Faculty Spotlights

May 2023 Spotlight - Dr. Sarah Jacoba

Just Jump: A Personal Essay on Change

I am a creature of habit. Change does not come naturally to me, to put it mildly. For me, change is akin to balancing on the ledge of a high-rise: my gaze is fixed on the ground below as I try not to sway or lose my footing. Standing on the precipice, I shakily reach one arm back, feeling for the only thing that feels safe or steady: the wall behind me. Surely, if I cling to the wall, nothing bad will happen. Just. Don’t. Move.

TMI (Too Much Information)

In Fall 2015, I began making a concerted effort to change my persona as a university language instructor. Having followed my then-husband to the US, I found myself working as a Lecturer at Purdue, a public research university where many of the students excel in STEM. In previous positions, I had tried — naively and idealistically, but from a genuine enthusiasm and respect for knowledge — to embody the image of the “sage on the stage” who lived a life of the mind and expected students to strive to do the same. Truth be told, I was nervous and on- edge for every lecture, worried I would stray from my script and be unable to find my way back, unable to impart to the students a wealth of information they could have looked up on their own. After all my preparation and worry, I was dismayed to receive lukewarm student evaluations of teaching.

Then, the professor overseeing the basic French-language courses at Purdue encouraged a more pedagogically robust vision of instructor-student interactions. Each lesson would ideally see students practice, in some measure, each of the four language competencies: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. In short, I wouldn’t be doing all of the talking any more. And, for the first time in my then- limited experience as an instructor, I witnessed my students brighten as they entered my classroom. Even those who were not French majors seemed eager to attend class. Although I never asked them, sometimes I quietly wondered if, for some, language classes were a refuge from other, less creative, academic demands.

This musing was perhaps a projection for, in reality, the classroom had become a refuge for me: my marriage was coming undone. While tensions ran high at home, in the classroom I delighted in learning alongside my students who steadily taught me to improve my teaching. I learned to read the (class)room and gauge the efficacy of my teaching not only from students’ test results but also from their enthusiasm, participation, and feedback. During my time at Purdue, I had the revelation that my own enjoyment of teaching was often a reasonably accurate measure of students’ enjoyment of — and thus investment in — their learning. If I was invested in the class and having fun, it was more likely that they were too.

On the Flip Side

The dissolution of my marriage prompted me to look everywhere and anywhere for more stable employment. During this trying time, my best friend and I would chat about our love of teaching and our vision of the ideal job. If we could design the job of our dreams, what aspects of our current job would we keep and what would we change? This felt like professional fantasizing at the time, but I believe it’s important to explore such questions. What would I do, given creative control over my classroom and the resources to bring my vision to fruition? Wouldn’t it be incredible, I wondered to myself, if there were a teaching-focused job as a professor back home in Canada?

In Spring 2017, I applied for just such a teaching-focused job at Lakehead University. These less traditional positions were few and far between. I had never been to Thunder Bay, but I was excited to learn that LU was an access university where, thanks in part to LU’s various UDL and SoTL initiatives and college-pathway programs, many first-generation students finally had access to post-secondary education. I sensed that after all my growing pains, both personal and professional, the position at LU as a teaching-focused instructor would be a wonderful fit while still leaving me room to continue growing.

My time at Purdue had taught me the value of handing students more power over their classroom experience. For my classroom to be truly student-centered — a concept I had parroted in my first teaching philosophy, years earlier — students would be required to take center stage while I encouraged them from the wings. But what does that actually mean? What does a “student-centered classroom” look like? How could I design an educational experience that empowered students beyond participating in class? This is the central query that has since guided my efforts to experiment in class with my students.

In the flipped classroom model, students complete readings and basic comprehension tasks at home. Class time is reserved for higher-order thinking skills (analysis, critique, problem-solving, etc.). Students are guided by the professor and by each other via discussions, group work,and other forms of collaboration. The obvious pitfall is that this approach only works if everyone does their homework. And, if we have students who have multiple competing priorities and challenges (full-time employment, children, care-taking, food insecurity, etc.) as we often do at LU, over- reliance on this model can become unrealistic and even overwhelming for many students.

Changing Places

To help these students and still preserve student-centered learning, throughout my time at LU and with the support of the Teaching Commons, I have sought to adopt activities with one common underpinning: metacognition. Metacognitive activities act as a mirror, allowing students to reflect on how they are thinking: While it’s busy learning, your brain steals a glance at itself in the mirror. What does it see? This invitation to think about thinking pulls the students into the learning process at whatever level of engagement their lives allow.

