Pass me my shield please.

“We can rebuild the entire system around passion instead of fear.” ~ Seth Godin

Because if we want a better education system that doesn’t dictate from atop an ivory tower, we must build it ourselves, we must be ready for battle, we must be revolutionary.

The research is there, we’ve seen that carrots and sticks don’t work. So why do we keep relying on rote memorization and obedience as markers of learning? How do we speak truth to power? Or perhaps more importantly, how can we encourage students to speak truth to power, when as educators, we are often seen as the power in the room?

Palmer recommends we strive to seek an “academic culture that invites student to find their voices about the program itself”, which in turn creates opportunities for support from faculty and staff. However, I don’t quite buy in to the call-and-response way of building culture. I strive to understand and recognize ways we are interconnected.  We must work together to create the kind of world we know is possible. We can stand up and with one another even in battles that are not our own; laying a foundation for brave spaces. Demonstrate warriorship and the courage required to speak out against the status quo, to have unpopular views, and to break silence in pursuit of positive cultural transformation. Be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations and make mistakes with one another, rather than avoid difficult topics.

We need to entrust our students with these messy problems and encourage them to speak about the ways and means learning is a choice and a pursuit to gain greater participation and be a better human in our society.

“Our task is to learn how to build smart rooms—that is, how to build networks that make us smarter” ~ David Weinberger

For myself, smart rooms and networks must remain rooted in empathy and compassion for others. My hope is to plant seeds of leadership and grit in to the classroom so that students will feel empowered through knowledge and training.

Critical Pedagogy and What it Means to Us

This post is collective effort on behalf of Corrie Besse, Matt BlairMinh Duong, Kyunghee KimCindy Klimaitis, and Samuel Sherry

Critical pedagogy is a life-long, balanced, and transformative approach to teaching that nurtures understanding by integrating one’s passions with curiosity in an ever evolving, and challenging environment – both in the context of what is being taught, where it comes from, and how it is applied.

Above is our attempt at defining the undefinable. To us, critical pedagogy is our definition, and can be seen in the interplay between the words in our word cloud, but we also acknowledge that in actuality it is much more. We believe that fundamentally, critical pedagogy resides in the intersection of theory and practice and finds meaning in creating an environment that promotes understanding in education. Paulo’s assertion that you cannot teach without learning nor learn without teaching resonates with our understanding of critical pedagogy, in that we (as people, educators, learners, experts, novices) never stop learning or having things to teach and offer. Fostering a growth mindset is a facet of life-long learning, not only do we want to cultivate our students to remain open to the power of possibility, we as educators must also remain steadfast in always looking for ways in which we can be learning.

The fluidity of critical pedagogy, and its ubiquitous nature in our daily lives, contributes to the difficulty in defining it. We view its application as ever evolving to meet the needs of a changing and developing environment – whether in society, the classroom, the home, or the overarching framework of education. Here we believe that the ability to challenge – our ideas, conventions, paths of communicates, and structure for disseminating knowledge – can lead to a situation that fosters curiosity in our passions and lead to student driven learning.

The question is how? How can or does critical pedagogy manifest itself in our studies, classrooms, and professions?  How do we transform the intellectually stifling practices engrained in education into something much more effective and inclusive? To explore this concept further we looked at ways critical pedagogy manifests itself in our fields of practice.

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Cindy
The components of the critical pedagogy definition have direct application to my field.  As a future ‘teacher of teachers” the life-long learner component applies to the research part of the position.  Educators need to stay up to date on the latest research to know implementation of best practices and current social justices issues that need to be considered in the classroom environment.

Knowing the students will help the professor with a balance of giving and getting – how much students need to get (build a knowledge base) and how much giving (giving time for students’ curiosity to allow for their own knowledge search).  The key to critical pedagogy is balance and that balance is based on the individual in the classroom. Balance is fluid and ever changing.

The 1st minute provides a visual for how working together benefits the group and each individual, just click on the image to view.


Food Science & Technology, Minh 
This week we discussed this week two extremes of how teaching can be accomplished: were “problem-posing” and “banking”. With banking, the student simply draws upon what is required by the teacher where usually the teacher provide information for students to consume and this information becomes regurgitated at the appropriate time (very similar to this Calvin and Hobbes comic below — excuse the potato quality.)

Problem-posing is sort of the opposite side of that spectrum that emphasizes critical thinking that involves listening, dialogue, and action through a positive learning atmosphere. A very well known example of this atmosphere is the Montessori method.

Food Science and Technology (FST) leans on the “banking” side of things currently, but needs to transition and move towards more of the problem posing mindset. Learning the information on a specific microorganism and its characteristics that cause foodborne illness is useful, but understanding the system and how the microorganism fits into that system is important.

