I derive a deep sense of purpose through teaching. Teaching is a way for me to make a broader impact on society. Given the fact that I teach the next generation of social workers, every student that I inspire in the classroom has the potential to affect the lives of numerous individuals in need. Thus, my ability to positively influence social problems at the local, national, and international level expands exponentially through the ongoing work of my students. In this respect, my teaching is intimately integrated with my efforts to provide service to the larger community. As such, I consider teaching to be an inherently meaningful activity, and I take my teaching extremely seriously.
In my courses, I expect excellence from my students. I operate under the assumption that if I hold my students to a high standard, with the proper support and guidance they will rise to the challenge. I believe that all students are capable of deeply engaging with the material when I adjust my pedagogical techniques to the unique capacities and learning styles of my individual students. Through my teaching, I aim to promote the critical thinking skills, self-awareness, ethical development, and technical expertise of my students. It is my deep conviction that the extent to which the social work profession will thrive in the 21st century is a direct function of the technical expertise its professionals have amassed, balanced with a continued emphasis on self-awareness, compassion, professional ethics, and a commitment to human rights, justice, and social change.
My pedagogical approach is integrative, in that I seek to impart learning through the interaction of multiple domains of inquiry. I readily combine lecture with group discussion, digital and audiovisual media, experiential activities, observation, and role play. This integrative approach is essential given the fact that I teach clinical training courses for Masters of Social Work students. I further enrich the classroom experience of my students by guiding them through micro-dynamic analyses of audio recordings of clinical sessions from my prior professional experience as a licensed clinical social worker. I use a variety of evaluation methods to assess depth of learning and to allow students with distinct learning styles to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they accumulate in my courses.
As an active clinical researcher, I incorporate the latest research evidence into my course materials. I challenge my students to read scholarly journal articles and provide them the support necessary to digest difficult technical material. Moreover, in my classes, I discuss my own clinical research projects and how they pertain to the subject of the course. For example, I demonstrate to my students how I use cognitive neuroscience methods in my experimental research studies to assess for the presence of clinical risk factors. In addition, I share theoretical models and treatment approaches that I have developed and tested in my research (including the Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement intervention) and have my students read and critically discuss my own research papers. Thus, the classroom is a place where I strive to fully integrate my research, clinical practice, and teaching. Through my teaching I strive to translate the latest findings from basic science into applied work with individuals, families, and communities.
I have advanced two significant innovations in teaching. First, I assisted in the design and development of a clinical observation lab at Florida State University that could be used for teaching and research. This lab was comprised of an interview and observation suite, separated from each other by a one-way mirror. I pioneered the use of the lab for teaching purposes, and systematically developed and adapted my curricula and pedagogical approach around the use of this kind of facility. Subsequently, I have incorporated this teaching model into my courses at the University of Utah, where I teach social work practice using the Bridge Training Clinic facilities. In this model, students practice and demonstrate clinical interviewing techniques in mock therapeutic role plays while being observed by their peers. Concurrently, I provide real time feedback and instruction through the use of “bug in the ear” technology. If a student gets “stuck” and does not know how to proceed during the mock session, I offer advice, instruction, and support in real time through a wireless headset. This coaching allows the student to progress beyond the “sticking point” and practice implementing unfamiliar therapeutic techniques and interventions. Practice sessions may be videotaped for subsequent review and analysis. This interview-observation approach maximizes the learning process through multiple pathways: a) students learn through direct experience and practice of skills rather than solely through rote learning of didactic material; b) students learn by observing and critically analyzing their peers demonstrate skills; c) students learn through group discussion and debriefing the clinical practice experience; and d) students learn by my provision of coaching and active guidance during moment-by-moment interactions as they unfold in real time. This approach provides a safe milieu where students can feel comfortable facing challenging scenarios and experimenting with unfamiliar techniques.
Second, I employ classroom response system technology to enrich class participation and provide real-time feedback and assessment. At Florida State University I employed the i>clicker system; at University of Utah, I employ the Turning Point system. I pioneered the use of the Turning Point system at the University of Utah College of Social Work. With this technology, I actively poll my students, recording their responses and then summarizing the aggregated data from their responses in bar charts and other graphs to be displayed in class. I use this technology to quiz my students on concepts introduced in the assigned readings and lectures. Because the software provides an instantaneous summary of the distribution of responses to my questions, I can get an immediate sense of how well my students understand the concepts, and use this feedback to slow down the lecture to reiterate or explicate concepts in novel ways. Furthermore, I use conflicting responses as a means of generating dialogue in class. For instance, if the class is roughly split in half in terms of their responses to a given question, I can ask the two groups of students to debate with and challenge each other (in a respectful way) to advocate for why they believe their answer to that question is correct. My use of classroom response technology has increased class participation, and my students have appreciated knowing “right then and there” in class whether or not they answered a particular question correctly. Such instantaneous feedback has been useful in helping my students clarify misunderstood concepts and has empowered them to become more active learners when they question or challenge the “correct answer” with their own critical thinking capacities. It has also enabled me to calibrate the depth, breadth, and pace of my lessons to students with diverse learning styles and academic strengths. Consequently, my use of this technology has fostered discourse and a high level of student engagement in my courses.