Jessica engages in public-facing activities and projects as an active contributor to public scholarship through her work as the most senior columnist for University Affair Magazine, as a keynote speaker at international conferences, and a visiting scholar most recently at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK and the university of Oslo.

On May 2, 2018, she delivered a talk as part of the Teaching Matters seminar series for SFU faculty on how faculty can address what she sees as an increasing and concerning trend among students: an inability to cope with adversity. 

Students Who Fail Better, Fare Better

Finding Hope in the Humanities

Building Resilience into the Classrooms

The Lessons of Wonder Woman for the Academy

Emerging research suggests that for students to fare better, they need to fail better (cf. Carol Dweck, 2006). How students respond to failure is a strong predictor of future success, and the notion of resilience is increasingly prevalent in conversations about higher education. Resilience has a number of characteristics, including levels of persistence, effort, positive mindset, motivation, and self-regulation.  

So how do we build resilience into our classrooms? Are there ways to embed resilience into the content we deliver? This talk will explore the ideas of resilience, buoyancy and grit in the landscape of higher education and make a case for modelling failure as a means of building the reserves of both teachers and learners so we can move forward together with courage and hope. 

Over the past few years there is a myth about Humanities grads turning into baristas. This talk will explore why this pervasive attitude finds currency in the face of all evidence to the contrary and ask, is there a way we can shift the terms of the conversation? This talk will explore how literature provides us with lenses to see our 21st century world with hope, courage, and delight. We will explore how we do not lose ourselves in old books: iinstead, we find our way in them, through them, to understand the world through new lenses. In the light of a new global reality - and an increasingly complex world - we must look back to our literary guides for purpose to inspire hope for the future, for courage to speak truth to power, and for moments of delight and surprise to sustain us in our learning journeys.

Wonder Woman offers a model for our highest ideals of the academy and, by extension, our world. The 2017 film, directed by Patty Jenkins, was a phenomenon in breaking gender barriers and providing a new model of female super hero. But it did something more powerful: it provided models that we can integrate into the academy. In particular, the movie provides us with a metaphor of the shield, which represents a mindset of generosity, solidarity and humility that enables us to advance others so that they can reach new heights and exceed their individual capacities. The shield bearer is foundational to success but assumes none of the glory. He or she must be attentive to moments where their intervention can change the outcome. Essayist Rebecca Solnit, writing in the Guardian newspaper, describes hope as "the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand." The shield bearer is hope in action.This talk will explore the ethical imperative to be engaged as a shield for our students and colleagues, especially the marginalized and underrepresented members of the academy. Jessica Riddell presented this talk with UFV in May 2018. 

In the classroom we are always caught up in the momentum of becoming: "We never are what we are," John D. Caputo writes, "something different is always possible." An academic vocation is among the most hopeful of professions.  We go into teaching and scholarly work because we believe that development, improvement, transformation are all possible when we are engaged in nurturing an insatiable intellectual curiosity, in ourselves and in our students and our colleagues. In a time of great cultural change both within and beyond the academy, hope is critical, in that it is both urgently necessary and located in the practice of navigating our complex and imperfect world, grappling with difficult knowledge and seeking ways to embrace complexity and discomfort in order to move toward a more nuanced and inclusive truth. Hope, Freire writes, "demands anchoring in practice." As a threshold concept producing an irreversible transformation of the self that reframes former understandings and ways of knowing, critical hope, once seen and adopted, demands a concomitant transformation and rethinking of pedagogy and our relationships with our work and with our students. In order to embrace "thinking which perceives reality as a process, as transformation rather than as a static entity" (Freire)-that is, in order to hope-we must, as Ira Shor argues, find a practice that "connects subjectivity to history while relating personal context to social context." In other words: HOPE IS A VERB; learning is embodied hope. If we are to nurture an evolving culture of critical hope, we must adapt and adopt practices that enable the efforts of students and teachers to live more "undivided lives" (Palmer) that connect principles of justice to the lived experience of the classroom. This talk intervenes in the persistent discourse of "just" teaching within an instrumentalizing academic culture to consider the potential of a pedagogy of critical hope for healing the "divided life" of learners.

The Pedagogy of Critical Hope


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Dr. Jessica Riddell

Jarislowsky Chair and Executive Director of the Maple League of Universities