UVicEd alumni start business to foster student success

flowerstone

Education is one of the most precious resources we have access to. Learning has the power to change our mindsets and enrich our lives for the better. But while we understand the benefits of education, how much do we know about the process behind learning?

UVicEd alumni Lizz Alexander, PhD, and Sarah Davis, PhD, RCC, from Flowerstone Learning Services are experts in understanding how young students learn and how to better their chances of success through counselling and coaching.

After years of working and researching together, they created a business dedicated to understanding and helping young students achieve academic success by combining their skills and experiences they had at UVic.

flowerstone
UVicEd alumni Sarah Davis (left) and Lizz Alexander (right) from FLS

Q. How did you two meet and how did your business partnership emerge?

A.

We met in 2016 as UVicEd graduate students working with Dr. Allyson Hadwin in the Technology Integration and Evaluation lab. We worked on several research projects and spent time in the lab together over the years.

Around 2018, Sarah began to entertain the notion of becoming self-employed. As she neared the end of her program in 2020, Sarah contacted Lizz with the idea of starting a flexible online business to support students, drawing on our backgrounds and experiences from our time at UVic.

Lizz was on maternity leave at the time and beginning to think about potential career paths. The prospect of being able to work from home on a part-time basis while taking care of three young children appealed to Lizz. In addition, we knew from our past experiences in the TIE lab that we could work well together and bring complementary strengths to the collaboration. From there, our partnership blossomed.

Q. What is the story behind Flowerstone Learning Services?

A.

Sarah’s doctoral work focused on mental health and learning, and with her background as a counsellor, she thought this provided an excellent opportunity for us to create a website to help bridge these two areas. We made the decision in April of 2020 to work together to create a business, and from there we developed a plan to launch the business in Fall of 2020.

One of the early steps was choosing a business name. As we each percolated on this, one of Sarah’s ideas was to find something unique about Vancouver Island. She discovered the flowerstone is a rock unique to this part of the world. This name resonated with Lizz because of the symbolism of a flower that can grow into something beautiful and the stone that is a solid foundation – just like students need a solid foundation from which to grow and develop.

The name stuck, and Flowerstone Learning Services was born. From there, we created our shared website, www.flowerstonelearning.com, to provide a resource for our services.

Q. How did your UVicEd degrees inspire you to found your company?

A.

Sarah:

I chose to do my doctorate at UVic to work with Dr. Allyson Hadwin as a mentor and because of the small, individualized program in the department of Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies. I came into my PhD not knowing what career I would pursue; I think having this mindset helped me pursue a variety of positions and experiences to explore the options.

Due to the small program size, I had many opportunities to collaborate with other professors and graduate students, both at UVic and internationally. For example, under the mentorship of Dr. Todd Milford (Curriculum and Instruction) and Dr. Stuart MacDonald (Psychology), I was able to challenge myself by learning about advanced quantitative methods and using them in my dissertation. 

These experiences and collaborations helped build my confidence and knowledge base, and I started thinking about being self-employed at the end of my third year of my PhD. I found that many other PhD students I met, both at UVic and at conferences, were worried about their job prospects post-graduation. For me, I thought that all the experiences I had during my PhD would only open more doors and opportunities for me career-wise.

Self-employment made sense because it meant I could create my own career based on the work I enjoyed doing—counselling, teaching, research—and spend more of my time working directly with students. 

Lizz:

My experiences as a UVicEd student provided me with a solid foundation to create this business. Having the opportunity to research and learn about learning as well as to be fully involved in delivering a course teaching other students how to learn gave me the knowledge, skills, and confidence to pursue an entrepreneurial career in supporting student success.

Being mentored by experts in the field as well as having the opportunity to put research into practice allowed me to develop a deep appreciation for the importance of lifelong learning. I met many amazing and inspiring instructors and students along my journey, and I feel that so many struggling students could benefit from support to develop their learning skills guided by theory and research. Being part of a supportive team has also been a tremendous inspiration.

Through my experiences, I have come to truly value teamwork and the potential it has to produce something amazing. My experiences have allowed me to learn that I work well when I have the opportunity to collaborate. Being able to collaborate with Sarah, I know this business has the potential to grow into something that will make a big positive impact for students. 

Q. What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work?

A.

Sarah:

I think our services provide more options for students and their families who are struggling with their learning, mental health or both. In learning coaching, we use research-proven strategies to help students understand what SRL is and how to use it effectively.

