Dr. BIlly Strean

Our final conversation returns to Canada, specifically the West Coast, where Pat and Jessica entre into discussion with Billy Strean; a Professor from the University of Alberta (Edmonton, AB, Canada), recently retired to Victoria, BC. Billy is the recipient of a 3M National Teaching Fellowship (2011) and is well known for his gregarious approach to learning – particularly his adventures in joy which incorporate laughter and yoga.


welcome everyone uh thanks for joining this conversation today it’s uh it’s

mine and Jessica’s um absolute pleasure to welcome Billy strain um to this discussion so Dr Billy streen

is a professor in the faculty of Kinesiology Sport and Recreation at the University of Alberta he’s also an

esteemed 3M National teaching fellow and has really focused on the importance of

excellence in teaching learning and educational leadership for a long time Billy’s also a registered yoga teacher

at the 200 and 500 level a master somatic coach and really the best thing

that I like to to hear from Billy is is his joyfulness which speaks perfectly to the fact that his website is called

adventures in Joy where he speaks to the power of joy and how Joy is a unique

tool in learning and can really transform and improve lives so we’ve got

joy on one hand and then Billy’s also a master of failure Billy has written an

excellent uh an excellent paper on train wrecks 3M National teaching fellows

explore creative creating learning and generative responses from colossal

failures so Billy we’re so we’re so happy to have you here um can’t wait to chat

with that introduction all I can do is take it downhill I think

go big at the start and then and then we just secure it where it goes Billy the the first thing that we really

want to to hear from you is just like that’s the bio that’s what we can find on the website but but Billy tell us

your story like how did you get to become an exceptional teacher within

higher ed a leader that that companies students

Etc look up to what’s your story as I was thinking about this do you I

think we probably all told our stories and we retell our stories and there’s certain ways in which it can become rote

and I noticed one of the things that I probably have not talked about that

struck me for whatever reason this morning was my dad was a teacher

and in a sense it was his second job that he was a professor in the School of

Social Work at Rutgers and it seemed to me that that was almost like his you know thing he did on the side and he was

a psychoanalyst and yet I think the fact that he was a teacher and had that excitement about

that was one of the influences on me that these things sometimes work more

subtly and maybe that’s not why it’s always part of my story but I think having grown up

um with somebody who was teaching and my mom did some teaching as well and there’s a lot of teachers in my family so I think

that the way many people follow in the family’s tradition there’s some of that

and you know a lot of these things happen in strange and serendipitous ways

and then we try to tell it as a more linear story than it might have been I kind of fell into doing some coaching

sport coaching when I was in high school and I really liked that and I continued

in that path and I was an athlete and knew I wanted to do something there and

I started off with the idea that I was going to be an elementary teacher and I actually got an elementary I had

credential and one of the things that struck me was I was working with these grade two

kids and some of the cutest most likable Boys in particular I found I was always

having to tell them to go sit in their seat because that was the way things

were done and as I think about it now you know as we consider what do we take

for granted and how does learning look and do we just fit into those structures

and I probably wasn’t asking questions like well what if I were teaching grade two and I totally altered this so that

there was much more opportunity for these active boys to walk around and do

stuff but I realized that the way it was wasn’t for me and then I did no more

Sports and More teaching and started teaching classes as a grad student

and you know I would see the commonality for me

has been I really loved the process and

the engagement and in particular the students and that’s what’s really kept me

motivated um is being fascinated by in essence how

do I do a better job for them right and one of the things that’s so

obvious but I don’t think a lot of people necessarily pursue it because if I want to get better at teaching

students I should get really curious about what’s working from their perspective

and there are things where I’ve had what were great ideas inside of my Cranium

but from the students experience is like you’re going overboard here pal or that

just doesn’t work and just getting that feedback and finding out what works doesn’t work and leaning into that and

lots of talking to Great teachers one of the cool parts of my journey was very

early in my days as a professor and it tells up with this story in the last couple

days was I got invited to be part of this peer Consultants group at University of Alberta

and at that point the University of Melbourne had all these 3M fellows and I

got to hang around with these incredible teachers who had been at it for a long time and I got to listen to their

stories and that was both inspirational and educational and I think that was a part

of my path was like these are the people I want to grow up to be like

Billy thank you for for sort of grounding us in a story in this the

storytelling of your adventures in joy

well played because it is it is kinesthetic right it is it movement it

is embodiment it is in communion with other that it is reflected and

um magnified in in collision with other in a three-dimensional space

so I wonder if you could sort of unpack if if the adventure of joy is in the moment if it is in the experience if it

is in if it is staying outside of your seat and moving around and getting charges from from others

how do we how do we harness that if that is in the moment in the present how do you harness that in hopeful ways into

the future yeah that’s so great Jessica I mean in some ways I think what makes you brilliant is you’re here you’re