The following are three examples of lower-stakes, metacognitive activities that give students greater power in their learning experience, allowing them to think about their learning while reaping some of the benefits of the flipped classroom with less fallout if they arrive to class unprepared.

1. Editing workshops: In my upper-year classes in particular, I run editing workshops that require students to tackle specific areas of their writing. They edit for structure, stylistics, cogency, concision, etc. but focus on only one feature at a time. The most important aspect of this activity is that students know which aspect of their writing they are targeting in any given editing activity.

Presenting students with a focused, guiding checklist helps them stay on task, and putting them in small groups requires them to justify their suggested edits to the document as well as react to others’ suggestions. The editing process exemplifies the extent to which a text is improved when it is edited significantly, while peer-to- peer correction allows most students to see, at some point in the exercise, examples of work whose quality surpasses that of their own.

2. Rubric Design: Whether detailed or simple checklist-style, rubrics can help students successfully complete an assignment by preventing important omissions and by helping them to assess their assignment before turning it in.

Having students work in groups to design the rubric they would use if they were the course instructor is one way to have them review and synthesize class materials as well as predict various ways in which students could demonstrate knowledge. One assignment they do, for example, is create a CV. A CV or résumé may vary in presentation and content but always carries the same goal of convincing the employer to invite the candidate for an interview. So, when considering their CV construction, students should think about the myriad possibilities and use them when creating a rubric for this assignment. This practice of rubric reflection not only helps them create their CV, but it also helps them assess more accurately how much time a quality assignment will take to produce.

In an expanded version of this activity, you could also have students design their own assignment — complete with instructions, rubric, and pedagogical rationale — before asking them to complete and submit the assignment they designed. Original assignments have become my favourite to grade (if one can say such a thing about grading!).

3. Choice of Assignments: Allowing students to choose between two types of assignments (a final paper or an exam, a photo essay or a video project, a close reading or a preface for an imaginary anthology, etc.) empowers them to choose an assignment that is more enjoyable to them and that plays to their strengths. (Some students even choose the assignment that will help them improve on their weaknesses!)

I usually propose one more traditionally “academic” option and a second, creative option. I also put rules in place: students may not work on the same book for two different assignments, for example. You could also require students to do at least one “traditional” assignment over the course of the semester. As long as the rules are clearly outlined in the syllabus, students are usually very excited to “choose their own adventure”!

Just Jump

When I was first asked to write about change, I was somewhat hesitant. I did not want to be disingenuous, waxing poetic about the beauty of change when even minor changes make me rather nervous. It is also difficult for me to describe my relationship to change without thinking about the ways in which my personal and professional life were somewhat intertwined, particularly at the time of my life when I decided that change was necessary. This is one reason why I chose quite deliberately to overshare in the opening of this piece: it felt impossible to talk about academic growth in isolation from the rest of my life.

The next reason for oversharing directly concerns a belief I have about the role of empathy in building rapport. A not-insignificant percentage of the generation of students that we teach is affected seriously by anxiety. This is not exclusive to LU students, but I do suspect its effects are amplified by the trying circumstances in which some of our learners find themselves. Whether or not we believe that they should be leading a “life of the mind,” for many of them, such academic tunnel vision is not in the cards. Preparing ourselves to empathize with them, regardless of our dearly held (or formerly held) ideals, is more productive than ignoring who they are. The personal and human part of my own history is what has allowed me to remove whatever metaphorical “sagely” cloak I used to envision myself wearing and meet my students where they are so that I can help them grow from there — wherever their “there” might be.

People outside of the university sometimes picture academics as being locked up in an ivory tower from where we look down on the world. It is up to us to give the lie to that stereotype by stepping out of our tower and getting to know our students as learners and, to an appropriate degree, as people. My own experience has taught me that if I stand out on the ledge of that tower, remove my trembling hand from the wall behind me and just jump, most often, without even knowing they are doing so, my students will catch me. I encourage you to try it too!

Sarah Jacoba teaches French as an Associate Professor (Teaching) in the Department of Languages. She joined LU in 2017 and has won a Teaching Innovation Award (2019) and a Contribution to Teaching Award (2022). She is particularly interested in studying how peer assessment can be used to lower student anxiety.

