On The Value and Values of Teaching
September 22, 2010
by Jennifer Walinga
Recently, I was nominated for our university’s teaching award. One of my responsibilities as a nominee was to reflect upon and describe my philosophy of teaching. I find such a process to be a learning experience in itself and one that perhaps sparks reflection and learning in those who read it. I share it with you here:
Over my 25 years as a teacher, teaching at every level from middle school and graduate school, my philosophy of education has come to embody my core values:
1. Lifelong Learning - To learn is to live
2. Collaborative Learning - We learn in collaboration with our environment and one another
3. Human Potential – Every individual is perfect and nothing is impossible
4. Integrative Thinking – To solve complex problems, we need systems thinking
I believe I teach best when immersed in the learning process. Pedagogical principles are at my fingertips and I am energized. For these reasons, I am conducting research on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and have taken up basketball after a 25 year hiatus! Throughout my career as an elite athlete (Olympian ‘88, ’92), I reflected upon my experiences and learning in high performance environments and the ways in which it informed my classroom practice: the need for a gold medal standard, end and process goal setting, formative and outcome based evaluation, collaborative learning, as well as the principles of leadership and coaching.
My approach as a teacher and researcher is inspired by great pedagogical principles such as Gardner, Mayer and Salovey’s multiple intelligences, Seligman and Cooperrider’s positive psychology, Mezirow and Kuhn’s transformational learning, and Kegan and Argyris’ second order learning and I am currently exploring the roles of neurology and physiology in the learning process.
In our Communication programs, we want our students to be critical thinkers in professional contexts and thus become lifelong learners. Life-long learning is not simply a catch-phrase, it is the key to human fulfillment and sustainable growth.
I have always been a collaborator and I have experienced and understand the power of collaboration. I recognize that operating as an effective team demands a great deal of effort, planning, commitment and understanding. Teams offer extraordinary power and capacity; therefore, they do not come easily. I offer team coaching sessions during first residency in order to provide learners with a base of team skills. I also coach my instructors to provide structure, direction, and tools for team ‘work’ when using team activities and assignments in their courses.
In my courses, I have introduced many collaborative learning opportunities such as the Research Tracks seminar, the critical research buddy, and interdisciplinary team projects in order to ensure that learners gain from multiple perspectives, learn to challenge one another’s thinking, and come to appreciate their interdependence. When coordinating the MA in Professional Communication residencies I focus on building and planning collaboratively with my team of instructors to ensure integration of content, as well as opportunities to build on synergies, develop interdisciplinary projects, and learn from one another’s processes.
We also learn in collaboration with our environment in the experiential learning tradition of Dewey, Kolb, Katz and Kahn. Experiential environments allow people to make unique cognitive connections, and can offer powerful metaphors through which deep insights can be formed. My final course projects reflect a real world application of the course concepts. Creating a communication plan, an organizational culture analysis, a pitch or campaign for change ensures that the student can apply the concept and emerge with a tangible product.
I am known for telling my students that they are perfect. I believe each unique and amazing individual is perfect and that my job is to help them be completely themselves so that the world can benefit from the strength and power of diversity. I often liken the principle of diversity to a cable. Rather than only being as strong as our weakest link, we are all strengthened by each additional strand. A cable has exponential strength because of the interplay of multiple interacting forces and supports. Understanding one’s unique human system enables a person to leverage the brilliant and unique capacity that lies within.
My research to date has focused on integrative thinking as a mechanism for facilitating an individual’s ability to unlock insight on a variety of complex problems. Integrative thinking encompasses all of my core values: it is achieved through a collaborative dialogue process; it leverages the human cognitive, physiological and emotional system to unlock creative capacity, and it demands cognitive evolution toward a more integrative, systems, or big picture way of thinking. I use integrative thinking to help students frame their research questions, exploring the many facets of a problem or opportunity in order to truly see the problem both at its core and as a whole.
We move from naive simplicity to profound simplicity. I have experienced this truth many times in my life and I believe that education involves facilitating profound understanding of simple truths. I believe my biggest challenges as an educator is to help my adult learners learn how to achieve an elegant and profound insight amidst the complexities of adult life - not by leading them along a path, but by holding their arm and perhaps shining a light on the ground so that they can find their own path.