Mindfulness: A Natural Bridge to Inclusive Teaching

Without a doubt, being mindful, in any respect, is hard. Some Most days I am on autopilot. I just do what needs to get done so I can move on. Having mindfulness feels like it requires time. Time to be aware. Time to rethink the way you make your decision or reconsider the way you laid out your syllabus. The thought of using all of this time is daunting; so mindfulness is often let go and mindlessness ensues, because it seems easier, faster, and if it “works” why fix it.  With this attitude, you are sure to do a disservice to your students. When Deel says she thought teaching was just something you did to pay the bills while you did research, I was like, yea…that explains a lot about my undergrad experience.

After reading Deel’s Finding My Teaching Voice I see how important is to not only be mindful of your students, but of yourself. As a teacher, you want to encourage your students take pride in their individuality be themselves in all forms. So why should a teacher expect any less from themselves. Deel proves that understanding yourself and shining a light on your natural qualities will only improve your teaching abilities and experience. If you can be mindful of those traits and aspects that make you who you are, then who you are as a teacher will naturally start to flow and make sense. In turn, you will be more confident, comfortable, excited about teaching. Deel also talk about the freedom from doubting yourself as a teacher also allows you to focus more on improving the needs of students based on their individuality. She says:

They don’t enter my classroom with identical backgrounds and thy won’t leave it with identical understating, no matter what I do. In my individual interactions with students, I focus more on improving their understanding and I spend less time worrying if I’ve made the same particular statement to all the students in the class.

I think without the act of mindfulness, she would have never some to this thought. This moment of understanding the context of her classroom by seeing her students as individuals, she was able to create an inclusive setting. With mindfulness, we see inclusion from a personal perspective instead of just a box to check.  Deel also encourages the exploration of new ways of teaching as one’s voice will inevitable change. Not only your voice changes, but the student’s as well. The definition the article Mindful Learning uses – “A flexible state in which we are actively engage in the present…” – is a nice a way to think about teaching and learning. If both teachers/students became more open to new ways of teaching/learning, then maybe we could mitigate barriers that limit our perspectives of ourselves and those who educate. Being open to change, having awareness of multiple perspectives, and being aligned with the present allows for a more mindful relationship with yourself and your students.  I will try much harder to allow myself to stop so that I can be more aware of the present. I am reminded of someone’s post from the Online Teaching and Learning blogs, where they mentioned that with all of this “at-our-finger-tips” technology, it leaves our brains with these open shelves, cognitively speaking.  Maybe we can start filling those shelves with mindfulness and get the best of both worlds 😊

Critical Pedagogy in Studio

The social, political, economic, and environmental shifts of the world have utterly changed the way we need to think about education, in all forms. I’m going to write specifically about Architecture + Design Education.  I really do believe that architects and designers have this collective responsibility to design for social equity and inclusion. A profession such as architecture literally intersects itself with the public interest of a community, which is usually ignored in favor of the market $$$$. The built environment plays such an important role in everyone’s lives, so why is it that design education doesn’t empower students to be advocates for social change? I think this goes side by side with a lot of what Freire says about traditional education and the banking system. While studio classes do allow for more critical thinking and, albeit, a more autonomous setting then a traditional classroom, the school of architecture and design is still set up as the professor as the authoritarian. In studio, you are taught to question every line you draw, every wall you build, every decision you make; but are never encouraged to question yourself, your environment, or authoritarians. Dialogues are actually not as common as one would think in a field that revolves around exploration and discovery. A critical pedagogy must be developed here so that students can be liberated from their conditioned perception of reality, and so they can start understanding the different aspects of their lives and culture from a critical perspective. With this, maybe they can understand their power as the future of this world.

