Reflections on the 3M Selection Process
Montreal, 19-22 January, 2007

These reflections were presented, on my behalf but in my absence, at the annual general meeting of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education which took place in Edmonton, June 2007. They formed part of the 3M Selection Committee Panel Reflections on 3M Selection, chaired by Dr. Arshad Ahmad.

I have not sat on the 3M Teaching Fellows selection committee before, and I was not sure what to expect when I arrived in Montreal. I doubted, for example, whether we would ever be able to get all our work done; I was unsure whether, coming from a tiny university, I would be able to bring anything to the table. There were, however, two things which I hoped I would be able to bring back to my own university: a de-mystification and a clarification of the selection process.

The candidates: each dossier had taken me between 3 and 4 hours to read. I perused approximately two to three dossiers a day, for the majority of what is colloquially known as the Christmas “vacation,” and I took copious notes on each candidate. These notes I then processed and placed on the summary sheets that were so kindly provided. The result for me was total confusion. Everybody nominated was worthy of a 3M Teaching Fellowship. In my group alone, I recognized a dozen outstanding candidates, perhaps more. I felt humbled by the process. I myself was clearly inferior to most of these candidates. I wondered what on earth my 3M Selection Committee had seen in me when they chose me to join their fellowship.

This year’s 3M selection committee began with an open discussion on how each one of us reviewed the dossiers. What were the main points which had persuaded us? We started with the criteria, but rapidly moved beyond them as we explored how each reviewer pinpointed the ways in which particular candidates exceeded the basic template of excellence to establish their own uniqueness. I learned – and for me it was a learning process – how to move beyond criteria and how to recognize the substantial commitment that takes certain individuals to the height of the teaching profession.

This could not have happened without the group of which I formed a very small part. The teamwork and the insights, the burning passion in the search for excellence, the ability to separate wheat from chaff, words from deeds, formulae from performance, surface excellence from the deep-rooted currents of commitment beyond the everyday call of duty -- all these were remarkable and particularly impressive for me, a neophyte.

What happened in Montreal, the synthesis of minds, the organizing of evidence, the sifting of dossiers, could never have happened at a distance; nor could it have happened online or in any form of virtual community. The secret of The Montreal Experience was the creation of a genuine community, of a thriving intellectual academic assessment community which, in the space of a few short hours, turned me inside out and left me converted from a doubter and a hoper into a believer.

That this happened was in no small measure due to the leadership of Dr. Arshad Ahmed and the composition of this particular committee. Arshad, like very few that I have ever known, was able to draw us from our private spaces into a larger intellectual community. This year’s 3M Selection Committee formed part of a small miracle: I witnessed it and bear witness to it.

It has left me vibrantly changed. My academic life will not be the same. I will take these days out into the broader world. They will not be forgotten. They will form the framework which bounds my future decisions.

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