Creating a Pro-Friendly Classroom



While there is much discussion about anti-bullying in schools, I think the focus needs to go beyond how to combat the menace of bullying and move to the next stage. My idea is to not just alleviate bullying and make the classroom a neutral setting but to create a pro-friendly classroom, one in which the focus is not just on being civil but being friendly. Also, I am very interested in exploring how to make classrooms a ‘safe space’ for the exchange of ideas and tolerance but also ‘friendly spaces’ in that creating a warm, happy environment for students might help to foster learning. This may be a tall order at a law school but I have hope. The idea that I am working on is something akin to anti-bullying but more along the lines of ‘pro-friendly’.

There was a recent study by Professor Jane O’Reilly and her team that being ostracized in the workplace may have greater damage than being bullied. Professor O’Reilly states that bullying is negative attention and energy from others while ostracism conveys that one is not even worthy enough for others’ attention and effort[1]. She notes that ostracism removes interactional dynamic and potential for exchange[2].

As I have written about in one of my articles, “while discussing legal education, it is also important to consider the underlying layers of socialisation that occur within the classroom setting. The phrase ‘hidden curriculum’ is often used to describe the maintenance of hierarchical structures such as socio-economic class within the classroom. The phrase also denotes the socialisation of attending school, in that one is taught how to behave and act.”[3]

It seems as though bullying in law schools may not be the same as bullying in elementary schools or high schools, but I am concerned about the isolation and exclusion that may be occurring in law schools. I do not think that law schools need anti-bullying programs but rather going beyond encouraging this base level of civility that the LSUC expects[4] and instead move on towards creating a pro-friendly space. Again, this is separate from a ‘positive space’ environment that is usually used to refer to a space that is sexual orientation friendly.[5] I went through such training while attending law school at Queen’s University and working as Editor-in-Chief of the Graduate Student newspaper antiThesis.

I argue that the focus should be on exclusion versus inclusion. If you look at the typical classroom there may be instances where group dynamics are skewed along certain lines. My discussion does not focus on racism, sexism, or classism but rather that people can be excluded from the classroom for numerous reasons and rather than focus on the problem I would like to focus on the solution.

This can be described as a form of social alienation or social isolation. Going back to Professor O’Reilly, this may be more distressing than bullying. It essentially undermines one’s self-worth if one is made to feel less valuable than others in the classroom. I am very aware when teaching to think about who is excluded and needs to be nudged into participation versus the painfully shy who would probably rather remain on the sidelines. Also, simple tasks such as group work in my Legal Process classroom in which I always partner up the students myself rather than allow the students to choose which ensures that no one is left out and helps students speak to others besides their friend next to them.

In my own work exploring how corporations can be used to help increase the rights of workers I know that there is a limit to both hard law and soft law. One cannot be legislated to be nice to others beyond a superficial level (e.g. Good Samaritan Laws that exist). Wage increases and better benefit packages may help a worker provide for their family but does not necessarily increase one’s self-worth in the workplace. Same with students – better grades will not help a student feel more included in day-to-day classroom settings.

I would propose that those who teach students should at the very least think about ways to foster a warm learning space for students. Law schools are known to encourage healthy competition. But what is to be done when that competition becomes unhealthy? And one can be friendly without giving up on striving for excellence. The two are not mutually exclusive.

What do I do in the classroom to try to achieve a pro-friendly space? I have been a Course Director at Osgoode for 4 years. The first day of class I provide an anecdote to the students about taking an American Sign Language (ASL) class through the Canadian Hearing Society: “We watched a video in ASL class and it emphasized that when someone in the deaf community corrects your signing it should be taken well as it is a way of allowing you to know the right way – how to be better at signing. So I hope all of you can take feedback in that same manner with the understanding that your Instructor wants to see you do your best and that feedback is meant to help you on that path.” I also emphasize that the classroom is a place where we have to be respectful of other people’s opinions and views. Words are powerful and simply stating what is to be expected of students helps to shape the classroom environment.


Vanisha H. Sukdeo, B.A., LL.B., LL.M. is a Ph.D. Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is a Course Director at Osgoode Hall Law School, and a Fellow at the Critical Research Laboratory in Law & Society. Vanisha is on the CALT Executive.


[1] “Is Negative Attention Better Than No Attention? The Comparative Effects of Ostracism and Harassment at Work” online: <>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Vanisha H. Sukdeo, “Global Legal Scholarship and Interdisciplinarity” (2013) 4: 4 Transnational Legal Theory 639-644 at 641.