Dr. Sarah Jacoba

Past Spotlights

January 2023 Spotlight - Dr. Joel Mohr

The Myth of a Fresh Start?

Several societies abide by the myth of a “fresh start.” You can think of a fresh start as a mindset. A fresh start is a belief that people can start anew on important aspects of their lives and that these life trajectories can be changed regardless of the current context and circumstances. Many view this mindset as nothing more than a folk tale, a fallacy, or a pipedream. Practical and academic evidence abounds. We notice failed New Year’s resolutions every year, in ourselves and others. Consumer research tells us that we frequently and typically fail to habituate new practices into our daily lives. Moreover, the alleged promise of a fresh start is often tainted by the marketing tactics and ploys that wield it.

As I am a new Assistant Professor at Lakehead University, the confluence of my own fresh start and our collective desire to leave these past few years behind us has led me to reflect on this myth. Students, teachers, administrators – we have all gone through our own existential and psychological questioning period. The academic system can be a stifling place, even without isolation and virtual bleakness. I know I have questioned, “Why am I doing this? Why am I a teacher?”

But, in my questioning, I have been reminded of the beauty of myths. The power of myths does not lie in their facticity. That is not the point. Rather, myths become powerful through enactment. As a myth’s support becomes ardent, it proliferates throughout our communities, and it becomes what it was otherwise pretending to be. Myths are skeletal structures, waiting in limbo for our collective consciousness to populate them.

In my return to the classroom, I have learned that, by choosing to believe that fresh starts are wonderfully possible, I empower my students to believe the same. We, as faculty members, are always looking for the latest teaching techniques and learning tools. Indeed, knowledge development is an axiom of pedagogy. But it isn’t enough. By instilling in students that, every day, they possess the agency to improve their own circumstances and start anew, we help their self-confidence grow. When students acquire new knowledge and the confidence to believe in it, they become an informed, unstoppable force – far more so than those who may possess knowledge or confidence alone. The importance of student self-confidence cannot be understated, and a fresh-start mindset is an extremely powerful mechanism for improving that confidence.

Then, the ripples. I see my students approaching their learning with a new sense of passion, resilience, and determination. Empathy grows in the classroom as students focus on the potential in each other. We forget that, sometimes, the confidence to learn must come before the learning. Otherwise, our students may feel helpless, paralyzed at the seemingly insurmountable mountain of deliverables and tasks.

In this way, I am reminded why I teach – what my purpose and role is. My purpose is to enact the myth that we can transform ourselves, as it were, regardless of the personal, economic, environmental, and societal challenges we face. Because maybe, just maybe, that makes it true.

Joel Mohr is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration. His research explores the dynamics of knowledge within consumer and organizational behaviour, including knowledge calibration, folk knowledge, and tradition.

Dr. Joel Mohr

September 2022 Spotlight - Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux

Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux

Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux is Lakehead University's inaugural Chair on Truth and Reconciliation. 

Q: For those that may not know, can you provide a synopsis of what the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its Calls to Action are and why they are important for universities?

A: The TRC was established through the Indian Residential School Survivors Agreement (IRSSA) which began to be implemented  in 2007. The 94 Calls to Action represent the voices of over 7000 people who testified in the national TRC hearings and whose contributions were tabled with Canada in 2015 at the conclusion of the commission's mandate. The Calls to Action are important for universities because they provide a comprehensive guide for the resolution of historic grievances and demand/require public and organizational education for all Canadians. Universities Canada was prompted to develop and table 13 principles to ensure educational institutions were committed to addressing the truth and furthering the reconciliation process.

Q: What does it mean to now have a federal national day, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, on September 30?

A: Making the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation an official holiday was introduced as a private member's bill by Saskatchewan MP Georgina Jolibois in 2017. It was intended to recognize the legacy of Indian Residential Schools, the children who attended them, and those who never made it home. It coincides with Orange Shirt Day, which was created by Phyllis Webstad in 2013 out of her personal experience at an Indian Residential School (IRS).

Q: Why did you get involved in this work, and what does your work at Lakehead involve as the Chair on Truth and Reconciliation?

