded as my fears might seem (phobias?) I hesitate to venture into this uncharted territory for fear of being chastised.

I also wondered if other instructors might feel the same way as I do, and thought how nice it would be to be able to ‘connect’ with one another and perhaps even have one of my peers walk me gingerly through the Fundamentals of Facebooking. I have yet to find a Facebook 101 offering, but would be happy to attend if one materializes. Let me know if you “like” this idea, and perhaps we can start a discussion of our own regarding the merits of using Facebook in the classroom. Of course, I would prefer to meet you f2f, preferably over a cup of coffee.

1. Should Professors use Facebook to Communicate with Students? Faculty Focus, by Kirk Wakefield, Edwin W. Streetman, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University.

Changing Colours – Shirley Hall

Lately I have been thinking about the weather a lot. Well, a lot more than usual. (Isn’t it the number one topic of choice of casual conversations among Canadians?). The weather changes so frequently around this part of the country that sometimes I take change for granted. So much so that I may not notice changes. Except for lately, because lately I have daily reminders of the change that is going on all around me. The changing of the leaves is one of the most visually striking reminders to me that change is happening. It makes the change much more explicit. It’s ‘in your face’ so to speak.

All this reflection about change started me thinking about the changes that happen to our students (and ourselves) as we go through the learning process. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could actually see our students change colour like the leaves – as they grow in knowledge and understanding? For instance, what colour would deep learning be? Perhaps crimson or purple? How about critical thinking? A rich orange perhaps? And what about teachers? Would we glow a warm yellow if our teaching was engaging? How different life would be for both student and instructor alike if we could actually see the effects of teaching and learning in a rainbow of colours, so we could know for certain a change was occurring…

But…that is not the way it is.

So, I do my best to try and incorporate the principles of good teaching into my courses, in hopes that change will happen – even if I cannot see it. I read some literature related to teaching and learning and try to make some adjustments – albeit minor ones – in the way I teach. I try new things. I watch and see if a change occurs. Perhaps my efforts do result in a little deeper learning and a little more critical thought and reflection in my students, perhaps not. I may not notice a big change in my students – I only see them for a short time – and then they move on. But perhaps I can trust the process somewhat. The same way I trust the changing of the seasons. I may not be able to see change happen in my students in the same way as I see the changing of the leaves, but I like to believe my efforts have been worthwhile, and that the colours are there, underneath.


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

Peter Jensen: Igniting the Third Factor — Shirley Hall

When I was asked yesterday to write something for today’s blog, thoughts rushed through my mind, the first being ” Oh my gosh, what will I write about? The second – it needs to be something, profound – worldly even. The third thought was – yikes!  I can’t do it, and I have no time. Then, fear set in.All these thoughts raced by in a few seconds as I was checking my email between sessions of the OHD Staff Conference yesterday. It simultaneously occurred to me that I could simply write about my experience of attending the conference. Great! I was in a hurry to get back and hear the next speaker. But why?  Why was I in such a hurry

Well, I wanted to hear the second speaker simply because the first speaker had been so inspiring. I love learning, love listening to people speak and share about their passions. For an hour I was able to be the student with Peter Jensen, my teacher.  What inspired me about Peter Jensen’s talk? So much, and there is not enough space for many details here, so I encourage you to find out a bit more. Talk to someone who attended his talk. Or read his book, Igniting the Third Factor. (I won’t spoil it for those of you who did not have the chance to hear his lecture – I will let you find out for yourself what that “third factor” is).  In brief, he described “Igniters” as those who take on the fulfilling mandate of making others better.

What I found memorable is the way in which Peter spoke, his approach.  He spoke of people, events, life. I could relate to the stories he shared, how people felt, and therefore, I was engaged.  He spoke of the importance of getting to know yourself, becoming self- aware, to take time to learn about your limiting beliefs, (our “blocks”) and to learn to exercise self-control.  Then, take conscious action to manage yourself, understand your impact on others – (to borrow one of his many quotes “Manage yourself so others won’t have to. – John Wooden).

As he spoke, the distance between where I sat and where he stood on the stage began to shrink.  His talk became comfortable. Like sharing stories over coffee. He spoke of himself, (we got to know him as a person, just recovering from cancer) of famous people, events and situations, in a profoundly moving and meaningful way. He shared the emotional journey of how to work through adversity, and embrace it. Make it your best teacher. He spoke about how people felt (himself included) when faced with challenges. I can identify with that. I do not know what it is like to be an Olympic athlete, preparing for the Olympic Games, but I do know what it FEELS like when I think I have failed in some way, (usually  to meet my own expectations of myself).  I could relate to and identify with the feelings of those athletes, and therein was the connection, once again. The one common denominator was the shared human experience.

I will take the ideas that Peter spoke about and do my best to apply them to my life; in the classroom, with co-workers, family and friends. Peter‘s talk has inspired me to imagine more, play more, dream more. I am going to my best to “become an agent of conscious choice” around my own personal development. I hope in some small way I might inspire others to do the same.

As Peter showed us… in the end, all you have left is the person – Doug Leigh.


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.