My One Online Class Experience

I have not had many online or distant learning experiences, and the one I did have was from seventeen years ago. While technology has certainly evolved since then, the way the class was organized is still pretty similar to some online class now, which is weird right?  The class I took was Intro to Hotel Tourism and Management. To be completely honest, it was an elective and wanted something “easy”. The class was definitely of the slow cooker mentality…”prep and set”. Also, and much to Professor Warnick’s dismay, we were using Blackboard at the time for a LMS, so there was no real communication with the teacher other than checking grades. On to the cons, and pros.

The worst parts was lack of face to face interaction, lack of ability to communicate well with the teacher (Blackboard wasn’t exactly the most user friendly interface), and most importantly the material was dated and boring. Also, Google wasn’t what it is now, so a quick search for a question I didn’t understand was not really an option. On to the pro, and yes, there was one pro! I took this class with a few friends and we did the quizzes and even final exam together, and to be honest, that was the best experience of this class. We read our chapters for each week and then met up and sat around and just talked about it and sometimes had these “aha” moments if we learned something new. Looking back, I think I learned more in those moments than when I took a test.

Moving forward, when I look for a teaching position after graduation, I will not likely be seeking out an online class opportunity, but if one happens upon me, I will do my best to make it engaging, communicative, and intuitive. One component I would like to see more often is ways to encourage peer to peer interaction or group projects through a digital platform. We learn so much from each other, not just the teacher, that moments of connection between students mustn’t be lost.

Digital Pedagogy: Architecture and Design

Digital pedagogy is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about my field of Architecture and Design. I remember the first day of class as a freshman, we were each handed a 24×24 piece of chip board and assigned to wonder the courtyard and “discover” the properties of this piece of cardboard.  From the start, you are taught to physically explore your surroundings and that he physical act of making with your hands is the only true way to make discoveries. Fast-forward almost 15 years later, I am sitting in front of a client who is wearing VR goggles so that she can walk through her new Manhattan penthouse; meanwhile her husband, who is in Europe, is on Skype and able to see what she sees. Man, times have changed, and they continue to do so. If architects and designers want to continue to create change and make discoveries, then they must be welcoming of digital technology because it is already transforming the way we design and build. The use of digital design in the field is so prevalent that it can’t be ignored. Not only is it prevalent, but the tools to create it are becoming more and more accessible!

In terms of direct application of digital design, I see it happening multiple ways. One way is to just start with educating students on what types of digital design technologies there are; everything from 2D drafting systms, to BIM software, to online 3D sharing programs, and online design open access.  To understand where we are going, we need to understand the past. So, it would be good to give digital design technology a little historical context in order to think about it place in the future. Also, teaching students that this technology has major social, cultural, environmental, and economic impacts is important as well.

Another way to apply the use (and advocacy) of digital design could be through a class that walks through the design process and uses both physical and digital design. The classic steps, from 2D drawings, to modeling, to prototyping would still be used, but at each step, maybe there is a digital parallel.  Together we can find the moments where they need to be separated, and the moments they need to intersect. Much like everything else in life, there is a time and place. The same goes for digital design tools.

I am now going to get on my little soap box and talk about how it is important for students to be well versed in the digital language of design in order to create change and be advocates for social justice. As an educator, it is my job to shape the way digital technology is used by the students now and in their future professional careers. It is my job to promote digital technology to be used in ways that are inclusive, accountable, genuine, and just. If anything, I hope that students leave school knowing that their digital literacy, in any form, in any field, can benefit their communities that they serve.

And lastly, in terms of pedagogy, and in my effort to teach about the importance of digital technologies, I want to make the classroom a digital environment for assessment and collaboration. Ideally, there could be a digital platform where students can share their work (which would be drawings, models, etc.) to the public. Most studios are sponsored by firms, so it would be cool to have those firms be an active part of the student’s education and be able to comment on students work and give them feedback. Blogging for architects and designers is also on my list of “if I could I would”. When you gather a group of students to have a conversation, say about the “intersection of light”, only a few (and usually the same few) will answer or have an opinion. That’s not to say others don’t have one, but if they are at all introverted then being under the spotlight isn’t exactly a warm fuzzy place for them.  A blog allows them to think about their response and start to interact with other student, and event teachers.





