My teaching philosophy leads with Parker Palmer’s sage observation about the nature of effective teaching:
I’m amazed by the fact that good teachers use a million different techniques. Good teaching isn’t about technique. I’ve asked students around the country to describe their good teachers to me. Some of them describe people who lecture all the time, some of them describe people who do little other than group process, others describe everything in between.
But all of them talk about people who have some sort of connective capacity, who somehow connect the students and the subject being studied and the students to each other.
One young woman told me she couldn’t possibly describe her good teachers because they were all so different from each other, but she could easily describe her bad teachers because they were all the same.
I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “With my bad teachers, their words float somewhere in front of their faces like the balloon speech in cartoons.”
I thought this was an extraordinary image, and I said, “Do you mean that somehow with bad teaching, there is a disconnect between the stuff being taught and the self who is teaching it?” And she said, “Absolutely.”
Connection teaches; without connection, I believe we become content feeds that our students might as well minimize in their browsers while keeping an eye on Facebook. Technology and the rise of distance learning present teachers with an urgent, daily question: what can only happen here, in the real time and space of a classroom community? Connection – between students and instructors, between students and each other, between students and their own deepest selves – is my best answer. Nurturing its possibility is both a pedagogical and curricular matter.
Whatever else we teach, I am convinced that we must show our students a daily, authentic engagement with how connection with our subject enlivens and inspires us, how it helps us navigate our world and gives us frames within which to understand it. We re-read a familiar text before class because we need to rediscover, each time, the reason why it’s in our curriculum, this time. My pedagogy creates and values opportunities for my students to feel they are connected with me and with each other.
My teaching load moves around each semester, but reliably includes sections of social and philosophical foundations of education with undergraduate teacher candidates, doctoral-level seminars on epistemology, method, and curriculum theory, and (whenever possible) teaching in the Honors College.