Excellent teachers are also effective leaders

Excellent teachers are also effective leaders

Photo by: Dan Fleming

By: A/SLt 24498 Noelani Shore (RMC 2009)

Nowhere are excellent teachers more important than at the Royal Military College, as cadets need effective leaders to guide and mentor them on their way to becoming great leaders themselves.

The importance of great teachers is reinforced by awarding the Class of 1965 Teaching Excellence Award. This year, it was presented to Dr. Heather Evans, Department of English, on Nov 30 at Currie Hall.

Stephen J. Arnold, 6588, introduced the award, and was a member of the class committee whose activities led to the funding of this award by the class on the occasion of their 25th reunion. The award was first presented in 1992 to Dr. Craig Moffatt.

“This year’s ex-cadet weekend was a very important occasion for members of the Class of 65. Over a four day period, we celebrated the fact that it had been 45 years since graduation from RMC. It was also the occasion for us to join the Old Brigade, catch up with old friends and reflect upon our experiences,” he said.

Leadership is an important aspect of the Teaching Award, and it is especially important to the Class of 65, made evident in their own successes. There have been a total of four Commandants across all three college from the Class of 65, as well as 11 General or flag officers, the Heads of all three services, the appointment of several class members to the position of chief executive officer in their respective organization, not to mention that three of the top 10 donors are graduates.

“The Class of 65 is the poster class in terms of support of the College. They have donated $1.6 million since their graduation, the largest amount among the 93 RMC classes that have donated to the College, making up nearly 12 percent of all donations. They have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring the college will advance,” said Glenn Allen, a member of the Board of Directors for  RMC Foundation.

The Class of 65’s interest in leadership is reflected by endowing the Class of 1965 Teaching Excellence Award in perpetuity.

“How does this interest and success in leadership, among members of the Class of 1965, lead them to endow a teaching award?” Arnold asked. “I suggest that an instructor, who is recognized by this award, is also a very effective leader. That is, the excellent teacher delivers a top-ranked course by exhibiting the same proficiency, social capacity and personality characteristics that the text, Leadership in the Canadian Forces: Conceptual Foundations, says the effective commander uses to lead those for whom they are responsible.”

Dr. Evans, who has taught at RMC since 2005, demonstrated excellent leadership skills as her course was well organized, she intellectually challenged and stimulated interest in course material, and she related the course to each student’s experience and background.

Upon receiving the award, Dr. Evans thanked the Class of 65 for furthering the support of the education pillar at RMC, as well as the students who nominated her.

“I would also like to thank the teachers for sharing their expertise and mentorship, as well as their love of literature. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work among such high calibre scholars,” she said.

Dr. Evans delivered a lecture called “Is he not solid gold?” Sacrifice, Soldiers, and Fairly Tales at RMC, about a short story by Oscar Wilde called The Happy Prince.

This story is a popular text among the undergraduates, and it generates dynamic discussions about the value of self-sacrifice.

The Happy Prince was once protected from the evil and ugliness of his city, but he is turned into a lead statue flaked in gold, and he is burdened with the sorrow of the poor citizens. With the help of a sparrow, the prince distributes the jewels in his sword and eyes, and peels away all the gold to help the poor.

“In the story, the prince sacrifices everything for his people, and some say that he is, for this reason, a hero. The cadets challenged this interpretation, claiming that the duty of the King is to be infinitely more loyal to his people than the people to their King,” Dr. Evans explained. “In short, the Prince has a professional obligation to sacrifice himself, and the prince is bound by the principle of unlimited liability; his willingness to sacrifice himself didn’t make him a hero, it just made him a capable soldier.”

The cadets are challenged by tremendous demands on their time, and in general they use synergy to focus their efforts.

“The students here hardly have time to catch their breath – I’ve seen them all worn out, sleeping in my class. They use synergy to help them divide their time, and this can sometimes lead to a rejection of certain courses, ones that they don’t deem relevant to their needs, but this story is happily not dismissed,” she said.

Engineers have the added difficulty of a demanding workload, and there is also the preconception that “teaching engineers about literature is like force feeding ballroom dancing to sumo wrestlers; they don’t like it, they’re not good at it, and it’s not pretty,” she said.

But the lessons learned from literature are paramount to the development of outstanding officers. They learn to be creative, capable of developing new plans to unimaginable situations, they become adaptable and innovative, and they will gain respect of other cultures. Empathy taught in education is a complementary exercise to all of the military training cadets receive before they graduate.

“Literature helps the cadets understand their increasingly complicated lives,” she said.

Training is a predictable response to predictable scenarios, but education is a reasoned response to unpredictable scenarios.

“There is nothing more important than the excellence of our teachers. If we don’t have that right, we don’t really have anything right. And it’s so important that we reinforce this importance with recognitions like the Teaching Excellence Award,” said Dr. Sokolsky, Principal of RMC.