Engaged Pedagogy

In chapter 3 of Teaching Critical Thinking by bell hooks, she states that, “engaged pedagogy begins with the assumption that we learn best when there is an interactive relationship between student and teacher. As leaders and facilitators, teachers must discover what the students know and what they need to know. This discovery happens only if teachers are willing to engage students beyond a surface level. As teachers, we can create a climate for optimal learning if we understand the level of emotional awareness and emotional intelligence in the classroom”. 

These words really resonate and hit home with me. All semester long I feel as though I preach the same message to my academic colleagues in the room- that they must be willing to engage beyond the surface level and DO LIFE with their students. Too often at the doctoral level ESPECIALLY those in STEM, they spend their time in the lab and their mentors, committee and chairs tell them that that is where there time should be spent. I disagree. Life is still happening beyond the lab. Issues of race, racism and discrimination are happening on college campuses to their students. It is not sole the responsibility of those working in student affairs to address these issues. Our peers and colleagues in academic affairs must be held accountable for creating spaces in which students can engage in this dialogue. bell hooks says that we must create and interactive classroom where students can learn from the teacher but also where the teacher can learn from the students. Teachers have to be willing to go beyond the surface level (read: beyond the required course material). I challenge my academic peers to create that space. Find a time in your classrooms where you can ask questions about life with your students. When you agree to take up a position as an educator, you agree to create aa climate that is conducive to learning. You agree to create a space where ideals can be challenged, knowledge can be assessed and where knowledge can be acquired.

At Virginia Tech specifically, VTSA (Virginia Tech Student Affairs) talks a lot about building community. (If you’re looking for a great read, Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block is a good start on how to do this). bell hooks also states in this chapter that you have to be willing to create community and comrade in the classroom amongst your students. By creating community, this breaks down barriers and walls, it builds a level of trust, opens the door for communication and creates a genuineness that will allow both the students and the teachers to be vulnerable with each other. When students have buy-in into the classroom, when they know that their voices matter, when they know that their questions are valued, it can change the entire setting in a classroom.

I get concerned when I actively see that many of my peers to do not understand the value of creating community in the classroom. Many of my colleagues including myself, grew up in classroom spaces that adopted the banking style of education (per Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed). Teachers spoke AT us and did not often allow room for questions or a space to grow in our learning. I see many of my peers repeating this same pattern because it’s what we know and what our committee and/or mentors expect us to do. STOP THIS! I dare you to be different! I dare you to adopt a model of engaged pedagogy in your classroom. I dare you to create a community and a culture of care in your classroom. I DARE YOU TO BE DIFFERENT!

Dismantling Racism in Education

For this week’s bog, I listened (and read the transcript) the Dismantling Racism in Education podcast. This podcast resonates with me on so many levels. The interview takes place with Dr. Cornelius West & three Heinemann Fellows (Sonja Ahmed, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Cornelius Minor).

While this entire transcript is mesmerizing and memorable, the part that sticks out to me the most is the section that states,” Racism looks like teaching children that race doesn’t matter when in fact race does matter, to borrow from Dr. Cornell West. When we teach kids these sort of canned narratives that race doesn’t matter, we’re all the same, we’re all equal, there really needs to be a paradigm shift where we’re teaching our children race does matter in this society. It shouldn’t, but it does. And for some of your peers and for some citizens, they’re having a very different experience because of the color of their skin. In our household, we see that as unjust and unfair and we are pushing back against that, but it’s important for you to know that as you are going to school and celebrating the uniqueness’s of your peers. That racism is real and it does matter in this society because there are people who make it matter. I wish that was the narrative that parents were taking in their homes and then teachers can pick up in schools, in developmentally appropriate ways to help kids understand this.” (source: Dismantling Racism in Education)

This resonates me on SO MANY LEVELS! As a child, I was taught that in order to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as they (read: white) people are. I didn’t understand this thought until my senior year of high school where I was told that I should consider trade school or community college but don’t expect to advance any further than that. (side note: and now here I stand about to graduate with a MASTER’S DEGREE! Look at me now!). I didn’t understand what it meant to be a Black woman in today’s society, particularly in higher education, until I began my collegiate career. The ivory towers are not built for me, in fact, they’re built to keep people who look like me out. So much of the word that I live in, the 21st century, is not built to support me and my salient identities. Race does matter unfortunately. If it didn’t matter, many of the hardships and trails that we as African/African American/People of Color face would’t be real challenges for us.