hearing the things that were not even evident to me right that so much of it

is is relational and it is it’s embodied

and especially in higher ed a lot of the way we operate is as if all

that matters is from the chin up and for me you know some of these simple

cliches like people don’t care what you know until they know that you care

tend to guide you know the way that I interact so for me a lot of it is yeah

yeah yeah we’ve got to do certain things inside of certain boxes But ultimately it’s about human beings

and again what is part of maybe the water that I swim in that becomes invisible

is this relating to human beings as thinking

feeling and acting and that that’s all integrated and if we

try to deal with everything simply as information or cognitively

we’re missing the most important pieces especially if we’re interested in how do you actually cause people to take action

or how do you cause people not to just know something but actually do something different

and I don’t know if that addresses the question it’s

pattern gonna like deal Billy for a second because what I love about about

you and them the way in which you model embodiment and joy is that you make room

for silly in a way that it doesn’t you don’t lose

rigor you don’t lose I hate the the use of the word rigor because it reminds me

of rigor mortis right it reminds me of just cognitive and it’s often used to bludgeon people who are stepping outside

of the the sort of rigid structures of what we understand is the academy but there’s something about being silly

and being embodied and being in motion that is freeing and it’s not a cliche

when you when you live it and you model it and I just maybe want you to like I

have this beautiful memory of being on a bus with you I think somewhere in Quebec as you took us all on breathing and yoga

as we were late and everyone was grumpy and tired and wanted to go to bed and you’re like nope oh no maybe it was a

Nova Scotia but you’re like nope let’s let’s just be ourselves and our silly

selves and be together in this and I thought that that was such a powerful un

unlocking of parts of our heart that we sometimes compartmentalize in the academy

I think it’s actually laughter Yoga and one of the things that I picked up in my

laughter Yoga training was the word silly comes from the old English meaning

happy prosperous and blessed so if someone tells you you’re being silly you say thank you

yet in its common user understanding I think one of the things that’s maybe

worked for me progressively as the age between me and my students has expanded

is that willingness to be something other than the stodgy

Professor it was really neat I had a great opportunity my son who’s an

undergraduate who I tried to get to go to Bush Bishops but anyway um he’s at UVic and I’m really fortunate

that he created me an audience to go out for some beers with him and a few of his buddies

and he said something to me about the difference between me and other parents was it’s not like you’re talking to us

from another level or that your parents said part of it is I’ve been talking to 20 year olds since I’ve been a 20 year

old and I think I mean one of the one of these moments that pops in my head was a grad

student that was told me that if I wear a tie that it creates a distance and when I

first started teaching and I was still whatever 28 or 29 that I would wear a tie to class

and part of that was I think trying to be something

and one of the things I realized for whatever series of reasons and maybe

being a white male is part of it but part of the way I carried myself and

just who I am as a person I never felt that there was an issue

with credibility and I think partly because of that the issue for me became

how do I make myself more accessible more vulnerable more human more

authentic as a part of that is part of being silly in a sense is

being open to screw up and then embracing it

I think that one of one of the guys who um I learned a lot from outside of

academes really somebody about leadership and workshops he said you want to screw up in the first five

minutes so people can see you’re human and then it’s like how do you respond to

that because people watch and we’ve all been in a room with a presenter or a professor who’s trying to

get it right and there’s a level of discomfort and anxiety where they are

that then spills over on the audience and when I can go hey look I screwed up

look at that I’m human I mean I’ve said this even flat out with students I said you know here’s the thing we’re all

putting in a lot of effort trying to look good and avoid looking bad

and we walk around with armor we’re protecting ourselves and then

there’s this just nasty little secret that we’re all human and when I say look hey I’m human you

can go cool I’m human too and it’s like you

mean we can be human together and not have to worry about making mistakes and say

you know when we when we make a mistake let’s do a dance let’s let’s go how

fascinating you know isn’t that amazing the different ways we can screw up and then what’s really useful is and what do

we learn from that you know it’s just a whole orientation of school from the time you’re little is

you learn it’s about the answers and you definitely don’t want to get something wrong because then you get the red ink

and you know if you’re bad and wrong and unlovable whereas if you say well actually

anything worthwhile is gonna have mistakes along the way

and so if I can show a look look I screwed up this this slide this this

but I remember one of the first days of class 200 students in the mid lecture hall and I’m going to throw something

out before class started and like the lid on the top of the can fell off and

then I tried to put it back on and in that moment it was the make or break and

I just laughed at my own stupidity or incompetence

and that weekend there was some student event where they they did skits and

someone did a skit made in front of Billy trying to throw something out and I think it’s

sometimes I ask people do I have a bullseye on me because I think I make it very comfortable to make fun of me and

maybe because I I did it first but I think all of that creates an environment

that becomes comfortable and human and authentic

Bailey I’ll just jump in and say so much of that resonates with me and my career like I think the whole like I can

remember being the 27 year old Prof who wasn’t even on the grid yet of the UNBC

retirement chart because I was so close to the students and I can remember putting the shirt and tie on trying to

create this distance but as soon as I realized that distance didn’t matter then I was a better teacher I was a

