Thank you to my student heroes

One of my student heroes stopped by my office yesterday to say good-bye as he finishes his last week at St. Lawerence College and leaves for his final placement, culminating three remarkable years at our institution.
He wasn’t saying good-bye because I won’t see him again, but from now on, our relationship won’t be as professor and student but as friend and colleague.

Thank you, student heroes, for sharing your journeys

Shaking his hand one last time within our old relationship filled me with gratitude, joy, and sadness all at the same time.

I am grateful to this young man and to all the other student heroes I have had the good fortune to teach. I am so very gifted that they trusted me enough to share their stories, to share their backgrounds and the hardships that they have overcome to become even better than the already amazing people they were when they entered the part of their lives where we met.
I am grateful for all that I learned from them about resilience, and goodness, and personal growth, and positivity in the face of great challenges of many kinds. I am also grateful for the many times that many of them came to my classroom to help teach lower-year students crucial skills like networking, professionalism, minute-taking, grit, positivity, and gratitude.

And I am full of sadness to see them leave the hallways of our college. I am sad that I won’t see them as often as I do. Maybe I feel that same sort of sadness that my own parents felt when I left home to begin my own life’s journey without them.

So I say thank you to all of you, my student heroes. I thank you and I will miss you. And I am damned proud of you all. Thank you for making my life better and reminding me that I have the best damned job in the world.

Thank you, Jess Larche, Kimberley Falk, Kirk Smallridge, Sadie Eves, Tyler Payne, Nadia ter Stege, Fábio Ribeiro, and all my other student heroes. You are truly amazing.

Thank you.

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And the top new SLC AMC blogs are…

I must be losing my edge.

I don’t remember this annual Top 5 beginner blog ranking being so tough to write. If memory serves, there were usually a few posts from first-year St. Lawrence College Advertising and Marketing Communications students that really stood out, and there was previously a clear hierarchy when it came to quality.

frank thinking

“Am I losing my edge?” Frank ponders

But not this year. This year I’m stuck. Amongst the 50 or so first posts for our blogging assignment, it’s been hard enough to narrow my faves down to five. And that’s as far as I can get. All of the top 5 employ creative, articulate, clean writing, and they more or less satisfy the 5 key requirements of my course rubric:

  1. They are 250 to 400 words in length and reflect on the topics stipulated in the assignment.
  2. They have an attention-grabbing headline and opening paragraph.
  3. They’re broken up into bite-sized paragraphs.
  4. They seamlessly embed cited or licence-free images with wraparound text.
  5. They cite their sources and back up their claims using multiple hyperlinks.

So here are my top 5 favourite first AMC student blog posts in no particular order:

Siobhan Gillespie—If there’s one thing very evident from Siobhan’s first post, it’s her Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 4.08.54 PMability to grab attention. No one could argue that her headline (“Three posts deep in the blogging trenches”) and her introduction (“I was that kid that would pull the Band-aid off reeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaally slowly.”) don’t pull you in. Siobhan keeps the reader’s attention throughout with scannable formatting techniques and—bless her!—she conscientiously cites the source of her photo even though her image’s licence may not require it by law.

Danielle Forget—Did I mention that I just love an attention-grabbing intro? Danielle Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 4.09.11 PMstarts her post with a startling statistic. She tops her post with a well-placed—skillfully cited through a hyperlink—banner image that stretches aesthetically across the entire post. She also makes use of a numbered list and bold-face text to make her post imminently scannable and easy on the eyes.

Branden Graf—I love the effort Branden has put into employing Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 4.09.44 PMimages. Most students provided the minimum single image. But Branden has two embedded into his blog and a photo of himself at the top of his post. I like the personal effort. I also love Branden’s intro, which kicks off his post with a brief history of blogging.

Jacqueline Wright—It may have something to do with the clean theme Jackie chose, but this post is a winner particularly because of its eye-appeal. It’s sharp and clean and meets my rubric’s requirements, but it’s also thoughtfully written with a smoothly embedded image with wraparound text and copious hyperlinks.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 4.09.58 PMDanielle Cormier-Serre—Danielle (yes, there are two in my class) also knows how to grab attention. I love her simple “you-view” headline: “How to be the best blogger you can be—a guide.” Danielle also masterfully embeds an image with wraparound text and employs headings and subheadings to make her content invigoratingly scannable. She also backs up her claims with hyperlinked sources.

Sarah Villeneuve—Last but definitely not least is Sarah’s blog entitled, “Entering the blogosphere.” Like Danielle, she effectively uses headings to draw the eye and to create variety in the look of her post. And she has embedded an image with wraparound text. I Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 4.10.09 PMalso like Sarah’s call to action: “But what do you think? Is there something more important that would make my blog, or any blog, better?” Thank you, Sarah. I hope you get some feedback.

