Inspiring Portraits – Lee Anne Johnston: Heart and Determination in Service of Teachers and Students
As educators, we have the extremely important role of bearing and passing the torch of knowledge and competency to generations that will one day take our place. Lee Anne Johnston is the Education Advisor at Cégep Heritage College who fosters this flame within teachers to help ensure that this legacy is transmitted to students. Her gentle determination, dedication and grace serve as an example to anyone who is interested in working in service of the public, and you will surely be inspired by her example and insights.
Lee Anne Johnston
Lee Anne was born in Bowmanville, Ontario – now a suburb of Toronto. She grew up on a farm, and I would say that the country charm and earthiness of those early days have never left her.
In the decade or so that I have known her, one of the qualities I have grown to admire most about Lee Anne is her stamina. In fact, I am astonished by her ability to juggle multiple important files for Heritage College all at once. At any given moment, she might be working on program revisions, helping teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms, preparing a ped day, editing an internal newsletter or facilitating the college’s academic senate to ensure business runs in an orderly fashion. As I was interviewing Lee Anne, the fire alarm in the college went off, and Lee Anne donned a safety vest reserved for the evacuation team of the college. Just one more of the many roles that Lee Anne plays at Heritage!
Lee Anne is a valued colleague on whom the College community can depend. She is known for her patience, perseverance and professionalism: 3 essential qualities that Lee Anne has demonstrated in her work to improve the quality of our programming at Heritage. She has worked closely with 3 different Academic Deans at the College, each of whom has been able to depend on her to move things forward, and to make things better. Thank you Lee Anne!
I never truly understood where Lee Anne’s drive came from until I interviewed her early in the Fall 2017 semester. Now, I think I understand.
Lee Anne has the heart of an athlete.
The Determination, Dedication and Drive of an Athlete
Early in her life, Lee Anne chose Gymnastics as her sport of choice, though she quips that she is too tall and probably should have been a runner! Her passion for the outdoors and sport would influence some of her educational and professional choices in the future.
Lee Anne attended Queen’s University where she earned a Bachelors of Arts and Physical and Health Education with a minor in Psychology, and a Bachelor of Education. Upon graduation she found work at the Kenner Collegiate Vocational Institute in Peterborough, Ontario. During her time there, she had the dual responsibility of teaching Phys Ed and working as a guidance counsellor.
Eventually, Lee Anne went back to school and moved out of province to study Sport Administration at the University of Alberta, studying under Barry Mitchelson, and to coach the U of A gymnastics team. Her Master’s thesis was on the effectiveness of Canada’s National Coaching Certification Program, an education program for Canadian amateur coaches. At the time, there was a desire to provide a unified amateur coaching certification program in the country, similar to Sweden. It was difficult to implement, given the size of Canada and the lack of education technology to close the distance gap at the time. Learning management systems like Moodle that are ubiquitous today weren’t around at the time, and it would still be a number of years before the Internet became part of our daily lives. Interestingly, Lee Anne would be one of the first students to enrol in an online graduate certificate at Seneca College later on. She completed the 6 course Designing Curriculum using Instructional Technology program by dialing into Seneca with her computer and modem in the 1990s.
Lee Anne moved on from the U of A to the National Coaching Association of Canada, spending 12 years as a coaching consultant. It was here that she began working with people on programs and curriculum, helping to design technical courses and working on practical components. This expertise would later server her well in her position at Cégep Heritage College.
Dedicated to Her Children and Their Education
Since her work at the National Coaching Association of Canada involved a lot of travel, Lee Anne decided to start working as an independent educational consultant when her first child was born. She spent 8 years doing this and briefly worked at the Canadian Revenue Agency towards the end of this period.
I was not surprised to hear that Lee Anne made an important sacrifice to spend more time with her family, since she has been deeply dedicated to their upbringing and education for a number of years. Whenever I have a chance to chat with Lee Anne in person, the conversation invariably leads to her children, of whom she is very proud.
