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Reflecting on the ISW one year later

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By Micaela Kwiatkowski

Posted on June 27, 2023 | Updated June 28, 2023, 12:07pm

Filed in Faculty

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Heather Fitzgerald

My first encounter with the Instructional Skills Workshop was in October 2021 when the Teaching and Learning Centre team and a couple of Emily Carr University faculty members signed up. It was one of the first times we were all together on campus since the start of the covid-19 pandemic and one of the first real in-person events since I joined in August 2020. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I had heard about the ISW workshop during my graduate work at Simon Fraser University but hadn’t had the chance to complete one. The ISW is a four-day intensive workshop that includes developing and delivering three ten-minute mini-lessons. It is led by a certified facilitator and typically has 5-6 participants. Throughout the workshop, you receive verbal, written, and video feedback from the participants. The workshop was designed for post-secondary instructors that may have not received formal teacher training.

Initially, I was hesitant about creating and delivering short lessons in front of my colleagues and receiving feedback from them, with very little time for preparation. It felt unnerving. I had not had very much formal teacher training and we all had different levels of teaching experience and expertise. When the facilitator suggested we deliver the lesson on anything at all, I relaxed and considered how I could introduce my colleagues to something new they might not know about me. I decided to deliver one lesson on chair yoga and one on a metalsmithing technique. That act of sharing became a small act of vulnerability and community building. I gave my colleagues a lesson on something important to me and in return, I learned something new about them. I learned about singing in harmony, Dogma95, plant pressing, making a thaumatrope, and much more during that first ISW. In those small acts of delivering mini-lessons, we built a sense of trust between one another.

I saw that both new and experienced instructors could do the ISW together; we could all experiment with different lesson plans or teaching strategies even if we were at different stages of learning. The process of giving and receiving feedback became something I looked forward to. It was insightful and encouraging. I learned things about my teaching that I didn’t expect from this feedback and collegial sharing. I heard from them that I have a calm and caring demeanor that supports earning but also that it might support my learners to go a bit off script during lessons and relax rather than maintaining a false barrier between me and them. As the days progressed, I watched my colleagues experiment with new approaches, based on feedback they were receiving, such as discovery and active learning, which in turn built their confidence and curiosity for teaching.

Now, as an ISW facilitator I have witnessed a similar process unfold each time I deliver an ISW. The ISW gives post-secondary instructors some of the necessary basics of teaching such as lesson planning, developing learning objectives, and assessing learning in a short and effective time period. I have been enchanted by the ISW and the way it fosters a gradual building of instructor confidence by allowing them to explore a new avenue of teaching and witnessing how other instructors engage their learners. This enchantment spreads out to the community of ISW facilitators within Canada and across the globe, where we have met to collaborate and listen to one another’s experience facilitating and the rewards and challenges that comes with it. I would encourage anyone who is interested in receiving insight on their teaching from others or wanting to try something without the pressures of an entire classroom to do the workshop. After reflecting on my own experience with the ISW I asked some of the 25 ECU ISW alumni over the past year to reflect on their own experience taking or facilitating the ISW.

I asked some ISW participants and facilitators from the ECU community to reflect on their own thoughts about the ISW….

“I have participated in two ISWs and facilitated 4 now, and what strikes me with every one is how powerful these workshops are at quickly creating supportive and often transformative learning communities. With every new group of ISW participants, I ask myself: will this group come together? will they find meaningful connections between their practice and those of other participants? I worry every time that this will be the group that fails to connect, or worse, falls apart. But every group has transformed from a loose collection of individual instructors with their own concerns and priorities to a supportive and caring collective that works for the good of the whole. I call it the ISW magic, and it's happened every single time -- to the point that I'm starting to believe that it's not just luck. I think this potential for magic is baked into the model itself -- when you create an intensive learning space that feels safe enough for people to be vulnerable with one another, to try things that scare them in front of people who have their back, a kind of transformation can take place.”

- Heather Fitzgerald

“Rather than receiving teaching tips and ideas, the workshop sets up opportunities for in-depth analysis of each participant's teaching approaches. Although I've taught for 15 years, I learned a lot about how to engage students more effectively, no matter what content or type of lesson is being used. I have since re-designed aspects of how I'm working with classes this semester. Plus, the experience was fun, with a lot of laughter and interactions with a small group of people.”

-Nick Conbere

“In addition to receiving feedback on my own lesson plans and teaching style in a low pressure space that encouraged risk taking – a rare and beneficial experiences in itself – the opportunity to see the teaching styles of my peers was invaluable, and a welcome reminder of the range of voices, approaches, practices, and pedagogies working at Emily Carr.”

-Jean Chisholm

“Facilitating the ISW has given me the opportunity to get to know other instructors, while supporting them to develop their unique skills and approaches in the classroom. Because the content is directed by the participants, no two workshops are the same, which keeps me on my toes!”

  -Sunny Nestler 

Are you interested in participating in an ISW or becoming an ISW facilitator? Contact us at for information about upcoming events.