better Professor I was a better mentor and it was all about like who do I want

to be who’s my true authentic self what are the true authentic mentors that I’ve seen in my life okay cool I’m gonna I’m

gonna model them not model what the academy tells me I need to do and and

and it’s funny because you also mentioned one other piece that I think is critically important which is

you know recognizing I’ll say our privilege right as middle aged white men

um Etc and so so my question for you Billy is really about how you see

the notion of vulnerability within that context right like you and I have it

pretty good we can fail we can get back up the 10-year promotion process will be okay to us but not everyone can do that

so how do we how do we look at that vulnerability within the system

all right there’s several ways will come out that

one of them is I’m a brene brown fan and I do Embrace vulnerability and all that

I don’t think most people when you hear the word vulnerable it can conjure up this idea of

that you’re going to be harmed and I tend to talk more about being open

now clear clearly in a sense openness

implies or includes that your armor is down and that you are

able to be impacted or hurt so I think you know I think there’s a way though in

which we characterize it that can make it more

palatable and make people lean into it and I think there are a number of things I

do I mean one is I tell stories and often they’re always corrected

something uh where there’s a foible it’s self-deprecating humor

and yeah I mean it was it’s funny to be my I think my first term on Zoom the

students organized and got a social hour because everybody was you know locked down and

all that and it was great and so I came on and my wife Paula popped in and it

was if everybody already knew her she was she she was a character in the class

I would tell stories about teaching about communication and for example I I

really be doing something about listening and then I tell a story about how I just

failed massively in my main relationship because I didn’t listen and you remember

when I talked about doing this in class yeah I didn’t um

so that I think is part of instead of being instead of being just

this person who shows up in front of the room you know I I talk about my kids I talk about what I did on the weekend I

talk about my concerns and all of the stuff that makes me a three-dimensional

imperfect being I think that’s a big part of openness and vulnerability

and then I wrote it it’s the same thing but one of the things I think is

important is a genuine curiosity like I want to get to know who the

students are one of the things I miss most is the informal interactions you know I

would always be I mean I’m still the first person to show up but in the zoom room I find as we’ve progressed it gets

closer and closer to the second class starts that most people show up

but in a typical situation during those 10 minutes as people wander in there’s

every little opportunity to get to know you and find out you know what’s working what’s not working what do you care

about what’s the rest of your life like I think that that in a sense that was that reciprocity the leaning in and

being curious we don’t often think of that as vulnerability but I think it’s I I I do a lot of stuff

around openness and I talk about how there’s two sides to openness one is the willingness to express

the other has been open to receive and whereas you know I you know I like

to talk I like to tell stories that I’m very kind of being open in the

sense of being a space to to hear from I mean one of the I think

one of the best compliments I ever got was a student said to me whenever I had a question for Billy he’d have two back

for me and you know it’s that kind of

one one is creating you know maybe as you’re saying about maybe because I have certain

characteristics it’s easier for me to position myself as equal as possible

and I think maybe other people maybe don’t have that luxury it’s hard to say what’s

you know because I’m of a certain age or color of this um and what’s

my personality I think you know sometimes I feel like um things that are because of how I act

it’s not just because I have white middle-aged male on me but you know

maybe maybe that’s part of that but whatever it is I think

I think we’re all hungry for authenticity I think we want to connect

I think it’s it’s clearly in our DNA that we’re herd animals we want to

connect and then we do all these goofy things to keep ourselves separate and presumably

safe Jessica if I can sneak in one more like like

make it quick okay well Billy I mean you’ve really touched on you know the

importance of of movement in your teaching and things like this and then quite a few times you sort of linked out

to the zoom and uh where we’ve been the last few years and so I’m wondering if

you can speak to how you see failure and vulnerability happening differently in

the sort of the pre-covid and then the current like teaching online circumstance and and even futurecast to

you know what it might look like in the future because I think there’s some you know lots of people have had colossal

Tech failures in the zoom environment lots of people have have had X Y and Z that may there may be some commonality

there that there wasn’t before but but I want to hear your thoughts on it

one you know as you said they’re going to be Tech failures and you know one of the opportunities

to make a mistake and then how do you respond to it is inevitably you’re gonna

you’re gonna be going and then it’s doing a Billy you’re muted

now do you get upset or do you go yeah I did this I was doing a thing for people

through a library this past week and put them in the breakout room and because I haven’t set it up I didn’t realize that

it was defaulted to mute everyone when they come back so I come back and I’m doing my what somebody says this I said

you know I don’t know if you know that uh 17 of words spoken in 2021 were into

a muted mic so yeah so there’s things to be able to to be playful so I think I

think one there’s going to be more and different Tech screw-ups that’s an opportunity to do that

executive I think there’s something fascinating about a screen of faces

now I’ve pretty much whenever possible organized my classes so that people sit in a circle so they can see each other

but one of the things that students will talk about is seeing faces versus the back of people’s heads

so there can be he some ways in which there’s an intimacy

of we can all see each other I think there’s lots of ways in which we

connect that we don’t even begin to understand I mean we may have some clues about limbic resonance or things that

