Community Champion Dr. Bryan Reece
Dr. Bryan Reece is a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy. He received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Toronto in 2016. His research concerns the nature of causation, animal locomotion, and human action, especially as these themes appear in the philosophy of Aristotle. He teaches courses on Aristotle, Human Nature, Freedom, Responsibility and Human Action, and The Rationalists. His non-philosophical interests include weightlifting, baseball, football, skiing, surfing, opera, and finance.
In the nomination, the student states that you, “take each individual student's opinion seriously and engages with each of us, allowing the class to feel much more confident in understanding the class material and feeling less pressured about the difficulty of assignments.” Could you tell us a bit more about how you accomplish this, and why it’s an important aspect of your approach to teaching?
Students’ confidence in their grasp of course material is an important constituent of their overall wellbeing during their time in university. If they have this confidence, they are more likely to think that things are going well for them in general. In order to foster students’ confidence in their grasp of course material, I do the following things. First, I pay careful attention to what they are saying, either in their questions in class or in their essays. There is nearly always a good point behind what students have said, even if it is not at first as well-formulated as it can be made to be. I view it as my job to bring this good point into the light. Students appreciate this. They recognize that they have insights that they cannot always comfortably express, and it encourages them to know that I recognize it, too. They then feel motivated to explore ways of expressing their ideas with greater clarity and cogency. Some of my students tell me that for this reason they are more comfortable speaking out in my classes than they are in others. This matters a lot in Philosophy courses. Ideas are their subject, and I want to get ideas on the table from all students, not only from the ones who are ordinarily the most vocal.
Discussions about health are often related to concerns about healthy eating, physical activity, managing stress and sleep. We’d be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a healthy campus and how it can be integrated into the classroom setting?
I make it no secret that I believe that students will do their best academic work if they consider my classes as only a small part of their overall wellbeing. When students come to my office stressed about an impending due date, I supplement my remarks directly relevant to the assignment with a reminder of the importance of bodily health, encouraging them to sleep well, eat well, exercise, and engage in productive non-academic activities in order to balance their mental load. Many of the examples that I use in class relate to physical exercise, sports, and nutrition, so that these topics stay on students’ minds as they review course material, hopefully serving as a gentle prod to go to the gym after a long study session.
In the nomination, the student states that you “acknowledge that keeping up with class readings is a different kind of task and different sort of process for everyone” and “never allowing a student to experience negativity surrounding the incompletion of a task due to unprecedented circumstances.” Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to you personally and/or professionally?
Some of my students come to my courses having previously experienced significant negativity in other instructors’ courses. Their confidence in their academic abilities is shaken, and when coupled with the stress of personal or family emergencies this lack of confidence can be a crippling barrier to academic progress. I try to address this as follows. First, I say several times per semester in front of the entire class “I want you to do well.” This sounds so obvious as to seem almost ridiculous to say, but it is surprising how many students have gotten the opposite impression from other faculty and TA’s. My repetition of this simple point is sometimes all that is needed for students to approach me for one-on-one conversations about the impediments that they are facing to doing well in the course (or more generally). These conversations give me the opportunity to tell students that my course is not even remotely the most important thing in their lives and that they should focus on whatever personal or family matter is afoot. In response to this, my students do not become lax or less interested in course content. Rather, they address their personal or family business, grateful that others have recognized its priority, and subsequently tend to renew their attention to course content with redoubled energy and enthusiasm.
We would also be interested to hear if you have any suggestions about what more could be done to foster campus environments that support the wellbeing of students?
I think that students would be able to see more clearly the attractions of a healthy and balanced lifestyle while attending university if they could observe more of their instructors and TA’s exemplifying such a lifestyle. For example, I think that it is at least somewhat helpful for students to encounter more faculty at the gym. Furthermore, I think that instructors and TA’s can do more to demonstrate the sort of affability and positive demeanor that we know would help our students to develop meaningful and supportive friendships with their classmates. Above all, I would like to see faculty and TA’s explicitly acknowledging that their goal is not to expose and ridicule students, or to ensure that their course is always foremost in a student’s mind, but rather to enable students to flourish in a comprehensive way that includes, but is not limited to, their academic development.