Transformation: Creating A Shared Vision

When we communicate face-to-face, we get constant feedback via body language, facial expressions, gestures, and spoken word. So in real time, we adjust to that feedback. We change our tone, we change our body language, we change how we are speaking. It doesn’t require formal collection of data or justification or time. It happens automatically because it is part of how we are programmed as human beings. Much the same happens as we teach a course. We get feedback from students all the time. In class and during office hours, we can sometimes get information from body language and facial expressions. Even more powerful is the information that is entangled in student work and student questions. A certain mistake or a certain question provides a window into student thinking and that provides us with good information about our teaching: where we are and what we need to follow up on. It doesn’t require formal collection of data or justification or time. It happens automatically as we lead discussions, observe students working collaboratively, and work with students during office hours. We make small, marginal changes as we grow in our own understanding of how our teaching impacts student learning. And then, one day, after making numerous marginal changes, a type of transformation occurs and we realize that we now can see our teaching and student learning from a profoundly different perspective. And that perspective makes us more effective than we were previously. And those transformations are worth sharing. Because when we exchange ideas, we immerse ourselves in something akin to primordial stew, exposing ourselves and each other to all of the conditions from which new life can burst forth.   So please, once you hear about my latest transformation, consider sharing one of yours.

For me, the most profound transformation that I’ve experienced in the last year is the realization of how powerful a vision can be, when shared with the people around you.   Students want for college to be a transformative experience. They want to leave with the skills and the knowledge to be successful on the next stage of their personal and professional journey. We want the same thing for those students. But it was not until 5 years ago that I started talking with my students about that shared vision. And in the beginning, I wasn’t very good at talking about it. It was awkward. I was experienced and skilled at talking about topics, but outcomes were something mysterious, something beyond my control. Well, that was my reality 5 years ago. That is not my reality today. Today, I focus all of my planning on outcomes. The topics are the backdrop, the context in which students develop their critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, communication, and collaboration skills. And not a single week goes by without me reminding the students of this fact. I remind them that they are working hard because they want to be stronger thinkers, because they want to be able to understand what they hear in the media, because they want to grow their communication skills and because they want to have experience and skill working with other people. I remind them that they want to develop all of those skills so they can make better decisions, have a richer life, and develop the career that they want. It is no longer awkward. Sharing this vision puts us on the same side. I am no longer judge; I am a guide, hired to help them get to where they want to be. This has been transformative!


One thought on “Transformation: Creating A Shared Vision

  1. Well said Jennifer: “We are no longer their judge, but their guide” – I absolutely concur and strive to be a guide, or at least correct the misconception that I’m a judge. Somehow, students come into our classes thinking that they’re being evaluated, and it takes a bit of effort to disabuse them of the notion that we’re trying to uncover their faults to punish, rather than that we’re trying to help them improve.

    I wish there were a calculus for this procedure, which seems different from student to student. I’m hoping that with time, like you say, I uncover the common thread between my various efforts. I wish that I can put my finger on a specific formula one day, and say, “There. That’s how any student can be convinced that we’re there to help them, and not evaluate them.”

    In the past (and still sometimes) I used to say that grades were not as important as cultivating a deep and lasting love for the subject. But, of course, grades *are* important for students, so I’ve learned to steer clear of unqualified remarks on that front. What seems to be working this term, however, is my reassurance that in 5+ years, nobody will remember or care how they did in a particular college course, but everybody will value their contributions to the world that stemmed from what they learned here.


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