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From Mess to Success: BEd Alumna Heather MacDonald is Helping Students Take Control of Their Time

PUBLISHED DATE: Friday, January 26, 2018
Heather MacDonald, BA ’02, BEd ’10, is in the business of creating stars.

She’s the Learning Strategist at St. Thomas University, and she spends her days helping students master time management and organization, study more effectively, improve reading comprehension, take better notes and avoid procrastination – all the skills required to become an academic star.

Many of the students in her caseload have learning disabilities; however, other students who are accessing her services are student athletes who are trying to balance their studies with their sport, students who want to boost their GPAs, or students who are finding the transition from high school to university overwhelming.

“I try to find ways to make sure that students who experience challenges can have the same great experience at St. Thomas as every other student,” she explained.

MacDonald spends most of her days doing one-on-one consultations and coaching with students, but she also runs workshops, does classroom visits, and plans large campus events like the Long Night Against Procrastination.

“When I got my Education Degree at St. Thomas, I had no idea that my life would be outside the high school classroom, but there are just so many opportunities out there for people to use their skills beyond K-12. What employer wouldn’t want someone who can transmit information to large groups clearly and effectively, plan engaging lessons, assess and evaluate their work and do it in a timely and organized manner? These are the skills of a teacher.”

Although the primary focus in the School of Education is to prepare teacher candidates for work in the traditional K-12 job market, Grant Williams, director of STU’s School of Education, says many education graduates choose to pursue careers in other education-related fields. 

“One of the greatest values of the BEd degree for these people is that it helps them understand how individuals learn, what kinds of strategies work best for teaching various subjects and concepts, how to develop effective teaching plans, and how to assess learners’ understanding.  In this world of lifelong learning and learning outside of the traditional school setting, many professionals can benefit from the kind of knowledge and experience gained in an education degree”

A Background in Adult Education

Prior to being the Learning Strategist at STU, MacDonald worked in adult education. This is where she discovered her passion for working with adults with learning disabilities.

During her first contract at Stella’s Circle in Newfoundland, she taught a small group of adults a K-6 literacy and numeracy program with the intent that they would go onto the next level of adult education and eventually get their General Education Development (GED) diploma and enter the workforce.

She then returned to Fredericton and taught a GED program with the Central Valley Adult Learning Association.

She says seeing some of the adults she has worked with succeed and get motivated made her realize how powerful learning strategies are.

“I remember one student very well. He had just come out of a correctional facility and for the first time he decided to really focus on his education. We discovered that he had dyslexia and that he also had a short-term retention issue. He had dropped out of school because he thought he wasn’t smart enough. When he was finally diagnosed in his mid-20s, his attitude completely changed and he became voracious about learning even though it took him a little bit longer. And he ended up going on to get a job that supported his family.”

Seeing his transformation made her realize that when people get what they need to succeed, they become unstoppable.

“And if we can apply that to someone who is so young in a university setting, they could be a superstar. Providing students with the opportunity to be the best learner they can be opens up so many doors.”

Mental Health in the Classroom: Teacher Candidates Organize Workshop to Reduce Stigma and Misconceptions Surrounding Mental Health

PUBLISHED DATE: Thursday, May 4, 2017
Jennifer Purdue, one of the workshop organizers, believes teachers need to stay informed when it comes to mental health.
Students in St. Thomas University’s Bachelor of Education are keeping the dialogue open when it comes to mental health.

The teacher-candidates organized a professional development workshop titled
“The Elephant in the Classroom,” which connected student-teachers with experts from the public school system and non-government organizations to explore ways to reduce mental health stigma, correct misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses, and create safe and inclusive environments for students.

“It was evident many people had questions and a strong desire to learn more about this topic,” said Stacey Hoffe, one of the workshop organizers. “I truly believe the more informed we all are about mental health, the better we can help ourselves and others.”

For Jen Purdue, who spearheaded the workshop, the subject of mental health is personal.

After being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in grade nine, it took years for Purdue to find a successful treatment method. She understands the effect mental illness can have on someone’s life and academic performance if not addressed.

“I needed to juggle the usual academic and social demands of high school with panic attacks. I missed a lot of school and my grades suffered,” she said. “I was afraid to talk to teachers about my disorder because I didn’t want them to judge me, and even if I did work up the courage to talk to my teachers I had no idea what to say.”

Although there’s no set formula for teachers to follow when students encounter mental illness, the workshop made it clear to the class of teacher candidates that listening and creating a safe space for students is crucial.

“Educators play an important role in shaping the mental wellness journeys of their students. Whether it’s by educating students about the signs and symptoms of poor mental health, modeling positive coping strategies, creating safe spaces, or being a listener for those who need to talk,” Hoffe said.

Purdue added getting to know students to have a better idea of when their mental health might be deteriorating is important.

“Like with all exceptionalities, it’s important we don’t try and diagnose our students, but if we know the signs and can recognize a potential mental health problem, we can discuss it with the students and their families.”