Profile written by Darbi Fawcett

Carl Doige is excited to be involved with the Institute for Leadership in Learning and Teaching (ILLT), though at first he wasn’t sure about the program. When he heard that the ILLT was looking for fellows he had his concerns: doubts of the program’s success and the possibility of good intentions going to waste.  He was sharing an office with Rob Kjarsgaard at the time and because of his doubts he hadn’t considered becoming a fellow. Rob reminded Carl of the passion he has for teaching, making Carl reconsider his decision, thinking to himself, “if it’s important, you’d better do it.”

After working around terms like “community of practice” and concepts like “learner-centered teaching,” Carl began to notice how his ways of thinking about teaching and learning were changing. Having started his career as an academic researcher, Carl naturally started researching education theory, and tried to implement some of the findings into his classroom practice. 

Through this research and practice, he has learned a variety of student-centered approaches to education, and believes that many of them (peer-based instruction, problem-based learning, cooperative learning, and guided inquiry, for example) are beneficial in helping some students to learn. 

However, he remains puzzled by two things: despite the strong theoretical framework the student-centered approaches have, Carl has found that none of the approaches work for all students. His second concern is the disconnect he sometimes feels from the student-centered approaches as they seem to lessen or ignore the importance of the student-teacher relationship and the specific role the teacher plays in the process of learning and teaching.

As part of his work with the ILLT, Carl was recently introduced to the writings of Parker J. Palmer and the book, The Courage to Teach.  The main idea of the book is that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” 

These writings have provided Carl with a new perspective on his role in the classroom.  He now appreciates the importance of self-awareness (that is, the awareness of one’s identity as a teacher) and now sees that his major goal is to develop student-centered approaches, which are integral to his identity and effective at motivating students.

Another part of being an ILLT fellow is motivating fellow teachers. The ILLT plans to do this by starting up communities of practice in each fellowship, lead by the chosen fellow. The idea behind a community of practice is establishing open communication between people of a practice, in this case teachers. This can be difficult considering the number of instructors and the mode of conversation, but the point isn’t just talking.

The goal of establishing communication between instructors, especially instructors of similar subjects, is to let the participants compare methods and experiences.  In an effort to start the conversation, Carl has created a relaxed method of observation and discussion that instructors can use to compare notes. He has called this program “observe, share, and be nourished.” It involves an instructor inviting another instructor to observe one of their classes. The observer can take notes and after the class both instructors sit down to a meal and discuss teaching. 

The hope is for a comparison of methods used and a discussion of the relative effects of the methods on the students. In the hopes that instructional experiences can be shared further, Carl has set up a blog for this program where willing participants can share their collaborative findings with the group.

Carl has some other plans for instructor communication for his fellowship, including a website that will house the above mentioned blog and some other instructor resources, like research in science education, something that Carl has been working on already and has the beginnings of on his website.

Reflecting on his research and the growth of the ILLT, Carl said, “I think it’s important to look at the educational research to guide us in the development of the institute.” 

If the beliefs of the institute centre on peer-led learning, then what better way to help a new organization grow than to learn from the example of others?