May 2, 2023

‘Take risks in teaching, try new things, experiment, gather feedback, and try again’

Kyla Flanagan is 1 of 10 3M National Teaching Fellows selected for exceptional contributions to teaching and learning
Dr. Kyla Flanagan in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning
Kyla Flanagan recognized with a 3M National Teaching Fellowship Elyse Bouvier, Taylor Institute

What would you tell yourself, early in your career? Dr. Kyla Flanagan, PhD, has some advice.

“Don’t be afraid to take big risks and bite off more than you can chew because it will stretch you more than you ever thought possible.”

It’s this thinking that led to Flanagan’s recognition as a 3M National Teaching Fellow, given to only 10 educators in Canada in recognition for their leadership, innovation and teaching excellence. It’s a program run in partnership with the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE).

“I believe everyone can be an educational leader,” says Flanagan, BSc’03, PhD’08. “I draw on something called co-active leadership, a model where people lead from beside, behind, the front, the field, and from within.”

Flanagan is the academic lead of the College of Discovery, Creativity, and Innovation (CDCI) and an associate professor (teaching) in the Faculty of Science. More recently, she has spent the better part of a decade focusing on how to meaningfully incorporate research into her courses, emphasizing how course content can be applied in a hands-on way. This type of learning, called experiential learning (EL), is the foundation of how Flanagan teaches in her classrooms.

“Dr. Flanagan’s achievements and contributions are extraordinary and have had a tremendous impact on teaching and learning cultures, communities, and practices at and beyond UCalgary,” says Dr. Penny Werthner, interim provost and vice-president (academic). “I am incredibly proud to see Dr. Flanagan recognized for this fellowship, as she is most deserving.”

Flanagan led the creation of the Undergraduate Research Initiative (URI) in 2020, which provides mentored research opportunities for students in different ways, including multiple institutional-level programs that she either developed or enhanced. She also co-developed The Resilient Academic program, supported by a Campus Mental Health Strategy grant, to focus on well-being and health to help educators balance self- and student-care.

Her dedication to her class and effort in creating a course designed to help students succeed is amazing. Never change anything about how you teach. Every class should be structured like this.

- Student, BIOL 315, fall 2019

“Teaching can be fluid and messy,” says Flanagan. “Students mostly need to know that you care deeply about them and their learning, and that you will come back every day with the same commitment and dedication to them and the class.”

Flanagan developed an EDI Action Plan for the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) to identify and understand barriers to PURE participation for equity-deserving students, chaired a curriculum reinvigoration working group in biological sciences (one of the largest programs on campus), and collaborated on designing the Faculty of Science’s Indigenous pathway courses.

“Dr. Flanagan is an extremely creative and dedicated educator whose commitment to students and colleagues is abundantly evident through her innovative and transformative teaching and learning approaches,” says Dr. Kristin Baetz, dean of the Faculty of Science. “She does this not because it looks good but because she genuinely and passionately wants the best for her students — it is in the fabric of who she is.”

Flanagan is still a bit in shock at being selected as a fellow. “I have looked to mentors who’ve received this fellowship in the past, and it’s hard for me to believe I will receive the same honour,” she says.

“At several points during the process, I was ready to give up, thinking there was no way I’d ever receive this recognition, and an entire team came together to encourage me to go on,” she says.

“I had a group of kick-ass women supporting me to complete the nomination. Just one of so many examples of the incredible mentorship I have received from leaders who have been beside and behind me throughout my career.”  

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