If you can find the time, I’m sure these students would love to hear from you. Visit their blogs, leave comments, and let them know what you think.

And if you like what you see and you’d like to read more, here are some other excellent bloggers that were on my shortlist but whose posts didn’t quite make the top 5: Jenna Brisson, Regan Druce, Rodrigo Moran, Valeria Puchetti, Elysse Tomlin, Kim Cormier, Georgia De Abreu, and Megan Ouellet.

Visit their blogs or feel free to comment here and let us know what you think of our new student blogs. Meanwhile, I’ll be curious to see if these lists of top bloggers change or grow by the end of April and who will win Blogger of the Year at the annual AMC Greg Awards.

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Some things will never change?

Pop musician Bruce Hornsby used to sing in his 1986 hit single that “some things will never change—that’s just the way it is.” Incredibly, that seems to be true of the basics of blog writing (at least in the short term).

With information and communications technology evolving at lightning speed these days, one might expect that the art of blogging would have morphed dramatically. But I’ve been teaching blogging 101 for six years now at the college level, and the basics have remained the same. Indeed, my assignment rubric has barely changed since 2012.

My first-year Advertising and Marketing Communications students at St. Lawrence College here in Kingston, Ontario, Canada will soon write their first blog posts for their Writing for Marketing Class to prepare them for this skill that they’ll likely need in the workforce when they graduate.

The assignment will introduce them to the bare essentials of crafting a blog that looks good and reads well. I’ll start the lesson by showing a short video that outlines some of the crucial features of an effectively crafted blog:

  1. Have a compelling title.
  2. Use a concise, relevant lead paragraph that summarizes the post.
  3. Insert prominently an eye-catching, relevant image (use licence-free images).
  4. Add personal experiences or personal images.
  5. Make the body scannable with headings and bulleted lists.
  6. Make the prose digestible with short paragraphs and sentences.
  7. Keep posts short (300 to 500 words).
  8. Provide internal and external sources with hyperlinks.
  9. End with a discussion question or call to action to encourage comments.
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Watch the how-to video on Blackboard:

I’ll also focus on helping students to write with clarity by illustrating their points and to use cited (hyperlinked) evidence, and I’ll show them how to find and embed licence-free images as well as how to increase their blog’s SEO.

It’ll be a short lesson, as it always is. If you have any questions about any of the above blogging features, or if I’m wrong about the enduring features of the stalwart blog, please drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, I’ll let you know here how the lesson goes.

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For the record…

The post below is copied from my “About Me” page from a few months ago. With the college faculty strike over, it’s time to restore my old profile page. However, I didn’t want to lose the commentary below.


I am an ardent full-time professor of business fundamentals at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and I have been on strike since Oct. 16 with about 12,000 other college faculty.

In my previous career as a newspaper journalist in England; Nova Scotia; and here in Kingston, Ontario, I covered plenty of strikes with a journalist’s dispassionate, objective voice. Strikes were something that happened to other people.

I also didn’t understand strikes. After all, as a young, mobile professional, it was my view that if you couldn’t fix a poor employment situation, you should leave. And if you were good at what you did, someone better than the previous employer would hire you.

frank on picket lineBut that viewpoint ends when one becomes invested in one’s community and clients. In my case, it is the city of Kingston and my students.

I left my full-time newspaper job of 10 years in 2008 to teach 12 hours per week at the college’s business school while running my own corporate communications business.

It was tough going. My business—Wordstrong Consulting—took off almost immediately and became a full-time job. By the end of my first semester at St. Lawrence College, I was working 7 days and 70 hours a week. Teaching was exhausting, but I loved it—even though I sucked at it at first.

I remember going into my first Office Administration communications classes and hearing the students angrily complaining about me. I think a few even brought their concerns about my competence to our associate dean.

It hurt to be thought of as inadequate. I was giving an A-plus effort and delivering to students a D-minus education. As a professional writer, it had been a long time since I’d been anything less than excellent. It was demoralizing and I felt tremendously guilty that my student-clients were not getting a stellar product from me.

For me, back then, in 2008, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. At the time, the ratio of full-time instructors to part-time instructors was about the opposite of what it is now (it was about 70% full-time to 30% part-time, whereas now it is about 19% full-time to 81% part-time).

I knew that if I worked really hard, I would become an excellent instructor and I would eventually earn one of those coveted full-time positions. It took six years of working every day—including weekends—and skipping holidays, like Christmas and the winter break, to get there. Working every day was hard on the relationship with my wife and even influenced our decision to have only one child. Each year, my wife and I would evaluate whether or not I should continue at the college. Indeed, I almost quit the year before I won a full-time position.

