Carla van der Poel is an instructor in the Department of Informatics at Hogeschool Leiden, an applied university. She teaches oral and written communication skills, with a focus on preparing her students for their future careers. She enjoys mentoring students and helping them develop not only stronger communication skills but a deeper seld-awareness. A woman of many talents and interests, Carla grew up on a farm in Zouterwoude as the oldest of eight children. Now 60, Carla lives in Leiden with her husband Arno de Bruin and one of her two sons. [A profile of Arno de Bruin also appears at www.theysaidwhat.co]
“I’m an instructor at Hogeschool Leiden … I teach oral and written skills … since the students are working on projects, it’s important that they know themselves and learn how to behave in groups.”
“When you know yourself, you know which role you have in terms of Belbin.” The Belbin Self-Perception Inventory, developed in the 1970s by British researcher Meredith Belbin and used by many companies around the world, identifies nine different roles that individuals play in a team environment. “When a team wants to have a good result, it’s important that all nine roles are represented … for example there is somebody with a lot of ideas, somebody who’s a hard worker, somebody who’s a supervisor. And you need all those skills to reach a good result ... and when people know their own roles, they can compare it to other people in the project and realize what roles are missing … the students become more aware of their qualities and what they are lacking.”
Carla also teaches students “about how to give feedback … this is already very important in the first year, when you’re working in groups … when you’re not satisfied with how someone is working … how can you give feedback in a constructive way? … I teach ways to avoid conflicts and how to deal with conflicts … these are all skills they will need in a modern workplace.”
“It’s very interesting because you are really close to the skin of the students … they open themselves and they explore themselves. Sometimes they discover hidden skills, things they don’t know about themselves … everyone knows something about themselves that other people know as well, but we all have blind spots that others know … I try to teach them to explore themselves more … to become more in balance, you should open up and tell people something about yourself.”
“When you invest in people, then people can develop themselves … when you give feedback in a positive way, people can find out ‘oh, I’m good at that. That’s something I should explore’ … I like that very much, to help [students] with finding their skills.”
Most students at Hogeschool Leiden are between the ages of 18 and 25. To qualify for the Hogeschool, students need to have a HAVO, WWO or MBO credential. The communications course that Carla teaches is a requirement for all students entering the Department of Informatics. “We have around 350 new students a year in our department.” The course has two 10-week terms.
How did Carla come to this job?: “I studied Dutch language and literature [at Leiden University] … while I was at the university, I followed for one year the course to become a teacher … though I felt at the time I would never teach.”
“I ended up as a book historian … that was my main specialization.” She worked at a Leiden bookstore with Arno de Bruin (who later became her husband) and Arne Steenkamp while completing her university program. “And when I finished my studies, I quit the book shop and went to The Hague for 11 years … I worked for 11 years in a book auction house in Den Haag, where I was also an auctioneer.”
Carla feels this job helped prepare her to become a teacher. “Being in front of an auction house, and giving a big presentation to a group of clients, is not that different than being in front of a classroom.” (laughs)
“After 11 years [at the auction house] I thought it was time for a change … and I thought what are my possibilities … and I started to teach at the Rotterdam Hogeschool one evening per week to see if I liked it … and it turned out I liked that … this was around 1995.” Carla taught communication and presentation skills courses at hogeschools in Rotterdam and Den Haag.
“And then I thought it’s probably more practical to work closer to my house [in Leiden] … since I had a child.” Her first job at Hogeschool Leiden was in laboratory education. “I had to teach chemical English and biomedical English because [the lab department] used English-language text books.” She came to her current position in the Department of Informatics six years ago.
“One thing I like very much is being a personal mentor to the students … every year I have 30 students, and I advise them on choosing one of the specializations. But I also advise them on how to study efficiently, and on their personal development … I speak with them one on one at least four times a year, and I see them in class … so I really know them. I follow their results, I discuss their results with them, I warn them … this is especially important in the first year since most are coming from secondary school and some of them aren’t very independent … they’re used to having a teacher or mother looking over their shoulder … But they don’t have [this support] when they enter the Hogeschool.”
Carla gets satisfaction from watching her students improve their writing skills. “There’s a course they can choose that teaches writing of reports … the [students’] writing skills aren’t very well-developed in many cases. But you really see that when people want to invest in it they can make progress … when you light the fire in them, you really see how they develop … you see the progress because everything to which you pay attention can grow.”
“As a teacher I have a message, to help them to find out who they are and how they can improve and how they can feel well … and I try to be open and I invite them to be open as well … sometimes I tell them something, and they say my mother also tells me that ... is that by coincidence? … Maybe it makes a difference when I tell it … in Holland, we say strange eyes force somebody … sometimes its better to hear these messages from a stranger.”
One of Carla’s biggest challenges at Hogeschool Leiden is students who aren’t motivated. “They come here for informatics, that’s the main course, and things like communication is not very interesting to them … but I think I can be satisfied with the idea that maybe I planted a seed, and that later on maybe they will profit from what I taught them.”
“Sometimes [students] look at you as if ‘why are you wasting my time.’ (laughs) … but there are always exceptions … and there are always students who make the difference. So that’s important.”
“I think there’s an important relationship between written and oral language. When you can’t structure your ideas, whether it’s on paper or spoken ... it turns out to be b.s. … it will hold back your career … communication skills are very important in these times. I think that will never change.”
In her free time, Carla enjoys bicycling, reading novels, going to movies and yoga. About five years ago she began writing for a quarterly Leiden newspaper called Hart van de Stadkrant. “I’m fond of Leiden, and it’s a nice way to be curious and to meet people and to know more about the background … I’m teaching writing skills, so I thought I should do something with these skills as well.”