A: I have been involved in truth and reconciliation for almost 40 years, although it wasn't called that until more recently. Between them, my parents spent 20 years in IRS, and my asking, “Why?” set me on a dedicated learning journey: why were they sent there? Why were there so many addictions in Indigenous peoples around me? Why was there so much suffering? My work at Lakehead has been about sharing (in a good way) with as many people as possible what I lived, learned, and continue to experience. Lakehead has been an extraordinary ally and friend to the Indigenous peoples of northwestern Ontario. I consider it my responsibility as the Chair for Truth and Reconciliation to ensure the many commitments Lakehead has made are known across the country. I present hundreds of keynotes, workshops, discussion groups, and public education talks across Canada under the Lakehead University banner, and I speak frequently to the many firsts we have achieved – from establishing the first Vice Provost of Indigenous Initiatives position to the Indigenous Content Requirement, the Chair for TR, and the Indigenous Specialist Position, to the many relationships and MOU's we have built in NW Ontario and Simcoe County.

Q: How can Lakehead University continue to contribute to the process of reconciliation?

A: Lakehead is not going to forget or abandon its commitment to providing exceptional access to Indigenous peoples, including a new PLAR commitment being developed by Dr. Lana Ray. We have worked hard to build all aspects of Indigenous learning into our strategic and academic plans, which is reconciliation in action. Our access and mentorship programs, faculty and staff training and workshops, the creation of modules, specialist support, and our many Indigenous staff and faculty ensure we will continue to offer extraordinary access, retention, and graduation support for many generations to come. 

Q: What can faculty and instructors do to work towards reconciliation, decolonization, and Indigenization within their courses?

A: Education in any field is time-consuming, and education on Indigenous history and contemporary concerns remains challenging because of the many layers and knowledge areas it covers: politics, child welfare, justice, spirituality, ethics, EDI, and on and on. The tenure of settlement is a tiny fraction of the time Indigenous peoples have occupied and utilized these lands, and the impacts of the colonial process are myriad and mostly unresolved. Faculty and instructors must be aware of the history and contemporary truths of Indigenous peoples and build critical elements into their courses. There is no expectation they must "know everything" about Indigenous peoples, but inclusion of relevant content in their course learning materials delivered in an inclusive manner can change attitudes and quell resistance to new knowledge(s). Instructors can set the stage for dialogue early in any course by speaking to the 94 Calls to Action, the 10 TRC Principles, and the 13 Universities Canada principles, especially if they are linked directly to the expected learning outcomes for each course.

Q: What, for you, would be the key message you would want to share about truth and reconciliation?

A: That it's happening. More importantly, it has prompted an Indigenous renaissance across Canada. All that truth telling, dialogue, and IRS testimony has shone an intense light on what's happening internally to our communities, and the response has been an accelerated drafting and implementing of laws and positive actions within Indigenous communities. Higher education is flourishing and becoming even more essential. Our people are entering multiple fields, our elders are re-engaging, languages are reconstituting, culture is regenerating, and there is a powerful awakening happening. It's very exciting and, although it took the revealing of some very ugly truths to prompt change, we will never get to any form of reconciliation without leveling knowledge, socio-economic, and social justice for Indigeous peoples with the rest of Canada.


March 2022 Spotlight - Dr. Amanda Diochon

While we normally highlight a specific faculty member in this section, this time, we chose a Q&A with Dr. Amanda Diochon, Program Coordinator for the Water Resource Science program, to learn how the program provides students with opportunities to learn about environmental considerations such as climate change. Dr. Diochon shared how instructors use experiential learning techniques to enable students to grapple with complex disciplinary concepts and environmental challenges.

Q: If you were to explain the connection between Water Resource Science and Lakehead’s goals for the Year of Climate Action to a “non-science” person, what would you say are the central ideas they need to grasp -- that is, what core truths should they understand about climate-change realities?

A: Climate change is a “wicked problem,”* and climate action is a “grand challenge.”** It can be overwhelming but developing an action plan with specific, measurable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals, like what Lakehead’s Climate Action Working Group has done this past year, can make it a little less daunting. Increases in temperature, the frequency of extreme weather events, and changing precipitation patterns are impacting the structure and function of all systems, natural and constructed. In my research and teaching practice, I’ve been focusing on adaptation to our changing climate and re-framing challenges as opportunities for change.  

 *complex problem with an unknown number of potential solutions (Rittel and Webber 1973)

Rittel, Horst and Melvin Webber (1973) "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning," Policy Sciences 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing, Amsterdam, pp. 155-159.

 **opportunity to develop solutions for a complex problem of global significance

Omenn, Gilbert S. (2006) "Grand Challenges and Great Opportunities in Science, Technology, and Public Policy." Science 314.5806: 1696-1704.

