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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.”

Kailea Switzer, BEd’10, Teaches Students the Power of Organization

PUBLISHED DATE: Thursday, November 30, 2017
When Kailea Switzer was a child, her favourite activity was removing books from her bookshelf only to place them back in new categories.

“I have always been like this. I am passionate about organization. My brain just thinks that way; it thinks in categories, so I am happy to find a professional use for that.”

Today Switzer is a student coach. She teaches university students the importance of being organized to help them tackle their academic work with more ease.

“The gap between high school and university can be very extreme,” Switzer explained. “Students had so much structure in high school from their families and teachers. When they get to university, they have so much freedom, which can be really exciting but it can also lead to increased anxiety and procrastination and other self-defeating outcomes.”

Switzer earned an undergraduate degree in psychology at Mount Allison University, a Bachelor of Education degree at St. Thomas University, and a Master’s of Education at Harvard University.

As part of her master’s program, she designed an intervention to support students who are transitioning from high school to university by teaching them how to increase self-regulation and executive functioning skills. This intervention is the framework for her current coaching practice.

Switzer currently lives in Los Angeles but most of her clients attend universities in Canada. Their sessions are virtual and take place via Facetime.

“I think of organization as a skill. For many years I studied piano, and I always think it’s the same as that. You wouldn’t try to learn the piano or a sport just by reading a handout. But often with things like time management, planning and organization, that’s what we give students. It’s a skill set, so we have to learn it the same way that we would learn any other skill. It takes one-on-one attention and time to develop.”

Switzer said often students will begin a session feeling overwhelmed, but she helps them create plans that make their workload more manageable.

“Whenever you feel overwhelmed, it means your first step is too big and you need to know how to break it down into something smaller,” she says.

“Students often end the session saying, ‘I feel like I can breathe now. I have a plan for this week. I know what to do today and I know what to do tomorrow.’ At the end of the coaching session, my goal is that they can breathe a sigh of relief and have a sense of how they can get their work done, with less stress along the way.”

Switzer helps students identify priorities, set weekly goals, and lay out what they need to do each day to stay on track. She teaches students how to make a schedule that balances school work and fun, and uses habit formation and learning research to support students’ unique needs.

Switzer says although she struggled a bit more than her friends with academic content when she was an undergraduate student, her organization skills helped her succeed.

“There were people around me who seemed to master things so much more effortlessly in the classroom, but they weren’t organized and so their grades would suffer. I was extremely organized and it always seemed to work well for me in school. I feel like organization was my secret weapon!”

For more information about Kailea Switzer’s coaching practice or her online course 'Straight-A’ Secrets From a Non-Genius', please visit

A Challenging but Fulfilling Journey: Emilie Gray Completes her Bachelor of Education Degree just Six Months after the Birth of her Son

PUBLISHED DATE: Friday, July 14, 2017
When Emilie Gray, BEd’ 17, crossed the stage at Summer Convocation it marked the end of a challenging, but fulfilling journey.

The Minto, NB, resident completed her Bachelor of Education degree despite having welcomed her son Avery into the world just six months ago.

“He was born December 22 and that was two days before the end of my practicum,” Gray said. “Having a baby during the program was definitely a challenge, but it was also a really exciting time in my life.”

Gray missed those last two days before Christmas break, but returned to classes two weeks later. Although it was difficult, the new mother said the support she received from classmates, professors, and the university made a big difference.

“We all created these amazing bonds and it was a huge support system for me,” Gray said. “Everyone looks out for you and wants you to succeed. That’s the great thing about STU, they don’t want you to fail so they support you any way they can.”

Grant Williams, Director of the School of Education, said Gray returning to the program so soon after Avery’s arrival was a demonstration of her commitment to becoming a teacher.

“It really was remarkable to see Emilie back in classes in January after having had the baby just weeks earlier” he said. “It’s a real testament to her sense of focus, determination, and commitment to becoming an excellent teacher.”

Gray, who hopes to teach at the High School or Middle School level, is looking forward to making connections with her students and using her own experiences to offer support to those who may be struggling.

“I want to connect with students and let them know that whatever difficulties they’re facing, they can overcome them,” she said. “I want them to know there’s a better path they can find and that they will get there someday.”

For Gray, the “better path” included earning her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees.

“It feels really good to have earned this degree, especially considering how things could have turned out,” she said. “I decided to pursue Education mostly to continue my own learning. It’s a passion I hope to extend to others.”

The learning isn’t over for Gray yet—she’s applied to the Maliseet Immersion course, a two-year program that focuses on reading, writing, and speaking Maliseet. After that, her hope is to work in the public school system.

For more information about the St. Thomas School of Education, click here.

A Great Purpose: School of Education graduate Holly Miller reflects on her experience in the STU program

PUBLISHED DATE: Thursday, July 6, 2017
This was a speech delivered by Holly Miller, BEd’17, at the School of Education Graduate’s Dinner.

Take a moment and pause.

Teaching is an exhausting, energy-draining, yet extremely rewarding profession, so it’s important to take a moment to celebrate our hard work.

 As we come to the end of our degree, we reflect on one of the biggest endeavors of our lives. We count down the days, hours, and minutes in one of the busiest years we’ve ever experienced. We’ve worked countless hours and late nights for a great purpose—to educate young minds.

I’m certain we can think back to some of the challenges we’ve overcome in the past year. Moments in our practicums and days we thought we would give up, but then there’s a memory of that one student that puts a smile on our face. That one student that smiles, or improves their reading skills, or is excited about what we’re teaching. That one student makes it all worthwhile.

