In chapter 3 of Teaching Critical Thinking by bell hooks, she states that, “engaged pedagogy begins with the assumption that we learn best when there is an interactive relationship between student and teacher. As leaders and facilitators, teachers must discover what the students know and what they need to know. This discovery happens only if teachers are willing to engage students beyond a surface level. As teachers, we can create a climate for optimal learning if we understand the level of emotional awareness and emotional intelligence in the classroom”.
These words really resonate and hit home with me. All semester long I feel as though I preach the same message to my academic colleagues in the room- that they must be willing to engage beyond the surface level and DO LIFE with their students. Too often at the doctoral level ESPECIALLY those in STEM, they spend their time in the lab and their mentors, committee and chairs tell them that that is where there time should be spent. I disagree. Life is still happening beyond the lab. Issues of race, racism and discrimination are happening on college campuses to their students. It is not sole the responsibility of those working in student affairs to address these issues. Our peers and colleagues in academic affairs must be held accountable for creating spaces in which students can engage in this dialogue. bell hooks says that we must create and interactive classroom where students can learn from the teacher but also where the teacher can learn from the students. Teachers have to be willing to go beyond the surface level (read: beyond the required course material). I challenge my academic peers to create that space. Find a time in your classrooms where you can ask questions about life with your students. When you agree to take up a position as an educator, you agree to create aa climate that is conducive to learning. You agree to create a space where ideals can be challenged, knowledge can be assessed and where knowledge can be acquired.
At Virginia Tech specifically, VTSA (Virginia Tech Student Affairs) talks a lot about building community. (If you’re looking for a great read, Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block is a good start on how to do this). bell hooks also states in this chapter that you have to be willing to create community and comrade in the classroom amongst your students. By creating community, this breaks down barriers and walls, it builds a level of trust, opens the door for communication and creates a genuineness that will allow both the students and the teachers to be vulnerable with each other. When students have buy-in into the classroom, when they know that their voices matter, when they know that their questions are valued, it can change the entire setting in a classroom.
I get concerned when I actively see that many of my peers to do not understand the value of creating community in the classroom. Many of my colleagues including myself, grew up in classroom spaces that adopted the banking style of education (per Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed). Teachers spoke AT us and did not often allow room for questions or a space to grow in our learning. I see many of my peers repeating this same pattern because it’s what we know and what our committee and/or mentors expect us to do. STOP THIS! I dare you to be different! I dare you to adopt a model of engaged pedagogy in your classroom. I dare you to create a community and a culture of care in your classroom. I DARE YOU TO BE DIFFERENT!