December Faculty Spotlight – Don Fishley

Don Fishley, the program coordinator of Sustainable Construction in START, had a unique start to his teaching career.

He began his own construction business in 1976 and his mother always worried about the physical strain that might result from construction. Unbeknownst to him, Don’s mother applied, on his behalf, for a position at Durham College. To appease his mother and believing that he would not be qualified, Don attended the interview.

As Don recounts, “Esther (his hiring manager) and I went to the old carpentry shop, looked at all the equipment, of which I had several of in my own shop. Esther asked if I was familiar with the equipment, asked me to demonstrate a couple pieces of equipment, which I was able to do, and we left the shop. As I was leaving her office she said, ‘oh, the paper made an error it’s not a construction job, it's cabinet making, they're almost the same, aren't they?’”

Construction and cabinet making are by no means the same. Having already signed the papers, Don went about brushing up his cabinetry making skills: “I drove out to my folks’ place and told my dad I needed some refreshers on cabinet making. His best friend, Bob, was a master cabinet maker, so dad called him, told him the dilemma I had gotten myself into, and Bob said to get over to his shop. Friday night from 6 to midnight, Saturday from 8am to 8 pm, and Sunday from 8am to 6pm, I learned all I could about cabinet making."

“He establishes a consistent and open presence within his classes, making himself available to students. He emphasizes experiential learning and that “the shop is the best place to learn by mistakes, so they don’t make them on their first job site”

Part of building student engagement within the classroom or shop is by getting to know each student. This allows Don to work with their strengths and weaknesses.

Don uses group work as a means of building community; he creates mini-groups and purposefully re-arranges group structures each week after noting the students who have stronger skills and those whose skills need development. This builds a sense of confidence in students. Don also connects with his students through his industry experiences; he shares stories about what they might encounter on the job site including challenges and successes.

Throughout Don’s experiences in both industry and in teaching, he has come to some very poignant conclusions: “Be creative in your teaching format. Forget what you think you know in your trade; teaching is so different. It is a learning experience for all faculty, just as it is for students, and remember no two people are alike. Above all, have fun, and let students see how much passion you have about teaching. If you show how much you enjoy teaching it will rub off on the students and they will enjoy learning equally as much.”