Again, a column by Philadelphia Inquirer writer Susan Snyder provides useful information about learning.  (Photography by uncredited Inquirer photographer)

As usual, Snyder illustrates her points with compelling stories about memorable people. And the take-away applies to all of us.

One of her most recent articles tells us that Temple professor Doug Webber has gone public with the things that one tends to avoid putting on a CV or resumé—failures. He knows that people typically make plenty of mistakes on the way to eventual success. As a writer, he is familiar with the sting of rejection from editors. In the real world, no one would list a hundred rejections on a resumé, but Webber also knows that newbies in any field deserve to hear from more experienced co-workers that such blunders are to be expected and that those failures in no way should define them.

It’s a generous move by someone who’s been through it. And his story and that of several other professors who similarly shared unflattering details about their early academic careers teaches all of us something useful. Don’t be surprised or discouraged if you’re not an overnight sensation.

I read such articles looking to learn something about how the individuals learned and changed, and Susan Snyder’s article gets to the meat of learning towards the end. When Webber, who is legally blind, was young, his father introduced him to someone who would have an impact on Webber. Here’s Snyder’s account.


  • His father, a nursing home administrator, also took him to the University of Florida to meet his former calculus professor, who was blind. “He wanted to show me that there are people with really, really bad vision who can really excel academically,” Webber recalled. The professor soon became a role model for Webber, and he knew he, too, wanted a career as a professor.


Last week’s “Turning Points” post explained Albert Bandura’s concept of reciprocal determinism, and the recounted anecdote invites its application to Webber.

Remember how it works? Changes in one of three factors—environment, behavior, or personal factors (beliefs, values, cognitions)—can lead to a change in one of the other two factors, and on and on. Meeting the professor—at his campus office, no less—changed the way Webber thought about himself and about his possibilities. Going to that different environment and meeting his future role model led to a change of cognition, which in turn led to new behaviors in new environments.

The kid whose way of seeing himself was changed by a relationship with a professor became a professor who is doing the same for his own students.

In OPEN ADMISSIONS: WHAT TEACHING AT COMMUNITY COLLEGE TAUGHT ME ABOUT LEARNING (Wild River Books), I share such stories and write about concepts that explain learning, including reciprocal determinism.

Do you have a story that lends itself to explanation by reciprocal determinism? If so, share it here. Thanks for joining the conversation!