[4] See the Law Society of Upper Canada’s initiative ‘Treasurer’s Report on the Civility Forum’, online: <>.

[5] See example at Queen’s University, online: <>.


Open Doors – Roderick Macdonald at the 2014 CALT Conference – Shauna Van Praagh, CALT President

“Open Doors – Teaching and Learning Law for Justice”: this was the theme of the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Law Teachers, held at the University of Manitoba one week ago (June 7 and 8, 2014).  As the outgoing president of CALT, I had the honour of preparing words of welcome for what was a ‘rencontre des collègues’ more than a ‘colloque scientifique des chercheurs’ – a meeting of teachers dedicated to opening the doors of classrooms, offices, and minds to justice.  Given the coming together in Winnipeg of two associations, those of Canadian Law and Society and Canadian Law Teachers, I quoted McGill colleague, Roderick A. Macdonald, as someone who embodies and shapes the overlap of socio-legal scholarship and legal education.

Rod Macdonald’s words capture what it means to be a teacher: “Teaching is a calling, it is a vocation, a statement about what you believe and what you are committing to.  There is an ethic which attaches to being a teacher, an ethic of commitment to your students, an ethic of commitment to discovery, an ethic that shapes your life.  It is a part of your life, in the classroom, in the hallway, at home and on the street corner.  That is what I mean when I say teaching is a way of being alive.”

The key words in Rod Macdonald’s description of teaching are striking: ‘calling’, ‘belief’, ‘commitment’, ‘ethics’, ‘students’, ‘life’, and ‘discovery’.  They are ideas that shape our dreams and paths as lifelong students and teachers.  And they are the ideas that shaped every part of this year’s CALT conference, from Janet Mosher’s insightful and inspiring plenary address to the panels and workshops in which participants shared innovative pedagogical approaches, reflections on the objectives and practices of effective legal education, and experiences of meaningful teaching and learning.

Above all, we thought hard about the place and role and significance of justice in the legal education curriculum, and about the ‘why’ and the values and the ethical character of teaching law.   We talked about what it means to ensure that students are what Janet Mosher labeled “justice ready”, about the importance and obligation of intellectual leadership, about the burden of enriching students’ deep understanding of the dynamics of power and the permeability of borders.

We celebrated this year’s recipient of CALT’s Academic Excellence Award, Teresa Scassa, for her combination of collegiality, devotion to teaching, and creative research and writing on issues of contemporary justice; we celebrated Eric Adams, recipient of CALT’s Scholarly Paper Award, for engaging scholarship that crosses the lines between legal history, legal education, and narrative in law.   Finally, we came together to look ahead to the future of teaching and learning law in Canadian universities, and to imagine the many ways in which building connections and collective projects can be central to an association of law teachers.

At this year’s conference, held in Winnipeg – site of “The Forks”, a significant meeting site for indigenous peoples at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers – we learned together, spoke with each other, asked each other questions, and shared our joy for teaching and learning.  I told CALT participants last Sunday that I would report back to Rod Macdonald that ‘all was right with the world’.  I knew that, although he couldn’t make the trip to the University of Manitoba due to his failing health, he was with us every step of the way.

Upon my return to McGill this week, the top item I found on my “After Winnipeg” list of things to do was simply “Rod”.  I knew what that meant.  I was going to sit down and write a long message telling him who had been there, what had been discussed, and how positive we felt about the roles and responsibilities of law teachers at a time when many talk about a ‘crisis’ in legal education.  In lieu of sending an e-mail, I decided to write a note, which I dropped in a Montreal mailbox on Thursday afternoon.

The next morning, Friday, June 13th, Rod Macdonald passed away.  A beautiful tribute can be found from Dean Daniel Jutras on McGill’s Faculty of Law web page, and notes of condolence and memories are flooding in.  I wish my note had reached him…but of course he knew that any meeting of people who care about teaching and learning, and about law and society, included him.  His words, his voice, his convictions, his challenges, his ability to make people ask very hard questions of themselves and of the world around them and to strive for meaningful, appropriately complex, answers – all were responsible for making this year’s meeting of the Canadian Association of Law Teachers a real success and an invitation to continue the conversations.

In the spirit of the conference theme, may we ensure “open doors” – “portes ouvertes” to the teachings and insights and memories of Roderick A. Macdonald, a truly great Canadian teacher and student and shaper of law, in all its forms and sites and systems.


