The Human Side of BCcampus: Real People, Real Relationships

To provide a better understanding of who we are, what we do, and why we do it, we’ve shared a few articles recently that look at the internal workings of BCcampus. Today, Mary Burgess is pushing through the discomfort of being in the spotlight and has allowed us to share a pair of recent conversations about leadership and self-care for people learning and working through the pandemic.

Post by BCcampus’ editorial team

Two recent discussions with Mary Burgess, executive director of BCcampus, provided insight into our team’s ability to thrive, despite the pandemic. On the Better Me podcast — hosted by Heather Ross, educational development specialist of digital pedagogies at the University of Saskatchewan — Mary shared her approach to leadership self-care and team-care. And in the fireside chat at Technology + Education Seminar + Showcase (TESS) 2020 Online with Lana Hall, communications specialist for eCampusOntario, Mary spoke to the humanizing element between educators and their students.

We’ve paraphrased the two conversations for brevity, but we recommend that you make the time to listen to and watch the discussions to get a better understanding of why life at BCcampus is positive, engaging, fulfilling, and ultimately, vital to the teaching and learning community of British Columbia.

Leadership Philosophy

At the start of the Better Me episode titled “Leadership Self-Care and Team-Care,” Heather asked Mary about her leadership approach as an executive director.

“A huge aspect that helped me gain insight across many areas of my career was the time I spent working at Royal Roads University,” said Mary. “The programs taught there were things I was interested in learning — leadership being a big one. I was exposed to ideas, like values-based leadership and servant leadership, and I’ve built on that because those are the ways of interacting with people that feel good to me — authentic to me. Fundamentally, I see my role as being one to help people achieve their goals as much as I’m trying to get them to help me achieve mine.

“One of the things I do notice about my leadership style is people stick around. I’ve been dragging some people along with me for quite a number of years to various things, and I’ve been very lucky to have those amazing people around me. I do find that people are loyal and want to support me as much as I want to support them. I’ve built a space with help from my community where people feel okay talking about their mental health, whether it’s good or bad that day. I think they also feel like they have agency to learn and grow because I promote that heavily. I don’t have the skillsets of everyone at BCcampus, so they’re there because I need their expertise. I really want people to feel like they can come forward and have big and weird ideas, and that there’s going to be an open door for that kind of conversation.”

“I try to be truly open and upfront about what’s going on with me and my mental health challenges,” shared Mary. “In particular, I’ll share when I’m having a hard time and what I’m doing to help myself. I want other people to feel comfortable saying ‘today sucks for me’ and then draw from what I’ve said to change that: ‘When Mary says it sucks, she goes for a walk or she meditates or whatever, so maybe I’ll try one of those things.’ Success comes by helping each other.”

Building Community During a Pandemic

At the TESS 2020 Online fireside chat, Mary shared, “We know a huge percentage of educators had never taught online before. What we saw from people was, as much as they were looking for tips and tricks about which tools to use online and how to teach online, they were also looking for community because they were afraid and feeling a lot of discomfort around that. We were able to connect people with each other and with people who could help in that space.”

Lens of Caring

“I’ve been focused on the area of compassion and things like that for a number of years: a healing journey of my own. At the Festival of Learning we hosted in 2018, the theme of the conference was care in our post-secondary system and how to infuse that into the way we interact with students, from the beginning stages of their experience applying for education, to how we value them as alumni. The journey of seeing each other as whole people and the relationship between educators and students is becoming much more reciprocal and humanizing. It’s also really helpful in terms of shifting the way we view how learning works. For many years, across many disciplines, we still see that ‘sage on a stage’ model, but as we pivot to online, we’re democratizing the way that education happens, developing very different relationships that value what students already know and their lived experiences in the educational setting. That helps people learn better, and have a better learning experience, which then will lead to other good things we want to see in education around more enrolment and more persistence in programs, completing programs, and encouraging lifelong learning.

“Using the notion of vulnerability and compassion, it gives me so much hope for the future of education: not just post-secondary, but around the world, seeing each other as whole people. For me, that is the thing we want to take with us from this pandemic. No matter how we end up going back, let’s try to remember what it felt like to be vulnerable and connected to each other, because that is the world I want to live in.”

Notable Quotes

“There has been such vulnerability in this entire situation for everyone. In the same way it has accelerated the use of online learning, it has accelerated the emotional development of people, in terms of holding space for each other and understanding that it’s okay to not be okay, and there are people there to help you. And it’s good to ask for help.”

Mary Burgess, executive director, BCcampus

“Compassionate leadership. Trauma-informed leadership. Strengths-focused. Authentic. These are the things I wrap myself around in thinking about how I want to show up for people at work.”

Mary Burgess, executive director, BCcampus

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