An Inclusive Ecosystem

In the beginning of the semester, we talked about ways to create an inclusive classroom. From a physical space perspective, one idea might be to have a wheelchair accessible doorway into a classroom, or a build a lab countertop at a lower height.  These ideas tend to be afterthoughts during the design process, so I feel one of my next steps in my search for inclusivity in the classroom is to go beyond the atmosphere, and step into the built environment. Inclusive design principles allow for the design of an environment to be accessible and usable by as many people as possible, regardless of age, gender, social or economic status, and disability. Architects and designers (both professionals and professors) are in position to be advocates for inclusive design and social equity. So, the question, for me, becomes how do the projects I assign in my classroom reflect inclusivity in terms of design? How can they change to future of inclusive classrooms?

Ultimately, my goal is to create this inclusive ecosystem, where the teacher’s mindset, the classroom, and the curriculum all work intersectionally and reflect an advocacy for inclusion either in terms of teaching methods or coursework. Basically, I want to create an inclusive ecosystem for my students while teaching them how to design for inclusion.

When we talked about PBL, I thought, yea, this what we do in studio. I get it.  The only difference was that the facilitation of the teacher is a little more abstract and is intended to provoke more creative thinking. I also think PBL, combined with experiential learning techniques, is of such benefit to the students. There’s no better way of learning then to do what you are trying to learn to do. I do think, however, that the content being assigned these days need to change to reflect inclusive design.

Obviously, there are barriers for wanting a whole ecosystem of inclusivity. One major one is, not everyone wants to be inclusive or even cares about it. When you’re an old white professor who has tenure and has been giving out the same coursework for 20 years, why change it?  I hope that over the course of my career I can put the idea of an inclusive ecosystem into motion, even if all the parts are always still coming together. Nothing will be perfect, and, like everything else, it will change with time; and I hope that I can change with it.

My Most Valuable Learning Experience

I would have to say that Inclusion and Diversity in a Global Society has been the most impactful class I have taken so far. I walked into this class with a preconceived notion of what inclusion was and what it looked like, both in the classroom and the workplace. Through this class I was able to challenge my own perspective and grow from learning about other’s perspectives. Sometimes (or all the time) it is hard to see outside of your own bubble and your own experiences. Through open communication, empathetic ears, and sense of acceptance, this class created valuable learning opportunities.  We were asked to question our own privileges, recognize our biases (both conscious and unconscious), and acknowledge each other’s identities.

One of the reasons this class was so impactful was the professors’ dedication to creating a safe and brave space for their students. Below are a few of the key components that I feel made this class so valuable:

  • Inclusion from Day One – On the first day of class we were given a blank piece of paper and asked to write our names and preferred pronouns. The professors introduced themselves and then each student followed with their own introduction. We talked about class, not only in terms of course overview, but expectations for interaction: respect, listen, support, moderate.  The first day set the tone for the rest of the semester.
  • Games – A few times we used games as way to discuss certain topics. Conversation about inclusion and diversity gets heavy at times, so the introduction of a game as way of accessing deeper meaning was a great tool. It allowed for student engagement and collaboration.
  • Small Class – The size of the class was small which allowed for very fluid and open conversations. We all got a chance to speak and be heard. We also got the chance to really get to know each other which made the space feel safe and encouraging.
  • Multiple Disciplines – Having a multidisciplinary classroom allowed room for different viewpoints and experiences. We were able to learn about other departments in terms of inclusion and diversity.
  • Potluck – Somewhere along the semester we discovered our love of food so, as a class, we decided to put on a potluck, and it was amazing. The professors even participated too. It was held on the last day of class and even though we were all doing our final presentations, the atmosphere was casual and friendly.  Not sure this counts as a teaching component, but if anything brings people closer together, its food!