Le colloque annuel de l’Association canadienne des professeurs de droit (ACPD), dont le thème était « Portes ouvertes : enseigner et apprendre le droit pour la justice », a eu lieu il y a une semaine (7 et 8 juin 2014) à l’Université du Manitoba.À titre de présidente sortante de l’ACPD, j’ai eu l’honneur de préparer un mot de bienvenue pour cet événement, qui était davantage une rencontre de collègues qu’un colloque scientifique de chercheurs ; c’était une réunion de professeurs décidés à ouvrir les portes des salles de classe et des bureaux et à ouvrir les esprits vers la justice.Étant donné le rassemblement à Winnipeg de deux associations, l’Association canadienne Droit et Société et l’Association des professeurs de droit, j’ai cité un collègue de McGill, Roderick A. Macdonald, comme une personne qui incarne et façonne le chevauchement entre l’érudition sociojuridique et l’éducation juridique.

Les mots de Rod Macdonald expriment parfaitement ce qu’être enseignant signifie :« Enseigner, c’est entendre un appel, c’est une vocation, c’est exprimer ce que vous croyez et ce envers quoi vous vous engagez.Être un professeur vient avec une déontologie, une éthique de l’engagement envers les étudiants, envers la découverte ; c’est une éthique qui façonne votre vie.Elle fait partie de votre vie dans la classe, dans le corridor, à la maison et au coin de la rue.C’est ce que je veux dire quand je dis qu’enseigner est une façon d’être en vie. »

Les mots clés de la description que fait Rod Macdonald de l’enseignement sont remarquables : « vocation », « croyance », « engagement », « éthique », « étudiants », « vie » et « découverte ».Ce sont les idées qui donnent forme à nos rêves et à nos parcours comme étudiants et enseignants tout au long de la vie.Et ce sont les idées qui ont façonné chaque moment du colloque de l’ACPD cette année, de la séance plénière perspicace et inspirante de Janet Mosher aux tables rondes et aux ateliers dans lesquels les participants ont partagé des approches pédagogiques innovatrices, des réflexions sur les objectifs et les pratiques de l’enseignement juridique efficace, et des expériences d’enseignement et d’apprentissage porteuses de sens.

Par-dessus tout, nous avons réfléchi à la place, au rôle et à l’importance de la justice dans le programme d’éducation juridique, et au « pourquoi », aux valeurs et au caractère éthique de l’enseignement du droit.Nous avons parlé de ce que signifie nous assurer que les étudiants soient, comme l’a dit Janet Mosher, « prêts pour la justice », de l’importance et de l’obligation du leadership intellectuel, du fardeau de l’enrichissement de la compréhension profonde qu’ont les étudiants des dynamiques de pouvoir et du caractère perméable des frontières.

Nous avons célébré Teresa Scassa, qui a remporté le prix annuel d’excellence universitaire de l’ACPD pour sa combinaison de collégialité, de dévouement et de recherches et d’écrits créatifs sur les enjeux contemporains de la justice. Nous avons aussi célébré Eric Adams, gagnant du prix du concours d’essai juridique, pour ses recherches fascinantes qui traversent les frontières de l’histoire juridique, de l’enseignement et de la narration.Enfin, nous nous sommes rassemblés pour penser à l’avenir de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage du droit au sein des universités canadiennes, et pour imaginer les nombreuses façons dont tisser des liens et bâtir des projets collectifs peuvent jouer un rôle central pour une association de professeurs de droit.

Le colloque de cette année a eu lieu à Winnipeg, site de « La Fourche », un lien de rencontre important pour les membres des Premières nations, à l’intersection des rivières Rouge et Assiniboine. Nous avons appris ensemble, nous avons parlé, nous nous sommes posé des questions et nous avons partagé notre soif d’enseigner et d’apprendre.Dimanche dernier, j’ai dit aux participants de l’ACPD que j’allais faire mon rapport à Rod Macdonald et lui dire que « tout allait bien dans le monde ».Je savais que même s’il ne pouvait faire le voyage à l’Université du Manitoba à cause de sa santé défaillante, il nous accompagnait cependant le long du parcours.

À mon retour à McGill cette semaine, tout en haut de ma liste de choses à faire « après Winnipeg » j’avais inscrit simplement : « Rod ».Je savais ce que cela signifiait.J’allais m’assoir pour écrire un long message pour lui dire qui avait été présent, ce qui avait fait l’objet de discussions, et à quel point nous nous sentions enthousiastes au sujet des rôles et responsabilités des professeurs de droit à un moment où plusieurs parlent d’une « crise » de l’éducation juridique.Au lieu d’envoyer un courriel, j’ai décidé d’écrire une lettre, que j’ai déposée dans une boîte postale à Montréal jeudi après-midi.

