I believe in cultivating citizens who are empowered to think critically and contribute to the larger community, citizens who know both their socially-constructed and ecological addresses. Our personal and professional approaches to life are inescapably telegraphed by our teaching methods, and our choice of methods is critical in assuring that students find their voices. As an educator, I have a responsibility to more than course content; I have a responsibility to the whole student and, consequently, the larger community.
Excellence in teaching requires an understanding of how people learn. If I require my students to sit quietly while I fill their heads with information, if I ask them to follow me through an experience telling them what is going on each step of the way before they have a chance to observe and ask questions, if I tell them how to evaluate the things that I’ve given them to read, then I will have undermined the process of learning. Future understandings are based in students’ current experiences, beliefs, and culturally-based perceptions. At times, these understandings serve students well in building their knowledge. At times, these understandings limit further conceptual development and need to be challenged by discrepant events, language, or experiences. In both cases, knowing not only what my students know but also who they are, is critical in facilitating instructional experiences tailored to meet their evolving needs.
Assessment must be a continuous part of both learning and teaching. To this end, I often give students the opportunity to submit work more than once in order to provide for more thoughtful engagement through iterative feedback on drafts. I also create opportunities for students to apply new understandings to different settings. I assess my own teaching and classroom practice several times throughout the semester, and strive to make myself both available and approachable. To this end, I often ask students to respond to reflective prompts, e.g., “what’s working” and “what’s not working” and use their anonymous responses to better explain my intentions and make needed changes.
I believe that learning happens most effectively among peers struggling together to make sense of a concept or process. In my classes, I explicitly invest time and energy in building a community of learners: using and correctly pronouncing student names, encouraging dialogue both inside and outside the classroom, and creating intentional group learning experiences. This models the respectful participatory community I hope to engender and facilitates questioning our assumptions in terms of our relationships with each other, our communities, and with all living things.