The opening of day two started with hearing from Mary Burgess who is the director of BC Campus. Her openness encouraged being welcoming and a whole person. She shred personal things about herself before talking about her work because she wants to be seen as a person.

Watch to the recording here.

It was probably the most real introduction I have heard, which was amazing. She want to be seen as more than just a person who does a job. I need to work at decreasing the separation between my personal and professional self when I do introductions.

What are we doing here?

Mary wants to get us to reflect – she isn’t going to tell us what to think but help us decide what we need to do. She prompts us to wake up and about how to deal with students with several real life situations that students deal with.

  • Sitting in the back because they are worried they might need to leave the room crying
  • Handing in an assignment that is poorly done due to big life circumstances

Feeling Welcomed

Feeling welcomed is important. We shared stories to help us feel welcomed. I really liked that she gave us ground rules that we are to listen (not fix).

Others shared that they were surprised by how open the conversation was. It was not about stuff like where we work. It was challenging to just listen. For me, it was difficult to focus on listening because others had shared experiences – it was difficult to not try and help them solve a challenge that deeply resonated with me. I also had a hard time not engaging in personal disclosure as we had some common experiences. Even though I teach students about the importance of listening it was hard for me to do in this situation.

Truly empathizing was important. We talked about our stories when we felt included and what happened. In all our stories it lead to some kind of empowerment.

Approaches to Empathy

  • Recognition of good work that is being done
  • Being given a chance
  • Believing in someone
  • Taking actions (like encouraging someone to go to conferences)
  • Pushing someone to think about opportunities
  • Encouragement
  • Mentorship is important
  • Good management is important
  • Feeling trusted to do well with the pieces
  • Structured freedom may work for some

Participants shared how great it felt to share the positive experiences. It can be more emotional to talk about the negative. Talking about the positive experiences is so important to share experiences like this. It was harder to come up with experiences to share when we were challenged to think of positive experiences. I found it exciting to listen to the positive stories. Positive affirmations can be like judgement but it feels okay to do. Cheering people on can help to build others up but we need to be cautious not to change the direction of the experience.

This would be a great idea for educators to use in a classroom. We as humans have a tendency to lead-in to the complaint. What is one thing we can do in our classrooms? There are so many take-aways from this session. One simple one is doing this same activity in our classroom to set up an empathetic classroom. In my experience liberating structures work.

Getting to know each other as humans in the classroom helps us be nicer to people. I think I can definitely use this activity as an opening class for the term to set a positive tone for the rest of the term.

There is a power and ripple effect that comes from being respected. It helps us feel like we can accomplish more. Even if we already do this we can do it more. Asking more questions in an inquisitive way is a small change we can do to show interest in student lives. When they feel heard it may change their lives.

We should surround ourselves with people who are encouraging. We need to empower others and be careful about how much negativity we expose ourselves to. Talk to people who are interested.

Interesting thought: Praising accomplishments is more important than supporting people in a difficult time.


Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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