Teaching is a Radical Act of Love!

I will not hide it. I will shout it from the rooftops. Not everyone is a good teacher, setting up loving and supportive environments in which students can learn and flourish. Not all instructors take the time to get creative with content and inspire students to think beyond the facts. I will even go so far as to be critical that some instructors are even lazy and base their classrooms on what is easiest for them…

Is this the meaning of critical pedagogy? To be critical of what’s going now? This idea of “Banking” in education is a way viewing what many of us, in this class are critical of and how it negatively impacts students… but here’s the thing!

THIS WON’T HELP US BE BETTER TEACHERS!!!!!

For just a moment, let’s suspend reality and imagine you get to teach a one credit pass/fail elective class in your content area. The entire purpose of the class is to be able to share YOUR passion for your content. What would you do with that freedom? How do you think you could utilize your passion and interest to spark a drive of action in YOUR students? Okay, now the reality is, that may never happen. BUT you can 100% create a day, or a week, or maybe even an entire unit in a class that is passion based and creatively assessed. How can you change your relationship with your students during this time? How could you inspire them to be curious and industrious in exploring their ideas?

My passion is genuinely for humanity and I access that best when i am teaching. The reading this week about teaching as an act of love is 100%  in my level of understanding. I’m going to scan through my public school teaching and a little bit beyond… (trigger alert… I will discuss violent acts)

I was student teaching in a high school. On a Saturday, a student at a party, was shot in the face by another student with a shot gun. One student died and the other was arrested. The school was on heightened alert that Monday. The very next day, Tuesday, April 20th, the Columbine Shooting happened. My students all became terrified that they were all going to die and that nowhere was safe. My content didn’t matter. Showing my students they were safe and loved mattered.

I was a public school teacher in Arlington Country, Virginia. The Pentagon is in Arlington, about a mile and a half from my school. I was teaching in the Teenage Parenting Programs, so all of my students were either pregnant or had children. All these mommas were ages 13-19 years old. They were in my care when the Pentagon was hit by a plane during the 9-11 attack. Our school shook. My car was covered in ash from the Pentagon. My content didn’t matter. Showing my students they were safe and loved mattered.

I transitioned to teaching middle school, about a mile down the road.  A few more years have passed and another terrorist-like event happened. The DC Sniper had the entire area on high alert. The Sniper shot and killed an FBI agent in a Home Depot parking lot, just down the road from our school. We were put on full lock down as no one knew who we were looking for and we were within an easy run of that location. My content didn’t matter. Showing my students they were safe and loved mattered.

I don’t know what trauma my students feel and have experienced before coming to me. I don’t know what is going on in their minds and their hearts. I do know my mind and my heart. It is my job, no matter how old, experienced or connected my students are, to keep them safe and make sure they know they are loved. Learning is a byproduct that comes from your environment. What is there to stimulate the brain? Is it fear? Shame? Anxiety? Or is it safety, love, creativity, inspiration, and curiosity?

I challenge all teachers everywhere to pick up this idea that TEACHING IS A RADICAL ACT OF LOVE! Love is something you offer and give away. And very much like good magic, it is never depleted within. Real love doesn’t follow the laws of physics or mathematics… just like teaching isn’t a science with rules to be followed.  Teaching from love can prevent burnout and inspire creativity. Love has limits and boundaries, just as there will be in a classroom… but seriously. Find the root reason why you are teaching. Is it the love of something or someone? If so… find a way to show that love off!

Assess me, please!

I have strong feelings about assessments.

And this is one major pitfall of the traditional American Education system. Students have developed feelings about tests, assignments, and assessments and have associated those feelings with success, failure, worth and comparison. I have a friend who is teaching a composition course and is flabbergasted at how much her students are hungry for feedback. They are telling her they never get the chance to write drafts and receive feedback before turning in final projects for grades/final judgement. She is encouraging students to write drafts and make iterations to their work, before turning it in for a final grade and she is giving of her time and skills to feedback all drafts turned in.  And she asked me, “Why do we have to give students grades?” We walked and talked for hours.