Q: Your groundwater model for teaching and outreach is particularly interesting: could you describe the model, how it was constructed, and how you use it in both your teaching and outreach?

A: Groundwater is, quite literally, water that is found in the ground! In order for water to enter the ground, there needs to be openings or spaces for water to occupy and to move through the ground. These spaces or voids need to be connected, they are found in all different kinds of materials (soils, sediments, rocks), and they can form aquifers. An aquifer is a fancy word for a unit of material that can store and transmit water at volumes and rates that are useful for us. 

Concepts related to the flow of water and contaminants in the ground can be difficult to grasp because they are happening in multiple dimensions and out of sight. The Envision Groundwater Flow Simulator (Creative Labworks, Inc.) is a hands-on visual tool that students can interact with to better understand concepts in groundwater science. For example, different color dyes can be introduced into the model to see water movement through different materials and aquifers. There are water wells “drilled” into different materials, and there is even an underground storage tank and septic tank to visualize contamination of ground and surface water. Using the model, students can see how water moves from areas of recharge (usually uplands) to areas of discharge (usually rivers or lakes) and what happens when we disrupt the gradient of flow. It’s a fantastic tool for any age or background!

Q: You sampled the groundwater wells at Confederation College as part of the field school. This seems to be a perfect example of experiential education, one of the specified high-impact practices that Lakehead wants to promote. What other hands-on, water-focused learning opportunities are provided for students through their Water Resource Science studies?

A: Water Resource Science is an interdisciplinary program that exposes students to a broad range of concepts and issues ranging from low impact development to visualizing and interpreting ancient depositional environments by looking at sequences of sedimentary rocks. 

Students in the program take most of their courses in Geology, Biology, and Geography, but there is quite a bit of choice in the course selection. Most of these courses have a lab component, which allows students to deepen their practical understanding and apply what they are learning in the course. The labs may be completed in the field, in an actual lab on campus, or some combination. As an example, students in the Biology of Fishes reinforce what they learn through the lecture by working with fish specimens in the lab. Identifying fish in the field is a unique skill that can only be honed through experience. In the field school, students also learn how to complete modules in the Ontario Stream Assessment Protocol and gain the fundamental knowledge for becoming certified in the Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring Network (OBBN), both important tools for assessing stream health. 

There is also no shortage of projects that students can get involved in through the Remedial Action Program, headed by Dr Rob Stewart. As well, students have the opportunity to get involved in stream rehabilitation through field trips and their undergraduate thesis projects. We also offer a program in collaboration with Confederation College where students complete the second year of the Environmental Technician program. During their year at the College, they run tests in a state-of-the art pilot water treatment plant and sample the water in nearby rivers and lakes to describe water flow and chemistry – among other great learning opportunities.

Q: Could you describe the “vast comprehensive real-life laboratory” that the Water Resource Science students have access to for hands-on learning on campus? How does this space enhance student learning and increase our knowledge about vital water systems?

Lake Tamblyn and the MacIntyre River are literally right outside the door of the Centennial Building and are natural laboratories that faculty take advantage of to provide students with hands-on, engaging, learning activities. There is also a rain garden outside of the Braun Building, which is an excellent example of what we can do to slow the flow of water and improve its quality before it enters the river. 

Precipitation that falls in urban environments usually makes its way to rivers more quickly than in undeveloped areas because water just runs off the hard surfaces like pavement and buildings. There are also lots of contaminants in urban areas that are transported to rivers too. Rain gardens and low impact developments are helping to slow the flow and naturally filter out contaminants. Just down the road, the groundwater monitoring wells at Confederation College can be used to look at how different geologic materials affect water flow and water chemistry/quality. 

There really are an unlimited number of questions that we can ask and students can answer about these water systems, all within walking distance of our facilities. We have the capacity to identify the organisms that live in these systems, ranging from microscopic ones right up to fishes, turtles, and mammals. We can measure and monitor water flow and chemistry, among other things. There are very few, if any, other schools in Canada that can offer students these types of opportunities without even leaving campus.  


December 2021 Spotlight - Dr. Willow Curthoys

Dr. Willow Curthoys

Reflecting on Reflection                                                                                                                   

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks.

Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, 

quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.