This class was a great experience and I hope to bring the tools I have learned here into the classroom, in all aspects of this class. My goal as an educator is to teach a design studio class, which are generally small.  One of my priorities is to teach them how to create spaces and experiences for other people and have the ability to be aware of inclusion in terms of society as well as the built environment. By implementing a few of the key components mentioned above, I hope to create an inclusive environment for my students.





Making Inclusion Personal

Seventeen years ago, around this time, I stepped onto a university campus for the first time ever. I can still remember those feelings of anxiety, being overwhelmed and extreme nervousness. As a first generation and low-income college student, I didn’t know what to expect and had zero acquaintances to lean on. Over the next six years, I struggled to pay tuition fees and rent, keep up with homework while working full time, and all the while acquiring a ridiculous amount of debt. Admittedly, I was late to class quite a bit over the course of those six years. Reasons varied from being cut late from my shift, or perhaps I just needed to skip that class because working that day meant making rent. My department professors easily categorized me as a mess up and slacker, and I was treated as such. I think, at the time, I held such resentment towards them for giving me those labels that I didn’t feel it even necessary to “complain” about my situation. I still wonder if things would have been different if I had said something. More often I wonder why no one said anything to me. I think about these missed opportunities, on both the side of the student and teacher, and I very much hope I can fill this gap where moments of connection can happen. The road to inclusive pedagogy, for me, starts with my ability to connect with each student, which is a challenge. Maybe inclusion begins with empathy. And hopefully with empathy comes the ability to create and foster an inclusive environment.

Single Motherhood and Grad School: Show Me the Equity

When I decided to come back to school, I knew the hardest part would be leaving my then one year old in a room full of strangers at some daycare that was my fourth choice because everything else was wait-listed or too expensive. Night classes had me missing dinner and bed time, which was the worst. I am very excited to spend my summer with her! In the beginning, I was nervous that my adviser, who is single and does not have children, would not be as supportive as she was. Daycare is basically a cesspool of germs and since this was my daughters first time in daycare, she was sick all of the time, which meant I was sick all of the time. Luckily, to my surprise, my adviser was totally understanding and allowed for a welcoming amount of flexibility. I truly hope that this is the situation for other mom’s in grad school. I can’t help but be thankful for her my, my husband, and the daycare, which I now love. The support system I had was lifesaving, but I know this is not the case for everyone, especially single mothers and fathers. How can higher education help in making this situation more equitable?

According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SIIR), 90% of single mothers in higher education are of a low-income status and only 8% complete school within 6 years. This brings us back to the term intersectionality. Understanding their identities will allow universities to better support their individual needs. According the SIIR there are five initiatives that can increase educational opportunities for single mamas:

Collect more data – Colleges and universities need to start collecting information on who is a parent among their student body. This could help with providing the information needed support the need for more on campus daycares. This would also help, as I mentioned earlier, to understand these parent’s identities on an individual level.

Consider parent costs in financial aid – Understanding the day to day living costs of every parent is important when thinking about financial aid. Daycare, specifically in Blacksburg, is about $900/month, give or take. So, while grad students are getting stipends, they are still taking out loans for child care and still accruing debt.

Collaborate with Communities – How can we make better efforts to work with organizations in our broader community to be advocates for family school/work/life balance. Miami Dade, for example, works with Single Stop, a one-stop source for students and immediate family members to be connected to public benefits and local resources.  It helps parent find affordable daycares, offers benefits screening and financial coaching. A service like this would be super beneficial to all students.

Provide College Support without Work Requirements – Grad students must work to get tuition remission and a stipend. So single parents are not working 10-20 hours week, doing a full graduate course load, and then coming hope to do their parenting duties along with housework and chores. There needs to be a provision to allow single parents in pursuit of a degree to not have to work. Simple as that. This seems like a no-brainer to me. My husband travels about 40% of the time, and the weeks he’s away, I generally want to crawl under a rock and cry.

