Photo by Rod Leland (Faculty of Education Legacy Magazine archive, 2014)
Dr. Richard Butt likens his 36 years at the University of Lethbridge in the Faculty of Education to “a constant favourite song that is on-going all the time.” Like his seemingly eclectic life-long interests in music, science, sports, drama and collaborative autobiography (SSHRC funded), his memories “are integrated, diffuse. It’s hard to separate the bits and pieces.” Yet, a repeating stanza emerges as Dr. Butt recalls the highlights of his career.
Back before Richard was Dr. Butt, he was a three-year-old in Gloucester, England where, as was the habit in that time and place, he was placed in a Montessori school so his working class parents could support the family. It is this formative experience that Dr. Butt attributes to his love of learning in a collaborative, constructivist environment. It wasn’t long before the family moved to the outskirts of town and Richard was free to explore nature with his friends, “picking wild daffodils for our moms” and “learning by observing.” Eventually the Montessori schools gave way to more traditional schooling, the highlight of which was Mr. Bloxam’s biology class where the learning centered around science experiments and the group was able to complete the four-year course much more quickly. As Butt puts it, “I survived traditional school enough to gain confidence.” These experiences were the foundation of an approach to education Dr. Butt would model and advocate during his time at the University of Lethbridge, where he had “absolute fun being a Montessori learner throughout.”
Dr. Butt came to the University of Lethbridge after ten years at McGill University where he worked with teachers in schools to build school-based curriculum while, at the same time, completing his PhD at the University of Ottawa.
Richard remembers with fondness those first years at the University of Lethbridge and the special focus MEd program that he was instrumental in establishing back in 1984.
Much like Dr. Butt’s work at McGill, this program was initially “built on a structure of learning by doing” and while the program has evolved since those days, the enduring “design guarantees efficacy” and is why, Dr. Butt believes, it remains so successful. The Faculty of Education PhD program, another program Dr. Butt helped advance, is the natural extension of what he describes as, “the creativity of curriculum.”
Good curriculum development is when you get a multiplicity of needs from multiple groups and identify the thing that is common so they can all see their needs and interests met from their perspective.”
The theme of meeting students’ diverse needs within the “synergy” of collaboration is evident as Dr. Butt shares his philosophy regarding the importance of students learning from each other, just as curriculum leaders learn from and with their students.
“Co-learners” is how Richard describes the relationships with his students and first graduates of the PhD program, Kevin Wood and Doug Checkley. When asked how he feels on the occasion of these recent graduations, just as Dr. Butt himself prepares to retire, he smiles, “Very proud…I can’t be too proud, but I am… very.”
At the end of the day Dr. Richard Butt has much to be proud of. As a musician, story-teller, nature-lover and academic, his ability to be expressive was integral to his teaching, learning and living and that he has had “absolute fun” doing so is a rare gift for all involved.
Writer: Christy Audet | Photographer: Rod Leland
Related story links to Faculty of Education Graduate Studies and Research:
• Coping with COVID-19: Harnessing our Natural Stress Response
• Coping with COVID-19: Loneliness
• How Students Can Get Screen Time Break During COVID-19: Experts
• The Intersectionality of Faith, Mental Health and Wellness for Racialized Populations During the Pandemic
• Bridging Neuroscience and Education: Riley Kostek (BSc’09/BEd’11)
• Teaching and Assessing for Life Beyond the Classroom: Dr. David Slomp
• Five questions with Shining Graduate Rita Lal (BSc/BEd '01, MEd '20)
• Teaching Multiple Literacies in Canadian Classrooms: Sarah Gagnon (BSc/BEd’11, MEd candidate)
• Wellness is About Writing: Teri Hartman (BA/BEd '02, current MEd student)
• Leadership in Education: The Power of Generative Dialogue
• A Generative Approach to Leadership for All Educators
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University of Lethbridge
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