Now in my fourth year as a full-time professor, I still work at least one day most weekends, most of the Christmas holidays, and over the winter breaks. But that’s OK. Teaching at the college level is the best job in the world: I build meaningful connections with my students (my clients) and I have real impact on their lives—all the while continually growing and learning through self-reflection and from my students.

I am humbled at the honour to have been given a chance at this great vocation. But if the ratio of part-time to full-time instructors had been, in 2008, as it is now, I don’t think I would have stuck it out more than a year because there would have been no light at the end of that tunnel.

Then, do you know what would have happened? Another bright-eyed keener would have replaced me: another passionate instructor who would have given an A-plus effort while delivering D-minus learning for a year or so before burning out and being replaced by another.

So, it’s for my students, who deserve an A-plus learning experience, that I am out here on the picket line day after day, drawing a line in the sand in hopes that Ontario colleges will return to the bargaining table, stop the cycle of education deterioration, and give our student-clients their money’s worth.


Inspired by my colleague Melanie Christian, who recently created a blog to write about the strike and the issues surrounding it, I have decided to resurrect my own teaching blog. I will be posting about my experiences on the picket line and beyond here. Stay tuned.

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Ugly divide-and-conquer strategy fails CEC

Talk about an epic strategic failure.


USE pickets 1

St. Lawrence College faculty walk the line

Before this strike happened, many faculty were divided on the issues, and many of us weren’t sure we were willing to commit to a strike for them. I certainly wasn’t. But, boy, has that ever changed, thanks to some nasty bad-faith tactics employed by the College Employer Council.  Indeed, college faculty across the province have changed their minds in droves.


Just look at the difference between the number of faculty who voted for a strike mandate in October versus the number who voted this week to reject the council’s recent forced contract offer. And look at the increase in the numbers of people who simply voted.

If I have my numbers right, as many as 11,000 of Ontario’s approximately 12,000 college faculty voted to reject the College Employer Council’s forced offer today compared to the approximately 7,200 faculty who voted in October to support a strike mandate.

 Back in October, of the 7,200 who cast a ballot during the strike mandate vote, only 68% voted in favour of that strike mandate. This time around, of the 11,000 who cast a ballot during this latest forced “bait-and-switch” offer, 86% voted to reject the council’s offer.
That is quite the turnaround in faculty support for the issues being fought for by the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, wouldn’t you say?
frank on picket line

Frank Armstrong pickets reluctantly in Week 1 of the strike

The “no” vote is even more noteworthy when one considers that the stakes are getting higher by the day. The semester is in jeopardy. Our students are getting angrier—some with us and some with the college administration and provincial government. Our local union war chests are getting low (our strike funds come from money we all put away over several years for just such a crisis). Many of us are dipping into our lines of credit to feed our families. Most full-timers (like me) have nothing to gain financially by striking. And we see that our students—the people we are fighting the hardest for in this strike—are suffering just as we are.

Yet, here we are—at the end of Week 5—standing up against an employer that has much deeper coffers, much higher paid labour lawyers and strategists, and a direct communications pipeline to students through college emails and other campus mediums.


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OPSEU negotiators wait for the CEC to return to the table

Sadly, the current, dire situation could have been avoided if the council had bargained in good faith. Instead, it pretended to return to bargaining then threw out most of the items that it had conceded during the “fake” negotiations it had initiated. Then it appears to have lied about having reached agreement on all matters except academic freedom. 

The council also had college presidents (like us, they are employees of the council) issue statements to students and faculty that were clearly meant to create division between students and faculty (these clearly did not support two of our own college’s core values: Students First or Integrity).

These ugly tactics and others only served to cement the determination of faculty, including on-the-fence full-timers like me who previously had no strong notions about the issues.
chicken sign

A picket sign made after the CEC’s “fake” return to bargaining

Ontario government and College Employer Council, you’ve really blown it. And unfortunately, it’s your clients—our students—who are caught in the vicious vortex you created by underfunding colleges (Ontario has the lowest funded college system in Canada per student) and by playing dirty pool in the negotiating process.

This issue is bigger than all of us. It’s about standing up for our children, and for our future workforce (our students), and saying that precarious contract work is wrong and that our grads and children have the right to live in a country where they can have decent jobs and middle-class lifestyles. An overreliance on contract faculty also hurts student success.
Ontario government and colleges, you both need to step up—the province with more money and the colleges with a critical review of your current, crumbling hiring models. Education cannot be effectively commodified.
And instead of trying to divide faculty and students, colleges need to stand with faculty and students to demand more money from the Ontario government.
If they don’t, someday soon, we will see their business model, and the colleges themselves, self-destruct.
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Colleges, check the research—your numbers don’t add up

KINGSTON, ONT.—When a St. Lawrence College professor asked her MPP for his support to end the current labour dispute between college faculty and their employer, here is how he responded:

“I do not view the use of contract or sessional teachers in a negative light, nor do I accept the premise that full time teachers are better or more proficient educators than part time teachers. I have searched for objective research on this topic, however the evidence to support this premise is absent.”