Now that we’ve completed our second practicum and our days in the program are numbered, we have to recall those first day butterflies and our successes along the way. We need to cherish what we’ve learned from our professors, from our students, and from each other.

We did this together.

We wouldn’t have been able to work on countless reflections, projects, or assignments if we didn’t work as a team. As I look around the room, I see the faces of those who started as strangers, but have grown to be lifelong friends.
We’re down to our final days—for now—sitting in the classroom. As we reflect on our year, it’s important to remember that we may forget the topics taught or the essays wrote, but we’ll always remember the experiences and the memories made.

We’ve all changed and shaped our teaching in many ways, and now we are the minds that are shaping the future generation.

Raise Your Hand If.. A reflective lesson from Noah Clark, School of Education Class of 2017

PUBLISHED DATE: Thursday, July 6, 2017
This article was part of a speech delivered by Noah Clark, BEd’17, at the School of Education Graduate’s Dinner.

Over the past ten months, we’ve learned that we need to engage our students.

For this lesson, I will ask some very simple questions and if those questions apply to you, I would ask that you raise your hand.

1. Raise your hand if you’ve started a sentence with “during my last placement.”

2. Raise your hand if you have more work in a 1.5 credit hour class than you do in a three credit hour class.

3. Raise your hand if you became accustomed to reflecting after every class.

4. Raise your hand if you started a sentence saying “my kids.”

5. Raise your hand if your students wouldn’t get off of technology during class.

6. Raise your hand if during our classes you used technology.

7. Raise your hand if you checked out before third semester even started.

8. Raise your hand if you’ve every expressed frustration with group work.

9. Raise your hand if you dressed super fancy on the first day, but had a steady decline after that.

10. Raise your hand if you second guessed everything you were doing in fear of a 701.

11. Raise your hand if you are thankful for all the hard work, time, and dedication the faculty and staff put in for us.

Now that we’ve completed our lesson, we will finish with an exit slip. I want you to reflect not on the grades, not on the class, not on what stream you’re in, but reflect on the memories we’ve made together. Reflect on how far we’ve come since sitting in orientation to almost being graduates. Reflect on the late night lessons, planning, and countless hours of class work. Reflect on the bonds and friendships we’ve made.

You don’t have to pass this assignment in, but take the time to appreciate the program and everything it had to offer us, personally and professionally.

Now, I am going to give you homework.

Your homework assignment is to go out and be the best teacher you can be using all the experiences we’ve gained in this program.

“10 Ways to be a Great Teacher” -- Grant Williams, Director of the St. Thomas University School of Education

PUBLISHED DATE: Tuesday, June 13, 2017
1.  Great teachers are positive: Being a positive teacher can be challenging because you’re often met with difficult problems and limited solutions. However, staying positive has a tremendous impact on your students. Great teachers find ways to see the bright side of situations.
2.  Great teachers are builders: A great teacher bridges gaps and builds relationships, friendships, and community. A great teacher seeks to build community in the classroom, and they often find ways to spread that sense of community among the entire school.

3.  Great teachers inspire: A great teacher inspires students—and other teachers—to be better. A great teacher uncovers hidden talents and helps to make seemingly impossible things possible.

4.  Great teachers are confident: A great teacher is confident. This can mean having confidence in what you know and/or having confidence in your ability to teach content. However, truly great teachers have another kind of confidence. That’s the confidence that they are where they’re meant to be, and the time they are spending with their students will benefit everyone in a positive way—even when things get tough. This confidence is vital to being successful in your career.

5.  Great teachers embrace change: School is meant to be a transformative place for students, but it should be just as transformative for teachers. If you expect students to be changed by their interaction with you, also expect to be changed by the interaction yourself. The education system will also change during your career; you will need to adjust your methods and approaches, too.
6.  Great teachers value reflection: Every teacher will have things go well, but they will also have things go poorly. Reflection is key to being a great teacher. You have to be ready to be honest to yourself and your students—even when things go poorly because of something you did, and also when things go well because of something your students did. Teaching requires a willingness to cast a critical eye on your practice, your pedagogy, and yourself. This is a challenging but beneficial habit.

7.  Great teachers model risk-taking: A great teacher will bring students out of their comfort zone—to take a risk to try something new or learn something unfamiliar. However, a great teacher shows students it’s okay to take risks by example. Be willing to go out on a limb or be a little “wacky” in the name of pedagogy. Students are more apt to remember the lesson, and also the risk.

8.  Great teachers are kind: A great teacher shows kindness to students, colleagues, parents, and all those around them. The simple act of kindness can make students feel welcomed, cared for, and safe while they are in your class. This directly contributes to their learning, and to the characteristics they are developing as humans.

9.  Great teachers are compassionate: Teaching is a very humanistic profession, and a great teacher shows compassion all the time. Compassion shows students patience, understanding, respect, and concern so they feel more comfortable and able to learn. Receiving compassion also helps students learn to be compassionate.

10.  Great teachers are empathetic: A great teacher is able to “walk in someone else’s shoes.” A great teacher knows that not everyone’s had the same experiences or opportunities and this can affect the way a student learns and/or interacts. Having empathy helps a great teacher be there for students who fail tests, don’t make a team, are teased, lose a family member or pet; who have their hearts broken, experience depression or anxiety, are diagnosed with illness, or who don’t feel loved by anyone. By showing empathy, you will help students feel less judged, alone, or afraid—and you will show others that empathy can change lives.

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.”