I always find it interesting to listening to my white peers and colleagues discuss their experiences both in the academy and in the world. Often they face their own set of trails, but I’ve never heard of them not being served at a restaurant in 2018 simply because of the color of their skin, or being pulled over and handcuffed while their possessions are searched, or being declined a job interview once the interviewers realized that they were a person of color. As much as we may want to turn a blind eye to racism and say that it doesn’t exist, it does. And the people in power (read: politicians, college presidents, CEOs/CFOs, etc.) who have the opportunity to change this, don’t. Why? I don’t think there’s one clear cut answer, but from my experience, a lot of the thinking is that this is the way that it’s always been done and as such, why rock the boat?

As higher education professionals (bth student affairs professionals and faculty), I believe that we can begin to dismantle the system from within the ivory towers. We have a responsibility to our students to engage them, teach them, broaden their horizons and perspectives. We cannot allow students to remain the same as they did when they walked through our doors. Although we cannot control the outcome, it is our responsibility to at least have a call to action for our students. It’s our responsibility to bring in the omitted narratives, to bring forth the truth in our classroom, to stretch our students minds. Often, college is one of the few if not the only place this is allowed to happen. I challenge my peers to think about what they can do to disrupt the system and begin to dismantle racism in the academy and in education holistically.

Can I REALLY Be My Authentic Self While Teaching in the Classroom?

This week’s subject talks about being our authentic selves while teaching in the classroom. I spent lots of time reading and re-reading Professor Fowler’s The Authentic Teaching Self & Communication Skills and several of the points that they mention in the article. Within the outline, I looked deeper into section one, the authentic teaching self. This section posed some tips and questions about what does it mean to be authentic in the classroom. All of the suggestions do make sense to me. However, I’m curious through what lens and worldview this article was written. Does the author take into account the positionality and world view of the different types of teachers? Does the author take into account the campus climate and campus politics? I’m not implying that the author doesn’t, however I do wonder.

Growing up, I knew my skin color was different fro my peers but it wasn’t until I began college that I was a woman and it certainly wasn’t until graduate school that I realized that I’m a BLACK woman. How I show up to spaces and how I convey my message to my students, while I may mean well, it could be taken in differently if I sound passionate about a topic. There was an incident last semester in which tone of voice and passion in the classroom (& really in general) came into question. some students responded saying that they don’t respond well to that type of interaction. When a topic means something to me or causes one or more of my identities to come into question, I become passionate (read: raise voice) when I speak on the topic. I’m not going to apologize for that. This conversation did make me question though, is there a way for my to still convey my disdain/dislike about a subject matter in the classroom while making sure that those around me understand that this not a personal attack against them? This same question makes me think, can I truly be my authentic self in the classroom, if part of my authentic self is sometimes being passionate about which I speak?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be belligerent and in-your-face with my comments. Just because something makes me upset doesn’t mean that I’m always going to get passionate or bent-out-of-shape about certain topics. BUT I also want my peers/colleagues, students and professors to know and understand what means the a lot to me. What makes me uncomfortable, what makes me think twice and unnerves me a bit.

I say all that I said above to ask the question, can I REALLY TRULY be my authentic self in the classroom? At this exact point and time, no I don’t necessarily feel like I can be consistently. And the moments in which I am myself, I feel like I’m being judged. But maybe that’s me being too critical on myself. Maybe I’m too concerned about someone else’s view of me, something that I have no business worrying about.

Okay. I feel like I’m rambling and rant so forgive me. If you made it this far with me, I appreciate you sticking it out and I look forward to reading your thoughts and answer to my main question (read: 3rd paragraph, first sentence).

