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Executive Director's Quarterly Report - April 1 - June 30, 2022

This quarter we have done a lot of learning and also a great deal of unlearning.

We’ve sat with the discomfort of marking the 30 month anniversary of a global pandemic.

We have tackled the books Ungrading, which asks us to rethink the foundations of assessment at the heart of our work as educators

We’ve had to adapt to unstable external funding streams for our OLTC program.

We experienced the impact of covid on international exchanges and travel.

In our approach to inter-institutional collaborations, we place more value on getting it right rather than being right; thanks to this mindset we’ve gleaned tremendous insights and advanced the vision of quality undergraduate education within our institutions and beyond.

Indeed, Adam Grant, in his new book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, argues that the ability to rethink and unlearn might matter even more than intelligence or knowledge mastery.

In this book, Grant references Canadian-American writer and professor Phil Tetlock, famous for his leadership model of “thinking like a preacher, a prosecutor, and a politician.” In this influential leadership theory, a preacher already knows the truth, a prosecutor is trying to win an argument, and a politician will just tell you what you want to hear.

Instead, Grant suggested thinking like a scientist. Grant defines the “scientist” role in the following way:

“you don't let your ideas become your identity. You value humility over pride, curiosity over conviction, and when you have an opinion, you realize that is just a hunch. It's a hypothesis waiting to be tested.”

[NB. he could have well used the phrase a humanist, social scientist, or any member of the academy.]

One of my favourite examples of this humility and curiosity is from Positive Psychologist Martin Seligman: after building an entire career on behavioural psychology, he had to chuck out 30+ years of work when advancements in neurobiology revealed startling mechanisms were hitherto unimagined.

He thought that helplessness was learned. But he was wrong.

In his original theory, when an organism is subjected to stimuli that are painful or unpleasant, combined with the realization they have no control over the situation, they become unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable.”

A few years ago, though, “Seligman and his original collaborator Steve Maier realized that their original theory of learned helplessness was actually backwards. The passivity and the feeling of lack of control experienced in their learned helplessness experiments was actually the default response, an automatic, unlearned reaction to prolonged adversity, and what must actually be learned is hope-- the perception that one can control and harness the unpredictability in one's environment” for better future outcomes.

In 2018 Seligman outlines his brand-new findings of a “hope circuit” where higher-order beings (like humans) can re-wire our brains as we move from helplessness (the default) to hope (learned).

This was a revelation because it means WE CAN re-wire our brains from nope to hope.

Furthermore, if brains are the most complex systems – with pathways, connectors, and routes – can we use this concept to help us rewire other systems like our classrooms, our universities, our social institutions?

What are the tools we need re-wire ourselves and our systems in order to see new pathways to action and to social change? This is where the Maple League comes in: we have been learning and unlearning together for the past quarter (and for the past four years) as we move into new, future-facing spaces as leaders in high quality undergraduate education. Indeed, the consortium functions as a hope circuit for higher education in Canada and beyond, and we continue to build those pathways, connections, and hubs so that we continue to challenge the actual in the name of the possible.

~ Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director, Maple League of Universities

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