“Learning from Challenge and Failure”: Resources — Julie Timmermans

Michael Starbird
Michael Starbird, keynote speaker at the 2016 Teaching and Learning Conference.

Presenters at CTE’s recent Teaching and Learning conference explored the theme of Learning from Challenge and Failure. As a follow-up to the Conference, we’d like the share the following list of compiled resources:


Articles and Blog Postings

Podcasts and Talks

Growth Mindset Resources


Learning from Challenge and Failure – Julie Timmermans


This year’s University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference theme, Leaning from Challenge and Failure, is an opportunity to open up discussions with our colleagues, our students, and ourselves around the beliefs we hold about challenges, setbacks, and failure in the context of teaching and learning at the University.

How do these beliefs shape the ways in which we teach, learn, and lead? How do we work to cultivate a culture that encourages risk-taking, growth through experimentation, and learning from our earnest attempts that lead to failure? What measures can we put in place to ensure that the members of our community have the opportunity to flounder, perhaps fail, and flourish?

During the Conference, we will explore not only challenges and failures, but the work of learning from these challenges and failures. The difficult cognitive and emotional work of learning from these experiences does not happen automatically or autonomously. It takes time and must be guided by people who care deeply about our development.

Airing our experiences of challenge and failure publically may certainly feel vulnerable and risky. But what might be the risks of not sharing these stories? Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) publishes annual ‘Failure Reports’ in which they highlight a dozen or so stories of failure – and learning from failure – in their international development efforts. This is risky in many ways – financially, for an organization that depends on contributions from donors; emotionally, for the people in the field sharing their stories. But EWB has determined that the benefits of disclosing these failures outweigh the costs of hiding them. Because hiding them does not help them, or other organizations, solve the problems which they are hoping to solve – poverty, access to clean water, food security, etc. This approach recognizes that we are involved in a collective endeavour to improve our communities.

As we began to introduce and discuss the Conference theme with others on campus, we discovered that conversations about failure, challenge, and resilience are already going on in residence rooms and in meetings rooms. Often, however, these rooms are behind closed doors. Through the Conference, we hope to bring these conversations out into the public spaces of our University – a learning organization – so that when we share our stories of innovation, experimentation, and publication, they integrate the stories of uncertainty, failed attempts, and rejections. Because the whole story of our successes often include failure. We hope that the Conference will be one space of many in which we can collectively explore our potential to learn and grow from challenge and failure.

For links to resources on learning from challenge and failure, including an excellent blog series from the Faculty of Arts Teaching Fellows and CTE’s Kyle Scholz, please visit the “Resources“section of the Conference website.

Register for the Conference

Momentum: Learning in Residence Life – Cassidy Gagnon

10918530916_8438ecda3c_mDuring the second last weekend of January I attended the 35th Annual Residence Life Conference at the University of Guelph, in which dons from all over Ontario gathered together and learned (and danced) with other dons. Although I’m not currently a don (or RA) for the Winter term, I was a don the previous two terms living at Village 1 and UWP. During the Fall term, I was given the opportunity with my friends in Residence Life to present at the conference under the title “Walking on the Quiet Side”, a presentation aimed to help fellow dons and RAs learn what the difference between extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts was, and how to cater to introverts who have trouble feeling part of the residence community. I wasn’t quite sure what the conference was going to be about and how I would react to it since, ironically, I am an introvert and extroverts seem to love the energy of conferences. The three members of my presentation group had already gone to last year’s conference, in which they told me about how the process was going to work, which did relax me a little.
We arrived the Friday evening and was staying at the Delta hotel. During the night, I only received 3 hours of sleep (which, as I write this blog, is still affecting my sleep cycle). The next morning of the conference, we were guided to a big, old building somewhere on the Guelph campus. On the projector screen in the building was only one word: momentum, with the “o” in the shape of a fast forward button, which was the theme of the conference. According to the website, “momentum is the product of existing motion; it is a testament to the hard work, creativity, and vision that has gotten us all to where we are. And, reflective of the energy and excitement we all feel now, we feel it captures our joint enthusiasm for the future”.
The first speaker that day was the keynote, who focused on the effects of technology on society and how we must be careful with how it affects our lives with others. After that session, we were given the choice of going to 1 of 8 learning sessions out of 5 concurrent sessions: basically, we were allowed to see 5 different sessions during the day that focused on material from diversity, personal and professional development, student learning and development, leadership and mentoring, self-care and balance, community building and advising and supporting. Needless to say, there was a variety of choices for anyone who wanted to learn about something they were either interested in or in something that they think would benefit themselves or their students more.
Being one of the presenters, I was only allowed to go to 4 of the session, since I was presenting in the middle of the concurrent sessions. The sessions I attended included: “Illuminating the International Enigma” (focusing on learning of different cultures and creating a safe and diverse environment for students), “This is Our Moment” (focusing on dysfunctional teams and how to go forward with building strong team dynamics), “How to Talk so Residents Will Listen” (a language based session that focused on how to talk to residences during any situation), and “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” (a diversity session to identify privileged people and student leaders, and how these people can change residence communities, campus, and life beyond university).
At the end of each session, the delegates and judges were then asked to rate the presentation based on a number of criteria. The top 5 sessions out of the 40 would present again (unfortunately, ours did not make it, but oh well…). The last session I went to, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”, was actually in the top 5, as well as “GROOVE Your Body-Esteem”, done by Waterloo’s own Reba Campbell, which focused on exploring body image challenges and using GROOVE dancing to improve body confidence. I decided to attend the session called “Man Up!”, since it seemed the most appealing, and I already saw the other session, and Reba holds GROOVE classes on campus, which I have already attended (and was quite enjoyable. Thanks Reba!). The “Man Up!” session turned out to be my favourite session of the entire conference. It focused on breaking down stigmas surrounding cis gendered masculinity in our society and identify solutions for changing our student’s lives. Being a cis gendered male, there were a lot of truths within the session that I never would have thought of. And not to be melodramatic, but it definitely changed my life for the better for listening to it, and I will definitely be apply the nuggets of information I learned from this session towards my future students and myself.
As Sunday came around, we learned that “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” had won for the best session, while Reba’s session was runner-up (which was very exciting). After the closing ceremonies and the last keynote speaker, we then departed for home.
I found that this entire weekend was filled with lots of great knowledge, and better, knowledge I could apply towards my future residents, the people I meet, and myself. And even residents have loads of opportunities to learn things in residence, from educational events held by their don to leadership events offered by residence, such as the annual AMPED conference. But overall, thinking about my current state of being and carrying on the theme of the conference, I hope that I can have the momentum to take my love of donning and learning and conserve it in the future.

For more information about my time at the conference, or learning in residence in general, you can make a comment underneath and I will try my best to answer you.

Also, thank you to Kerry, Dillon and Ananya for being such great team members and allowing me to work on the project with them.