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Destined to teach others how to teach

Sue Fostaty Young can trace her beginnings as an educational developer all the way back to Grade 4, when her teacher was struggling with how to instruct the class on a math assignment. Frustrated and anxious for a solution, the teacher asked the class: Does anyone know how to teach this differently?

[Sue Fostaty Young]
Sue Fostaty Young ia an educational developer in the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at Queen's University. (Supplied photo)

Sue, now Dr. Fostaty Young, threw up her hand. “I can’t remember the exact scenario but I just said, ‘it might be easier if you do this and this and this.’ And it worked. Then I was asked to stay in at recess and help the other students work through the problem,” she says, laughing, remembering how she wasn’t too keen on the staying-in-at-recess part.

Of course, Dr. Fostaty Young had no inkling of her future work at the time, but looking back, it seems she was destined to work in the teaching and learning arena.

“I think my role in life has always been to help people be the best they can be. That’s a lot of what educational development is about,” she says.

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Dr. Fostaty Young has worked full-time as an educational developer in the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) for the past three years, but she has been active around the university for the better part of two decades.\

During the ‘90s, after completing her master’s in education at Queen’s and while working as an educational consultant, she co-wrote the book, Assessment and Learning: The ICE Approach, along with her former colleague and Queen’s Professor Emeritus Robert Wilson (Education). (Dr. Fostaty Young is also an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Education.)

ICE stands for Ideas, Connections, Extensions and focuses on helping students learn to learn. It’s about helping instructors get to the how of learning, essentially moving from fact-based learning to active learning and critical thinking, to helping students have those “aha!” moments.

The ICE book is well known and widely used, and Dr. Fostaty Young has been invited to speak about the approach at several conferences around the world. Two years ago the book was published in Japanese and since then, Dr. Fostaty Young has travelled to Japan twice, meeting with the deputy minister of education on the first trip. That meeting spurred greater interest and last year, she met with the director of education in Hiroshima to help the district incorporate ICE into the teaching and learning curriculum.

“ICE is alive and well in Japan,” she says. “It’s a country that has had a very didactic way of teaching for a long time. They were feeling left behind in the sweep toward active learning, and ICE is a great framework for them to make changes.”

Abroad, but also in Canada and at Queen’s, Dr. Fostaty Young has quickly become known as the ICE Queen.

“People think it’s quite funny to hear I am called the ICE Queen,” she says, smiling. “They think it doesn’t fit with my warm personality – I’m generally known as a very maternal figure.”

ICE Queen or not, Dr. Fostaty’s work in assessment and evaluation gave her a clear path into her current CTL position. She is one of three educational developers at the centre, along with Andy Leger and Klodiana Kolomitro, each with a separate portfolio. In a broader sense, Dr. Fostaty Young oversees the development and evaluation of all CTL programs, but specifically, her portfolio leads programming for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. And this year, she is excited that she’ll have the help of three educational development associates – doctoral students who will work with her to deliver workshops and other sessions for graduate students and post-docs.

“We really want to create space for conversations to happen around teaching for graduate students and post-docs. I’ve been really surprised to hear that many people don’t know about the CTL. We’ll be trying to go directly into departments to give instructors and students a better understanding of what’s available to them and how we can help in their specific contexts.

“In the past, a lot of the discussion around teaching practices has been done internally within departments. We want people to branch out and learn about strategies from across the board, especially in active learning, and take small steps to integrate new practices into their teaching. This is what the CTL is all about.”

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Sitting with Dr. Fostaty Young, it’s clear that she is a natural nurturer – she listens intently while looking at you with a warm gaze, and she responds consciously, taking in all possible scenarios before letting you come to your own conclusions. This warmth has served her well in her roles over the years – as a teacher herself, as a mother to three children, and in her work helping other teachers.

Dr. Fostaty Young first studied psychology at McGill and in the early ‘80s worked as a special education teacher for a pilot project school for severely handicapped students in Montreal, where she grew up. When she married and had children, she stayed at home with them for 12 years while her husband pursued medicine.

“Some of my friends have commented that I’ve done things in a completely backwards manner than them – in the sense that I only finished my PhD three years ago. I had my family, got them established, and then I moved more fully into my own career.”

But from that moment in Grade 4 when she helped her teacher, and then through high school, when she became a swimming instructor and helped revamp the criteria for swimming tests for the island of Montreal, it was evident she’d end up teaching others how to teach.

“It seems like it was something natural for me,” she says. “It was just what I did.”

And all of her experience has made her into the strong presence she is in the CTL. Her work in psychology feeds into her work now – it was behaviourally-oriented, and helped her develop her own critical thinking – and that winds its way into her experiences with professors and students at Queen’s.

“The emphasis in educational development is on education – it has to be educative. Everyone has to learn something. It’s a relationship – I learn something, too, as I work with instructors,” says Dr. Fostaty Young. “I want to start where people are – conceptually and contextually – which means meeting them in their departments. Then we grow from there.”