Speeches

Message delivered at the opening of the second-annual Celebrate! Teaching and Learning event on May 9, 2019

Good morning, everyone. I'm so pleased to be here today and thank you, Provost and Vice=President, Academic, Dr. Lesley Brown, for that kind introduction. I think Lesley has crossed off many aspects of what I wanted to say, that will keep my address mercifully brief for all of you. But I will say that I'm so happy to be here with the team and in particular, to work with Lesley and her team in terms of advancing the academic mission of the University.

It's day seven for me at Mount Royal University. I think this might be my seventh talk or public address and knowing that there has been a number of these events and some of you may well have been at some of them, I apologize in advance for anything that happens to be repetitive. For those of you who were at yesterday's kickoff event in this facility, which I referred to as a Tim-o-palooza celebration, it was a remarkable event. I really loved the tone in the room, but it was a bizarre experience for me sitting on the stage.

But I could not have felt more welcomed by the MRU community. Perhaps something different that I can say that I've said at some other venues when I've been going around the University meeting folks, and I think Lesley alluded to this, I am truly, truly passionate about teaching and learning. It is something that I care a great deal about and one of my biggest regrets - not to start off with regrets ― but one of my biggest regrets about being a senior administrator is that it really takes me away from that passion and regrettably, with the type of work that I've chosen to do, I don't have the opportunity to do as much teaching and learning work as I would like.

I've tried to remain academically active and I still have a few doctoral students, just a few who are pursuing studies in higher ed., and that's kind of how I keep my oar in the water. I value the scholarship of teaching and learning particularly. It's probably one of two or three areas that I can claim to actually know something about, and I did spend, as a graduate student, a number of years in the Centre for Teaching and Learning at McGill University and it was some of the best and most enjoyable work of my life.

And what I find really remarkable about the scholarship of teaching and learning is the way in which it brings people together from different disciplines. It really is a unifying aspect in the academy where we can find common ground and really focus on our academic mission, so I salute you all for your work. I salute the students who are here who are interested in this area and have an important voice to contribute to it, and all I can say is that is keep going, because I really think it is so very important.

As Lesley said, I'm number 10 president, number one vice-chancellor, and we don't have a chancellor right now, so I guess, by default, I'm also the chancellor, thank you. And I'm very happy to be at a university distinguished for its teaching and learning reputation. I have said in many venues, and I think it does bear repetition, is that I do believe that universities and post-secondary education is transformational to students and really, actually, when we think about it, transformational to us, because as we engage in teaching and learning, we always learn ourselves, which is so fantastic.

For those of you who are a little more seasoned and have taught a course 10 or 20 times, I think it's amazing when you're talking about something you know so well, to discover some aspect or some thinking about the work that you do in a different way. It reminds me, for those of you who have read some of the stuff in this area, Lee Shulman's work many years ago on pedagogical content knowledge where he argued that it's not about a set of pedagogies as such in isolation, but it's really about that interrelation with their discipline that is so very interesting and how we develop expertise in what we do.

I think that there is a natural place of intersection between the scholarship of teaching and learning and the broader mission of higher education in terms of supporting the personal and academic growth of students. I think it's a natural collaboration for those of you who support students outside of the classroom. I think that's a really important connection that we continue to strive for. And I think we want it done right and that's what we want to do.

I think we want to really help everyone reach their goals and develop a lifelong appreciation for scholarship and for inquiry. And I think that doing so really is the engine of positive transformation on campuses, in cities, in communities, in countries and across the world. And for those of you who follow politics, and I feel I must, but I try not to, I think we need some transformation and I think education is an important aspect to help us move forward.

As Lesley alluded to, I did my PhD in educational psychology and counseling at McGill University. And while there, I did a lot of work, and I worked in a lot of faculties, actually, on improving teaching and learning including the medical school and the law school. Amongst my checkered past, I made it to Western Canada and have spent a lot of time working in the area of student affairs and student services and for the last almost decade, as vice-provost of Students and International at Simon Fraser University.

But I'm so happy to have come to Alberta, despite the snow on my birthday in May. And I really think it's wonderful that MRU has an event like this and I know that this event could not occur without the hard work of the Academic Development Centre, and I want you to know how much I appreciate that work that you do.

I think that as I alluded to, I've jumped around academically, administratively and had the chance to work with a number of colleagues on seemingly disparate aspects of what we do, but all really important. Those include things like working on policies on student well-being, mental health, working on education and response to issues of sexual violence, supporting Indigenous students, supporting intercultural confidence building, et cetera. So, for me, coming to MRU was a natural thing for me to do, because I had visited the campus a couple years back and was just struck by how much of a common voice there was on the value of undergraduate education and its importance and student centeredness.

So, I knew that I would come to this community and I would meet some fantastic people who were like-minded to me. I knew that it was an institution distinguished for its reputation in teaching and learning and I know that you were at the forefront of that very important area of study. What I didn't know was some of the strides that had been made on campus in areas like changemaking and indigenization.

And I didn't know about the incredible momentum in research and scholarship across the disciplines. I think that's so fantastic. And I didn't know about some of the physical transformation of this campus including the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts and the Riddell Library and Learning Centre, which are just awesome facilities and hopefully will help you as you pursue your mandate in improving teaching and learning.

My job is to be a bit of a storyteller and to be a cheerleader. I want to be your strongest leader, and so, getting to know you and hearing your stories will absolutely help me do that, so that when I meet people in the community, I can at the drop of a hat, tell them what's happening here. I want to encourage you to keep growing and to fill in gaps where those tiny gaps may exist and to continue to take a student-centred approach to new heights and through further collaboration.

As I said earlier, I was aware of MRU's reputation for teaching and learning and I think that one of the drivers that I've learned about, as I've met people in the MRU community, has to do with the amount of generosity and inclusivity that I'm observing with respect to the work and I think the work requires that. I think the mix today of faculty, students and staff is exactly what we need to do to move the ball forward. That's a sports metaphor for anyone who doesn't think I do sports. Go team.

And I also enjoyed reading the article in Summit that outlined some of that collaboration and some of the work on teaching and learning. Lesley mentioned recently the achievement of Brett McCollum as MRU's first 3M International Teaching Scholar, which is nothing short of remarkable. And I had the opportunity many years ago to do a study of 3M award winners, which had me doing one-hour phone interviews with about 40 of them, and it was just amazing to speak with those award winners and hear their approaches to teaching and learning.

So, it's wonderful that we have, now, someone at MRU amongst that group. I also understand that Michelle Yeo, academic director for the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, has been named president of the International Society for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. This is obviously a major accomplishment for Michelle and definitely a feather ... we can take some credit ... a feather in MRU's cap. So, congratulations, Michelle.

So, with these folks and their help and all of you, I think we can take diverse approaches to the academic disciplines taking leadership and improving the scholarship for teaching and learning. And in my mind, I think that this kind of collaboration, trust, generosity, et cetera, is what we need to foster. I'm excited to find out more about what you're doing in this area and I wish I could participate in the entire event.

Apologies that I can't, but maybe I will have the opportunity at a future event and in the next few months, I hope to spend time meeting people in the community, keenly listening to all of you to hear your stories. I hope we can share a good laugh, and in the longer term, I look forward to being that cheerleader for you, to keep building on our reputation.

And it has been a real pleasure chatting with you today and I hope the event goes really well.

Thank you.