Three Practices that Transformed My Teaching Career
Yesterday, I shared the top three mistakes that I made as a college professor. Today, I want to be more positive. After all, I always enjoy ending things in a positive note and I am a pretty optimistic person.
In Chinese language and culture, we have a deeply rooted concept called Yin-Yang. It’s an essential philosophy that, to this day, still shapes who I am. The Yin-Yang philosophy describes a fluid nature of life. Contradictory forces are not fighting or competing with one another, but are actually interwoven and interdependent. See the graph below. There is a black dot in the white half of the circle and a white dot in the black half of the circle. Nothing is absolute and one gives meaning and birth to the other. This philosophy influences how I see challenges, failures, and mistakes in life. They don’t defeat me, but become the foundation to be successful in the future.
In this article, I share three specific practices that have helped me combat my mistakes as a teacher and made me a better teacher.
Are you ready? Let’s get started.
Practice ONE: Embracing Social Media
This one doesn’t come to me naturally. Changing oneself is perhaps the hardest thing to do. We know sugar is not good for us, but we all consume it; we know chips are probably not the heartiest food choice, but we all indulge in it; we know daily exercise is good, but we still choose to sit on a couch watching a movie with popcorns in our hands. In essence, what we know and what we do are completely different.
I knew that social media was important many years ago; and I even told my students that they needed to create an online presence and to learn as much as possible about social media. But, it took me a few years to take specific actions to finally embrace social media myself. I shared in a guest blog at Spin Sucks of how social media elevated my teaching career.
Ever since that decision to change, I have never looked back. Social media has transformed my teaching career in so many ways. An immediate benefit is that I no longer struggle with finding guest speakers for my classes. The last time I taught (before my sabbatical), I had a waiting list of speakers who wanted to speak to my class, which had never happened before. It’s a day-and-night change.
Once I broke the classroom walls, I encountered the first breakthrough in my teaching.
Moreover, my connections have become my students’ career opportunities. And when I start walking the walk, I see an immediate change in my students’ behaviors. They start to approach social media differently. Interestingly, when I change myself, students change themselves.
There are many others benefits of embracing social media as a pedagogical approach. However, I don’t want to make this blog super long. I will save them for another blog article. Plus, I want to give you bait to keep you coming back. 😉
Practice TWO: Adopting Service Learning
I am a proud mother to two young boys, 5 and 2 years old. Looking at them develop and grow, I am convinced that the best way to learn is through experiential learning. There is no other way around it. To truly internalize knowledge, it has to come from application, without which, knowledge is mere information. When application is combined with knowledge, transformation happens. That’s when we create an impact.
One of the biggest changes that I made in my teaching philosophy is to embrace more hands-on learning. Luckily at my school, we have an amazing service-learning center. I collaborated with them and have served so many clients from all sorts of local businesses to help them with their public relations needs. My students, collectively, had raised thousands of dollars for these clients and touched the lives of so many people. Seeing that their work has a tangible impact on someone else’s life is the most rewarding part to me as a college professor and to the students as well. It serves as a catalyst to make students be more interested in learning and compassionate at serving.
Practice THREE: Becoming a lifelong student
Becoming a lifelong student is probably the smartest move that I’ve ever done. Albert Einstein said the following, to which I cannot agree more.
Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.
We are in today’s information age. There is no shortage of learning resources, which I will share in another future blog post. What is lacking is an innate desire to learn and to improve. Our diplomas only represent what happen in the past, it’s our ability to move forward that brings continuously transformations to our personal and professional lives.
School learning is only a small portion of learning. Probably that’s one reason the graduation ceremony is called “commencement”: it simply signals the beginning of a new type of learning, where nobody will supervise you or to grade you (unless, of course, you go to grad school!). This is called lifelong learning.
I believe whatever we want our students to do, we have to be willing to do it ourselves. If we want our students to become lifelong learners, we have to become so first ourselves. That’s the only way to initiate change — I experienced this in my personal teaching career.
Especially in today’s world when everything is changing so fast, it is likely that what students learn in the classroom may quickly become obsolete. However, what don’t change are our skills to gather, synthesize, analyze, and communicate information in a clear and concise way across multiple platforms.
Let’s end today’s article with Gandhi’s quote,
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
Don’t be afraid of mistakes and challenges. Welcome them because they help you grow stronger. That’s also what I told my older kid who is obsessed with becoming a superhero. I told him the road steps from an ordinary person to an extra-ordinary superhero are challenges and mistakes. You need them to grow. So now, when he faces challenges, he smiles and is quite proud of the bruises on his body.
What are some changes you took to combat the mistakes in your professional career? I would love to learn from you! Please click on the little heart to show me some love and share my article with your friends.
Ai Addyson-Zhang is a professor, speaker, live streamer, social media expert, and digital learning consultant. She connects the dots between social media and education. Ai is on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram @AiAddysonZhang. She’s the host of a weekly Facebook live show, Classroom Without Walls — Using Technology to Reimagine Education, on every Wednesday at 5PM, EST.