I think we grade students as a means of comparing one student to the next. We also compare the work of one student over time. The numeric or letter grade shows this style of comparison quickly.  This is a form of judgement. No wonder students have feelings about assessments!

What if instructors saw assessments as a constant mechanism to feedback their own teaching? If many students miss a question on a test, maybe the problem is is with the test question. Or maybe the problem was in how the content was presented and students didn’t actually acquire the the knowledge. If an instructor uses assessment, as their feedback tool, I believe student grades would improve. Teachers can re-teach content many students struggle to achieve!

Test – Assignment – Assessment – Follow Up – Feedback
What do learners really want and what motivates students? I believe learners who are genuinely engaged with the content want feedback more than anything else. They are looking for opportunities to confirm or correct knowledge. They are looking to be challenged to step outside their comfort zone and be reaffirmed or redirected. Adjusting assessment opportunities to look more like feedback can improve motivation as well as content acquisition.

And my final thought on assessments is this. “Tell them what you’re going to teach them. Teach them. Then ask them what you taught them.” It is critical to establish competencies and share them with students. While it seems obvious, it is not always done. This next step is to actually teach the content. Finally, make sure your assessment is actually feedback-ing the skill you are teaching, rather than the skill of taking a test or simply getting a grade. This can be done through clever assignments, projects and group work. If competencies include a single verb, adjective, and noun it is easy to know how to assess a student.

Poor Example: The student will learn about healthy eating.
How do you assess this?

More Complex breakdown of specific competencies and paired assessment:
Identify healthy foods. – multiple choice questions
Demonstrate healthy eating. – Take a picture of a balanced meal
Analyze healthy eating. – Provide breakdown of the foods you see in “this” image
Improve healthy eating. – Make suggestions to tweak someone else’s meal, to improve the nutritional content.
Create healthy-eating plan. – Make a one day meal plan for an individual, based on their eating preferences.

Scientist with pipette
What skill are you assessing? (From NCI from unsplash.com)

Please, please, please don’t give a multiple choice question, to assess someone’s bench skills. I hope all instructors will look at the verb, the skill, the level of understanding needed to properly find out what a student knows. If possible, drop the idea of grades and work in more feedback.

Is it a Wicked Problem?

Utilize backwards design. What do you want students to learn or be able to do? What do they need to know already? How do I know what they know? Build the course from prior experience, adding new experiences, and then into an appropriate higher level thinking experience that helps students make connections between content and application in a real life setting.

Imagine you are teaching the course, “Physical Activity and Health” to undergraduate students. Most of the students in your class are in the department of Human Nutrition Foods and Exercise and have received instruction covering the following topics:

  • Elements of physical activity, exercise and fitness
  • Common methods for exercise testing
  • Skills to help motivate others to move

The new element introduced in this class is HEALTH. You want the class to be both interactive and academically rigorous. How do you begin developing the curriculum for this class? Do you begin with course objectives, content goals, assessments, class lectures or the syllabus?

Where do you begin to create a course? What if this was a pedagogy class, how would you utilize this set up? Should this set-up be used as problem based learning or case based learning?

WHAT IF THIS IS YOUR REAL EXPERIENCE OF BEGINNING TEACHING?!?

Instructional design can feel like a wicked problem, with competing needs, and unclear outcomes. Conflicts may arise among your departmental content expectations, need for cultural awareness, desire to have an interactive course, concerns about your students enjoying the course and providing good reviews, and balance of this course as one of many responsibilities. This sounds like a wicked problem to me!

Chess game before any pieces have moved. Demonstrating the importance and challenge of developing a strategy.
Photo by Jon Tyson from Unsplash.com

You are at the beginning. Planning your strategy. Where do you even start?