Linda Hog, Chickasaw academic & author

First, I wish to acknowledge the source of these words: the Light and Life within the Robinson-Superior Treaty territory in the traditional homelands of the Anishnaabeg and Métis peoples. In addition, local mentors inspired more respectful ways of being in relation with the land: Elder MaNee Chacaby, Elder Audrey Deroy, Wil Hedican, Dr. John Akweniiostha Hodson, Al Hunter, Elder Ernie Kwandibens, Elder Gerry Martin, Elder Isabelle Mercier, and Elder Sarah Sabourin. To all these teachers, I am forever grateful. 

There are wisdoms living in the land’s energy. These wisdoms are for everyone and yet belong to no one. For as Elder Ernie Kwandibens once shared (as I understood it), knowledge is a gift from the Creator, from Life itself. Engagement with knowledge carries responsibilities. A sacred question for reflection as educators, researchers and life-long learners becomes: How shall knowledge be used to serve all of life? 

If we return to the earthiness of the word “reflection”, we arrive at light. Not surprisingly, sunrises offer insights into the act of reflecting. They reveal a triad: the source of light, something that receives this energy, and the witness ~ the one who perceives both the giving and the receiving of light. Whether or not the witness makes meaning from any natural phenomena depends on intentional participation: reflection. One could easily think, “nice sunrise” or “that’s beautiful!” End of story. However, if the witness engages with full presence, curiosity, and innocence, actively seeking meaning from and for life, new insights will certainly emerge. This is the power of the life force. Each sunrise (as with any life process, being or event) offers something of relevance to our lives, communities, and the greater world, should we choose to take time to engage. Through respectful participation with the land, life-serving knowledge emerges.

Although we are all born with the innate ability to understand the wisdom of the land, doubts in land as sentient being, as well as doubts in our own capacity to understand a more-than-human language, are often perpetuated via humancentric paradigms. One antidote for these doubts is daily intentional immersion with the land, even ten minutes a day will do. 

The land is so generous with teachings. No one is excluded. Teaching various courses over the past 23 years, built on premise of “land as teacher”, we have joyfully witnessed hundreds of students reclaim their natural capacity to connect with the land in deeply meaningful ways. 

We are truly fortunate at Lakehead University’s Thunder Bay campus because wild teachers abound. Twisted cedars, an ever-changing river, fearless woodpeckers, a three-legged fox, curious bald eagles, cheeky squirrels, ancient rock, powerful views of Anemeki Wajiw, starry skies, and so many more teachers await the open mind.

From these wild teachers, life-changing lessons flow. Students willing to work past a westernized mindset deserve credit too. For their initial reaction to being asked to spend time with the land as teacher ranged from reluctant (I don’t have time to just sit!) to confused (How do I turn off my busy mind?) to skeptical (Is this for real?). Dedicated land time combined with critical place-based reflection delivered powerful take-aways. 

Here are a few examples of land-inspired wisdoms:

I learned that time is what is important to connect with nature, you have to spend time in the forest to learn the habits and patterns of the animals. Eventually, the animals will show themselves.  

The land reflects your energy . . .  if you come in with a positive mind set and calming vibes then the atmosphere completely changes.

Everyday that I spend outside teaches me how to be patient, grateful and tells me to take my time and focus on the present. Whenever I’m there I sit for a bit and eventually the thought always comes that everything will be okay. I don't know how to explain it, but I look around and notice how the land surrounding me is in no rush, it takes its time and moves at its own pace.

Taking a step back, in addition to showing us what the land has to teach us, it allows for each of us to learn how to trust the land. I think that trusting the land goes hand in hand with allowing oneself to take a step back to fully understand how to absorb one's surroundings. 

When you spend intimate time with the land, the relationships you develop are difficult to characterize. There is no way to describe the feeling of having your mind unburdened and negative emotions cleared.

The land knows who we are even when we are lost, and that even when we feel like we do not belong anywhere, the land will still accept us for who we are.

Breathing in the mist and the smell of the black spruce, my emotions and thoughts stabilized. I had perspective again and was perfectly alert.

I realized that nature is a beautiful soul who just wants to help.

I too practice daily, dedicated land time. Greeting the land at sunrise, I settle into the community’s life-energy, give thanks, and surrender into my nothingness. I humbly ask permission to merge with the wisdom of the land. Through quiet, full embodied presence, meaning arrives. Through daily commitment to deepening relations with my land community, I reflect: How might I apply today’s teachings to serve the wellbeing of all of life?  

Show-up and Trust: the land awaits your presence. 

