My first priority is to cultivate a positive, learner-centered classroom that focuses on active learning. Creating a positive learning environment is no mere academic exercise. To do so entails several core principles that I bring to the classroom: expertise of the subject matter, the promotion of active learning, an awareness of diversity (in terms of learning styles as well as culture), and the ability to employ a variety of appropriate teaching methods.
If Chickering and Gamson are correct, then it is important for a professor to encourage active learning. They contend, “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn a part of themselves” As I consider the concept of active learning, several ideas came to mind. First, to best engage students in learning, the professor needs to be able to be aware of diverse styles of learning. The AAC Council on General Education writes, “the sort of teaching we propose requires that we encourage active learning and that we become knowledgeable about the ways in which our students hear, understand, interpret, and integrate ideas” For me, the heart of diversity is truly understanding that students’ unique worldviews, cultures, and traditions influence their individual learning styles; I must understand how to meet a student where he or she is at, understanding his or her style of learning. Part of this includes knowing how to encourage active learning to bring about critical thinking. Collison et al write, “Active engagement in critical thinking is at the core of any learning community, online or offline” What drives my passion for teaching is to really know that the students are processing and learning the material. For me, teaching and learning best interact when the students are engaged in the material by critically thinking. Critical thinking is a core skill my field; therefore, as a teacher I must be able to engage students with the philosophical and theoretical concepts so that they excel as critical thinkers.
Beyond cultivating an environment for active learning and critical thinking, I see the classroom as a community. We as instructors cannot merely instill knowledge into the minds of our students, but we must be able to teach them to care. This is because “students learn what they care about and remember what they understand” .Students will learn to care if their teacher, who is passionate, meets them at their level, truly seeking to a partner in their educational journey.
Understanding who the students are is crucial to building relationships and engaging the students with the materials. This means understanding diverse cultures, populations, traditions, and styles of learning. To encourage interaction as a part of a learning community, I believe that a teacher must not only engage the students intellectually, but also on a personal basis. To engage the students on a personal level, we need to understand who they are and meet them at that level. Pregent states, “not all students benefit from a teaching method in the same manner”. Thus, when a class is discussion oriented, I as a teacher will need to be sensitive to my students who may be lagging behind, not participating as much, or just don’t seem interested. Cultural, racial, gender, and other forms of diversity also all need to be a part of my awareness as a teacher. I can be competent in my communication strategies so I be aware of any situation that arises. To incorporate one of the Seven Principles, which “respects diverse talents and ways of learning,” I as a teacher can help to “give students the opportunity to display their achievements and comprehension in a number of ways”. Finally, as a teacher who is passionate about the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, I find that my own worldview on teaching was largely informed by my community of mentors. Parker Palmer writes, “By remembering our mentors, we remember ourselvesand by remembering ourselves, we remember our students” . This is the teacher I strive to be: focused on my students to help them to be engaged and critically thinking, no matter the teaching method employed, no matter the physical classroom space, no matter the specific material. This is how I achieve a positive learning-center environment, which is the crux of being a good teacher. (11)