While In graduate school at Simmons College, one of my favorite professors (who began her own career as a first grade teacher) once said, “The point of school is not to be good at school.” Stated so plainly, this sentiment may seem obvious. Yet in the day-to-day rigors of teaching, from outlining standards and planning individual lessons, to assessing understanding and providing student feedback, sometimes this core premise can become lost. My goal as an educator is to ensure that students not only build foundational knowledge in the course content, but also develop the skills necessary to be critical readers and creators of information and media and to contribute positively to the learning community.
I have had the opportunity and privilege to work with a tremendous variety of learners across a range of settings. I have worked and taught in several countries, with learners of all ages and from a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. I am of the firm belief that good teaching is good teaching. Over the course of my career I have developed a few core beliefs in this regard:
Learning is social. Humans are by their nature social beings. I have observed learners of all kinds become the most actively engaged in learning when they are able to openly discuss and share their learning, connections, and interests. Cultivating this kind of learning environment must go much deeper than assigning the (often dreaded) “group project.” My responsibility as the instructor is to create an environment where learners feel encouraged to share their ideas and questions. Perhaps somewhat ironically, this kind of learning community begins with celebrating the background knowledge, interests, and unique skills of the individual students. By affirming students’ various ideas and questions without judgment, I can set the expectation that all perspectives and modes of inquiry are worth sharing.
Learning is multidirectional. All learners bring their own experiences and background knowledge. Tapping into my students’ experience, knowledge, and even questions, has been one of the most rewarding parts of my teaching career. In what began as a simple lesson about plagiarism and copyright, I had to adapt the lesson to account for my students’ fascinating questions on the topic (Can you copyright DNA? Can you copyright a sports play? Why is video game streaming considered fair use?). The lesson became one of my favorites to teach, specifically because I got to expand my own thinking and learn with my students.
At its best, teaching is a creative profession. I approach designing a course, unit of study or lesson, as a creative endeavor. We often approach creativity as an innate trait or as enigmatic phenomena that appears in moments of inspiration. But creativity can be cultivated through asking questions, identifying opportunities, and testing solutions. I loved my role as a middle school librarian, but I still had an itch to teach media studies. So I created my own avenues to harness both mine and my students' interests by designing several series of popular afternoon drop-in sessions on topics such as media codes and conventions, intertextuality, satire, and media archaeology.