happen in the physical space that I don’t think happen I don’t think right

now we have the same energy exchange as if we were a few feet physically

together so I think there’s something different there I wonder if in some ways it creates a

sense of Greater safety you know students are presenting in front of the class and it’s almost like

you know if this goes real bad I can turn this thing off you know or I am in

my own home sometimes so I think there’s some ways in which

there’s been an enabling of certain kinds of Greater connection

and there’s a huge it depends um one of my classes I taught on I taught

on zoom and then I was back in the classroom in the fall and it is it

literally Hands-On there’s lots of stuff that to me is just not possible in a

three in a in a in a two-dimensional space or whatever

and I think there’s ways we connect and engage that are only possible

um when we’re physically in three dimensions together so there’s you know maybe you could say

there’s a greater possible threat or ways in which and so therefore people may default to being more protective in

those environments but also there’s a greater possibility to connect more

richly and deeply and you know I think there’s

we have a moment in which we can be more conscious and maybe more discriminating

about why do we do this and why do we do that and some of the blanket things that

are said about remote are just plain stupid some of the blanket things that are said about synchronous asynchronous

or also Goofy and I think there’s some more careful consideration about what

are we trying to accomplish and what ways work the best so I think that’s part of

um the path forward I think that’s really interesting Billy because yeah I’ve been for a long time

informed by Harrington and Reeves work on authentic learning environments and they have 10 design principles and it’s

you know it’s a thing they’ve studied it they came up with it and they started it in the early 2000s for online learning

so they came up with these 10 design principles and they include things like interdisciplinarity collaboration

critical reflection a final product of assessment

um a question that doesn’t have a singular answer but they came up with that to create authentic learning

environments in online learning and what they realized was those design principles translate you know across

modalities and platforms and so that that notion of authentic right as a as a

design principle for the ways in which we are are sort of building our our spaces whether they’re two-dimensional

or three-dimensional sort of resonating as a as a word or as a theme that we’re exploring is the word authentic right

that we use has to be intentional it’s it’s used a lot it’s used unintentionally it’s used without

reflection um sometimes but I think you’re right that we all have a desire to be

authentic to bring our whole selves to our endeavors to lay link our work with

purpose to have um you know in in philosophia Telos like

a trajectory something that gives us a shape and and something of life’s purpose and I like how the two of you

sort of bounced off one another about authenticity and credibility based on your intersectionality those weren’t

three multi-million dollar words in the Bingo of happy first century I don’t know what is

but what does it mean to be authentic and credible and have authority and expertise is really driven by our

intersectionality by our Race by our age by our geography by our education by our

socioeconomic status by our our gender by our sexuality all of those things

right so it all comes in in this and this really difficult mix so you’ve talked about how to model authenticity

from your position of intersectionality

and I think one of the things that that you were doing with a kind of critical

reflection was like listen if I am if from the center of power as a middle-aged white man with expertise I

can give away credibility while still not being super vulnerable but that’s

not just a privilege of you that’s also reshaping students expectations so that when they step into a classroom with

somebody who has a different intersectionality might be able to think about different modes of credibility

Authority and expertise right so there’s something that you’re modeling which is generous and generative for other people

but I want to push you a little bit on systems so how do we actually build so you’re

modeling it as an individual which is fantastic and you’re doing it as as a kind of leadership and advocacy piece

but how do we reframe and I think the three of us would agree that the system’s in place right now in the

academy at all of our institutions that we’ve worked at and studied at are inhospitable to the authentic self

that close us off in cognitive ways that divorce silliness and emotional and

spiritual and and other kinds of being we’re not invited to bring that

to to this learning environment to This research environment to this teaching environment

how do we make more hospitable systems how do we invite it in how do we make it

valued and visible how do we allow for communities of practice where being

being all of your messy imperfect self is as safe for a queer woman of color as

it is for a middle-aged white man how do we how do we do that I think one of the

linchpins is assessment and evaluation

you know it’s been said that people pay attention to what gets measured

I think most students go through their dozen or so years before they get to us

learning implicitly and explicitly that it’s all about marks and grades

so there’s disrupt that I mean one of the things

that I’ve attempted to alter and I think we’re slowly starting to see some things

is one of the most fundamental things in higher education is Neanderthal final

exam practices and policies and it’s almost as if that’s the

starting point and so I’m going to give a final exam and then depending on how many students and how much time pressure

and what else that’s going to drive all of the teaching and learning and it’s

mostly creates bad or inferior ways of going about what we do so I think that’s

one of the systemic things that I think is most impactful if we look at all the

high impact practices I don’t think anywhere on the list is two hour written

final exams right so like what other things can we have that matter that get measured that

students can care about and I think as we can diminish

diminishing dismantle the exam system I think that’s a huge place we can we

can move and I think that that is possible without disrupting the

credentialing business that I think we’re in um and I and I think that’s one of the

things is to make I I’d say um maybe correlated with that

was everybody’s heard stories about showing up on the first day of University they say look to your left look to your right you know only one of