We do a great job in Food Science of addressing the “what”, “who”, and “when”, all specific details, but struggle with the “why” and the “how”. As an educator in Food Science, I endeavor to bring in learning and teaching that involves experiences that help students think outside-the-box and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the “why” and “how”.


Engineering, Samuel & Matt
When I think of critical pedagogy in the field of engineering I think of the sharing my love/passion for the subject and a Socratic approach to learning.  If you present your passion for a subject this shows in a big way, it makes the students more excited/ peaks their interest about the material. In my mind this sets the wheels in motion, from the small material I covered, to the student/class probing larger topics. Ideally this could be done in the class room with me facilitating or individually when they want to go above and beyond the basics. The concept of critical thinking and asking why are the principles upon which engineering were built on.  I hope this approach to teaching fosters a love of life-long learning and critical thinking.


Landscape Architecture, Kyunghee
I believe the core value of critical pedagogy is applicable in the field of landscape architecture as engagement and sustainability have been big words in the education and practice of landscape architecture. From the perspective of critical pedagogy, educators are responsible to engage in social, environmental, and political issues around the built and natural environments, and empower communities as well as students to be an agent of creating, implementing and operating their living spaces. Many students in the design field tend to focus on aesthetic/functional aspects, not being interested in social and environmental issues much, as I did when I was in undergraduate. I think that in order to prepare students to be a critically conscious landscape designer/planner it might be important for educators to closely engage in their needs/situation and inspire them to transform their motivations for social/environmental justice and ethics.


Arts Leadership, Corrie
As leaders in the arts we need to have an understanding of not only ourselves, but also how we present ourselves to others. In a critical pedagogical context, it’s important that as we move forward that there must be a sense of balance between these inner and exterior frameworks of self. When we lose sight of one over another, burnout or hollow-out or the loss of creativity can take hold.

Once we have that balance we can contextualize ourselves within a framework of how we connect and create meaningful relationships to our organizations, communities and society. Personally, I strive to provide a platform for the arts to help society see what they might not, to connect them to what is invisible to them in their daily lives.  Art does not exist in a vacuum, rather it needs to look critically at the needs and desires of our community in order to make an impact of greater inter-cultural understanding and social responsibility.


As we engage in our respective fields of practice we strive to balance the needs of our classroom and the mindset of our community in order to impact our living spaces, our organizations, and our institutions in order to empower our students to develop their own voices and what impact they want to see valued in the societies of tomorrow.  Critical Pedagogy provides a framework for that exploration while remaining cognizant of of our culture and ourselves within it.



Fostering Community in the Classroom

The current shifts in the cultural sector toward social and racial equity have resulted in policy changes, developments in institutional language, funding structures, and a social momentum aimed at addressing inequality and systems of oppression. But these changes are not happening in a vacuum. We are in a moment of the resurgence of activism in the United States through groups like #Blacklivesmatter, DREAMERs, and the renaissance of activism happening on college campuses.

I am reminded of Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx “Subtlety”, this work that was so brilliantly critiquing racism. It was literally a monument —a giant sphinx with the head of “mammy,” naked and exposed, made entirely of sugar and molasses in the old Domino sugar factory in gentrifying Brooklyn. It was pushing the needle of commentary on the history of slavery as it related to the sugar trade and the vulnerability of black women’s bodies and on and on. Yet, I found myself in a room full of people with art history degrees who said it was perfectly valid for people to pose in sexually suggestive poses with it, lick it, and post it to Instagram. It was like they had no idea of the racist history Walker was engaging or how contemporary audiences were complicit in it.

As an arts administrator, I have sought out a variety of frameworks for thinking across cultural differences in order to foster a community of inclusion and engagement. While much of this research has been aimed at audience development and I feel in no-way that I have yet grasped an expertise in these areas. I have aimed to create a practice of approaching this work with an incisive mind, open heart and fearless gratitude when thinking of the challenges and extreme polarities we as a society are facing today. In the readings for this week I realized to what degree this research can also have impact in the classroom and I hope to bring these practices with me into the classroom.

A reading which was particularly inspiring was From Safe to Brave Spaces by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens for the ways it helped foster dialogue through reframing ground rules I have read and often felt put more onus on long time silenced and marginalized voices had to continue to interpret what was being expressed by those that herald more privilege. It provided me with language tools I can instill into classrooms that continue to focus on finding and expressing authenticity through respect, civility, and owning your intentions, as well as your impact.

John C Maxwell notes that “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.” Statements uplifted such as these too often place unrealistic expectations on instructors and leaders to offer “answers”.  Instead I seek to offer complications, make gestures, and pose questions that lead to a more complex understanding of how inclusion should be carried out in cultural institutions and classrooms. This dialogue is rooted in the belief that this conversation is part of a continuum, and we are merely presenting a moment in that continuum.

