A thriving campus needs thriving educators. And, as several Western student-affairs professionals recently discovered, thriving educators need each other.
Throughout an academic year rife with change and challenge due to the pandemic, they gathered online to learn how to support students better, and found a community of support built through their shared experiences.
The result was beyond what the designers of the Cultivating Thriving Educators professional development series had expected.
“I could never have imagined how people connected organically and authentically,” said Rosanna Stumpo Bal, director of administration, student experience, who designed the series with Sara Wills, manager, integrated learning and assessment.
“They shared their journeys, what it meant for them to be a student ‘back in the day,’ what it means to be a student now, and how we can collectively, as a campus community, come together and really attempt to understand what we need to help inform what we do and expand and adapt in supporting our students’ success,” Stumpo Bal said.
The program delivered 11 virtual sessions between September, 2020, and March, 2021, attracting an average of 115 participants from across 22 offices and faculties.
The workshops, co-led by an internal Western subject-matter expert and an external student-affairs professional, covered topics that included discovering strengths in self and others, leveraging technology and communication in supporting student success, and supporting diverse student populations.
The series started with a plenary session led by Laurie Schreiner, a renowned researcher in student success and thriving, and ended with a “fireside chat” with some of Canada’s top student-affairs professionals.
Western project manager Kate Schieman was one of 65 participants who completed at least eight of the sessions and submitted a capstone project, earning a Thriving Educator certificate.
In her submission, Schieman reflected that prior to attending the sessions, she had viewed various campus units as silos, with each functioning independently to support students and solve their own student-related problems.
“I now understand and appreciate how integrated and complementary the field of student affairs is,” she said. “Each session presented specific knowledge, explored particular skills and gave new space for new attitudes and beliefs to emerge.”
The sessions were rooted in a holistic approach to wellbeing, a key driver behind Western’s Parr Centre for Thriving, established last August through a $9.2-million gift from Jeff (BA’82) and Shelley Parr.
As part of its mission to foster student mental health and wellbeing, one of the centre’s goals is to ensure that faculty and staff receive specialized training to support student thriving.
“The success of this series would not have been possible without the vision and the financial support of the Parr Centre,” Stumpo Bal said. “It allowed us to really focus on the concept of thriving, and to underscore how working in student affairs has gone from being a transactional service to providing an experience that can have a transformative impact for our students.”
Capstone projects, presented in a variety of creative formats, summarized key learnings and participants’ reflections on their learning experience.
Zeeta Lazore-Cayuga, wellness coordinator in Western’s Indigenous Sudent Centre, created a podcast.
“The impact of this program moving forward is that it connected me with really great resources to establish what I need to be a thriving student-affairs professional, and reminded me that I am an educator even though I am not formally a teacher.” — Zeeta Lazore-Cayuga
Dr. Sonya Malone created a scale model of University College to demonstrate “how an unassuming university façade, when enveloped by a compassionate, motivated and skilled health-services team, can on the inside be a gateway to a positive postsecondary experience for students presenting with medical and mental health challenges.”
“This program reminded me that I can (and must!) have a positive impact on the postsecondary students I work with and support. It showed me more effective ways to help them see their potential as learners and humans in this shared world.” – Dr. Sonya Malone
Kate Schieman drew a bouquet, to capture her new view of student affairs professionals working together across campus.
“Each of the PD sessions may have highlighted different evidence around best practices for program development, but in reflection, all had the same overarching goal: to ensure every student, regardless of their lived experiences, race, gender or sexual orientation, is successful and supported. Like a bouquet, all the flowers and foliage come together to complement one another to make one cohesive and beautiful piece.” — Kate Schieman
Rowing coach Matt Waddell’s PowerPoint presentation, Thriving on the Water, highlights how he applied a thriving lens to enhance the processes that support his team.
“Our sports recent history is an equal one, but not an equitable one…the men and women’s rowing teams are treated the same. But the presentation on equality, equity and diversity showed me treating everybody the same isn’t always appropriate or valuable…As a future goal, I’d like to do more to understand who does and who doesn’t participate in our sport and why…I would like to see us have a para rowing program, where at least one member of the team each year is a para rower.” – Matt Waddell