Deepen your skill in group work and the cultivation of personal development

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On the trail with a group, exploring the possibilities for outdoor experiences to cultivate mental health. Deas Island Park, Delta, BC.

The courses I teach are focused on the integration of personal, professional, and academic development. My approach emphasizes learner engagement, purposeful creativity, and experiential self-development. I believe in the power of education as a transformative force. My courses are specifically designed to help learners ask foundational questions and pursue meaningful answers. Through learner-designed projects, individualized curriculum, and many other creative approaches, my courses cultivate collaborative learning environments in which learners discover their own paths and purposes within and beyond the classroom. In all of my classes I endeavour to promote experiences that are reflective, individualized, and joyful. And, perhaps most importantly, I recognize that education can and should be an authentic search for knowledge, wisdom, and personal connection. I support learners in that search and encourage them to follow it — wherever it may lead.

I help learners build an integrative and engaging learning environment. Together we learn to facilitate and lead our interpersonal and group process, and we examine our personal strengths and vulnerabilities. Our learning environment is collaborative, with the instructor serving as mentor and guide. We build upon the individual strengths of each participant to discover the quality and integrity of our learning community. Our classroom is built by learners and for learners. With self-awareness, empathy, and character development as the foundations of our curriculum and learning environment — with both learners and the instructor grounded in these values — we construct our communities of inquiry, creative engagement, and personal development.

I am proud of the leadership and achievement demonstrated by the many students with whom I have the privilege to work. Former learners have won awards, earned scholarships, and presented at conferences. They consistently demonstrate leadership in academic life and beyond. Our engaging environments — with their focus on the integration of personal and professional development — provide exemplary opportunities for learners to develop the skills necessary to achieve outstanding results in whatever they pursue.

My educational work arises from my own core values and practices. Here they are, grouped under the headings of my three core values:

Self-awareness
Developing a path of self-assessment, self-regulation, and self-reflection.
Following the search for knowledge and meaningful answers.
Finding useful solutions to complex problems.
Developing creativity through play and imagination.
Thinking for oneself.

Empathy
Opening oneself to empathy and compassion.
Communicating effectively in speaking, listening, writing and performing.
Building trust, emotional safety, and a culture of collaboration.
Being open to giving and receiving feedback and accepting others.
Embracing and resolving conflicts.

Character
Engaging in the reciprocal process of mentorship.
Joining and contributing to communities.
Modeling and teaching ethical practices.
Opening to, and learning from, other cultures.
Being a lifelong learner.

Overall, I try to explore learning from an integrative point of view. I’m interested in how we might create and support learning environments that are engaging, purposeful, and fun. Many learners yearn for educational experiences that engage, provoke, and encourage, and for classroom environments that bring them into authentic relationships with one another. Ultimately, that’s what my approach is all about: authentic relationships. I view my role as one of service to that aim: to help learners find ways to increase the depth and purpose of their relationships with themselves and others.

Educational Presentations

I facilitate workshops, in schools, on the interconnected themes of technology, addictions, mental health, parenting, mentorship, and personal development. The challenges faced by parents, educators, and students are complex, difficult, and often experienced as a relentless and turbulent wave crashing across our social landscape. It’s tough to know what to do, how to respond, how to find a useful path forward. Because of the depth and diversity of these challenges, the presentations increasingly involve three different workshops: one for parents, one for teachers, and one for students. The basic framework typically involves a full day of activity, with teacher and student sessions in the morning and afternoon followed by an evening workshop for parents and community members. This format works well for stimulating discussion and action for all three groups. Naturally, the themes for each group are similar, but my approach to each session is somewhat different. Here’s how it normally looks:

Parent Presentations

This presentation explores the emerging cultures of technology and their impact on childhood development, family life, and education. Technology is now an essential feature of the landscape of childhood and adolescence. Gaming, social networking, texting, and other digital tools now provide the central means by which children and adolescents manage the challenges of their development. Issues such as anxiety, depression, isolation, anger, and addiction are increasingly finding niches in the online worlds. Parents, educators, counsellors, and all those who work with children must be able to respond to this groundswell of change with new skills and strategies. This presentation provides a summary of those skills and strategies along with a suite of simple, practical tools that can assist parents in navigating – and helping kids navigate – the complexities of the digital landscape.

