Confessions of a book lender…

Before I forget…

or google “word cloud” for other sites, because there are several out there…

Ok, now that that’s settled, I wanted to spend a moment discussing the fabulous “teacher” wall GRAD602 came up with this past Thursday.  What makes a good teacher?

When looking over the wall, I was particularly struck by the section on the left…good teachers have humility, own up and laugh at their mistakes, and act authentically and empathetically–as real people talking to other real people rather than math/science/literature professor speaking to math/science/literature student.  I agree that this makes a good teacher.  If I were to try to fit this premise into some sort of theoretical framework, there are plenty of adult education theories that suggest that a safe environment for risk taking is essential for any learning environment.  Students have to practice and make mistakes so that they can get better, and this is much easier to accomplish when their professors aren’t jerks about it when they make mistakes or ask basic questions.

But as I scribed for you, I was sifting through my own higher education experiences, and I could only think of one or two professors who acted authentically as “real people.”  Given the fact that I’ve spent 15 years as a higher education student, that’s a really small percentage.  And not to knock just professors…as a physician, I saw some physicians who have these elusive traits, but most do not. One of the things I was most proud of as a physician was that I was pretty good at seeing people as whole people (and was told this was the root of my success), but I can also tell you I wasn’t particularly good at being a whole person in return. And I would argue that after 5 years of detox from the medical profession, I am proud to say that I can be extremely authentic, but I don’t think anyone would EVER accuse me of humility.  And I still push through extreme embarrassment when I make a mistake.  I can do it, but it doesn’t feel natural yet, that’s for sure.  

So how does authenticity, humility, laughing at one’s own mistakes, remembering that we are all people first…how do we cultivate and sustain these traits?  
That was the questi

Flickr – Katrina Lopez

on that was running through my mind while I was scribing for you.  

You know why I like scribing?  It’s my dirty little secret…I get to write up on the board what I’m thinking without having to raise my hand…it’s like butting in line.  And if you review the picture of the wall I took above…look over at about 8 o’clock on that picture and you’ll see where I wrote what I think is the key to this “authentic” self…being a reflective practitioner.
What the heck is a reflective practitioner?  You see that phrase hanging everywhere in the School of Education.  Seriously, it’s like some non-subliminal subliminal farce.  But if you choose the Brookfield text to read, you’ll find out all about reflective practice.  I’d love to quote Brookfield here, but I lent it out to a colleague long ago and I never got it back, so I can’t quote it at the moment.  But here’s a decent summary of some Brookfield ideas.
My favorite definitions of reflective practice don’t even come out of Brookfield, they come out of Jack Mezirow’s work with transformative learning, another book I have lent out to a colleague and haven’t gotten back yet…but here’s another decent summary of Mezirow’s ideas…I’m seeing a trend here.
Flickr – Stephen Train
So I guess I’m stuck doing my own definition.  Critical reflection is more than just stepping back and looking at what has happened or what is going on.  If you want that sort of reflection, visit Donald Schon’s work, another book that I have lent out…and seriously want back now…but here’s another summary.
The type of reflection Mezirow talks about is trying to figure out WHY you act a certain way or do/did a certain thing, right down to the underlying assumptions that you just assumed to be true based on your position in the world since birth–how you were raised and your prior experiences.  
A truly hypothetical and overly simplified example: 
A math professor does not treat her students as “whole people” but rather as math students. WHY?
Because she feels there should be some sort of professional distance.  WHY?  
Because she is supposed to be the expert.  WHY?
Because instructors know everything and students know nothing on the topic.  BUT IS THIS TRUE?
Probably not, and besides it’s not particularly nice and she considers herself a nice person.  

THEN MAYBE WE SHOULD REASSESS BASED ON OUR NEW DESIRE TO EXPLORE WHAT STUDENTS KNOW AND TO BE KIND OF NICE.
Mezirow would argue that these reflections and uncovering of underlying assumptions must be discussed with others…that being able to bounce around ideas and get feedback from others is essential to the process of turning reflection into action.  I happen to agree with him.
And so, if you are trying to become a truly authentic professor, I would recommend being open about it, thinking through the whys of things and talking to your classmates about it.  I know I have :).  
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2 Comments Add yours

  1. First comment … if you collect lots of books and then lend them out, you will always lose them. I am on my third copy of some books because I could not recall who had them (and my sticky note lending system just does not work!)

    Second, your questions at the end remind me of a technique I have used – The Five Whys – to get at root causes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys

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  2. Laura Gogia says:

    lol I know the Fishbone!!! Funny how my oversimplified example was exactly 5 why's :). While I like the technique, I do feel there are some caveats…first, I dislike the actual fishbone diagram–it lends to too much cause and effect/linear thinking, which is way too simple–hence my disclaimer at the top of the example. Second, I agree with the critics in the Wikipedia article that most people probably do take the easy way out and stick to the symptom level of reflection…that's where bringing in discourse with other people is exceedingly helpful–preferably people who are reflective themselves and know how to keep it real 🙂

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