Remembering Dr. Cheryl Cavallo

by Debra Rudder Lohe, PhD, CTTL Director

On Sunday, I received the news that Dr. Cheryl Cavallo – faculty emerita in the Program for Physical Therapy here at SLU – had lost her long, difficult battle with cancer.  This news is sad for all who had the great pleasure of knowing Cheryl, and for us here in the Center, it is especially so.  Cheryl was a part of the Center even before there was a Center; she was a member of the planning committee that first proposed the creation of a teaching center.  Along with a small handful of other SLU faculty, she worked tirelessly to launch the Center and to ensure that it had a strong foundation for success.  Cheryl served on our Advisory Board until her retirement in 2011.  Given all that she has done for and meant to the Center, we offer this small tribute as a way to keep her light burning.

Cheryl’s humor and humility are well-known to friends and colleagues.  Whip-smart, warmer than sunlight, she was passionately committed to the Jesuit charism of cura personalis; she cared for all of us as “whole persons” and did not separate heart from head like so many academics do.  But then, Cheryl wasn’t first and foremost an academic; she was a practitioner.  In fact, she would want me to tell you that she was a reflective practitioner.  The difference, for Cheryl, made all the difference.

Reflection was a defining feature of who Cheryl was.  In May 2010, we invited her to share her reflections on teaching at our spring Certificate Ceremony.  Although she was sure we’d invited the wrong person (see comment above re: “humility”), Cheryl told the story of how she came to teach, and she focused her comments on the importance of being what she called “a reflective practitioner of the art and science of teaching.”  Reflection, Cheryl explained, was not only a “basic tenet of all Jesuit philosophy,” it was an essential element of good teaching.  To be a reflective practitioner, good teachers must be willing to undertake “an honest appraisal,” of both strengths and weaknesses, and to do this regularly, with “a commitment to address ways to effect positive change.”  Ultimately, Cheryl explained, “Reflective teachers are the ones who have the courage to challenge themselves, to venture outside their comfort zones, and to try innovative teaching techniques which may or may not be successful.”

As we remember Cheryl Cavallo, let us also remember that the word reflection has another, equally relevant meaning here: the ability of one thing to reflect light or heat or image onto another.  Cheryl’s light and warmth and wisdom were her own – but they were also a reflection of what she saw in each of us.  Without her searching and fearless gaze, the light surrounding us all is a bit dimmer today.

Click the podcast below to hear Cheryl’s Reflections on Teaching, from May 2010.

Full Transcript of Cheryl’s Reflections on Teaching, from May 2010.

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