Encourage Proactive Policies – Basically be an active activist! Write your congressmen, local policy makers, governor. Be an advocate for the cause, no matter your parental or financial standing. We all deserve the same education.

We talked a lot about inclusion this semester and single parenthood is a marginalized group desperately in need of that.  Happy early Mother’s Day to the mamas in the class, especially the girl who’s fun fact on the first day of class was that she was a single mom. She will probably never read this, but I think about her often and how she was probably the most badass person in that room.

What Kind of Educator Will I Be?

I read a journal article about pedagogy and architectural education in the beginning of this semester, but haven’t much thought about it since recently, because I have been struggling with the question “what makes a great teacher?”. As someone who wants to eventually be an educator, I often wonder what kind of teacher I will turn out to be and ask myself if I need more education on education to be the teacher I aim to be? Before this class, I thought I had my life steps planned out: B.S. –> Professional Practice –> M.S. –> Teach. Boom. Done. Put me out their coach. (Side note: A PHD is not required in A+D to teach, but that’s another topic for another post) But then I took PFP and Diversity and Inclusion and it completely change my perspective on the future of higher education, specifically in the school of architecture and design.

In the article the Crysler, the author, talks about the current standards of studio life and the student-teacher relationship. He points out that the faculty have the most important role in shaping these students, which he calls “vessels”, into members of our society. He also mentions that the curriculum and teaching methods seem to out dated themselves before they even get put into action. Teachers are still the sage on the stage and the top-down model is still, relatively speaking, in place. Crysler says the future of architectural education should have teachers “aim to produces moments of crisis and open-ended possibilities…”. For this to happen, the students must be aware that they can have an opinion, other than the teachers.

Allowing students to have a voice, and to want to have a voice, is something I care very much about. By taking classes based around pedagogy I believe I will have a better understanding of the different learning methods and strategies that will help make that happen.  I’ve always had these initiatives for change in the back of my head that I would want to implement as an educator, but I didn’t know they had names like experiential learning or inclusive learning. Understanding these methods, I feel, will better prepare me in the classroom/studio. So that leads me to the battle of preferred requirements when teaching in design: design theory vs professional practice vs background in education. With these three components combines, do they make the ideal design teacher? I hope so, because I’ll be one of them!



U.S. Community College Goes International

We spoke about the future of higher education in class, and one of the shorter-term goals was the thought of how do we make community college more aligned with university for smoother transfers and better education, in general. While this was fresh in my brain, I came across and article on InsideHigherEd about how one community college is going international. This is not something I’ve really thought about.  I always just assumed that students who attended community colleges are from that area and are most likely there as a stepping stone to a four-year university. Well, Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) is changing my perspective.

Roger Ramsammy became HVCC’s president about a year ago and has since pushed for some big changes. One of his main ambitions is to not just recruit international students but take the course work AND professors to them! HVCC is currently working with higher ed institutions in Costa Rica to make this happen. Basically, professors would stay with the colleges in Costa Rica and teach the prospective students there.  Other courses would be streamed live or taught online.  Costa Rican students would then have the opportunity to transfer to the University at Albany, which is HVCC nearest four-year affiliate.  This makes me want to delve into topics like community college as a global perspective, offering open admissions internationally, the benefit of community colleges as a gateway college for international students, and how this benefits the local labor force of the countries being visited by the community college.

For now, I will just focus praising Ramsammy for this effort to take education to the students.  I know that Virginia Tech has centers and programs abroad, but Tech is also a large highly respected research school with funding to back it up. Having a community college, with open admissions, be able to go overseas and provide opportunity like this makes me happy and hopeful. Not only does this benefit the country by building skills but it also starts to prepare for the possibility of life in America, which as we know, for any international student, is a struggle. I am excited to see to see this unfold and to see the benefits to come. Hopefully this will lead to other community colleges to go beyond their local borders as well.