Striking a Chord with Teaching, Learning and Research Skills

Hitting the wrong note – literally or figuratively – can cause tension, frustration and feelings of defeat in the person experiencing the perceived failure.

Entering into her first year in the Faculty of Music at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2017, Sarah Stapleton’s (BMus ’21) goals were to hit all high notes perfectly, avoid vocal tension and to be technically accurate in all of her performances without fail. This year, Stapleton completed her final program requirements, as well as a self-initiated capstone concert entitled the “Imperfection Collection.”

“Perfection isn’t real,” says Stapleton. “There is no end point with singing – no answer to the problem. This realization allows for a life of constant growing and learning.”

That is not to suggest that Stapleton’s student experience was anything short of successful.

Stapleton graduated on June 22 and will begin in the Master of Teaching program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in September. As Stapleton prepares for the next chapter in her education, she is reflecting on the ways her experiences at Laurier have shaped her understanding of who she is and how she can contribute to the world through meaningful teaching, research and learning practices. It is a story that illustrates the extraordinary opportunities for personal development a Laurier education offers.


Sarah Stapleton



Fine-Tuning her Self-Identity

During her four years at Laurier, Stapleton was involved in more than 20 student clubs; led the university’s student chapter for the National Association of Teachers of Singing; founded The Kindness Quest, an effort to cultivate acts of kindness worldwide; worked as a writing tutor; and volunteered at a distress hotline.

Stapleton reduced her involvement to just a handful of clubs by her final year, noting that the experience of casting a wide net and trying her hand at a range of experiences allowed her to see how her academic experiences connected to her personal development.

“The most important relationship is with yourself,” says Stapleton. “For me, university was a place where I found out how every part of my life could build together.”

Stapleton challenges incoming students to give themselves permission to try, as well as fail. She says that university can be a place to experiment and explore how your personal life, values and passions can work in harmony with your academic life and professional aspirations.

“The more opportunities we have to cultivate resilience the stronger we will become,” says Stapleton. “We are resilient because of our vulnerabilities – not in spite of them.”



Making Research her Forte

The themes of failure and resiliency led Stapleton to devise two directed research studies in vocal pedagogy and virtual teaching practices under the supervision of Kimberly Barber, a professor of voice, coordinator of Laurier’s Opera program and Faculty of Music associate dean: external.

The focus of Stapleton’s research was twofold: First, she wanted to better understand how her teachers were able to adapt and persevere through unprecedented challenges during the move to remote teaching and learning due to COVID-19.

Through her vocal pedagogy study, Stapleton learned that the skills developed in virtual voice lessons, rehearsals and Body Mapping lessons – including connecting with oneself, slowing down to breathe and patient, active listening – are the same skills and competencies required to build resilience.

Her study on virtual teaching best practices in music showed her the value of humanity and a student-centered approach to voice education.

Barber met Stapleton during her first-year music audition and has become Stapleton’s mentor in teaching and research.

“It has been a privilege to go through this with her,” says Barber. “There was a part of Sarah that was reluctant to let go of the analytical or ‘perfectionist’ part of who she was. I have seen her embrace imperfection to become curious, compassionate and an exceptional person.”

Stapleton has presented her findings at national and international voice, Body Mapping and vocal teaching conferences and will continue to share her learnings alongside Barber during the summer months.

“These are precisely the kind of opportunities that Laurier students benefit from so greatly and it is also the kind of learning that brings energy and meaning to our work in higher education,” says Mary Wilson, Laurier’s vice-provost: Teaching and Learning. “Journeys like Sarah’s serve to inspire us all.”