General reflections on the program

General reflections on the program

 The event was a celebration. Lest that seem like a mindless observation, let me add that the celebration was implicit, yet tangible, throughout the event, and that the feeling became more and more intense throughout the day.

We moved from a space for reflection created by the panel in the morning, to a dialogue with students (to whom, as had been pointed out in the morning, we are responsible ahead of anyone else) in the afternoon, to an elegant exhortation of the spirit, finishing in the evening with a dignified yet relaxed breaking of bread.

Were not the four Zoas celebrated? (reason, emotion, creative imagination, and the senses).

The event had been launched the previous evening in an atmosphere of homecoming and excitement.

Here’s what the event WAS NOT:

Defaul2For the most part, we escaped the trap of preaching-to-the-choir: celebration was tempered by realism as we were reminded that “Everything gets worse” (C Knapper), but good things do happen; stress was placed on the absolute primacy of listening; simplicity was front-and-centre (our role is to set good tasks – Chris again); a 2009 graduate reminded us to measure the worth of education against decency and social problems; the gulf between Alaister and Anton lifted us out of our culture of consent, thanks in particular to a few audience members, and created a space for dialogue.

All three events underscored the absolute importance of listening; “education is about listening.”

And we listened. To students, to whom we are ultimately responsible. Not enough, but it’s a good beginning.

Ah, turning undergraduate education on its head! If we listen, really listen, we will do something about those large, impersonal, alienating first-year classes. And how important, yet how pathetic, was the plea for “one connection” in first year!

The primacy of listening triumphed when the keynote speaker delivered her reflections. But how many people in the room REALLY listened? Her reflections are vital but, talk as we will about the importance of listening, it’s a challenge, for most people some of the time, and for some people most of the time.

In some very important ways, we flirted with a change of culture.

How can the dialogue continue?

Congratulations to the executive committee for making this happen.

– Alex fancy

Defaul8After months and months of planning (and worrying!), the day of the big event had finally arrived. The energy, the warmth, the conversations, and the “connections” at the reception were reminiscent of the atmosphere at Montebello. We certainly do know how to enjoy a fine setting and a glass of wine. It was wonderful to be able to share our Fellowship with the STLHE Board members and the conference organizers.

I was excited on Wednesday morning – over 100 Fellows and students had gathered together to discuss where higher education might be going in the next 25 years. It seemed like a topic in which everyone should have a shared interest. I only hoped we had designed a session that would engage everyone. And it did! The panel was brilliant – experienced, wise, witty, challenging, and provocative. The student voice, Natalie Gerum’s, was particularly inspirational. One participant said, “Natalie made me proud I am a teacher.” I don’t know how much credit we, as teachers, can claim for the success of our students.

I was reminded of all the times I have “allowed” students, or rather created a space where students could share their insights, their perspectives, their learning. I have always been rewarded, rarely disappointed. I am embarrassed to say I continue to be surprised by how well they do. After so many years of teaching, whenever I can create the space Parker Palmer calls the “community of truth,” where we have “conversations about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline,” magic always happens. And it happened on Wednesday at Le Meredien. Faculty and students, teachers and learners, talking about things that matter – the future of higher education as we would like it to be.

As people talked about all the problems and who to blame, I wondered what our (my) role and responsibility was in creating this future. For surely, as a faculty members, as parents, as taxpayers, etc., we share the responsibility for designing, creating, and maintaining the current system. What can I do? What can the Fellowship do to help design and create the future we want (and need!)? As exceptional teachers and educational leaders, we should have a role; we must have a role. We have an opportunity, as well as a responsibility.

I was amazed at how comfortable and enthusiastic all the students were in participating in the World Café, expertly guided by Mike Atkinson and Tom Haffie. This session demonstrated how Fellows can reach out and touch, and be touched by, students. Teaching has no other purpose than to promote learning. Students are at the heart of higher education. StudentAwards provides the Fellows with an opportunity and the means to reach well beyond our own classrooms.

Defaul9This 25th anniversary was a wonderful celebration of the Fellowship and the deep connections that have been built over the 25 years of this partnership. Now what do we do? The Council did its work in creating this amazing event – Fellows from 23 of the 25 cohorts gathered together. What can we do, should we do, to build on this? We need to go forward in partnership with each other, our students, and our sponsors (thank you StudentAwards) to continue to “make a difference.”

My page is full and I haven’t yet talked about Louise Halfe and the power of her talk. I haven’t talked about the joy at the banquet – the wonderful welcoming of the cohorts, the gratitude to our major sponsor 3M Canada, and the delightful voices of the Chantelles. Merci Alex Fancy for your careful and caring shepherding of us through the event.

I just want and need to say thank you to the many who worked so hard to make this event happen and to everyone who joined with us in this celebration. Without you it wouldn’t have been possible. And it was better because of you.

-Ron Smith


3M Council “circle”: What she said was, “Almost right away I realized these are my people.” All ten of us sitting in that circle, nodded, smiled. We knew what she was saying. We felt the same way when we first met other 3M Teaching Fellows. There is a sense, isn’t there, when you are among those who resonate with the same vibration you know well, a sense of camaraderie, understanding, even “home”?

Alex’s facilitation: As Alex began to talk on Wednesday morning, I smiled and my shoulders relaxed. His familiar hand motions – almost like an orchestra conductor – and words set the stage for our day together. I settled in knowing he would monitor the process and make everything all right. And it was.

Defaul1Louise’s talk: I think it was hearing her speak Cree, her native language, That did it. I entered what can only be called a spell and stayed there during her whole address. It felt a bit like flying and swimming at the same time. At one point I realized my fingers were waving slightly … like seaweed.

– Clarissa Green


Nîci…we gathered in Toronto to pîcicî

As we congregated, we felt the power of the voices and the spirits, and for two days, we dreamt of a better tomorrow. We reflected about our paths and our responsibilities. The change that is needed in Higher Education will not come from others: it starts with us. As doers, as the good-hearted ones; we need to stand tall and voice our concerns, our queries, and our dreams. We have to charge our imagination, explore and share our ideas and play with the results and the energy created in this journey. The lessons to be learned are not new. They have been with us in this vast land of ours for generations. They are our âtayôhkanak and they guide us wherever we are, if we listen.

To listen, we need to create spaces of silence where we look at each other and really see the ‘other’. “I see you” as who you are and not as I would like you to be. I see you as my fellow, my friend, as my nîci. As such, I respect you and care for you, because by taking care of you, I really end up taking care of myself, since at the end we are all one.

We will make mistakes and we will learn from them, as they are the stones that pave the path to understanding and knowledge. We don’t strive to have knowledge for knowledge sake, but instead, we feed from the knowledge of the past to guide our future. Witnessing each other’s stories, sharing them, dreaming about what it was, what it is, and what it will be, we will create a miyohtākwan that will evoke other voices in the future, echoing our breaths, our hearts, our bodies. Thank you, Louise Halfe, poet, teacher, elder, wise woman.

We need to keep dreaming of a better future for our students, for our country, for our world. The dreams will guide us and our passion for life and wisdom will help us to taste the meaning of life.

– Mercedes Rowinsky-Geurts