With Gratitude,




September 2021 Spotlight - Dr. Paul Berger and Dr. Ellen Field

Roll up your sleeves and get at it ” was the advice given by a participant in research on the first BEd climate change elective offered at the Faculty of Education in 2014. Another way to put it might be, don’t wait until you’re an expert—we need all-hands-on-deck right now! Following a summer of devastating heatwaves, fires, and floods, this is truer than ever before.

For some years now, we’ve taught about climate change teaching to people who will teach subjects across the curriculum from kindergarten to grade twelve. While science is an obvious place to teach about climate change, it’s important to include perspectives on climate change in all of the other subjects where it’s relevant—which, given the scope and speed of the transformation that’s beginning, is pretty much every subject, whether in K-12 education or in university.

You know your areas much better than we do. We suggest thinking broadly about how climate change intersects with the things you teach, then integrating something small to see how it goes and expanding from there. In the next thirty years, we will see a massive transformation that will impact everyone and everything. How might it impact and engage your students?

Perhaps English students can read climate fiction, while Philosophy students are asked to think about what it means to be human during a climate emergency. Maybe Civil Engineers can look at wind turbine placement while Nursing students are asked to explore how climate change is already impacting health—and the co-benefits of almost every climate solution. Could your Music students compose a short piece that responds to the climate crisis? As they say, no revolution without artists!

The world is changing very quickly now. We need all students to know something of the science, politics, economics, and ethics of climate change as well as our collective, so far very weak, response to it. It would also be good if they knew that it’s still possible to tackle the crisis—for example, that Denmark has a binding climate law to reduce GHG emissions 70% by 2030 and that Costa Rican electricity is close to 100% renewable.

We’ve taught master’s students who have completed an entire undergraduate degree without encountering climate change. We need them to do so in order to be able to step into the conversation, to see how they fit, and what roles they might play.

If you’re not sure where to start, why not ask your students what they know and what they would like to know more about? Challenge them to bring knowledge to class, and you can learn with them. If you’re planning for next term, see if you can get them doing things, not just reading about them or listening. Sure, this is easier in some disciplines than others, and some of the really interesting questions cut across disciplines in ways that are hard to honour in universities. Well, as Bill McKibben says, the world is out of its comfort zone—it’s OK if we get a bit out of ours as well.

Dr. Paul Berger and Dr. Ellen Field
June 2021 Spotlight - Dr. Pearson

Dr. Pearson on Instructor Wellness

Remember airline travel? Back in non-COVID times, we were all too familiar with the pre-flight safety briefing which provided us with essential details to heed in the event of emergency.  Admittedly, that was often the point where my thoughts turned to work – How many papers could I mark on this flight?  Would I be able to review that entire journal article before landing? – the lifesaving advice but a background murmur.  What I reflect upon these days, is the notion of the oxygen mask.  The passenger should always fit their own mask before helping others: seemingly a no-brainer in an emergency.  And yet, when we think about putting ourselves first in a day-to-day sense, this ostensibly easy task is not always so easy.  And why is that?  Given the year+ we’ve just experienced, the pandemic has most certainly played a role.  But for many post-secondary instructors, the work-life balance conundrum is nothing new as we strive to meet our 40-40-20 demands whilst focusing on the less formalized, yet ever so important needs of our students.  Add to that family responsibilities and there is often very little in the tank to address personal w ellness; it can feel like we are never fully “o ff."

As a faculty member specializing in health promotion and a Certified Professional Co-Active coach, something I often ask my students and clients is “So what? What is important about this to you?” Reflecting on our personal values, our core beliefs that make us who we are, can provide us with tremendous insight into our actions (or lack thereof). To that end, what is important about wellness to you? In essence, giving ourselves permission to ‘fit the oxygen mask’ can go a long way toward enhancing not only our own dimensions of wellness (e.g., physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental), but enable us to better focus on other people and tasks that we hold dear. And make no mistake - the permission piece is huge! Guilt anyone? Committing to personal wellness is a conscious decision, and one that will look different for everyone. Even taking what may seem like a small step is valuable; every bit counts.

