teaching and learning reflections
One of the most enjoyable aspects of running a faculty development program on teaching is seeing first-hand how much our various disciplines intersect when it comes to teaching and learning. Whereas it can be hard, if not impossible, to speak about disciplinary research with colleagues outside our fields, the common teaching problems we face allow for readily understandable dialog, no matter how far apart the discussants’ fields of expertise.
I love it when something in the blog leads us to new ideas and insights. Neil Haave, who teaches on the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta, submitted an article on learning philosophies. (You can find the article in the April issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter) His thinking about learning philosophies was stimulated by his experience evaluating e-portfolios, which were being piloted on his campus, and by a couple of posts on this blog (November 13, 2013 and January 22, 2014). He was struck by how few insights the seniors preparing these portfolios had about themselves as learners and came to the conclusion that they should start writing about how they learn long before the end of their academic careers.
We regularly tell our students “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You can learn from your mistakes.” Most of us work hard to create classroom climates where it’s okay to make mistakes. We do that because if we’re there when the mistake is made, we can expedite the learning, and because we know that everyone else in class can learn from those mistakes.
This weekend I saw a diagram with visual representations of teacher-centered instruction juxtaposed to graphics illustrating learner-centered approaches. I heard myself telling someone that I used to think of them as separate, and I still see value in understanding the differences between them. But thinking about them dichotomously is not how I think about them now—thanks to a re-read of some of Parker Palmer’s work and a great article written for the newsletter by colleagues Ricky Cox and Dave Yearwood (January, 2013).
What does professional development look like? A couple of the more traditional examples might include reading a book, sitting in a room full of educators discussing a particular topic, or traveling to a conference. Certainly, those are all ways we can learn to improve our craft.
It is 6:00 a.m., Tuesday, August 28. My first day of class is this Thursday. It’s the end of summer, and once again, I am nervous about teaching. I just woke up from a bad dream. I was standing in front of a new class, totally unprepared. I think I had my clothes on, but there was nothing—I mean nothing—in my head.
Have you ever become so frustrated with students and overwhelmed by your workload that you start questioning what you are doing? At times it can feel suffocating. Baruti Kafele, an educator and motivational speaker offers a perspective of being mission oriented to educators and others working with young people in our nation’s classrooms. He suggests affirming your goals and motivations to facilitate successes among students. However, in the college classroom, it is also essential that we, as faculty members, remember and affirm our purpose, acknowledge the contributions we make in students’ lives and professional pursuits, and respect the call or passion that brought each of us to the teaching profession.
The title is borrowed from text in an excellent article that challenges our use of the “what works” phrase in relationship to teaching and learning. Biology professor Kimberly Tanner writes, “… trying to determine ‘what works’ is problematic in many ways and belies the fundamental complexities of the teaching and learning process that have been acknowledged by scholars for thousands of years, from Socrates, to Piaget, to more recent authors and researchers.” (p. 329) She proceeds to identify six reasons why the phrase hinders rather than fosters an evidence-based approach to teaching reform (in biology, her field, but these reasons relate to all disciplines). “Language is powerful,” she notes. (p. 329) We use it to frame issues, and when we do, it guides our thinking.
Editor’s Note: In part one of this article, the author shared openly some of the mistakes he made early in his teaching career. In this entry, he outlines some of the changes he’s made to his teaching over the years and the principles he uses to guide his teaching.
I had known it all along at some level, but now it suddenly became glaringly obvious to me. Deep down, sometimes out of conscious reach, students want to be transformed and their lives made more useful, productive, and powerful. I added the following new goal to my personal mission statement:
I started teaching at American University at the age of 56 after a rewarding career as an environmental and wildlife film producer. That was almost ten years ago, and I’ll be the first to admit that I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I had never taught before and I wasn’t even sure where to begin. I had no teaching philosophy beyond some vague, unarticulated feeling that I wanted my students to do well. And so, I started asking lots of questions.