In my counselling practice, I work with young people ages 10-25 and feel grateful to get the chance to see the world through their eyes and help them find their voice and fulfill their needs so they can thrive.

Lizz:

The most fulfilling aspect of my work is working with a diverse range of students who are motivated to succeed. I am always amazed and inspired by the students I work with who take my guidance and run with it. I can see them genuinely trying to learn and improve, and I can see their transformation as they implement the ideas, reflect on their progress, and adapt.

Knowing that what we do has such great potential to positively change students’ academic experiences is what drives me to do this. 

Q. What would you like the future of learning and education to look like?

A.

Sarah:

I’d like there to be more collaboration between educators and researchers. This is a gap we are trying to fill and I would love more opportunities to translate research into practice.

During my PhD, I found that often my friends working in K-12 education would be excited about new programs or ideas and ask me if I knew about the authors/programs they were using, since I was doing my PhD in educational psychology. I rarely knew the authors of these programs they were using. And, I found that my educator friends and colleagues rarely had heard about the academics I was reading about and citing in my research. This is a big disconnect.

The more research we can implement into education through practical ways without oversimplification, the more potential for improving education for all stakeholders. And I think the more that research can take into account the unique contexts of classrooms and schools when doing research, the easier it will be to apply research into classrooms.

Q. In what ways do you see mental health being more deeply integrated into our education system?

A.

Sarah:

First, I think it’s important to realize that research on mental health is quite new. I think it is a priority to spend more time defining and understanding what mental health is and is not. I especially hope that diverse cultural perspectives on mental health, including Indigenous perspectives, start to play a more dominant role in research and practice instead of only Western perspectives.

Second, in regard to mental health in schools, getting more school counsellors and other mental health professionals in BC schools is crucial. Moving to a more proactive approach around mental health rather than relying on reactive approaches holds many promises for students, families, and educators.

Q. What is self-regulated learning and why do you use it in your practice?

A.

Lizz:

Self-regulated learning is a highly metacognitive, cyclical process of engaging in studying and learning that puts the student in the driver’s seat. It involves proactively approaching learning tasks and strategically responding to challenges, fueled by metacognitive monitoring. That is, students engage in a process of planning, doing the task, monitoring their progress, and making changes to their thinking, behaviours, motivation, emotions, and environment in order to achieve their goals.

This process is foundational to our work because it encourages students to take control of their own learning and helps them to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to approach and respond to challenging learning situations in school and beyond. We like it because it is a holistic perspective that focuses on the practical aspects of learning, and the particular framework we use is easy to understand and implement for educators and students.

Q. What does knowledge mobilization mean to you and why is it important?

A.

There’s a quote Sarah came across that explains knowledge mobilization well. An adapted interpretation of a quote from Bennett and Jessani (2011; the original version gives an example using wine) is:

"Knowledge is like a homemade jam. The researcher grows the fruit, the scientific paper puts the jam in jars, the journal sticks a label on the jar, and archive systems store the jars of jam carefully in a cellar. However, homemade jam is only enjoyed when you eat it! Knowledge mobilization opens the jar, pours the jam into a bowl, and serves it with some homemade bread!"

Knowledge mobilization is about translating the information acquired through research into accessible formats that allow other people to understand and benefit from the work. It is extremely important because, without it, all of the important academic work and key findings will be kept within the boundaries of the researchers who have performed the work. Knowledge should be shared with the community so that everyone has the opportunity to utilize it, test it, learn from it, and potentially benefit from it.

In our work, we aim to take some of the best, most effective learning strategies from self-regulated learning research and help students understand it and implement it during learning.

Q. What else would you like us to know?

A.

We are so grateful for the opportunities we had as UVicEd graduate students. The diverse experiences and skills we gained during our time at UVic have set us up to pursue our passions and embark on this entrepreneurial adventure.

As former graduate students, we are also very familiar with the challenges involved in completing a graduate degree! We want to encourage students to access help and resources as they navigate their degrees, especially during the current pandemic when feelings of isolation, stress, and anxiety may be heightened.

One way could be by working with a learning coach, our flagship service and the reason we started working together and created our website. Through our learning coaching service, we offer individual and small group sessions to help students optimize their learning and overcome challenges using evidence-based strategies and learning processes. We are passionate about helping students succeed and would love to help other UVicEd students pursue their passions and achieve their goals. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to see how we can help. 

Visit our website or email us at .