Posted April 17, 2009

For Therapeutic Recreation's Coyle, teaching is more than fun and games

Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching

For Catherine Coyle, good teaching is all about give and take: in order for learning to take place, both teacher and student need to be fully engaged.

“I have to be receptive to my students’ motivation for being in a particular class as well as the competing values, responsibilities and abilities that define them as a person,” she said. “By doing this I can understand their life perspectives and viewpoints and hopefully better engage them in the learning process.”

It’s this way of thinking that has earned her students’ attention and respect, and a 2009 Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

“Her knowledge, keen insight and objectivity are legendary among Temple students and among the discipline of recreation therapy,” said former doctoral student Susan Murray, Ed.D, now a professor of recreation management and therapeutic recreation at University of Wisconsin La Crosse. “She never settles into complacency and stays attuned to the excitement of disciplines intersecting.”

An associate professor of therapeutic recreation, Coyle believes that learning can transform the lives of her students. When teaching is done well, she says, it can take students beyond simply remembering and parroting back information.

Catherine Coyle
Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg/Temple University


“Effective teaching allows students to get the full picture and answer the most important question: ‘What does all this information mean to me?’” said Coyle.

“She definitely challenged me to not just regurgitate information, but to demonstrate my command of that knowledge, which definitely helped boost my confidence as I grew in my new profession,” said Nannette Vliet, Ed.M, a former student of Coyle’s and the manager of student services in the Therapeutic Recreation Department at Temple.

After receiving her undergraduate degree in leisure studies in 1979 and her Ph.D. in educational psychology from Temple in 1991, Coyle stayed as a faculty member in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies in the former College of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance before moving to the Department of Health Studies in the School of Social Administration in 1997. She joined the College of Health Professions in 2002.

Coyle’s dedication to learning extends beyond the classroom as well. Her classroom innovations have brought her national recognition as she strives to teach students ways to promote physically and socially active lives for persons with disabilities.

Her research has been cited extensively, including citations in the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities. As a result, she was awarded the 2008 Scholarly Achievement Award by the American Therapeutic Recreation Association for her contributions to the therapeutic recreation discipline’s body of knowledge.

“Therapeutic recreation isn’t just about playing games,” said Coyle. “It’s a way for persons with chronic illnesses or disabilities to learn or relearn a variety of skills that allow them to not only regain functional abilities but also to fully engage in their lives — doing the things that make life worth living — whether that’s playing table games with their kids/grandkids, engaging in adapted sports or socializing with friends in the community. It’s about helping people find meaning in their lives and fun ways to recover or live with a disability so that they can stay physically and mentally healthy.”

The thing Coyle loves most about teaching? Seeing that “a-ha” moment in her students.

“It’s rewarding to see your students get as energized as you are about what you’re teaching,” she said. To have a role in that awakening — it’s very exciting.”