Officially, it’s the Council on Learning and Teaching Excellence. But we just call it the Council. Conjuring up images of robed intellectuals marching toward a dimly lit lecture theatre. Doing secret handshakes and talking in hushed tones about teaching and learning. But that’s not really what happens. Not usually.
Our Council for Learning and Teaching Excellence is in its fourth year. During the first three years, a dedicated group of faculty members from across the institution came together to investigate teaching and learning on a deep level. Council members chose areas like inquiry-based learning and metacognition to explore and apply, and then reflect on and share out. The intention was to provide rich and relevant professional learning opportunities, tailored by the group, to support interested faculty in enhancing their practice, as leaders in their classrooms.
Every year the Council’s membership has changed slightly, along with the context and the ideas that members engage with, but the richness in cross-disciplinary dialogue and professional development has carried on across the years. But for this past academic year, the Council has evolved again, situating itself in a more leaderly space on our institutional landscape. Wanting participants to experience the agency and impact that instructors can have in working on institutional initiatives related to teaching and learning, we structured this year’s Council around just that—leading from where you are and shaping institutional level teaching and learning. Why not? Why not have faculty who are committed to professional growth and development engaged in exploring the inherent intersections between teaching and leadership? With this leadership piece in mind, last year’s Council met to help determine and shape this year’s Council project, deciding to pursue a project related to VIU’s newly minted Graduate Attributes. Created through a relatively lengthy collaborative process, VIU’s Graduate Attributes are a list of 18 characteristics graduates should have by the end of their programs. Although the attributes are articulated in VIU’s academic planning documents, how they will be taken up, understood, and implemented is yet to be seen. Enter the Council.
And so for the past 10 months, the Council has been working together in a variety of ways on an awareness campaign. Meeting with stakeholders falling under the categories of “faculty,” “students,” and “community,” members of the Council have facilitated discussions across campus, dialoguing over the Graduate Attributes. Often introducing them, at times demystifying and unpacking them, Council members have been on the front lines delivering the good news of the Graduate Attributes to many different groups across the institution, and discussing their implications to teaching and learning.
But the journey has not always been easy. Council members have heard many questions, some difficult to answer. And some coming from within themselves. How are we going to incorporate all of these attributes into our program? How will we measure these? Do they need to be measured? How much work will this entail? Aren’t we already doing a lot of this? What does “Indigenous perspective” mean? What supports will we have? Why are we doing this?
It has at times been a muddy place, and it has become our job as facilitators to encourage the embracing of the mud. And yes, mud is hard to embrace. It falls through our hands, and stains our clothes. It doesn’t hug back in a nice kind of way. Yet it lingers. But we also know that it’s the muddy places in which rich learning often happens, and leadership can emerge. Confusion and uncertainty are discomforting, especially for us. But it’s in those messy, dirty places where we are challenged more than ever to figure it out, move forward, and find a way. And as the Council’s year draws to a close, I have seen its members emerging, moving forward and finding a way. Like leaders. Like teachers. Through their experiences, they are helping to answer those many questions, and helping to mitigate the discomfort of others. They’re cleaning up the mud. They are reinforcing that we are at the beginning of the conversation, and that there is not always one answer to the many questions that the Graduate Attribute are inspiring. There are many. Furthermore, Council members and the colleagues they are engaging with are acknowledging the work that has already been done, or is being done, and that the Graduate Attributes are not that new. They have been built around the values of VIU, values that many instructors, departments and programs have shaped through their practice.
Over the next couple of months, the Council will be preparing to report back on what they have been doing and what they have been hearing. They will be sharing out with the greater community (stay tuned!) and perhaps creating resources that intend to help all of us continue to move forward with the Graduate Attributes. As a facilitator in this innovative group, watching instructors lead and grow in this sweet spot where teaching and learning meet leadership, I’ve been privileged to see the ways in which a group of 18 faculty members have created such enormous impact and awareness and dialogue on a large institutional level. I look forward to hearing the reflections from the Council on how this opportunity has shaped them, and their practice. What a year. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put on my robe and practice my handshake.