Monthly Archives: December 2014



What do I want to be when I grow up? For a large proportion of high school students, now is when that question gets real.



Which program? Which college or university? What are the admission requirements and will my grades be good enough? Applying to undergraduate and graduate degree or diploma programs can be stressful, especially the dreaded “Personal Statement” in which applicants must respond to a series of questions in 3000 characters or less.

For example:

What makes a good citizen?

How will you make the best of your experience at this institution?

What are your future career plans and aspirations?


These are big questions, and it can be daunting to frame a concise, compelling and well-written response. Yet the Personal Statement is a golden opportunity to differentiate oneself from the rest of the pack. Here are some ‘best practice’ tips to get you started.

  1. If the inspiration just isn’t coming, start typing anyhow. Don’t judge or polish – just write from your heart and see what comes out. You will yield some nuggets of gold to work with, and better yet, you will have made a start! (sometimes the hardest part is starting)
  2. Draft your responses in a text file instead of typing directly into the online form. What if you were to accidentally press “submit” before you’re done? Better to write, edit, spell-check, word count and then copy/paste online when you’re ready.
  3. Ask someone else to look over your responses and offer suggestions/feedback. Just make sure that your own authentic voice shines through. And, this probably goes without saying, but under no circumstances ‘borrow’ (i.e. plagiarize) content from online or other sources.
  4. Check online for the institution’s Mission Statement, and take this into account in framing and tailoring your responses.
  5. Give at least one concrete example from your own experience that illustrates your response to each question. You can draw from past participation in school clubs or sports, hobbies or interests, volunteer work, employment, travel, or books/art/music/poetry that has inspired you. If you have a website, blog or YouTube channel with original content, that might also be worth highlighting. Don’t underestimate or discount the many things that make you special!
  6. Last but not least, stay positive. We don’t always succeed in life the first time we try (or the second, or the third…). I’m inspired by this list of 50 famous people who failed at their first attempts at career success.


The 3 steps to success in school (and life)

Student tips: How to get good grades

Why convocation is #awesome

Stay gold






The spirit and skills of Motivational Interviewing (MI) can transform even the most delicate email conversations


Responding to email can be tricky at the best of times, and when emotions run high email is downright perilous. We’re all aware of the email best practice to “sleep on it” before hitting send, and/or to just pick up the phone and step out of the email conversation altogether. But what if we have to respond the same day? And what if we can’t reach the person by phone or want to document our response?

Enter Motivational Interviewing (MI) as a guide and model of good practice in email communication.

In responding to delicate or difficult emails, I try to employ the four core MI strategies (remember them with the acronym O A R S):


Motivational Interviewing OARS


In addition, we know that the skills of MI fall flat in the absence of MI “spirit::


MI Spirit

What does it look like in practice?

Say you receive an email in which the writer is clearly frustrated, and the tone is somewhat hostile and accusatory. Start with a modified affirmation/ reflection:

“I appreciate that you have been trying hard to get results, and it sounds like this has been a very frustrating process.”

Just the act of affirming the person’s efforts and accurately reflecting the feelings or experience helps the person to feel heard and acknowledged. This, in and of itself, can help to de-escalate the situation and starts to move the conversation in a positive trajectory. It sounds simple, but it’s not always easy when we want to reflexively put forward our response/justification/rejoinder.

Open questions can be used to evoke a constructive response and generate collaborative solutions:

“You raise an important – and difficult – issue, and it would be great to hear your thoughts about how we can best resolve this. What might be some ideal next steps?”

Of course, it might be appropriate to provide information and suggested solutions proactively, but my past experience is that when we jump to solutions too quickly, without first really hearing and acknowledging the person and evoking their preferred outcomes, our tone via email can come across as defensive or even abrupt (the “righting reflex”). If you do want or need to offer suggestions/solutions, an MI adaptation is to preface these with a caveat that affirms the individual’s autonomy:

“I’m not sure if this is the solution that you are looking for, but we could try…”

“I’d like to suggest some ideas, and I’m eager to hear your thoughts as to whether they are in line with what you are hoping to achieve…”

“This may not fit with what you have in mind, but is it worth exploring…”


Hmmm…sounds good (you say) but who has the time?! It’s true that thoughtfully responding to email with compassion and unconditional acceptance, and using the foundation skills of MI, might slow us down in the short-term. But in the big picture it actually ends up saving us time. Adopting an “MI approach to email” fosters good will, communicates mutual respect, and preserves the relationship.



SoTL Summary Image Nest


A conceptual framework for SoTL offers a map to knowing, valuing and acting


The scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), is, by definition, public versus private, susceptible to peer review and critique, and can be built upon by others (Charbonneau, 2010). But what does SoTL look like? What’s the “roadmap”? A conceptual framework can illuminate and guide how we frame and understand academic scholarship in the context of 21st Century post-secondary teaching and learning.

I’ve been thinking about an integrated framework that incorporates SoTL knowledge, learning and growth, as well as ways of knowing, valuing and acting as academic teachers, learners and scholars. Two recent models seem complementary and enrich one-another when viewed in combination: Randall et al. (2013) focusing on overlapping and dynamic elements of teaching and learning scholarship, and Kereliuk et al. (2013) with a slightly broader conceptualization of 21st Century teacher knowledge.


Framework for the Scholarship of (21st Century) Teaching and Learning

SoTL Framework


Randall’s original framework represents three overlapping and dynamic elements of teaching and learning scholarship: (1) knowledge of scholarly teaching; (2) learning about one’s teaching; and (3) growth in SoTL. The three domains are represented in a Venn diagram, with points where the domains intersect/overlap. For example, where (1) knowledge of scholarly teaching meets (2) learning about one’s teaching, we see enhanced faculty engagement and motivation. Where (2) learning about one’s teaching meets (3) growth in SoTL we see increased commitment and professional academic/scholarly identity. Where (3) growth in SoTL meets (1) knowledge of scholarly teaching we see concrete SoTL performance and/or action. Finally, the central convergence point of all three domains represents SoTL transformation.

In the integrated model, foundation knowledge (such as teaching skills and digital, research and cross-disciplinary literacies) maps onto the domain of scholarly teaching broadly. Humanistic knowledge (which includes ethical/emotional awareness and diversity competence) corresponds to and enriches the domain of learning about one’s teaching. Finally, meta knowledge (such as creativity and innovation, problem solving and critical reflection, and communication and collaboration across disciplines) relates to faculty growth in SoTL.

I like how, when integrated, this framework affirms multiple and diverse ways of knowing and being.

With all that said, no roadmap is perfect – any GPS user who has been misdirected by the computer navigation guide will attest to that. We are continuously mapping and remapping physical and geographic terrains, and the same holds true for conceptual mapping of the terrains of knowledge, development and application.

A work in progress, like life itself, and our individual and collective learning journeys.


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