Education Alumni Q&A: Stephen Leppard (‘86 BEd, ‘92 MEd)

We asked Faculty of Education alumni to reflect on their teacher journeys, offer advice to their younger selves, and salute the educators who had an impact on them professionally and personally. Here’s what they told us.

Why did you choose education as a career?

With four generations of foreparents alternating between preaching or teaching living within my DNA, I felt drawn to a life of serving others, but a precise vocation was uncertain. Being an educator was a decision I wrestled with for several years after graduating high school. After working several jobs and hearing exciting stories of campus accomplishments from childhood friends and peers, who were proceeding with career choices, I hesitantly entered the Faculty of Education.

My undergraduate transcripts will testify that the first few years saw me stumble and falter, only to have the choice of being a teacher confirmed with each successive field experience.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of teaching that you discovered during your career?

As a student who oscillated between dutiful learning engagement and feeling disenfranchised, I cherished and celebrated observing previously struggling students successfully overcome obstacles. Educators, who are skilled observers, can witness successful moments either immediately after explaining a previously daunting task, or in the months and, perhaps, years that follow a student leaving their classroom. Regardless of the timeframe, such accomplishments are heartwarming and the reason many teachers return to the classroom each fall.

Another rewarding aspect stems from providing a safe space where Education students can have their fledgling teacher identity nurtured and strengthened. As the beneficiary of a skilled mentor’s inspiring kindness and generosity of spirit, I can testify to the power of a field experience where sequential guidance and skillful coaching lift both competence and confidence.

I’ve also had the good fortune of seeing my investment of mentoring pay dividends as several U of A graduates have become impactful teachers in the lives of my children.

If you could tell your younger-self a piece of teaching advice, what would it be?

A career as an educator is both, and at times simultaneously, arduous and joyous. I can testify that throughout my 30-plus years my best work for and with students and staff members has been when I have taken the time to take care of myself and the people who care for me.

If you had to thank or acknowledge another educator for inspiring or supporting you, what would you say?

The following educators have been influencers in my career, but equally importantly, many have been the people who have taken care of me.

Joanne Neal: As an undergraduate, Joanne distinguished herself as a brilliant Education student, with the intelligence to simplify the complex. Her ability to clearly articulate her finely honed pedagogical understandings would continue to serve her well in a career that included classroom teaching, instructing preservice teachers and creating curriculum at the provincial level.

Robin Preece: Robin was the mentor teacher who, during my final field experience, created a nurturing, yet challenging, mentoring environment that activated the educator within me.Though with Robin for only a short time, I was inspired by her abilities to see the learning potential within each child.

Mel Parsons: As a recent graduate I had the tremendous good future of continuing my teacher learning with Mel. A highly regarded and iconoclastic educator within the early childhood teacher community, this gifted educator coupled profound teaching mastery with a gentle disposition. This impactful educator instilled in me that teachers must continually strive for continued learning.

Jackie Hobal: As a school administrator Jackie encouraged all those she worked with to continually improve their teaching practice and be unsatisfied with existing teaching, school and system practices. As one who challenged and questioned current norms that didn’t align with recent pedagogical discoveries, Jackie's fearless pursuit of forward thinking educational initiatives continues to inspire me.

Sandra Woitas: Returning to the Faculty of Education each summer I had the good fortune of having Sandra Woitas as an instructor for my first graduate level courses. Her energy and enthusiasm for continuous learning was infectious and propelled me to invest more time and energy to learn more about teaching and learning. It quickly became apparent that this highly regarded local teacher and school administrator, with a reputation for undertaking dynamic school reforms, would be a mentor.

Carolyn Yewchuk: During daily ‘norm questioning’ and ‘possibility probing’ graduate class discussions, which explored learning opportunities for gifted and talented students, Dr. Yewhcuk is remembered for sharing two pivotal and thought provoking quotes, the first being,

“Take care of the affective domain and the cognitive will take care of itself.” While the statement oversimplifies the complexity of teaching and learning, the hyperbolic sentiment shines through and was pivotal in the formation of my pedagogical mindset.

Dr. Yewchuk’s second memorable quote has been shared in conversations with educators who are overly concerned with planning for test score success, “History will not remember the good test taker! Rather, what is more important is what that student does with their new knowledge.”

Rick Knowles: This exemplary administrator demonstrated through his words and actions that for a school to flourish, all students need to feel included and successful. Rick’s willingness to assume responsibility to teach a core junior high class was laudable and gave this sterling administrator ‘current teaching credibility’ during pedagogical discussions with staff.

Ken Ward: Ken's encouragement to take what was being created to help student teachers and mentors succeed and apply to the doctoral program at the U of A has always been deeply appreciated. Ken’s optimism and guidance was also appreciated when applying for on-campus teaching opportunities, while dealing with several health concerns and during dissertation defense.

Darrin Park: Educational field trips can, and should, be a transformational learning event in the lives of students. For nearly two decades this award-winning educator oversaw the detailed preparatory planning and successful execution of week long, out-of-country, multi-location field trips. Darrin appreciates that authentic learning happens when students touch, observe, smell, hear and feel a part of their learning.

Wes Craig: An exemplary teacher, Wes routinely demonstrated the balance of being incredibly focused with regards to student learning while also advocating for teachers as a negotiating member of the Edmonton Local (Alberta Teachers Association). Many of Wes’s former students will attest that their young lives were impacted, perhaps even altered for the better, by taking part in the life-affirming learning experience which was the yearly Kananaskis country backpacking trip.

Larry Beauchamp: As a means of staying meaningfully engaged with his Faculty’s graduate students, Dean Beauchamp availed himself to instruct summer classes. During a summer course, Larry continued to impress me, and the entire class, with his wit, wisdom and scholarly advice. His presence in the classroom, and apparently in the Faculty itself, left a lasting impression.

Olenka Bilash: Like a lighthouse beacon, Dr. Bilash beams confidence and enlightens those with the good fortune to have her as an advisor. While being buffeted and bruised during a doctoral program, her brilliant scholarly advice provided calibrated support and encouragement in timely, masterful moments of kindness.