When asked to describe his student-support role, Benjamin Pottruff commented that: “A learning strategist is similar to a coach. The work is partially about getting to know students’ goals, partially about understanding the challenges they are experiencing, and mainly about collaborating on a plan of strategies, techniques, or process to help students reach their goals.” Learning strategists support learners at all stages of development, from those who are struggling to improve their grades to high performers who are trying to figure out what their next steps may be.
There are many reasons why Pottruff enjoys being a learning strategist. At the top of the list is a “strengths-based” and “solution-focused” approach. “I think this approach is productive because it seeks to uncover the skills and attributes students already have, rather than starting from a deficit model about what students don’t have. We get a more solid foundation when we build on those amazing skills that are already there. Every student I get to meet with was admitted to the University of Toronto, so we know that there is a solid platform of strengths. The solution-focused approach is equally important. Students are really good at identifying the problems that are impacting their learning, this is after all an extension of their critical thinking skills. We want to acknowledge where students are at, before pivoting towards solutions that fit the learning context. Our ability to change our response to a particular challenge comes at that moment when we see past the problem to possible things that we can try towards enacting a solution.”
Pottruff’s background as a learning strategist draws from his previous education, work experience, and advice he has collected from thousands of students. He originally joined the University of Toronto to pursue a PhD in history after completing bachelor- and master-level degrees in history, and peace & conflict studies at the University of Waterloo. “As I was completing my PhD, I had a lot of opportunities to teach, and teaching got me really interested in the diversity of the learning process,” he says. Pottruff went on to complete an Applied Learning Disabilities Studies program through Cambrian College and is currently working studying in the Master of Education program at OISE. Prior to working as a learning strategist, he supported students as a teaching assistant, course Instructor and academic advisor. “While work experience and education helped to prepare me for this role, it is really the ongoing reflections I hear from students on a daily basis—what works for some and does not work for others—has shaped me as the learning strategist that I am today,” he says. “I feel privileged to hold and share this collective wisdom.”
Students would like to reflect on their learning process or evolve their skills in time management, note-taking, reading, motivation or study approaches should consider booking an appointment. Pottruff is available in fall, winter and summer. Appointments currently take place virtually over MS Teams and can be booked through the Office of the Registrar and Academic Advising or through the “Learning Strategy Booking” link on the Vic Advising Quercus page.