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ISSOTL 2020 Fellows Spotlight – Pat Maher

Pat Maher
Dean of Teaching and Professor of Physical and Health Education
Nipissing University

What drew you to SoTL? I’m not exactly sure what drew me to SoTL; I sort of feel like I was always there.  Since I was an undergraduate student, I’ve felt the inherent connection between disciplinary research and the need for strong engagement with teaching and learning.  Teaching and research were interconnected in the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism at Lakehead University, and that ethos followed me through my PhD at Lincoln University in New Zealand.  I remember others criticizing the teaching load I carried as a postgraduate student, even though I had a substantial international scholarship financially supporting my work.  There was just something about it that felt “right”; aligning my praxis and walking the talk.

When I came back to Canada, I knew I needed to find a place where my teaching expression and innovation would be as valued as my research endeavors – and I found that at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).  Having left UNBC a number of years ago now, I’ve still chosen to teach and inspire from smaller, more liberal arts-types of universities – having felt they were a place that I could teach well, in unique ways, and study the ways in which my teaching impacted learners. Places I could be the role model I sought.

What does being an ISSOTL Fellow mean to you? For me, being an ISSOTL Fellow is about joining a “family”; a place where like-minded individuals can come together and share ideas and opportunities.  I think I’d liken it to an international smorgasbord – we all come to the table with our own cultures, flavors, etc. and we share (or load up our plate) with respect and generosity. I think my view of the ISSOTL Fellowship comes partly from my experience with the Canadian 3M National Teaching Fellowship.  Having been named a 3M NTF in 2014, I’ve seen how that national community has nurtured me.  So I guess my appetite was there to find an international cohort of colleagues – those beyond my own research discipline, where I see tremendous comraderie, but have also felt a bit of interdisciplinary tension.

So for me being an ISSOTL Fellow is both a recognition of the past and an inspiration towards the future.  Now that I’m a Dean I can provide many more opportunities to junior colleagues, students, staff; however, I still yearn for growth and mentorship too. 

What advice would you give to ISSOTL members looking to better engage others in SoTL? I’d say it comes down to roughly four key items:

  1. be open (to whatever comes your way, whether that’s projects, funding, speaking engagements, etc.);
  2. be transparent (folks value your input if they know it’s genuine and from the heart;
  3. be equitable (for me this is probably the most difficult – as a white, middle-aged, heterosexual male from a wealthy first-world country; but I can recognize my privilege and need to account for it, but also provide tremendous ally-ship because of it);
  4. be flexible and compassionate (this is especially true over the past 18 months, but has been a starting point for my work since the beginning). 

As a new administrator, vs. a long-time faculty member; the road has changed slightly now that some consider me to have “crossed over to the dark side”, but I’m still the same educator, researchers, husband, father… the same human I’ve always been.  In fact, now I have more responsibility to grow Teaching and Learning farther beyond myself.

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