you is going to be here in three years and my attitude has always been look to

your left look all the way around the circle you know look to the right look all the way around the circle

imagine what’s possible if every single person here cares about every other

person here and every person here is doing everything you can do to try and

make this the best possible situation if you can see someone and they need something and you give it to them and

there’s no threat to you right another thing that gets communicated along with this is this idea of grade distributions

which in many cases is pure mythology but and I know in some of the

institutions where I work they hand people things and they’re descriptive like the typical GPA for first year

classes 3.11 and one of the things I say to students is the difference between something

that’s a description of what’s happened in the past and a prescription I said what have we found are the typically

students in this class were five foot six now this year let’s say the average is

five foot nine are we going to go around with a machete and hack three inches off every

student’s so they fit the historical average like this is just something so

you kind of know here’s how it’s tended to go but there’s no rule or there should be

no rule that says you know everyone needs to and it’s this whole idea of creating mediocrity you

know I joke about it because I’m from a sports background as if the basketball coach said you know it’ll be cool if we

could get two guys to shoot free throws at 90 percent but we really wanted most of them to

shoot in the 70s like that’s good that’s a better turnout

I said no no no no in in a lot of environments you’re trying to get everybody to be as close to the highest

level of Excellence as possible shouldn’t our educational model be that

as well and and you do everything really

really well and maybe it’s even a class that people have chosen to be in and maybe people are excited about the job

like wouldn’t it be reasonable because we’ve not just also taken a normal curve

of people we’ve taken people have already excelled more and more ridiculously already having a 90 average

walking in the door why don’t we create an atmosphere that says everybody can win everyone can Excel so I think those

are two of the core things to whatever disrupt change for creating an

environment that’s one in which people learn are collaborative are supportive

are not feeling under Threat all the time yeah well Billy you just blew my mind

because you just connected the um you know the entire argument of rigor

right which is like there’s 90 and then there’s 70 that rigor is creating a

culture of mediocrity well if if rigor means some some Excel

and some you know you know most are here and some fail and we and if we’re doing

our job we produce a normal curve like another form of rigor is

you know like I I can show you 24 final speeches from my students and almost all

of them are maybe all of them are better than a

bunch of doctoral presentations I just saw from another Institution

experiment in which buddy become great everybody support each other in that so

there’s rigor yeah there’s rigor I mean I don’t go you know people don’t do crappy and I don’t say oh that was just

so wonderful let’s see I give everybody a trophy you know that’s that’s laughing

sure sure well it’s lack of Excellence where you meet somebody where they are

and work with them to transform as an adventure of Joy which is what you do

meet them where they are and you build with them something that they are they are better at than when they started I

love that point where if you come in as a 90s student I often wonder am I here to help you

can we transform like yes but what about that 61 year old it was 61 student who’s

coming in they can be 61. but you come in and be like

let’s transform together in reciprocal ways in ways that are fostered in joy

and Delight over the 12-week term the four-year degree and the 50 years of

learning that you’re going to have there’s two key things you said that are so taken for granted one is with

and the others together I heard someone say it this way there’s you know again anytime there’s two kinds of you’re in

trouble but so there’s two kinds of professors one who puts the class there

and keeps moving it further and further away from you and then the other one who’s puts the class there and keeps

moving it toward you right and it’s the idea of I think a way

of think about rigor is let’s create an exciting challenge

that doesn’t doesn’t look easy it actually looks whatever you want to call it difficult or rigorous and now

we’re climbing the mountain together like I’m gonna help boost you up when

you’re falling I’m gonna try and find ways to help you keep moving higher and higher up the mountain

which is totally different from thing going like I have the answers I have the power

let’s see if you could ever get here and to me it’s a it’s so fundamental

right to say yeah we’re putting something in front of us and then we’re going towards it

together I think that’s a key orientation

no pun intended there see what I did Pat so uh so Billy that admit like that

automatically takes me to uh to a question where this is kind of me playing Devil’s Advocate but but I just

like to know your take on it so you know we’ve got working with students marching

together um you know building relationships I mean you can go down the whole Peter

Felton um relationship Rich um you know sort of pipeline Etc but I’m

just wondering how you take that model of Excellence uh creating relationships

doing things together and put it in a 400 student class that’s on Zoom right

or like I I understand that it works very well in the small fourth year seminar where

everybody’s coming to see Billy because they want to learn about silly and and you know what if they all do very well

and they buy into it because they love this environment they’re probably all going to come out with the 95s right but

how do you do that in intro to phys ed and recreation for 400 students

I mean I could play Devil’s Advocate about the whole idea of Playing devil’s advocate right I mean I think I think if

I think there’s a simple way of turning that back on you and say just why not

I mean what what is it about no I’m not I’m not Pollyanna and I would

say if you have 400 students the likelihood that 400 of them will all

achieve at the highest level I think is far more challenging difficult unlikely


and the door may be metaphorical if you’re talking 400 on Zoom but when you

begin and the message you give is

there’s no reason why there’s winners and losers

you know I think you do it differently I think if you want I mean if you want to cause collaboration

