By Karen Kelly
Each September, Sarah Todd begins her undergraduate class with the “teeth flossing challenge”. Her assignment for the class is twice-daily flossing—something few of them are doing. It quickly becomes a lesson in how difficult it is for people to change.
“This is a concrete, easy change for people with stable lives and they still struggle with it,” says Todd, who uses it to teach a fundamental aspect of social work education. “As we study how to support people to make changes, we keep circling back to the flossing, because it’s a reminder that change is hard for everybody.”
Challenging students to question their own assumptions is a hallmark of Todd’s teaching style. It is also one of the reasons she has been named one of only ten recipients of the 2019 3M National Teaching Fellowship.
“There is an abundance of evidence illustrating Todd’s exceptional contributions to the Canadian post-secondary teaching environment, her outstanding educational leadership across and beyond Carleton University, her exceptional gift for teaching and dedication to student success,” said Adrian Chan, professor in the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering who nominated Todd.
The national teaching fellowship was created by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) and 3M Canada to recognize exceptional contributions to teaching and learning in Canadian post-secondary education.
Previously, Todd has won numerous teaching awards at Carleton University, including the Provost’s Fellowship in Teaching and the Faculty of Public Affairs Teaching Fellowship. She is also the recipient of the prestigious Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) Teaching Award.
Todd credits Carleton University with giving her the freedom to explore new ideas in the classroom.
“While this award is given to one person, it speaks volumes to the creativity and support that Carleton puts into teaching and learning,” she says. “There are exciting conversations about new ways to teach and support creativity in the classroom. There are always people to talk to about turning things around. This ensures the classroom doesn’t become stale for educators or students. When the classroom is exciting and fresh, lots of interesting learning happens.”
A Love of Teaching
Sarah Todd was first exposed to teaching as a TA. She hated public speaking, so she was shocked to discover that she loved being at the front of a classroom.
“It was the first time I did something I truly loved,” she recalls.
After receiving a master’s degree in Social Work, she went on to earn her EdD in Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). There, she discovered many areas where social work and teaching and learning intersected.
“In both, you have to learn as much as you teach,” she says. “I don’t see myself as a professional who is imparting expertise. It’s more of a dialogue in the classroom that facilitates learning.”
She also cites the embrace of experimental teaching practices within social work education as a motivator.
“We have been engaged in experiential education with community partners for decades, but we also experiment with the latest teaching technologies like AI-based professional training,” she explains. “We are leaders in negotiating and supporting student mental health challenges. We are not just training students to become social workers, we are challenging and encouraging them to make a difference in some of our most vulnerable communities.”
Now that Todd is a 3M National Teaching Fellow, she will continue to support teaching and learning at Carleton and through larger, collaborative initiatives, supported by the Council of 3M Fellows and the STLHE.
She will also attend a retreat in the Fall with the other ten recipients.
“I’m really excited to hang out with other people who are so interested in teaching and learning,” says Todd. “I look forward to learning from them.”
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