We make better decisions when we approach our problems and challenges with questions (“What if we…?”) and curiosity. When we allow space for play, curiosity, and creative thinking. We must also in turn value listening to, and holding each other up, particularly the voices of those who are affected by systems of oppression. We can then take comfort in the fact that no single one of us knows everything, but together we hold immense knowledge, immense creativity, and immense potential.

The hows and the whys of learning

Two concepts rose to the surface in this this week’s reading on learning; how we learn and why we learn. When one is taught the process behind a skill they are learning the how. Whereas, when one seeks the reasons behind that particular process they seek to know the why.

Langer writes that “when we first learn a skill, we necessarily attend to each individual step” and the ways in which her process of learning differs around baking a cheesecake each year continues to bring delicious results. Additionally, many of our readings last week surrounding digital learning as well as Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think explores the paradigm shift of how access to information in our digital age has changed the process of how one learns. We are shifting from a place that sets computers and humans as opposites to a place where they are collaborating in order to “help us work, mediate and create.” Knowing the how helps create sustainability.

Keeping one on it toes, the why is ever-evolving.  It incorporates the context found in oneself as well as the respective environment and to what degree that context affects one’s process.  Sir Ken expresses teaching goes beyond delivering information, teachers must also “mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage” to ensure that any real learning taking place. Real learning takes place when one has a curious mindset, when  we desire to look beyond the steps of the process and the how something took place and discover the why it took place. Knowing the why helps create adaptability.

I need to be mindful of both the how and why when creating a platform of learning for students. Being new to teaching, I aim to have a better understanding of ways to cultivate that environment and am open to hearing suggestions for developing these best practices.


Building Confidence through Learning and Failing

Currently I am an MFA Candidate in my first-year studying Arts Leadership through the Performing Arts Department. One of the benefits of this program is the ability to take electives that are offered throughout the school and I chose this course as I wanted the opportunity to explore and build better teaching practices. Prior to my enrollment here at Virginia Tech I had an opportunity to co-teach a course, and in doing so, it re-invigorated my own craving to learn. In this course I hope to have a better understanding of what styles and skillsets I can achieve by learning more about how to teach. With so many formats and tools available to the teachers of today; how can I utilize them to help spark curiosity and foster a sense of empowerment to the students of today.

In our F2F discussion on Wednesday we discussed some of the real challenges around ethics and privacy of Learning Management Software systems (LMS) such as Canvas. In all honesty, while I have accessed Canvas’ analytics tools and spreadsheets and found it’s helpful to have the option to consider how much a student may be working inside the course’s online content, however I believe it to be an additional factor, rather than a deciding factor. To me, more clicks does not equal more learning. Rather, it’s another way I can assess impact of the course. Did the student take the time to try and find an answer on their own before they reach out to send a direct email to their inquiry? Have they expressed curiosity by clicking through the resources I have curated on this platform to assist their learning? Or what tools and resources students spent little to no time with that can help me as I prepare to improve for future classes.

The counter – arguments made during our discussion were new to me, I was unaware until that moment how these tools are monetized, nor had I given much thought to the uninformed consent that students give away by engaging with an LMS. I’m excited and look forward to exploring new and different approaches to learning, as we dig in deeper into these and future areas of focus.

In our class readings, open sourced learning was applauded in Working openly on the web: a manifesto. I can see the positives in creating your own digital identity, thereby having a place where your own voice can be heard, as well as allowing our work to be a building block to others, as well as ourselves. The theory sounds very harmonious and utopian, yet the world wide web still instills a fear that shocks me to the core, as I have yet to discover confidence in my own voice through writing. Or perhaps, there was once I time I learned like Baby George in which I had confidence and joy in sharing my own opinions. Furthermore, when those expressions are unclear I can be able go back and make refinements, and the act of modification isn’t seen as a weakness for not getting it picture-perfect the first time. That even after falling down many times, as Baby George does, I could get back up with a smile and try again; learning and progressing each time.

Dr. Wesch goes on in his Ted Talk to speak to the approaches he has taken to instill positive motivators for students, as well as himself, to learn and engage in the classroom and beyond. Through drawing he is able to share a vulnerability so that other students can emulate that it’s better to keep on trying and through that continued effort we can discover our own empowerment that makes us heroes to those around us.

In addition to thinking about what leads to real learning for the students that and ways we can use networked learning to create that environment, I can also take part in that discovery. As I am vulnerable in writing this blog, however, only by continuing to write will I feel more confident in how my thoughts are articulated through doing it.


*Please note this blog has been created to fulfill a course requirement for GRAD 5144 Contemporary Pedagogy this Spring 2019 at Virginia Tech.