Now that the summer is upon us and pandemic restrictions are lifting, the timing is ideal to re-evaluate what it is that fulfills us – Being in nature? Relationships? A sense of freedom or adventure? As we continue to recuperate from the past year and refocus for the next, it may be helpful to consider the following when seeking to enhance wellness:

  1. Set SMART goals – The literature tells usthat our goals should be specific measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based. Having both short-and long-term wellness goals is important for staying on track and feeling like we are moving forward successfully.
  2. Saying yes/no – Saying yes to one thing often means saying no to another (and vice versa!). What are you willing to say yes/no to in service of your personal wellness?
  3. Move more, sit less – Being active and outdoors have both been shown to influence our physical and mental health positively. Thankfully, Thunder Bay and Orillia offer us a bounty of beauty to take advantage of this time of year!
  4. Be kind to you –Practicing self-compassion can improve well-being, resilience, and happiness. While this intentional act is very individualized, common elements include engaging in positive self-talk, accepting personal imperfections, and finding ways to nurture mind, body, and spirit.
  5. Stand still – As professionals, we are typically very future focused. While well-meaning, this ‘lens’ can detract from the gifts found in this moment. A mentor once said to me: “Don’t let thoughts of the future, steal from your present.”

 Dr. Pearson image

Dr. Pearson’s most recent research project is focusing on wellness in the university classroom: a partnership between researchers and staff from the School of Kinesiology, Department of Psychology, and Student Health and Wellness. Stay tuned this summer for a brief survey intended to capture Lakehead course instructor viewpoints.

February 2021 Spotlight - Dr. Brown

Dr Brown image smiling, copyright estate

Dr. Brown was a student-focused professor who both challenged and supported his students. He understood the relationship between good teaching and student learning. In fact, his first publication at Lakehead reflected this commitment to pedagogy, dealing with how to better teach a course on dendrology (Brown, 1977). As Dr. Ulf Runesson (Dean of the Faculty of Natural Resources Management) shared, “ Ken’s teaching philosophy was to teach with purpose and respect and be outcome-focused ”.

Dr. Brown was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the Writing Across the Curriculum program in NRM, and he led a number of initiatives to establish a similar program for the university. Ultimately, these efforts resulted in the Writing Centre, now part of the Academic Zone. Dr. Brown also helped develop the MScF program in the NRM Faculty where he was known for his support of graduate students and their work as well as his ability to make courses such as research methods engaging. Beyond his Faculty, Dr. Brown was the intellectual leader of the Ontario Advanced Forestry Program, which started in 1988 as a collaboration between Lakehead University and the University of Toronto’s forestry programs to design a professional development course for mid-career forest professionals.

Dr. Brown's contributions to the culture of teaching and learning at Lakehead University were profound. As Dr. Jane Crossman (Professor Emerita, Kinesiology) shared, “From the onset, it was evident to me that Mac was passionate about increasing the awareness of how important quality teaching is at Lakehead University. He dedicated innumerable hours to raising the awareness of the faculty, staff, and students to his belief that teaching deserves as much respect in the university system as does research and service.”

Raise awareness he did. Dr. Brown played a key role in the creation of four different initiatives approved by the Senate in 1987 to improve teaching and learning: the Senate Committee on Teaching and Learning, the Office of Instructional Development, the Office of Learning Assistance, and a program of teaching awards.

Dr. Brown subsequently served on the Senate Committee on Teaching and Learning, he was the Instructional Development Advisor, and he led the development of the first Lakehead University Teaching Dossier Guide (1991/92).

To further foreground the importance of teaching for university professors, Dr. Brown was the founding editor of a publication entitled, The Lakehead University Teacher. This newsletter was published regularly and featured articles written by Lakehead professors including techniques to improve classroom practice, anecdotes regarding teaching experiences, and other articles teachers at Lakehead University would find useful.

Dr. Brown was keen to partner with colleagues on presentations to various groups on campus, such as orientation sessions for Graduate Assistants and workshops on study skills for undergraduates. His calm, reasoned demeanor garnered him the respect of his students, colleagues, and staff. And, for his significant, 30-year contribution to the betterment of teaching at Lakehead, Dr. Brown was awarded the Distinguished Instructor Award in 1999, the institution’s highest honour.

Throughout his time with us, Dr. Brown's commitment to student learning resulted in a culture of teaching and learning excellence at Lakehead that has continued to positively affect student experiences across the university – a legacy he would humbly say was a result of many people’s efforts.

Brown, K. 1977. “Regional Dendrology: An Innovative Approach to a Traditional Subject” Journal of Forestry, 75 (11), 724–725. https://ocul-lhd.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01OCUL_LHD/bi3o58/alm...