From the standpoint of looking at this scenario as a class activity, will it nestle nicely into problem or case based learning? Is it a problem or a case? Often, case based learning works with human challenges and problems deal with things. In this case, the syllabus and content are things however they are designed to interact with people. Case or problem? Maybe take a different approach. Is there a correct answer to this? In problem based learning, there are no correct outcomes expected where in case based learning, there may be an optimal outcome the teacher hopes you will work towards.

The outcome is a course. A course is a thing, not a treatment, prescription, or prediction. Seeing the outcome as a thing, try applying problem based learning to this scenario. What prior skills, content knowledge and resources does someone need to create a new course? How do you build these skills and develop familiarity with the content knowledge and recourses? These concepts get built into the beginning of the course, before working into problem based learning. This is utilizing backwards design.

What do your students really know and what can they actually do, that will help them be successful at integrating physical activity and health? Maybe utilize a pre-assessment to determine the baseline of knowledge and experience in your class. This happens even before new content is offered to students. Maybe meet with other faculty, to determine what they think the students should already know and be able to do, in order to make the pre-assessment survey. We are still working backwards in time.

Building a course often begins at the end. What do you want students to be able to do, is directly linked to what they can already do. Creating the environment for new fact based learning is the beginning, and then shifting the learning environment to the teacher as a facilitator can be incredibly useful for students. What does the teacher facilitate? Making connections. Application of fact based knowledge is all about a student’s attempts at integrating facts into real world scenarios.

Blooms Taxonomy demonstrates higher order thinking and activities as assessment.
Image from CenterForHomeSchooling.com

Bloom’s Taxonomy has been turned into countless visuals showing the development of higher level thinking. Both Problem and Case based learning require prior content knowledge. Next, students may begin to think critically about that knowledge. Finally, they can apply the content in context establishing a pathway for creation. In curriculum design, think about final products and go backwards to build the support needed for final outcomes.

Bravery doesn’t exist without potential risk and perceived reward.

Summary: Successful inclusive pedagogy, creates a community of awareness that is willing to work to create resiliency and encourage belonging. Inclusive pedagogy deploys responsiveness and flexibility to change, when new needs and information are revealed. Inclusive pedagogy celebrates each individual as essential members of their learning community.

I’ve seen the idea of inclusivity change in education since I started teaching in the 1990’s. In that decade, inclusivity had the goal of including learners with special needs into the least restrictive learning environment possible.  As I rang in the year 2000, my school district’s 10 year strategic goal was to “Decrease the achievement gap” which recognized White and Asian learners outperforming Hispanic learners who were outperforming Black learners. The next decade, my focus was on teaching adults in a commercial classroom which came with an entirely new set of inclusion needs related to balancing life and learning and money. How can I teach yoga, an Indian tradition, and train new yoga teachers, as a white woman without cultural appropriation in an industry dominated by white women in the US?

As I look forward to my next decade of teaching, I see inclusive pedagogy as a supporting force, that makes curricular learning possible. Inclusive pedagogy, at the core, addresses the diverse needs of learners to feel a sense of belonging and worth that supports their drive to achieve and succeed! I must remain aware of the needs of each individual learner and be willing to respond with change when needed in order for each learner to feel a sense of belonging in our community.

You belong here.
Photo by Amer Mughawish from UnSplash.com

The three decades represented above, show focus and attention given to a particular demographic of vulnerable learners however the future will be more inclusive. Much of my past looked at the instructor and individual learner to create change, which often focused on the perceived weakest link in the community. There was an underlying biased belief, that offering academic opportunities to select individuals would somehow change community and individual outcomes. I now believe inclusive pedagogy requires a responsive infrastructure to support curricular learning and all learners that includes cultural competency.

