There are so many dimensions to faculty development that it would be difficult to list them all. Learning with Mind and Heart provides support for the interpersonal aspects of teaching. There are many other sources for support with lesson planning, curriculum design, use of technology and so forth.
- Classroom dynamics –effective professors need to learn about group dynamics and the interactions among students that either support or detract from student engagement. I once taught a group dynamics course that included two students from different cultures that historically did not trust each other. The students were very polite but these two students never spoke directly to each other. The class never “jelled” and many learning opportunities were lost because I didn’t see or know about the conflict. Do you have “couples” in your class and is that affecting the dynamics? Are there members of different fraternal groups, gangs or other social groups? Are students afraid of some element of the class displayed by other students, e.g. hijabs, yarmulkes, fraternity colors? If the class is interactive, it is very beneficial to know what these elements are and conduct honest, respectful conversations about the impact on learning for all students.
- Professor/student interactions – Once again, it’s not about you. There are two basic kinds of interactions between faculty members and students, information giving and eliciting student reactions and thinking about the information. When the professor is lecturing or giving information, it’s about the information. When student reactions or opinions are solicited it’s about the student’s ideas. Faculty reaction should focus on helping students clarify their responses, point out their flaws in reasoning or use of factual information and then solicit opinions of other students. It is also helpful to point out comparisons between different points of view or ask questions that raise issues a student hadn’t considered. A very effective response to student contributions is a quick summary of what the student said, “Let me be sure I understand what you meant.” This response tells the student that the professor is listening and has understood. Give the student the opportunity to clarify before proceeding. This simple response makes the student far more likely to be engaged and more willing to listen to others. Professors are expected to be content experts but every student is the expert on his or her personal opinion.
- Contemplative practices– Learning is partially a biological process. The brain needs time to turn the information into chemical signals and to file those signals in previously existing systems and categories. When information is presented (either opinion or fact) that doesn’t fit into a student’s previously established file system, the student may become uncomfortable, e.g. a white student being in a class with a Nigerian student whose mother is on the faculty. The white student may just see a Black student and become surprised when that student speaks British English or is more articulate than the native born American student who has, until this moment, only known “African Americans” from the inner city. Contemplative processes are activities that take time out of the information sharing of the class and give students the opportunity to consider what they are learning on a deeper level. A simple practice is to stop the conversation after something the professor believes is significant has been stated either by the professor or a student. “Let’s just stop and think about that for a minute.” When you say a minute, you should really take a minute, not 10 seconds. Then simply ask about meaning, “What does that mean to you? Or why would that be important?” Other contemplative practices include short reaction papers at the end of a class, asking students to write a poem about the subject (or a rap), or journaling. Contemplative Practices in Higher Education (Barbezat and Bush, 2014) discusses these practices extensively. There is a brief appendix about contemplative practices in Of Education, Fishbowls and Rabbit Holes (Fried, 2016).
- Self–Authorship– Self-authorship is the foundation of all meaningful learning. Students learn and retain information that can be placed into their pre-existing filing system of ideas. The most powerful set of ideas that college students live by are their ideas about who they are- individually, sexually, culturally, economically, as members (or not) of faith communities and as family members. Any information that disrupts their ideas about any of these categories must be handled carefully or it will be rejected. “Self-authorship, the process of composing a life, your own life, is the most profound task that college students face, regardless of their age, their career choice, their fields of study or any other future plans ( Composing a Life, Bateson, 1990).” Before students ask you why they need to know whatever you think you are teaching them, be prepared to answer. Your answer should probably begin by asking the students a few questions about who they are, what they care about and their ideas about their future. Then weave your answer into their life and they will understand.
Mentoring junior faculty is also a complex process. It follows the same principles of self-authorship. Relationship and trust are critical. Confidentiality is crucial. The focus should always be on the person being mentored. This is less of a mutual process than you might imagine. It’s not about giving advice about what you have learned in your career. It’s about finding out what your protégée is attempting to accomplish and what matters to that person. It’s also quite useful to know some of the relevant elements in the person’s life e.g. why they love their discipline, what kind of family support they had or have for their work, their family of origin and whether or not they understand what the new faculty member is doing, the relevance if any of their faith, their comfort and this institution etc. You can share a bit of your own background as part of developing the relationship but only to the extent that the protégée can learn to trust you. After that, ask a lot of questions.
- What learning outcomes did you expect from that lesson?
- What did that lesson have to do with the aspects of your discipline that you value?
- How are you going to discover what the students value about this subject?
- How are you going to know if the students learned what you taught?
- After you feel comfortable working on teaching skills, then move on to all the other elements of university life that are expected of any faculty member.
Learning with Mind and Heart offers consultations on both teaching and mentoring. For additional information contact Jane Fried at email@example.com.
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