As a Teaching Professor —Reaffirming Commitments
… knowledge must continually be renewed by ceaseless effort, if it is not to be lost. It resembles a statue of marble which stands in the desert and is continually threatened with burial by the shifting sand. The hands of service must ever be at work, in order that the marble continue to lastingly shine in the sun. To these serving hands mine shall also belong. (Einstein, On Education, 1950)
To be a teacher is to bear the beautiful and heavy responsibility to drive the future of the world. I am passionate about learning, and I find teaching extraordinarily rewarding as it provides me with a unique opportunity to create spaces that enable thought to take place with an openness to experimentation, research, reflection, and critique. I believe a successful teacher is one who is committed to a lifetime of study and self-reflection. This involves striving for competence, not as a static term, but through a lively initiation of exchanges launching new frames of professionalism and learning progressions from a cognitive perspective with a willingness to work in joint responsibility with others.
The art of teaching I embrace can best be explained in the concept of the ‘rhizome’ as developed by the French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari (1987). In rhizome, unlike the metaphor of a tree that is often symbolic of teaching and learning, there is no order of root, trunk, branches, and leaves. Rather, the rhizome pertains more to a map that is formed, created; something connected yet adaptable with multiple pathways and navigated at times by a personal or a collective compass. In this way, teaching gives rise to an exploration and functioning by means of connections — not instructed but constructed.
Three ideals inform my teaching: Respect and Risk; Democracy, Critical Reflection, and Deliberation; and Hope and Autonomy.
Respect and Risk — I foster respect by creating a learning culture in which students are seen as capable and are invited to contribute and take risks. In my first day of each class, I discuss the fact that I am reverent about the profession of teaching, about my role as their professor, and about my commitment to education that makes a positive difference in the world. I share openly and honestly that I respect each learner’s intelligence, abilities, and possibilities. In this way, the culture defuses the ambivalence between education and instruction allowing for a freedom in learning that can be sustained, acted upon, and transformed. Risk-taking is a critical competency in learners and leaders. To risk (in growing, in learning, in shifting paradigms), each student must feel they are capable. The classroom culture I foster inspires and honors students for exhibiting their strengths to their fullest, by taking risks, working in collaboration with others, and assuming decision-making power. With each newly formed class (cohort) I ask myself: What can I do that invites risk? What can I risk with them and for them?
Democracy, Critical Reflection, and Deliberation. I welcome each student’s participation as significant and important. I encourage a mutual receptivity to new and diverse ideas and perspectives. Democracy is a right of each learner and a tool that supports diversity, applauds opposing points of view, and becomes an impetus for understanding and learning. Shared values, that we all can aspire to, are formed early in each class. The pedagogy behind the creation of democratic spaces is that learning occurs when an individual encounters an alternative perspective. Each class offers occasions for open thinking where “one way” of thinking does not dominate, so as to allow for the emergence of new thought. Dialogue is valued and conflicting and critical reflection are embraced, along with the time to deliberate. My teaching is never autocratic. Absent in my classes is a traditional didactic hierarchy in which, as professor, I teach and students learn. Instead, we are all seen as learners — researchers and practitioners co-creating and conducting classes on an equal level; generating open and uninhibited exchange.
Hope and Autonomy. I seek to evoke hope through my teaching by supporting students and their autonomy as they develop the expertise to take on and lead meaningful professions of influence for a common good. Autonomy is gained through developed competencies and professional independence toward knowing one’s self in cooperation with others. I work to provide an environment of clear, shared expectations while nurturing and mentoring successes as students gain their self-efficacy. Beyond just knowledge and competencies, I want to engender hope in each student. One has to consider when the concept of ‘hope’ first enters into the mind of the learner. Hope cannot be taught or disseminated as it is an actual belief. This belief carries with it the knowledge that things WILL get better, no matter how large or small, from which can be drawn steadfast determination. When autonomy meets with hope in my students, my work has been set free.
Reaffirming … to teach is to bear the beautiful and heavy responsibility to drive the future of the world. I have accepted this responsibility as my life’s work. I have learned from teachers throughout my life, even more from colleagues who lend continuous inspiration and whose devotion to this work I share. But I have learned, and will always learn, the most from my students as they accept this shared responsibility and drive a future I may not see. We expect our students to advocate for the benefit of others, to inspire new directions for future change — with respect and compassion. The way to teach students to do this is to live this example before them so they experience, personally, the difference that one person can make in the life of another.