I don’t you know I’m I’m questioning whether there’s things that I can even do with 36.

that I’ve been able to do with 24. and it’s like there’s bits of literature that may support that

but you could say all right I’ve got 400 students what meaningful connections and

collaborations have to be designed so they have that experience of support to have others in a meaningful way where

they know their name pulling them forward but if you if you said you know it like

let’s I mean maybe it’s a good example I’ve said I’ve got 400 people who are you know Engineers who are going to

build a bridge that my family’s gonna drive over I’ve got 400 people who are going to be surgeons and one of them at

random is going to operate on my mother you know what did you think about that

model differently to say I want to make sure the 400th is at

least pretty darn competent and I think when our orientation is you

know all I have to do is make sure I mean it’s sort of the easy thing to do make sure the people already

highly motivated highly skilled very bright strong backgrounds make sure they

are performing in the high 90s you know not much of an achievement so

to me if you say all right Orient yourself towards the students so that everyone

gets as far along the journey and achieves as highly as possible given the

constraints I mean I always say to students we in terms of the marks and grades we’re measuring

something in the realm of performance that’s not saying that’s what you’re fully capable of if you didn’t have four

other classes if you didn’t have a job if you didn’t have you know health challenges you know

mental if you didn’t have all these pandemics yeah

so I I think but but saying given the constraints how much can we support each

other how much can we move along towards as high level as possible

just to rehabilitate Pollyanna here I love it I feel like I’m not Pollyanna I’m not

100 hopeful I’m like but to Echo Billy why why not and and

you know adding that critical prefix to Hope I think is really important what you’ve just done very eloquently and I

always quote Maria Popova who talks about um critical thinking without hope so thinking deeply and cognitively

without hope is cynicism it doesn’t actually get you anywhere and it doesn’t get you you farther along in what the

possible is but then hope without critical thinking is naive right so it’s a Pollyanna and so a discard but it

discards like Pollyanna talking about like feminizing and infantilizing hope

and I talk about hope with a lot of people they’re like I’m not Pollyanna I’m like but but why not with with some

critical thinking and a dash of like understanding systems and design

thinking why aren’t we challenging the actual in the name of the possible why aren’t we challenging these systems and

saying no this is not just how it’s going to be we are not okay with that is

the status quo we have to think bigger and better and you started with the ungrading right let’s get rid of final

exams and you even said because I didn’t say I’m graded you didn’t say I’m grading you said let’s get rid of final

exams without disrupting the credentializing business that we’re in but my question to you is let’s disrupt

the credentializing business that we’re in like well okay yeah I think bigger what does it look

like to think I think I think there’s a few juicy bits there one one is

there’s certain places where credentials are more important than others like if somebody’s going to do the surgery or

build the bridge and there are other areas we could say you know you’re not going to hurt anybody and let’s really

just focus on learning you know wouldn’t that be interesting or I mean there’s a lot of other ways we could say what does

it mean to have a credential and sometimes all that stuff so I think there’s that I think the problem is we

tend to privilege credentialing and lose learning in the process so there’s

there’s that piece [Music] um I think I should probably get a more

clear reference you know Pollyanna becomes this thing we say we don’t think about what is the story there and what

is that what am I actually saying there and geez maybe I should you know

um but it’s funny one of the things that strikes me is we all like professorial

types I think we’re almost trained to be overly critical

you know when you can pick something apart you get a lot of pots on the back

and there’s this whole thing you know if you can point

out what’s wrong it’s as if you’re smarter and one of one of the things I’ve

evolved one of the one ways I think I’ve evolved is

you could call it strengths based but the I’ve been way more aware of the power of assessment

and the way in which assessments are communicated and I pretty much

focus a lot on what’s going well and I know from a sports background a good

coach will often see the one mistake you’re making and say okay Jessica you need to do United this is you not doing

this you need to do this right and what I’ll do is students will do speeches

and I think two things happen one of the things I say Pat what I loved about your speech was your introduction just

grabbed this that was really awesome and the way you use it and I’ll hit on these positives now that’s really important

for learning because you’re looking at what works and you’re reinforcing it and I think we don’t do that enough and then

the way in which we give the feedback it would be even better if

or it would be stronger next time if and some of these things it’s well

you’re being too soft they’re being there no it just works and then it

creates an atmosphere where no one’s afraid to get up in front of a clasp to

be ripped I mean probably we’ve all had those experiences if not we’ve seen the TV shows or the law student stands up

and gets torn a new one if you know when you stand up that this this guy’s on

your side it’s going to point out what’s to being done well and talk about what

could be even better to me that’s that’s another way in which I think we can change what tends to be standard

operating procedure which is let’s point out the mistakes

well and that can really work on an ecosystem level right like I I I’m right there alongside the two of you on the

whole like me Playing devil’s advocate was just that like I fully agree with what what’s been said I think too often

we see these as disparate things right the the big classes that are introductory that are faceless and

