mECPS: Deborah Butler, Professor, HDLC

The mECPS digital feature series shares the stories of ECPS students & faculty. ECPS is home to world-class learners and educators, each of whom offers something unique to tell. Through these stories, we can learn more about each other and the resources that exist around us, and create community-building conversations.

When and where it all began

When speaking with Dr. Deborah Butler, it’s immediately apparent how passionate she is about her work in Education. She’s intentional and compassionate. She cares deeply about helping students achieve their highest potential. Deborah began her career at UBC in 1994 after completing her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at SFU the year prior. Over the last 23 years, Deborah has become an invaluable resource, contributor, and thought-leader within the ECPS department, Faculty of Education, and Educational Psychology community. Her research initially focused on learning for students identified as having special education needs, but she quickly realized that success for all learners depends on Inclusive Education. She began working with students that were approaching post-secondary education, but had become derailed in their previous learning. Where were they disrupted and why? Through her research, Deborah learned that part of the problem was that quite often students didn’t have a sense of purpose or goal in the tasks they were asked to perform and this contributed to a lack of confidence and motivation. To remedy, she asked: “What empowers them? How can we better support students so they are able to take deliberate control over their own lives and learning?” Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) was essential to this process. To empower students, Deborah recognized that they need to learn how to identify and achieve goals as effective, self-regulating learners. They must learn to select, adapt, or even invent personalized strategies they can rely on to achieve different kinds of goals given their particular thinking, processing, and learning capacities. Over time, as she worked collaboratively with educators to bring these ideas to life in classrooms, Deborah also realized the importance of mobilizing the concept of self-regulated, intentional learning to the teachers’ professional growth as well. Over the past decade, she and her colleagues have identified the promise of SRL as a model for empowering “teachers as learners” as they work together to reflect on and revise practices that empower student learning.

How has your research changed and developed over your career?

While her research has evolved through the years, the heart of her work has always been centered on the importance of “empowered learning.” Deborah continually builds her work upon the idea that people need the autonomy to create their own processes, feel capable to achieve their goals, and see the impact of their work. She has found this to be vital not only in students’ development, but also for teachers and other professionals. Her work has helped both directly and indirectly to shape, and often reshape, the lives of many people.

Where to now?

Deborah spent years as the lead principal investigator spearheading large research initiatives. While she’s still very involved with research today, she’s been able to expand the reach of her work by aligning herself with other exceptional researchers and academics as co-PIs in collaborative projects. She continues to focus most heavily on the professional learning of teachers, both in preservice and in-service programs. At the same time, she is extending a model of SRL to consider how developing professionals learn in and through practice in occupations other than teaching, such as engineering and medicine.

This summer, Deborah has begun a well-deserved year of study leave. During this time, she is still hard at work in research and writing, supporting graduate students, and programmatic leadership, including building an online undergraduate course alongside a doctoral candidate that will help mobilize years of research in Self-Regulated Learning and expand the learning opportunities in this field to many students.

Thank you for your continued contribution to ECPS, UBC Education, and the greater community, Deborah!