I taught psychology and business communications to college students for over five years and communication skills to adult learners for over ten years. Oh, and we can’t forget about teaching salsa dancing!
This is the Longest Cover Letter You Will Ever Read!
In 2019, I was nominated for a New Business of the Year award in my community. While I didn’t make the final cut, I was thrilled to be nominated and thankful to have had the opportunity to tell my story – to the judges, at least.
Most of the words and headings that follow are excerpts from the nomination package that I was required to complete. Ironically, even though I was being nominated for a new business award, the majority of what I wrote centred around my role as an educator and the enriching experiences I’ve had. If you make it to the end of this Longest Ever Cover Letter, you just might win my New Best Friend of the Year award!
Simon Sinek & Bruné Brown
Until I was introduced to the authors Simon Sinek and Bruné Brown, I was never really able to articulate my leadership style in the classroom. I knew I had a particular leadership style but just wasn’t quite sure how to describe it. Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last and Bruné Brown’s book Dare to Lead both articulated it for me in one word: safety.
Circle of Safety
Simon Sinek refers to a “Circle of Safety” where people are supported and empowered, not forced to follow the rules and do what they’re told. Bruné Brown refers to psychological safety where people experience trust and teamwork and don’t fear being humiliated or penalized if they make a mistake.
When I heard these two perspectives explained, I had aha moments. As a leader in the college community, I always saw my role as one that facilitates a feeling of safety, belonging and freedom, not one that looked for opportunities to control and penalize my students.
Welcome Video Introductions
Another way I’ve tried to create a safe space and connect with my students – before classes even start – is by posting video introductions on the learning management system for their course.
I introduce myself and take them on a tour of their classroom and remind them of their start date and time.
Modelling respect towards my students and providing a “Circle of Safety” within the classroom has resulted in many touching moments of feedback and expressions of appreciation when classes end for the session. In some cases, a mentorship-based, and even a friendship-based relationship has resulted.
Thanks to social media, I am able to stay in touch with my past students and watch their continued growth and development.
An innovative area that I’m deeply engaged with is asynchronous video interviews. If you just made a “huh?” expression, you’re not alone!
Asynchronous Video Interviews
Asynchronous video interviews are pre-recorded video responses to interview questions. This emerging trend is expected to become mainstream within a few years. To top it off, artificial intelligence is being developed to predict candidates’ characteristics and suitability.
Video in the Classroom
This emerging trend is the focus of my master’s thesis and one of the reasons why I think it’s so important to help students learn how to communicate effectively on video. I’ve been using video in the college classroom to practice and assess communication skills ever since I created my own video resume.
Another innovative tool I’ve used in the classroom is peerScholar, a peer and self-assessment tool developed by Steve Joordens and Dwayne Pare of the University of Toronto, Scarborough. Coincidentally, this is where I earned my psych degree back in 2010.
Not only was peerScholar used in my master’s research for assessment of video interviews, it was also used in several of my communications classes for writing-based assignments like blogs. Assessing peers encouraged self-awareness, compassion, and confidence in students. It was heartwarming to read the messages students shared with each other!
Bringing innovative ideas to the classroom and encouraging students to embrace emerging trends not only makes learning more enjoyable, it also helps prepare them for the world of work.
Respect as a Core Value
Respect has been the single most important core value to me in the classroom. In fact, it is always part of Day 1 housekeeping discussions when a new session starts.
The infographic below was actually created several years ago when I developed a course while teaching at Durham Continuing Education. I created a course called Social Skills for Success, which was based on what it meant to show respect in a school context. I designed this infographic and have used it ever since.
For over a decade, I’ve worked in the field of education where diversity and inclusion are part of the institutional fabric and are at the core of future programming and initiatives.
Diversity of Students
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to teach newcomers to Canada, students with learning, developmental, and physical limitations, adult students returning to complete high school, millennial and Gen Y post-secondary students, and students in the LGBTQ community. I think it would be more accurate to say that I’ve had the privilege to learn from these students.
In order to encourage respect and awareness of differing cultures, abilities, and perspectives, I looked for opportunities to create Durham College video introductions that showcased diversity including videos with international students, staff in the International Office, staff in the Office of Student Diversity, Inclusion and Transitions, and staff in the First Peoples Indigenous Centre. I also assisted the First Peoples Indigenous Centre by creating a video to promote self-identification and to encourage students to take advantage of the available services offered through the Centre.
One of my favourite college classes to teach is on the theme of cultural diversity. Culture encompasses so much more than simply the customs and practices of our national heritage. It involves the multiple subcultures that intersect within our own lives and with the lives of others.
Diversity & Abilities
When discussing diversity in terms of differing abilities, I share with my students a video resume that I recorded for Chris Del Duca, an alumnus of the college who uses a wheelchair.
I love to share the backstory of how we met on the dance floor of a Pickering nightclub and to reinforce Chris’s take-home message in the video:
“Above all else, my message to everyone is that I’m not helpless. I’m not hopeless.
I’m someone who has always, on a daily basis, needed to problem-solve and think creatively to get past my barriers, but I always manage.
