School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Mind, body, and spirit – Meet Barbara Laing

PhD Candidate in Education

by Phil Gaudreau

Barbara Laing

There are those moments in life that just give you goosebumps – that sensation that you’ve experienced something incredible, and your life will never be the same from that point on.

How do people experience the serendipitous as spiritual? How do these moments impact learning? And how is this learning shared with others? Barbara Laing (B.Ed’05) wants to find out.

The PhD student, originally from Mississauga, says a lot of moments from her life that she identifies as spiritual in nature have contributed to her learning and development, and so she enrolled at Queen’s to further explore how adult learners grow through those opportunities.

“As I was teaching I'd often have these goosebump moments – the things that most people write off as just a coincidence,” she says. “And I don't and can't tell what causes those moments specifically, though I have my own personal beliefs that I that I like to celebrate and enjoy. My biggest realization came from seeing how impactful these moments could still be regardless of what we call them or where they stem from.”

Barbara came to Queen’s to complete her Bachelor of Education in 2005, and afterwards moved overseas to England, where she eventually settled in a seaside town called Broadstairs. She travelled back and forth across the ocean for a number of years as she completed her Masters degree in Toronto, and kept herself busy teaching, working in community arts education, writing poetry, and volunteering.

During that time, Barbara found herself working at a secondary school in the U.K. with the worst scores in literacy and numeracy for four years – an experience that she found deeply impactful.

“I saw the effort that we were putting in to try and implement all of these strategies, and I saw growth happening on a one-to-one basis, or on a heart level, with inner transformation and things of that nature,” she says. “But it wasn't necessarily something you could measure in a traditional way. And so, I found myself wanting to bring my whole self into whatever project I was pursuing and to be able to recognize and encourage other people to do the same.”

Equipped with that new realization, she moved back to Ontario and took on an adjunct teaching role at Queen’s where she mentored teacher candidates and visited them while they were on placements. Barbara chose Kingston for a number of reasons, including her love of the city’s beautiful scenery and its waterfront where she often walks and thinks about her writing projects.

After joining the Queen’s community again, and after reflecting on her goals and the experiences that brought her joy, she decided to apply for the PhD program offered by the Faculty of Education. She is now in her second year of the program, and is teaching two courses – one in language and literacy, and one focused on teaching and learning outside of schools.

“I find the ‘learning outside of school’ course especially exciting as I get to introduce teacher candidates who have come into our faculty – perhaps thinking they were going to go along a very traditional path–  to the range of options that exist, and the meaningful opportunities that can come out of them,” she says.

In addition to finding a program that challenges her and engages her interests, Barbara has also found a strong sense of community.

“I'm very lucky in this program. I've made some of what I already believe will be lifelong friendships here in Kingston,” she says. “I led a writer's workshop for my peers at our graduate writers retreat. We also meet as a cohort regularly, though we are no longer required to do that, just to keep that consistency and that joy. We mentor each other in that way rather informally.” 

To hear Barbara Laing speak more about her research and experiences, visit the Grad Club on Tues, Apr 30 for their upcoming ‘Nerd Night’.