May 8, 2024

‘Be creative in building learning environments’: 3M National Teaching Fellow Cari Din on her approach to teaching

Kinesiology educator 1 of 2 at UCalgary awarded with national teaching honour
Cari Din teaching
Cari Din is one of 10 3M National Teaching Fellows this year. Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Dr. Cari Din couldn’t not teach. Growing up as an artistic swimmer, she started learning how to give solution-focused feedback to help her peers at the age of nine. Nine. It’s really no wonder she is one of 10 — and two at UCalgary — to be awarded a 3M National Teaching Fellowship this year. 

“I coached in my home sport for many years, largely part time, and I can now see that I started becoming a teacher through coaching,” she says. “I can’t talk about my teaching foundations without telling you I am surrounded by exceptional teachers in my faculty and on my campus — observing, reflecting, and learning with them is where I continue to be humbled by and learn about effective teaching.”

Din  is an associate professor (teaching) in the Faculty of Kinesiology, which she joined in 2018 after her career as a medal-winning Canadian Olympic athlete, followed by her years as a respected national sports coach. 

This unique combination is Din’s secret sauce: a PhD in sports psychology and leadership combined with expert knowledge from the field. In her time with the faculty, she has revamped required courses and developed two new leadership courses that are available campus wide. 

“Students’ eyes stretching wide, students’ faces looking up from a screen or tablet, these are small yet significant moments which make me believe students are opening themselves up to and might try the skills I am urging them to apply in real life,” she says. “I love that.”

A pillar of Din’s approach to teaching is creating psychologically safe learning environments where students could test, try, and reflect on what they learned. To achieve this, she created a new way to work with graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), who interact daily with undergraduate students in their courses. She developed a weekly community of practice for the GTAs, which helped them know they could also take risks in their own work, which they do the same for the undergraduates. 

“Care, enthusiasm, and high expectations are the signatures of my best teaching,” she says. “I am inspired by the opportunity to be creative in building learning environments for students — I am also terrified and motivated by the responsibility of doing this really well.”

Din developed two leadership courses during her three-year secondment to a Leadership Fellowship at the Canadian Centre for Advance Leadership (CCAL) in the Haskayne School of Business, which became part of the Embedded Certificate in Leadership Studies. She was also responsible for the CCAL learning lab that brought together local, national and international community-based mentors with business students. 

And to those starting their own teaching career, Din offers the following advice:

“Pay close attention to your students, notice what they are interested in and when you are not holding their attention. This is your essential feedback source in my experience,” she says. 

“Take risks. Empower students to make things, try things, scrutinize, and change things — you will be awestruck by what they create. Apologize when you screw up. Learn your students’ names and one unique thing about each one. Give students multiple ways of demonstrating their learning. Remind yourself why you became a teacher more often than most of us do.”

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.