Grades: An Oppressive System In Education

Reading The Case Against Grades brought up a TON of emotions for me this week. Some of the emotions this pieced evoked from me were anger, frustration rage and even a bit of embarrassment. I’m not embarrassed for my present self, but embarrassed for my younger self, the me 10-15 years ago who wasn’t among her high-achieving peers in the classroom. I went to school in a county, on a particular side of the county were high grade marks and straight A’s were an expectation of almost everyone. As hard as I tried, I wasn’t one of those students. I excelled in my elective classes like music/choir classes, home economics/teen living and sociology but could never seem to master’s subjects like physics, geometry and chemistry. It was embarrassing to receive my test scores and they sometimes be significantly lower than my peers.

In The Case Against Grades, Kohn mentions that several of the effects of grading are that grades tend to diminish what students are learning, grades create a preference for the easiest possible task and that grades tend to reduce the quality of students thinking. All of these statements resonate with me on a personal level. Within my discipline, Higher Education Administration, we reference Pedagogy of The Oppressed by Paulo Freire. In tis book, Freire mentions the baking model which American elementary, secondary and postsecondary education systems seems to adhere strictly to.  Because this system adheres to this restricting system of education, students are not allowed to think freely and make meaning of what they learn for themselves (e.g. Mindful Learning), but rather they are “learning” to regurgitate information for an exam. Grading restricts students and forces them to not necessarily meditate on what they’re learning but rather they can skim books and lessons for what they need to know. They are not told that it is okay to challenge the author, the professor(s)/teachers and each other on their thinking and thought process. Essentially, students are not taught to think at all. Grades are a way of inhibiting students learning. If students do not receive good grades, they are thought of as less than adequate and labeled as “problem” children when in fact, many of those labels could not be further from the truth.

I was never labeled a problem child, but I was told that college may not be in the cards for me. I was a good, well-mannered, well-behaved young girl with many big hopes and dreams. In high school, no one EVER thought I’d be the one to go to college, much less obtain a master’s and thinking about pursuing a doctorate. Grades do a huge disservice to our students because they label our students and put them in a box, typically a good, okay or bad student box. These boxes, these labels send the wrong message to our students. By not allowing them to practice mindful learning and engage in an academic learning space that not only encourages them to ask questions but REQUIRES it of them; think of the culture shift that will take place in the education system. I think it’s past time that we change the way that we evaluate our students learning. While many believe that this shift needs to start in the primary and secondary educational settings, I believe it starts in the post-secondary world. If we change the way we evaluate our undergraduate students, high schools will make the switch, then middle then elementary. It’s a chain reaction that ultimately starts on our level. I dare you as an educator, as an administrator to be a part of making that culture shift.

Mindful Learning: Myths of Learning

This week’s reading focuses on mindful learning. I’ve heard about the concept of mindfulness but never thought about it as it pertains to learning. The introduction of the book The Power of Mindful Learning, states seven myths of learning including:

  1. The basics must be learned so well that they become second nature.
  2. Paying attention means staying focused on one things at a time
  3. Delaying gratification is important
  4. Rote memorization is necessary in education
  5. Forgetting is a problem
  6. Intelligence is knowing “what’s out there?
  7. There are right and wrong answers

Reading these myths, I thought about how they truly do stifle not just mindful learning but learning in general. As someone who has never been a big proponent of school, I often felt stifled in the classroom. Because my mind didn’t seem to function in the same manner as the other students, I always felt ostracized and left out of intellectual spaces. In the workforce however, I found that I learned concepts quickly an was often able to make meaning for myself of certain tasks and policies. As someone pursuing a higher degree of learning, I understand now that often times, the reason why I felt stifled in the classroom is because my teachers and professors were attempting to fit me into a box that I often rebelled against. The 5 myth, “forgetting is a problem” is a learning myth that resonates highly with me because often, I have been taught to study and learn for the test and not so concepts and ideas make sense to me. I needed to put information on a piece of paper to pass the class, who cares if I learned or not. Because my bachelor’s degree is in kinesiology, I often felt ill-prepared when interning in the field (e.g. with cardiac patients, football and volleyball teams, etc.) because I often forgot what I was learning in the classroom. It wasn’t until one of my professors asked me to come to her office hours and we truly talked through the class material and she asked me how would I go about remembering the material for myself did I finally understand that it wasn’t necessarily my fault that I was forgetting the material. It was because I was not allowed to engage in mindful learning and therefore, I cared less about the material and forgot about it upon leaving the classroom space

I can’t say that I have a solution on how to engage in mindful learning in the classroom, but I would say that professors should open up the floor and allow multiple ways for students to grasp ideas and concepts instead of focusing on  one particular avenue. Learning happens in many different ways and as student demographics continue to shift, college and university professors should also be working to shift the classroom culture of learning.

