Diana Skrzydlo is one of four recipients of this year’s Distinguished Teacher Award from the Centre for Teaching Excellence.
Skrzydlo is the Director of the MActSc program, a Continuing Lecturer for the department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, and the Math Teaching Fellow.
“I love teaching – it’s just my favourite thing – and I love helping other people become better teachers,” she says.
Skrzydlo was hired as a lecturer at Waterloo in 2008 after teaching one term as a sessional instructor; in 2016, she became a continuing lecturer, and in 2021 she was appointed one of the university’s Teaching Fellows. As a Teaching Fellow, she helps train other faculty to be better teachers.
One major project that Skrzydlo has developed is the Teaching Development Fund – a budget for anyone in the Math Faculty to go to go to teaching conferences. So far, she says, more than 70 different employees in the Faculty have been able to attend conferences and experience professional development.
She has also worked to formalize teaching instruction for graduate students, and compensate the instructor who has volunteered in the past to teach graduate students math instruction techniques. The development of this math pedagogy course, MATH 900, complements her existing promotion of the Certificate in University Teaching for interested graduate students.
Skrzydlo also meets regularly with the other Waterloo Teaching Fellows to coordinate their efforts and identify trends and challenges in instruction across the university. “This award is not just about good teaching in your classroom,” Skrzydlo reflects, “but also elevating teaching around you.”
Skrzydlo did not always want to be a teacher. During her co-op terms as an undergraduate Math student, however, industry jobs failed to capture her interest. Then she took a co-op job as a computer science Instructional Support Assistant, and instantly loved it. “I remember the night before the final project, I stayed up all night in the lab helping people,” she recounts. “Several times I fell asleep under a desk, then jerked awake suddenly when someone approached, saying, ‘I’m here! What do you need?’”
Today, she is still recognized by faculty and staff for going above and beyond as a teacher. Students recognize her as an engaged, approachable instructor who uses creative and fun examples to explain concepts. “Professor Skrzydlo patiently answers students’ questions with a very approachable and friendly manner, both during class and office hours,” one of her students says.
“Fifteen years later, I fondly remember her bubbly, cheerful personality, and her teaching style distinctly,” remembers another past student. “From my perspective, Diana was one of the most engaging, most enthusiastic instructors I had during my time at UW.”
Skrzydlo emphasizes the importance of designing curricula for multiple types of learners, and letting student interests and questions drive instruction. “Students need agency in their learning,” she says. “If they don’t have any agency then they’re just spectators. They need to see themselves reflected in the course material.”
Despite the fact that most of her work takes her outside of the classroom, Skrzydlo’s favourite part of her work is still those “aha!” moments that happen from time to time during a discussion or an office hours visit. “Being there,” she says, “and seeing someone make a connection and understand something for the first time is a privilege – just an absolute joy.”
To learn more about Skrzydlo, visit her faculty website. To learn more about the Distinguished Teacher Award and see the other winners, read the announcement from the Centre for Teaching Excellence.