nameless but they’re really just you know 40 or 50 smaller ecosystems

within them and they can be portrayed like that and they can be run like that you know if we change the system right

if we figure out you know Billy is the leader of a team of you know 10 caring

Tas that can do the same things that Billy does you know in smaller groups and and things like that so I think

there’s there’s movement there already I think if for if we’re designing this

you know hope University I mean I would I if I had a choice I would say

there’d be a Mac the maximum class size would be relatively small

and if for whatever reason you’re saying we must have larger classes I think what

you said Pat is true I mean I taught a class of 200. where I said if we want it was critical

thinking class and I said well we need a dozen sections

where students are in smaller groups and have that kind of meaningful feedback and clearly these things are resource

intensive now there may be ways if there if it’s really a resource issue which I think if

we’re saying let’s build something based on some of the significant limitations we may have

it may be one Prof and a large number of students and then it’s like how do you

become most creative and most effective in designing teams of

10 students or smaller each that produce some of those same valuable

results so really can we come back just to a point

that I really resonated for me about how we are trained to to be critical of

arguments or concepts and that shows up in the ways in which we we take down or

we deconstruct somebody’s argument or project or research findings and we do that in our you know reviewer too or we

do that in a promotion evaluation document or we do that like we’re

trained and I I’m in I go to disciplinary conferences where people love that it’s a sport right it’s a

blood sport and it is one of the reasons why I’ve gravitated towards more

research that is applied and grounded and much more interested in teaching and learning because this is a community

that is not about Bloodsport I came across this thread uh the other day and

it’s still a very New Concept for me but um this guy named John Warner talks about the difference between debaters

and illuminators so Debaters in trench and I’m teaching of course on rhetoric right now so I’m like really into like

attuned to those nuances but that he argues that um illumination reveals a complex more

nuanced situation likely involving some measure of institutional failure and

that it takes a bunch of different concepts and puts them together in a cluster so that those Concepts

illuminate a larger complex Wicked problem whereas a debater goes and takes

a straw man or straw person will be gender inclusive about the meanness of this but then takes it down in order to

show that they’re right and so he’s making an argument here in public discourse but I think we could apply it

to the academy that we have we’ve created and we value and we’ve internalized the debater

sort of dynamic to the extent where we have lost the Illuminator which is

looking at beautiful and sometimes disparate Concepts putting them together as a cluster and allowing the collisions

between those Concepts to provide us with a different kind of lens

does that speak I feel like that speaks to both of your pedagogical philosophies that you are illuminators rather than

Debaters even though you just took each other on as devil’s advocate well

and I’d say you have your sophisticated rhetorician inebriated by the exuberance

of your own verbosity or no I think I think you have you’re you’re saying things in very eloquent terms that are

far more clever and interesting than how I would frame them so thank you for that

you know I have a few comments on it I mean the notion if you’re just think in a really simple way I’ve got this little

this light and it’s Illuminating

the whole thing of debate and as you characterize it

one of the biggest Follies and I will say this of human beings

is the desire to be right

so if we have systems that fuel the training in being right and making

others wrong it’s it’s I mean I could joke about it

but I say it’s gen it’s I get really emotional about this I mean if you look around the world right now

fundamentally it’s an us and of them with a right and a wrong

and if you can say that that is all based on a false sense of Separation

that we are all connected the the that juicy kind of feeling you

get of being right you know could be very much dislodged if

you could say it’s equivalent to your right arm tearing off your left arm

you know it’s not going to feel good for very long so I think there is really something

crucial to say let’s change the game you know can we can if we really are

Illuminating and I’m just kind of thinking out loud here we’re doing a better job of seeing right

you know what’s the old one about looking looking for your keys where you know not where you drop them but where the light is good so if we’re if we’re

actually Illuminating the whole thing it’s a process of saying we’re going to

see everything about it more fully and then we’re going to be able to solve

problems more effectively versus we’re going to make something binary and trash

one side of it yeah and when it’s back to your um and and I also love brene

Brown where she says there’s a difference between being right and getting it right

which is pretty fundamental and it’s the difference between a fixed finite mindset and a growth infinite mindset

and you’re right we have we have gotten into most of the problems of the world because we are fixed finite

and and right rather than growth infinite and getting it right

yeah I I think I mean in a lot of ways I think there’s a fundamental

misconception I remember when I was an undergrad and I I heard a commencement

speech I think it was uh Kenneth Galbraith and that this it’s kind of

weird in in recent days Recollections of threats of nuclear war that seem very

real as an undergrad in the 80s and he talked about you know two boys standing

in a garage with gasoline on the floor you know and one had five matches and

the other had seven matches and they’re arguing about who has the better strategic position or something like

that and you know there’s all these metaphors

if we View and I mean in a way I set this up without calling this for the

classroom but if you say we’re all if we’re all on the spaceship and there’s only so much

air you know but we all have to figure out how we’re going to breathe together anything that I put in I ultimately end