When working with middle schoolers on the challenge of bullying, I had them create “bully proof vests” which worked to develop resiliency.  Developing individual resiliency, by helping learners become aware of, and focus on their strengths, can build a responsive infrastructure. Building resiliency often includes helping learners become aware of their positive skills such as listening, laughing, loyalty, intelligence, questioning, cultural knowledge, unique beliefs, problem solving and awareness of support systems in place. Awareness of resiliency shifts the focus to collectively building unique strengths instead of narrowly focusing on vulnerable populations. Understanding how your unique strengths support your community begins to build a sense of belonging in learning communities. This is just the beginning. Now, we’ve got a space for brave acts to occur that can promote personal growth and curricular learning from new and varied perspectives!

People high on a rock
Photo by Natalie Pedigo from UnSplash.com

Think about this for a moment.
Bravery doesn’t exist without potential risk and perceived reward.
(INSERT WAIT TIME. KEEP THINKING…)

Bravery doesn’t exist without potential risk and perceived reward.
(INSERT WAIT TIME. KEEP THINKING…)

Bravery doesn’t exist without potential risk and perceived reward.

In order to achieve our highest goals, we must be brave. As a teacher, I need to be brave enough to build the infrastructure for inclusive pedagogy and use it to invite difficult conversations. I have to be brave enough to let go of previous assignments or prompts or ideas, that create isolation rather than belonging. I need to be aware of what’s really happening in the learning community and find creative ways respond when needed. Learners need to be brave enough to try academically, contribute to discussions, and infuse their personal uniqueness into their work!

How can inclusive pedagogy decrease risk and increase reward?

  • Develop resiliency.
  • Establishing expectations.
  • Offer varied communication options.
  • Celebrate small successes.
  • Demonstrate success in varied cultural contexts.
  • Encourage creative thinking.
  • Brainstorm. Share. Collaborate.
  • Support problem solving.
  • Be flexible.
  • Develop belonging.

My new version of inclusive pedagogy does not mention a specific vulnerable population and how to attend to their needs. I believe that is a fault of my teaching past as it limited the possibility of each individual learner’s identity. I believe in the Black Lives Matter movement and that some populations are more vulnerable than others, however if I am being fully inclusive, these special needs will be taken into consideration. Successful inclusive pedagogy, creates a community of awareness that is willing to work to create resiliency and encourage belonging. Inclusive pedagogy deploys responsiveness and flexibility to change, when new needs and information are revealed. Inclusive pedagogy celebrates each individual as essential members of their learning community.

Skateboard Tricks with community watching.
Photo by Travis Yewell from UnSplash.com

The Dance of Teaching and Learning

Lucy’s Teaching Philosophy

Summary: Teachers and learners share the power, to create a safe space to take learning and life risks. Content knowledge builds from basic to more complex thinking, connecting to existing knowledge, and from prior experiences. Clearly stated content goals can be assessed through the use of well-crafted rubrics and evaluated by different sources. It is critical that teachers learn from their students and share power to optimize learning outcomes.

 I have lived my life in a constant dance, with my dance partners being teaching and learning. Who leads the dance, depends on the moment, and is influenced by all the other dancers on the floor, the music, and the environment.  My parents are retired professors of education. I’ve taught in the public schools and owned a business that allowed me to teach adults. Currently I am teaching at a University. For over twenty years, with students ranging in age from eleven to ninety years old, I’ve taught some aspect of well-being and learned innumerable lessons from my students. Through mindful awareness of student behavior and my reactions to them, together, we learn to dance more effectively as teachers and learners.

Dancers
Photo by Robert Collins @Unsplash

Through my undergraduate degree, I waited tables. In a job interview, I was asked to, “Describe good customer service.” My reply, “It is invisible. Good customer service is when the customer has what they need, without having to ask for it.” I believe students should not need to ask for the tools of learning. Providing clear expectations from the start of a class will ease the learning experience. Offering tutorials for content that a student “should already know” will strengthen their understanding or fill in gaps in knowledge. I believe students should not have to ask for the assistance they need beyond learning, rather resources for living should be available to them. If the extra napkin is on the table, a customer can use it. If resources for mental health and or remediation are available, a student can choose to use it. Sometimes the need to ask for help is an unnecessary barrier to learning or customer service.

