Langaran’s Exploring Pedagogy -My Telos Meets Another Tribe

Langarans Reflect on Pedagogy

In Langara’s Advanced Teaching Seminar, Langara instructors write a fictional story in the first person, highlighting, “some kind of ‘problem’, or challenge, or dilemma, or puzzlement” they have experienced in their teaching practice. The “story will, at some level, be a partial description of the landscape of good teaching (even if the teaching in the story itself isn’t – on the face of it – seen as ‘good’). A story is a snapshot of what good-and-improving teachers sometimes experience in their practice.” Woven informally into each story are the concepts and phrases pulled from various assigned course readings (see references).
For more information about the Advanced Teaching Seminar or to inquire about registering, e-mail Carolyn Wing, Educational Development Coordinator at TCDC (

Every Discipline had a Telos. 

Telos is a word from Ancient Greek philosophy. It roughly means ‘purpose’. But it also has a little more depth and complexity surrounding it. Telos is the proper and developmental purposeof something (for now we’ll call this something ‘xyz’). Telos is the desired state that xyz is intended to aim toward. It is also the optimal expression of xyz. It is the loftiest part. The telos of xyz is the fullest expression of xyz – the most excellent version of what it is meant to be and become. The telos describes desired future states of affairs – the way things ‘ought’ to be. The telos is also where the practice of xyz meets the purpose of xyz (Musson,2015).

My Telos meets another Tribe

The telos of my field, library studies, can be expressed in two glorious concepts: intellectual freedom and access to information. These infuse the work, ethics and drive of librarians wherever they practice. In academia, librarians who teach have the singular task of marrying their own telos to the telos of another field. It’s all about being relevant to the discipline and the lived experience of the students and instructors you’re working with.
Most commonly, we get a “one-shot deal” – one or two hours with someone else’s class. We generally don’t assign marks, or if we do, they’re a minor component of students’ grades. And yet, our teaching can be integral to student success.

I’ve taught library sessions for biology, chemistry, classical studies, engineering, health sciences, and nursing classes. They are such different tribes! One of the great pleasures of teaching across so many areas is the challenge of tuning in to that audience, their way of thinking, their language, their way of being [this is related to Brookfield’s notion of “connecting self and subject and students in the fabric of life”]. There are some teaching rules of thumb I’ve tried to stick with across all my liaisons:

  • Librarians love to search; everyone else likes to find. I try to provide the easiest, clearest route to finding that I can. [the notion of loving to search is connected to a central theme in the video “The Scholar and the Lost Explorer” e.g. that true explorers find the thrill in the search]
  • There has to be a course assignment/project that I can teach to. Abstract good-for-you generic library stuff will not be relevant or useful and it will bore students silly.
  • My teaching will be infinitely better if I’ve planned closely with the course instructor.
  • I teach students at their current point of need but also try to connect it to their future selves, e.g. what they’ll be doing in 3rd year biology or term 5 nursing or in nursing practice.

I recently taught a library session for a first-year engineering class, a relatively new offering at Langara – and certainly a new area for me, and a new instructor to work with. The point-of-need for students was an upcoming research paper on one chosen aspect of the industrial revolution. Pretty standard library stuff to cover: key sources, key concepts like peer review, search strategies, evaluation, citing, access issues and troubleshooting. I tailored everything to this specific course assignment. But I really had to meet the students in order to start to get a proper feel for the area. There were two exchanges in particular that I remember from that day.

While talking to the class about planning a search, on a whim I asked them how many had heard of Boolean logic. By the way, I hadn’t asked students that question in over a decade, because a) it’s a very old-fashioned librarian kind of question, b) when I did ask it years ago, students would give me blank stares and c) students don’t really need to know the term.

But in this engineering class – every hand shot up and they all nodded their heads. Awesome! [this could be connected to Palmer’s quotation: “When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of the thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind – then teaching is the finest work I know”].

They’d all done computer science courses and were mathematically literate. Not only we could talk about building a search query in their language – using AND/OR/NOT, nesting, fields, queries – to these students, talking about the structure of databases and the process of searching was itself interesting. They had a systems approach to things.

Later in this same class, I mentioned interlibrary loan (ILL) delivery of articles via email. In the library we’re quite proud of this service – well ok I am, because I’m the ILL librarian and it took a couple of years of concerted effort to develop our online document delivery service. And it’s free for students and it extends their access to information considerably. It was only a quick mention though:

“Don’t worry if we don’t have it, we’ll get it for you from another library for free, it takes 3-5 working days.” But to my surprise, a student blurted out, “Why so long? That seems really slow.”

Well – that was a systems question!

One I’d never been asked before. So, I asked this student how he would design an interlibrary loan system: would it be automated? For sure yes, answered the student, that would be much faster. We then had a nice chat about why it couldn’t be automated: basically, because of both human and machine error (for example, 30% of our ILL requests are for items we actually own). I didn’t have to belabour the point because the students got it right away: ILL is a complex system. And I felt a little mastery because hey, if anyone knows that system, it’s me. We had a connection.

This class touched me in a way I hadn’t expected, particularly given that it was a single, one-off class and at that point had been my only interaction with engineering students. But it stayed with me. [This could be connected to Palmer’s notion that good teaching is often filled with surprise and passion]

My dad was an engineer, but he never talked about his engineering work. I never asked him much about it. I know he was very good at his job. It was a route out of poverty for a determined young man from a Geordie mining community. He didn’t go to university, because that simply wasn’t an option. After the merchant navy, he worked full time while attending night school to finish his qualifications. These things I knew.

But now I found myself wondering about my dad as a young man in his early twenties, in a classroom at the end of a long work day. Or as my mum described him, coming home from work and heading straight upstairs to study all evening to prep for the next exam. His perseverance, his smarts, his interests. He was an engineering student like them, crikey…

It sounds too pat at this point to say that the path he took ultimately lead to me having a life full of opportunities, one of them being to work here at Langara. That point is true of course, but I’ve known and been grateful for that for a long time. No, the real gift from those engineering students was a new insight, a new feel for my dad. The young guy I never met. [this could be related to Palmer’s notion that good teaching often comes from the Who-that-teaches … and can even sometimes positively affect the Who-that-teaches].

~This story was written by Alison Curtis Librarian, Journals & Interlibrary Loans, Liaison to Nursing, Health Sciences & RMT, Vice President, Langara Faculty Association~


  • The Skillful Teacher( Brookfield, 1990)
  • The Courage to Teach (Palmer,1998)
  • What the Best College Teachers Do (Bain, 2004)
  • Excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
  • Action Theory: Increasing Professional Effectiveness in College Teaching (Musson,2015)
  • A Community of Practice And Your Professional Development (Musson, 2015)
  • Of Telos, Teaching, and Great Things (Musson, 2015, 2017)
  • Practical Wisdom (Schwartz and Sharpe, 2010)