Finally, please understand that I’m a person before somebody with a disability, and I am capable of anything I set my mind to. “Chris Del Duca
Chris impacted dozens of my students as a result of his video and the myth-busting discussions that followed. He also continues to impact me with his stellar sense of humour and unwavering positivity. In fact, he taught me a term that I refer to in difficult times: reframe. When faced with an obstacle, reframe it – be solution-oriented!
The Power of Video
Video is a very powerful medium to share stories and allow people the opportunity to express their message in a meaningful way. Perhaps even more so for marginalized and vulnerable populations and for those often misunderstood.
The majority of my community involvement over the years has been centred around salsa dancing.
Latin dance has been a passion of mine for several years, and I would often be asked by friends and coworkers where people could learn salsa dancing in the Durham area.
Durham Dance Salsa
This led to the establishment of Durham Dance Salsa (2012) where I provided dance instruction from my home as well as through the Town of Whitby and at a variety of external locations in both a paid and voluntary capacity. Additionally, I hosted dance events in the Durham community and was invited to lead three Latin dance events during the PanAm Games.
In 2015, I transferred the reigns of Durham Dance Salsa to Julio Arriechi, an established Latin DJ, who not only sustained what I started but grew it into a thriving social dance community creating supplementary business for establishments in Pickering, Ajax, and Whitby.
30 Days of Dance Challenge
I love to get involved with my community by sharing my strengths and interests and by contributing to the joy of others.
In April of 2019, I combined my interest in video creation and salsa dancing by initiating a 30 Days of Dance challenge. Every day, during the month of April, I attended a dance-related event and posted a video of my experience on social media.
This created a greater awareness of the dance events available to those living in the Durham region including those offered through Durham Dance Salsa, The Love of Salsa, The Music Scene, Arthur Murray Ajax, and beyond.
Salsa Dancing on the Job
In June of 2019, I shared my love of dance with those in the Durham College community by co-hosting a Professional Development Day session entitled Summertime Dance Social. It was among the most popular sessions offered that day, so we were invited back to co-host another dance session at the fall PD Day.
Social Media Ambassador
The most significant involvement I’ve had within the community, beyond dance, has been through LinkedIn video introductions.
In my volunteer role as a social media ambassador of Durham College, I wanted to find a way to contribute positively to the Durham College community.
In November 2018, I initiated a project to promote community-building within the college and to introduce faculty and staff to the LinkedIn community by way of video introductions.
LinkendIn Video Introduction Challenge
This project of approximately 50 videos, clocking upwards of 200 volunteer hours, resulted in the engagement of tens of thousands of views, likes, comments, and shares within my LinkedIn network alone. However, the greater value gained from this initiative reached far beyond numbers.
Impact of Video Introduction Challenge
I personally met dozens of my Durham College colleagues, established new friendships and collaborations, was introduced to parts of the college I never knew existed, and made hundreds of new connections within the LinkedIn community.
It was also heartwarming to read all of the comments that were shared between people through these videos. Expressions of appreciation were shared between students and past professors, collaborations were created between professionals, and mutual connections and interests were discovered through LinkedIn video introductions.
I strongly believe that cross-promotion and collaboration is an important part of engaging with your community. Collaboration has always been one of my core values and will continue to be as I move forward as an educator and solopreneur.
My level of enthusiasm towards work and life might be well summed up in this image.
In fact, this image occupies page 7 of the Durham College 2019/2020 Business Plan. When I first saw it there, I gasped, but then I laughed. This is me, after all. This photo was taken at the Summertime Dance Social PD session mentioned above.
Fun as a Core Value
It is no surprise that a picture like this exists, as one of my core values and basic needs is fun. While that may sound flippant, it is grounded in theory, namely, Glasser’s Choice Theory.
Glasser’s Choice Theory
Whatever behaviour we exude, it serves a purpose in fulfilling one of five basic needs: survival, love & belonging, power, freedom, and fun. According to Glasser, a basic need for fun includes humour, play, relaxation and relevant learning. I always try to bring positive and appropriately playful energy to my work and classroom.
Heather Harrison Rocks!
Oh, and I would be remiss not to mention where I learned about Choice Theory – and who gave me permission to value fun! That would be my dear friend and colleague, Heather Harrison.
Building relationships, to me, needs to be authentic and without ulterior motives. I truly enjoy networking, meeting new people, collaborating on ideas, and giving back whenever I can.
- Through teaching, I’ve developed positive and ongoing relationships with colleagues and students.
- Through creating videos, both in a paid and voluntary capacity, I have established relationships with those in a variety of leadership roles in educational institutions, business owners in the local community, and those in the entrepreneurial and social media marketing space on LinkedIn.
- Through teaching salsa, I’ve developed relationships with individuals in the Durham area, which has come full circle allowing me to share this passion with those in my professional and local community.
You made it! It looks like you’re my new best friend!
The bottom line from this epic cover letter is that I love being an educator and being a part of a community that’s all about learning, growing, and thriving.
Whether it be in the classroom, in the community, or on the dance floor – if there is something I can do to contribute to your joy and success, I’ll do it.