Lee Anne started working at Cégep Heritage College in March 2006. She confides that she knew her kids would eventually be attending Heritage, which only increased her drive to work with teachers to enhance the quality of the college’s offering. The importance of what her college does is not lost on Lee Anne:
CEGEP is a transitional institution, our job is to help students for their next phase, whatever they choose. I feel compelled to work on their behalf – on how their programs are built, how they are evaluated. This is a really exciting time in education, especially for this age bracket. I have moved past telling students that this is what life is about. We now equip them to handle it.
Her greatest aspiration for her children was that they would choose a career in service of the public. Her son chose a career in environmental science and her daughter chose to go into nursing.
An aerial view of Cégep Heritage College in Gatineau, Quebec (Photo courtesy of Cégep Heritage College)
Some Questions to Learn More About Lee Anne
Even though I have been working in the college network for over a decade with Lee Anne, I realized that I didn’t know as much as I thought I had about her. During our interview, I asked her some questions to learn more.
What is a typical day like for you?
There is no typical day for me and I am extremely appreciative of this. I hold on to this. I do urgent e-mail in the evening. I can’t action everything from home, so there are things I have to do when I arrive in the morning. I spend my next hour reading to keep abreast of what is going on. I have listservs, newsletters, etc. coming in to my desktop. They are the basis of the work I do in professional development. I keep an on-going list of readings that are current and applicable for this level of education and for the programs that we have here.
The list of Lee Anne’s responsibilities is long, but she assures me that everything is interrelated. Thus, she works to move Quality Assurance, Professional Development and Program Evaluations forward simultaneously.
What advice do you usually give to new members of your faculty?
Lee Anne’s number one piece of advice is for teachers to take care of themselves: “You can’t take care of others when you are not well. Seek out help when you need it. You should never feel alone. You can come to see me, and I will point you to the right person.” Lee Anne stresses that her door is always open, and during our interview, a number of people dropped by to visit or to seek out some assistance.
What are you currently working on that involves education technology?
Lee Anne is currently working on an internal WordPress site for Professional Development (PD). Since 2012, she has realized the need to move away from the PD model she inherited in 2006. She emphasizes that “the one size fits all approach to professional development doesn’t work anymore.”
Lee Anne would like to implement a more individualized approach to professional development, complementing it with community building activities.
Lee Anne Johnston with fellow IT-Representatives at a REPTIC meeting in 2013. From left to right: Lee Anne Johnston, Jennifer Mitchell, Brenda Lamb, Ryan W. Moon and Rafael Scapin (photo credit: Réseau des répondantes et répondants TIC).
What are some of your other personal interests and activities?
Not too surprisingly, many of Lee Anne’s personal pursuits involve exercise. Cégep Heritage College is located on the grounds of Gatineau Park, and Lee Anne has a one-hour commute each way several times weekly on her bicycle during the warmer months. She reminded me that the terrain is not always flat. She has recently become an empty nester and decided to add even more sport to her life, becoming a member of a golfing club. During the winter months, Lee Anne goes snowshoeing in Gatineau Park during her lunch hours with some of her fellow staff and teachers. Lee Anne also enjoys yoga – a physical and mental activity.
Lee Anne likes to cook, though she is still trying to adjust her portions since her children have moved out. She prefers to make most meals from scratch, which I am sure her husband (who is a firefighter) appreciates.
Thank You Lee Anne!
I would like to thank Lee Anne for taking some time from her very busy schedule to allow me to interview her. I feel enriched to have spent this time conversing with, and learning from her. As a measure of Lee Anne’s contribution to her college, in closing, I leave you with the words of her Academic Dean:
When teachers seek assistance on an academic matter, they consult Lee Anne. Little do they know that they come away with much more than an answer to their question, they come away with insight into the latest trends and developments in higher education, and the encouragement to explore and grow in their teaching practice. Lee Anne embodies what she promotes – a supportive environment for life-long learning where the students are the focus of the efforts of everyone at the College. Cégep Heritage College is a better learning community because of Lee Anne and others like her.