Le lendemain matin, le vendredi 13 juin, Rod Macdonald est décédé.Sur la page Web de la faculté de droit, le doyen, Daniel Jutras, lui rend hommage, tandis que les mots de condoléances et les souvenirs affluent.J’aurais aimé que ma lettre lui parvienne… mais bien sûr il savait qu’il était présent dans toute rencontre de gens qui ont à cœur l’enseignement et l’apprentissage, le droit et la société.Ses mots, sa voix, ses convictions, ses défis, sa capacité à faire que les gens se posent des questions ardues et en posent sur le monde qui les entoure, qu’ils cherchent des réponses significatives et complexes, tout cela a fait du colloque annuel de l’Association des professeurs de droit un grand succès et une invitation à poursuivre la conversation.

Dans l’esprit du thème du colloque, nous devons nous assurer que les portes sont ouvertes vers les leçons, les idées et les souvenirs de Roderick A. Macdonald, un grand professeur et apprenant du droit, qu’il a contribué à façonner sous toutes ses formes, à travers les lieux et les systèmes.



Good news from our annual conference in Winnipeg – Bonnes nouvelles de notre rencontre annuel à Winnipeg

At the recent Annual General Meeting of CALT/ACPD, members across the country were nominated and elected to the leadership of the Association.

Félicitations à notre collègue, Annie Rochette, qui servira comme présidente de l’association.  And congratulations to new Vice-President, Gemma Smyth, and to returning Secretary-Treasurer, Derek McKee.

Nous avons dit merci et adieu à Nicole O’Byrne et Deborah Curran, qui ont toutes les deux contribué beaucoup d’energie et de la passion à l’ACPD.

Welcome to new and returning professors and graduate student representatives!  CALT/ACPD is in great hands as we look to the future.

2014-2015 Members of the ACPD/CALT Executive Board/ membres du conseil exécutif de l’ACPD/CALT 2014-2015

Eric Adams (Alberta)
Gillian Calder (Victoria) (ex officio – Editor of CLEAR)
Elaine Craig (Dalhousie)
Amar Khoday (Manitoba)
Jennifer Koshan (Calgary)
Konstantia Koutouki (Montréal)
Derek McKee (Sherbrooke) – Secretary-Treasurer
Janna Promislow (Thomson Rivers)
Annie Rochette (UQAM) – President
Teresa Scassa (Ottawa)
Gemma Smyth (Windsor) – Vice President
Shauna Van Praagh (ex officio – Past President)
Graduate student members/membres étudiants aux études supérieures:
Tenille Brown (Ottawa)
David Sandomierski (Toronto)
Vanisha Sudkeo (Osgoode)


Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education Annual Conference and Call for Papers

The Association of Canadian Clinical Legal Education (ACCLE) will host its 5th Annual Conference at the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor from October 22-25, 2014. This year’s conference will focus on “Clinics, Classrooms and Community: Clinical Legal Education at a Crossroads”. ACCLE is comprised of a group of individuals and clinics interested in supporting clinical legal education in Canada. The organization shares best practices, pedagogies and other information related to clinical legal education. ACCLE encourages the promotion and improvement of clinical legal education in Canadian Law Schools, promotes clinical pedagogy and research, facilitates the dissemination of information pertaining to clinical legal education to clinicians in Canada. Each year, ACCLE hosts a conference in various locations across Canada for the above mentioned purpose. Speakers address a wide range of issues relating to clinical legal education.

ACCLE invites proposals for papers or workshops that fit within the general theme of “clinics, classrooms and community”. Papers and panels will be reviewed and selected by members of the ACCLE Conference Committee based on their quality and relevance to the theme of the conference. Please keep your proposal to a maximum of 250 words, and please indicate the format of your presentation (individual paper, panel or workshop, or other format).

All submissions  should be sent by email to with the subject line “ACCLE Conference 2014 Proposal” by June 16, 2014.


Second International Conference on Interdisciplinary Legal Studies 2015

The Second International Conference on Interdisciplinary Legal Studies will be hosted at Ryerson University in Toronto on June 9-10, 2015.

The Conference is an opportunity for academics, practitioners , PhD students to come together, exchange ideas, and discuss emerging issues in Interdisciplinary Legal Studies. Best papers will have an opportunity to forward to several leading international journals. Case studies, abstracts of research in progress, as well as full research papers will be considered for presentation at the conference.

Visit the conference web site :