up breathing back myself if there’s that sense of being in it together there is

no Us in them you just behave dramatically differently

and you know in some ways I think it’s the fundamental failure of humanity

is the willingness to act like we’re separate and treat the other like object

and so we could say what we’re what we’re talking about is it’s always the microcosm of how do human beings

interact with each other and how do those with power um interact with those who are they are

to lean and you know I think that’s probably something again going to explode all the way back to my story I think very early on

in a sport context I saw horrible things of how parents

were all about winning and how certain kids you know there were kids who were

given playing time and kids were not giving playing time and probably very

early on something was born within me about if you’ve like

it’s this this thing right yeah you’re fired up about if you have power you

damn well better take care of the people who are you know under your whatever it

is Italy that just like it brings me to a

place of total circular sort of rap wrap up sort of in in a way you’ve already

answered this question but I’d really just love to know like you know what are the in teaching and learning in life

Etc what are the things that keep you up at night or what are the things that get you up in the morning that are just like

I gotta work on this or maybe they’re the same things who knows

ah um you know it’s funny it took me it took

me a long time to identify as what might be called

something like a sensitive person and I think a lot of what either

a lot of what keeps me up um and it’s almost what I found lately it’s

it’s almost like an unwillingness to unwillingness or inability to be with

inhumanity it’s like I it’s like in

I mentioned on doing this course um for the library and I it was I guess

or um uh advertise via Alum some alumni

channels I’ve had a number of former students I had one student in the class in this a woman who was in this program was in a

class with me 25 years ago and she sent me one of the most impactful emails I’ve ever had and she

said this was this was there was a breakdown of international peace talks and she

said you were clearly genuinely upset about this and kind of disappointed as

human beings that this is where we were at and I think when I allow myself that’s

what keeps me up at night is I mean I’ve asked this question and it

seemed to be it seems in some ways more more tame than the current but still

pretty awful over the last number of years I’ve asked myself this question of how do we lean in and listen

when we disagree so vehemently so that’s one all that realm of stuff

and there’s more sleeping is one of my weakest skills so things to keep me up

um I think what gets me going I mean I know on days when I’m going to be with

students just that that’s you know I I don’t think there’s been

too many of those who I go I’m gonna write a research paper today yes yeah it’s it’s I’m gonna I get to I get

to be with students the engagement the interaction the connection the energy

all of that that’s that’s what gets me going that’s what that’s what fuels me

that’s what I feel really blessed to be able to have those opportunities I mean it’s funny because I think a lot of my

colleagues the idea of sabbatical is you know the phrase might be I don’t have to

teach and I’m kind of like the downside is I don’t get to teach

and although some of the marking and Grading and the

bureaucracies I’m happy to be away from for me it’s the absence of that connection and engagement it’s almost

like my my fuel tank is never quite full or you know I’m running on fewer

cylinders because I don’t have that energization

that that feels like uh me as in the University administrator now right like I don’t get to teach right and it’s that

lack of connectivity with the students that’s so missing yeah I don’t understand all you silly people who are

great teachers who then go and do these things so you hardly ever teach well somebody has to change this to

change the system well thank you for doing that then yeah but you know it’s it’s tied back to your introduction that

the Pat gave you on the train wrecks and in in the title was the word generative

and generative and generativity is an entire field of social psychology that

talks about how do you build legacies that you will never benefit from so how do you build things that are deeply

generative it’s you know how do you plant a tree that you’ll never sit in the shade of um and one of my my friends works on

generativity and she disrupted this will not be new to you I’m sure you’re you’re

um you’re practicing this and anchoring it every day but that older people are were considered to be more generative

Eric Erickson who sort of was the the founder of generativity was like as you look into the Final Phase of your career

life whatever you look to build Legacy and yet my friend Heather Lawford found

and unlocked that generativity happens with young people and it happens with tremendous potential and power

um and that you can be generative at every stage and age of your your place

in the world and it is tied to purpose and making a difference and having a

positive impact on other humans and I think that that Billy you do that generatively in your work modeling

failure and train wrecks you do that in your classes and connection you do that and asking why not you do that in in

modeling silliness not in the absence but in the joy of being generous enough

for people to laugh with you not laugh at you and I think there’s something really different um about those two things and you invite

people to to come with their full and authentic selves with all of the messiness and complexity and

intersection that that that allows for so I just want to thank you on behalf of myself I’ve you’ve

you’ve given me light bulb moments I’ve written a number of things down that I’m going to percolate on and um just on

behalf of me and and Pat thank you for for joining us in conversation today it has been Illuminating

thank you so much um you know one of the things we could say

about why you know why do you be around certain people

and I don’t know that we actually distinguish this but it’s like who do you get to be

when you’re with this person and what you like who I get to be and your you

know your space or what you how you relating to me is just that’s just so

extremely generous and it’s you know I would like to be that guy

we’d love to have you be that guys and always and we’re so we’re so

grateful for all of the work that you do that a lot of it is invisible and a lot of it shows up in the you know the email

from somebody 25 years ago but you have that profound and magnifying effect on on so many people so thank you thank you

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