Korean food at a restaurant
Photo by Jakub Kapusnak @Unsplash

But let’s be real. I cannot anticipate every need that every student may encounter. I can however, provide the space to ask for what is needed. In order to create an environment of ease, I tap into my genuine self, drawing positive energy from being in the front of the room. Then, I turn that energy back and offer it as a gift to students. I laugh and find joy in everyday living. Turning this back to my students as motivation, compassion and conversation, they respond with curiosity, engagement and observations. This is a dance of teaching and learning.

When the tools of learning are in place, and the environment is energized for learning, it’s time to make connections.

The Constructivist theory of Learning outlines that we build new information based on prior experiences, connecting what is already known to new ideas. In order to help students make these connections, I need to be connected to the individual students and their prior experiences. What have they learned in other classes? How does their culture influence this topic? What have they learned about their ability to learn? I ask questions and deeply listen to their answers.

Utilizing a skill of scaffolding, I can then make connections between what is known and what comes next. Once a base layer of content is secure, I can help students build upon that layer with advanced facts, skills and higher order thinking. This moves students from identification to application and analysis. As students move towards higher order thinking skills (think Bloom’s Taxonomy), the base connection of facts must remain sturdy. Moving up from facts through application, analysis and even planning or predicting, requires confidence to try-out new concepts and ideas. You are standing at the top of layers of scaffolding outside a skyscraper. What makes you feel safe enough to look around and take a risk up there? Do you have the tools of learning and a good dance partner up there? I will do all that I can to provide this safe-to-take-a-risk opportunity to students!

scaffolding and a statue
Photo by Yale Cohen @Unshplash

Connecting confidence to knowledge happens through rubrics. Content goals outline what is to be learned. Including content goals within rubrics, helps students know what they know! Rubrics can be used for self-reflection, peer review, drafts and final grading. Students learn how to improve their work and as a teacher, I learn where the weak points are in my instruction. What’s the coolest thing about a rubric? It can apply to almost any kind of learning. Rubrics facilitate problem based learning, cooperative projects, creative self-expression and even fact based application of knowledge. A rubric is a tool that learners should have before they begin learning, just as a customer should have a menu before ordering.

Rubrics can provide a great deal of back and forth feedback to students from a variety of sources. This feedback can work like operant conditioning, positively reinforcing the desired behavior or learning outcome. Another way this should be done is through the connections between student and teacher. Eye contact, high fives, words or praise such as fantastic, excellent, and superb can motivate students. Getting to know students and what they respond best to, will help to shape behavior. I believe mindful awareness and connecting with students as individuals can help them feel motivated to continue learning and engaging.

And for my final dance analogy, I want to discuss the sharing of power. Who leads in the dance between teachers and learners? We have different power over one another and can switch roles without warning. In many circumstances, I find myself teaching empowerment to my students. I empower them to ask questions of the content and of my grading. I empower them to put in the amount of effort towards the class as they feel is appropriate, encouraging them to dig deeper into compelling content and breeze through things that are familiar and easy. It is important for students to feel the power of their voice, their knowledge and their skills. My power as their teacher should strengthen the students. My power is to hold the content and class expectations solid. My power is to hold the space for teaching and learning to dance. I am empowered to ask questions of my students and challenge their thinking, actions and outcomes. There are no power struggles, rather a sharing of power, as a dance of give and take between teaching and learning.

 

Teach Peace
Image by ZossDesign
From @Etsy

Contemporary Pedagogy

I am a teacher.
My dharma is to teach.
I continue to learn, so I can engage in new teaching!

I believe in science as a tool for methodical exploration and evaluation of change. Pedagogy is the science that investigates the best practices in learning and I look forward to discovering new teaching approaches and measures of learning!