Teacher Presentations

The landscape of education has changed more rapidly in the past decade than in the previous hundred years. Cultural, economic, technological and social changes challenge educators with increasingly complex issues, themes, and opportunities. In this new environment – where the only certainty is that things evolve rapidly – how do we preserve and nurture essential and foundational values such as mentorship, community, and leadership? How do we help kids deal with the ever-increasing risks they face from addictions, mental health challenges, bullying, and technology? How do we help guide them through this complex landscape? In this workshop we will explore opportunities for responding to the needs of young learners in new ways. We will build the core skills of understanding and dealing with addictions (to technology and substances), developing useful and practical programs for kids to navigate the challenges of mental health, and helping families (and the school) to work together with purpose and clarity. If we are to deal with the contemporary themes of addictions and mental health, we must join the conversation, engage with the turbulence, and be willing to evolve as circumstances evolve around us. This workshop explores how to do this.

Presentations to Students

Addiction is the most common and the most misunderstood challenge we face. Most of us find addictions somewhere close by: in our families, in our peers, sometimes in ourselves. Addictions are everywhere. And yet, it’s tough to know what addiction really is: a habit, a means of coping, a way of just having fun? And at what point does having fun become something else: something darker and much more difficult? Despite the mysteries and complexities of addiction, we do know quite a bit about how it starts: in adolescence, typically, with a series of situations and events that tend to lead people toward addictive behaviour. And we also know a great deal about how to stop addictions: through education, healthy relationships, mentorship, and meaningful experiences. In this workshop we discuss the matter of addiction: what it is, how to understand it, how it is connected to mental health, and how to deal with it. We talk about different kinds of addictions: drugs and alcohol, technology addictions, addictions to risk and recklessness. We explore the skills and knowledge required to be safe and self-aware, and we explore new developments in addictions and mental health research. This is an open forum for discussion, debate, and learning.

Testimonials

Ross has made such a positive impact on my life and on those of my peers. He has helped us realize that we are able of creating and walking our own paths. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Abbey Ratcliff, former student

At the risk of being overly-dramatic, what I experienced was something near an epiphany. I learned that I enjoy not only the process of creating something that is my own but the finished product as well. These feelings are the beginnings of pride, which I don't feel I have truly had with my work for many years. I can truly say that I have delved deeper into myself, learning about what and who I really am. It is this that I find truly valuable.

Workshop Participant

I have gained so much. A simple little project turned into something wonderful. I built new relationships that I didn't know existed.

Workshop Participant

The amount of personal growth I have experienced in these classes has been extremely positive and I cannot express my gratitude enough. If it was not for these classes and the projects and assignments that we had to do I would not have been able to reconnect with the creative part of myself that I have somehow managed to lose track of over the last many years.

Former Student

I honestly feel that learning happens when there is a lighter atmosphere with a sense of freedom. This has been a wonderful experience and I am glad I had the chance to do this. I realized a lot about myself and changed my way of thinking. I will take many aspects of this experience with me in my future endeavours.

Workshop Participant

This without a doubt the most enlightening class that I have ever taken. Never before have I seen a class that facilitates you diving into yourself to discover and understand your own creative process in a way that relates to you. It's truly been an incredible experience that I will never forget.

Former Student

This course moved me to my core.

Former Student

Thank you for a wonderful semester. I have fundamentally renewed how I operate. I’ve sought to add and welcome creativity to my life… The culmination of applying these tools and projects is that I am happier and more efficient, and have maintained my motivation to keep moving through it all. Also, being in the circle re-conceptualized my ideas of instruction and the classroom. I plan on becoming a teacher, and reflecting on this semester, my consciousness is now awakened to the way that traditional education and its content is formatted, constrained and determined through the physical arrangement of a classroom. Further, my eyes are now incredibly open to how children interact with their traumas. I will carry these lessons forward.

Former Student

Thank you so much for such an inspiring, motivating and fabulous year of self-discovery. I will never forget your class; it will always have a place in my heart. I have learned so much about myself and your class has taught me skills that no other class could have taught me. You are simply an amazing instructor and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving students a place for self-expression.

Former Student

I just wanted to thank you for helping me discover who I am and allowing me to feel comfortable enough to share my thoughts and feelings in class. I have taken three of your classes now and I have to say that these classes have changed the way I view myself and the world and have helped me gain a greater appreciation about life. Please continue to do what you are doing: helping students become better people!

Former Student

Your presence and wisdom are guiding principles that have shaped my life over the last two years. I have never been happier and stress-free. I feel like I have a good sense of who I am as a person cause I have learned so many skills that can help ease stress in life. I seriously could not have learnt that without your classes. You are an inspiration.