Students Are More Than Statistics, They’re People

Teaching statements are a relatively new concept to me but one I find intriguing. I’ve never enjoy academics and in large part, that is due to how teachers/professors saw the classroom. I was raised in one of the most affluent counties in the country, We were actively told that we were being taught a much higher level than our peers. And while in theory this sounds wonderful, we were nothing but statistics to the Superintendents and Board of Directors in the county. I hated this. Within the classroom itself, it was much harder for me to understand and grasp concepts and subjects. I asked for help with the material from my teachers. I went to early morning (6:30am) and afternoon/evening study sessions with my teachers, had tutors, attended study groups at church and nothing seemed to work. And many of my teachers (particularly in high school) did not seem to know another way to approach teaching the material to me. In those tutoring sessions, they would “teach” me the same way they taught their regular classes and still I felt lost. It was not until I came to college, particularly community college, that I took classes and had professors that taught material to students using a variety of formats. The most common format was lecture but many of my professors used video recordings on youtube, made their lectures available on iTunes, classroom games, student teaching, etc. that made the material more engaging and easier to understand. This not only made learning fun for me, but I also began to actually understand the course material. I was encouraged to read, understand and then challenged to communicate my understanding to my classmates in a fun and interactive way. For the first time ever, going to class wasn’t painful. But I noticed the reason behind this was because my professors actually cared about making sure that we understood the material. They engaged with their students and provided an individualized experience for us regardless if there were 20 people in the class or 200.

Reading this teaching statement spoke to me in many ways because not only did it remind me of my experiences but it also gave me hope that there are teachers/professors in the world who genuinely care about their students and are willing to look beyond the numbers to make sure that their students are getting the best experience they can.


Networked learning is a concept that until my first year of graduate school, I never knew or explicitly understood what it was; and honestly, I’m still a little fuzzy. It is my understanding that networked learning is the use of blogging and social media as platforms to engage in learning. It is the process of acquiring, developing and sharing information with others in a way that aids in their learning. When I think of networked learning, I think of experiential learning. Experiential learning is the process of learning through experiences. Within the context of education, I often think of experimental learning as internships, research and service, and have never really thought explicitly about networked learning.
Please bear with me ya’ll as I attempt to process my thoughts on networked learning. Although I identify as a millennial, and as a student affairs educator, I completely agree that learning happens in various ways outside of the classroom, I’m still processing exactly how I feel about experiential learning. Social media is great and I do believe that learning happens there, but what type of learning is happening. And is this learning for personal of academic reasons? Now, does there have to be a difference; absolutely not, but this is a dichotomy that I sometimes find myself in when thinking about social media. Additionally, the use of blogs as a form of networked learning in academic setting is a newer concept for me. I’m still trying to see blogging as a useful tool in the academic world and not as another “busy work” assignment. As I’ve spent the last three semesters blogging, it initially started out as being time consuming but the more I blog, I think there may be some use to it. Blogging can be seen as a tool that provides insight into the mind of our professors and peers. As someone who has typically been afraid to speak up in academic settings, blogging has been beneficial for me academically as of late because I have been able to express my honest thoughts and opinions for my classmates and professors to see without speaking up in the classroom. However, blogging can also be seen as a copout and one that I don’t necessarily want.
All in all, networked learning is a concept I believe is utilized more at the graduate level than the undergraduate level. I’d be curious to see tis practice more in undergraduate academics. As many universities are now moving further into the 21st century, I’m interested to know how networked learning processes impacts their learning potential and outcome.