Challenge accepted. Our team dove into the academic literature and found the evidence. Here are the highlights:

  1. The more courses students take with contract faculty versus full-time, the less likely they are to return for a second term.
  2. A 14% drop in retention (i.e., students dropping out) occurs between first and second year for students who have more than 75% of classroom hours taught by contract faculty.
  3. Students who start programs with contract faculty don’t perform as well in second year as those who start with full-time faculty.


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Dan Jacoby wrote this in The Journal of Higher Education, perhaps the world’s most respected academic journals.

Despite this readily-available, peer-reviewed research, colleges have allowed the percentage of classes taught by contract faculty to balloon to an incredible 81%.


It is crucial to note that these effects are not the fault of the instructors themselves. Instead, a lack of time, various institutional factors, and job insecurity work against them.

The above-mentioned studies show that these effects occur for the following reasons:

  1. Unavailability of faculty—Full-time faculty are generally more available and form stronger relationships with students. These relationships are crucial to student retention.
  2. Lower standards of evaluation—Contract faculty tend to use less rigorous methods of assessment, and the grades they give are much higher than those given by full-timers. This means students may pass courses without having gained the knowledge and skills needed to complete higher-level courses. They do this for multiple reasons, including a fear that giving low grades will affect their performance evaluations and reduce the chances of them being rehired.
  3. Lack of time—Quality suffers because contract faculty are less available and the institution fails to support them outside the classroom (i.e., they have limited access to phones, email, and office space and they are paid only for classroom hours) even though many contract faculty put forth remarkable effort to engage with students despite these challenges.


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Click to visit the full report at

University of Washington Professor Dan Jacoby, a leading authority on the correlation between part-time/full-time faculty ratios and student success, suggests there is no excuse for the current 19/81 full-time faculty to contract ratios.


“There now appear to be few real defenses that can justify maintaining a system of employment that evidence increasingly suggests has adverse results for students as well as for faculty,” Jacoby writes in The Journal of Higher Education, one of the world’s most respected scholarly journals on the institution of higher education.

Please see the attached report researched and written by Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Local 417, for further details and source documentation.


For further information, contact Grant Currie, President OPSEU Local 417 at (613) 893-2505 or


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More than 160 protesters rally to support striking faculty

KINGSTON, ONT., Nov. 3, 2017—More than 160 demonstrators gathered at St. Lawrence College on Friday to protest precarious employment and to fight for academic freedom.

Members from several of the city’s labour unions joined picketing professors for a rally at the entrance to the college, where local union leaders encouraged them to stay strong as they wrapped up their third week on the picket line.

USE Gareth Jones 2

OPSEU Regional VP Gareth Jones speaks at the rally

“We are standing here together, showing that we believe in our cause,” said Grant Currie, president of Local 417 of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union.

 “These awful, four-month low-paying contracts that make people live in fear for their lives, so they cannot plan their future have to go,” Currie told the crowd. “We also have to have input into decision making; let’s make decisions that are based on our knowledge and our dedication for the learning that goes on in those buildings.”

student pickets

Students came out to support faculty on strike

After his speech, Currie said he was impressed to see such solidarity from so many labour unions. Union flags were carried by 5 local unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Queen’s University Faculty Association, which brought 15 Queen’s professors to the event, many of them full-timers who were once part-time professors.

 Cathy Christie, a full-time Queen’s science education professor and a former faculty association president who spent years on short-term contract, said it was important for her and her colleagues to come to the rally to show solidarity in the fight against a global problem.

“It’s not just St. Lawrence; this is an issue that is across the country and around the world,” Christie said in an interview. “Our universities and colleges are relying on contract faculty and it undermines every academic institution in the country, in the world.”

 About 12,000 faculty, counsellors, and librarians at Ontario’s 24 colleges left their jobs Oct. 16 after the College Employer Council refused to address their final offer. Faculty wanted the employer to boost the number of full-time and part-time faculty to a 50/50 ratio instead of the current 19/81 one. Faculty fear that colleges will continue their commodification of education until colleges are entirely staffed by part-time professors. After all, just 10 years ago, the ratio of full-timers to part-timers was 70/30. And Council CEO Don Sinclair has said to news media that the council will not agree to any ratios so that colleges can maintain flexible workforces.

 Contract talks restarted Thursday. If a settlement is reached today (Friday), classes could resume as early as Wednesday, Nov. 8.

 Currie said he is “optimistic” a settlement will soon be reached.


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