Former Student

I discovered my calling, after years of desperate seeking. In this unexpected elective, I found what I was meant to do. It’s worth more than any letter on a transcript, truly. Your classes have changed me and my life and my path.

Former Student

I have found a whole new understanding of who I am and who I want to be.

Workshop Participant

This was a life-changing experience for me. I felt like I was working on my development as a person and not just focusing on hard skills… I would recommend this field school to anyone looking to experience something life-changing and with much personal growth.

Field School Participant

For me, it was an extremely rich experience… I gained creative inspiration that will direct me on multiple levels of my life. I came back with a new drive and broadened perspectives. I came back with a new layer of skin and soul that share the same storytelling nature as the layered trees.

Field School Participant

The field school has reminded me how much I enjoy learning. I have always found that I have had problems connecting to the material in a traditional classroom setting. I have difficulty focusing during lectures, as I know that my style of learning is a kinesthetic one. The student-directed approach to learning is one that really appeals to me as well; I am much more willing to put effort into a project that I devised, or devised within a group, than I am with an assignment that is imposed upon me, or that I do not understand. I feel as though my input is welcomed, and the learning environment is one that is receptive, friendly, and encourages personal growth and development. I love that every student gets a chance to speak… The skills I have developed are skills that I will keep with me, and continue to use, for the rest of my life.

Field School Participant

I tackled my fears while I was there and it has given me a new sense of courage now… I felt that I pushed myself to be brave and not worry about the outcome as much and I always ended up realizing that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I surprised myself with how I reacted emotionally to the situations I was put in. Even though overall I had anxieties there was something internal pushing me to be brave. It was a feeling that I had never experienced before.

Field School Participant

I was much more open than I am used to being. It was not just about facing fear, it was about trusting others. Something I feel I had lost. Now, I want to only associate myself with things I believe in and things I am proud of. I want to see the world… Life is a journey, and I think that mine is finally taking off. I want to have more of these experiences; they are priceless lessons; an entirely different type of education.

Field School Participant

I now know a calm peace within myself like I have never known before. Spending two weeks walking side by side with the group, every day has been the catalyst for this. I realize now that I cannot move forward alone, I must engage and be part of the greater whole in order to realize any true and lasting meaning… We are all connected. I can now feel the connection after living it – it was not there before.

Field School Participant

Ross has stretched and supported me far more than anyone else has in growing into my potential, and I know he has done the same for others. He gave us the opportunity to be, and to see each other, as fully human. What more could we ask for?

Tierney Wisniewski, Research Associate

Ross is one of the most genuinely creative individuals I have had the pleasure of knowing. I would recommend Ross to any organization that wants an exceptional and memorable experience.

Jamie Billingham, BC Nonprofit Housing Association

Ross imparts his wisdom with such ease and playful enthusiasm one is often surprised at just how much skill and knowledge is acquired.

Margo O’Hara, Hope Bridge Services

Ross was a catalyst in my development to reconnect with my passion for leadership. Through his example of consistency, compassion, and intelligence, I felt empowered to take control of my education. I feel inspired by his integrity and his intense love of education, cultural understanding, and knowledge.

Amanda Smith-Weston, former student

Based on conversations I’ve had with many students over the years, I know that I’m not alone in believing that Ross Laird has been one of the most influential people in my life.

Field School Participant

Ross is simultaneously brilliant and humble; forceful and gentle; present and silent. He is a front line educator who is on fire and who has that rare talent for igniting the minds and hearts of every learner and colleague he encounters.

Farhad Dastur, Psychologist

In his classrooms I have observed students, including myself, come out of their shells, contribute with purpose and meaning to class discussion and activities, and have transformative learning experiences.

Lee Beavington, interdisciplinary educator

Ross Laird teaches like no other. He leads by example and is always ready to share his knowledge and wisdom. The enthusiasm that is found in and outside of the classroom with his students is phenomenal.

Field School Participant

Ross’ experiences have given him an abundance of empathy and universal wisdom. His enthusiasm for learning is palpable and invigorating.

Field School Participant

Ross’ teaching has inspired me to do more than I thought possible, to view challenges as opportunities for growth and exploration, and it has utterly changed how I view education.

Former Student

Ross’ welcoming and caring nature helps to foster an environment whereby learners can engage with one another on a more intimate and understanding level. Ross encourages us to push boundaries, to play, to explore, to create, and to reflect.

Braeden Saucy, media artist

I have never had an educator influence me more. I have learned more in my time with Ross than in the rest of my education combined. I am a better student, wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend because of my opportunity to learn from Ross.

Former Student