Kelly Award recipient reflects on career


The Kelly Outstanding Teaching Award recognizes a RRU faculty or associate faculty member who is deemed, primarily through student evaluations, to be representative of outstanding teachers, and someone who makes a positive contribution to the overall health and culture of the university.

This year’s award recipient is Doug Hamilton, program head for the MA in Educational Leadership and Management International.

“I see teaching at RRU as a real privilege because I get to do what I love to do on a daily basis,” says Hamilton. “For me, ‘Life. Changing’ is much more than a tagline because it reminds me constantly, as a teacher, of my potential transformational impact on our students and my own leadership responsibilities in helping them to be agents of change and positive growth. Just as importantly it serves as a constant reminder that my ongoing interactions and relationships with students have the capacity to keep changing me as well.”

“Doug impressed the selection committee with his commitment to real time, meaningful feedback; his strong capacity to extend learning opportunities for both himself and his students to enhance the learning community; and his ability to embrace, encourage and celebrate diversity in his classes,” says VP Academic Steve Grundy.

Here, Hamilton shares with us some insights on his teaching approach, how he has seen the profession change over the years and where he thinks education is headed.

Can you describe your teaching approach?

I try to connect the dots between leadership and learning. For me, teaching is the worthiest form of educational leadership. Helping others learn in both formal and informal contexts is a key leadership skill. This connection between leadership and learning provides me with the raison d’être for continuing to stretch my capacities as an educator. From my perspective, leadership, learning and, therefore, teaching, share the same common goal – to help “ordinary” people do extraordinary things.

My philosophy of teaching begins with the belief that all members of a true learning community can make a contribution to the learning of others. For me, teaching starts with a commitment to building and sharing knowledge together. I believe that teachers serve as facilitators, coaches and guides who enable this collective knowledge building to unfold in a meaningful and insightful way.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an educator?

My answer to this can be summed up in one word: humility. If we see ourselves too much as the “experts” who simply impart knowledge to others, we lose the opportunity to learn powerfully from others – and this potentially limits the techniques, tools and resources that we can use to help other learn better.

My greatest role models have been the teachers in my life who were genuinely interested in what I had to contribute as a student, who supported my autonomy, who encouraged risk taking and who really opened the door to my own self-discovery.

How have you seen education change over the years?

My grade 11 urban geography teacher, Mr. Dailey, believed in collaborative project-based learning in which students have an opportunity to identify complex real-life problems, develop their own inquiry processes and collaboratively explore solutions. At the time, he was a constructivist learning pioneer before we knew what to call it. He was my hero because he was committed to helping students develop the self-confidence to own their own learning processes and he put a lot of trust in us to stretch our own thinking and actively reflect on our experiences.

Mr. Dailey also believed strongly in integrative learning and supported us in our efforts to apply what we learning in other subjects like English and mathematics to the study of real-world urban geography issues. I’m really pleased to see that 30+ years later, we now have a lot more Mr., Ms. and Dr. Daileys around in both K-12 and post-secondary institutions. So the Mr. Daileys are no longer the lone wolves, but we still need to continue to advocate for the curricular, pedagogical/androgogical and policy frameworks that enable this kind of approach to learning and teaching to become the de facto standard.

Where do you see education going in the future?

I think we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to supporting authentic forms of learning but it is an area that has huge potential for further development, both online and face-to-face.  We have tons of examples of authentic learning processes in place in RRU programs such as problem-based learning, leadership challenges, live cases, organizational leadership/consulting projects, design thinking processes, to name just a few. But, given the current  provincial policy contexts across Canada that are focused on promoting the relevance of post-secondary learning for real-world needs and applications, the time is now for us as RRU educators to continue to extend our own capacities to support this notion of authentic learning. My vision for us as a university is that we become known nationally and internationally as a leader in supporting new models of authentic learning. 

What challenges do students face today and how can RRU help them overcome these obstacles?

Most of the learners we work with at RRU have some work experience. These in-career learners have a strong need for ensuring the relevance of their learning activities and for constantly thinking about the effective application of the key concepts and processes while balancing their studies with their ongoing work responsibilities. Thus, supporting the active engagement of people in their own learning process is absolutely critical because it increases their capacity to relate new information to their own frame of reference and bases of experience. This process often involves the liberal use of immediate, relevant and experiential learning activities which can provide a tangible frame of reference for connecting previous and current experience to relevant theory/conceptual models and then back to practice again. It has been my experience that this approach aligns very well with the instructional orientation required to effectively support cohort-based learning at RRU. As well, clear and incisive feedback to students is often the difference-maker.

In my last year of high school, I was really fortunate to have an English teacher who believed in the power of providing just the right kind and amount of feedback to inspire me to keep stretching myself. This gift he provided has stuck with me as one of the greatest gifts that I can also pass on to my learners.