I primarily teach in the areas of community health, global health, and mental health
On the last day of class, when my students are walking out the door, I imagine that each of them is different from when they entered into my classroom on the first day. They leave with the ability to question taken-for-granted assumptions, understand the privilege of their position, and are capable of and committed to engaging in the struggles for equity and justice within both their communities and the larger world.
Connection with students
It is important that students know that I am committed to, and personally invested in their learning. I found that establishing a personal rapport with each student is not only mutually enjoyable but is also extremely helpful in motivating and guiding them through their learning. Getting to know their names on the first or second day, meeting with them individually to find out more about who they are, checking in with them periodically, and sharing with them who I am through my stories and examples are a few ways I try to establish rapport. Students bring extensive life experience with them to the classroom and I respect this by asking for examples from their lives.
One of the first tasks we do together is to establishing effective communication through outlining group norms. I often start the discussion with what has worked and not worked in other courses. We then pick and choose usually by consensus but sometimes we may need to vote. I also emphasize that we are a team not just a group of individuals sitting in a classroom. So we also discuss what it means to be a team and how teams can work effectively together and how we will handle conflict in the group and classroom.
Communicating my expectations and norms – that which are negotiable and non negotiable – is helpful to establish a well managed environment. I hold students to high standard in their behaviour, assignments and quality of their work. I also endeavour to provide timely feedback to students, as this is another way to build strong connections with students.
As an educator, I consider myself a co-learner with students, as we ask questions and seek answers in community. I view myself as a learner before an educator. I invite my students to come alongside me as we discover together. I believe that this way of learning has the potential to change the way we think and act. Often, many students expect that they will be told what to do or may even want to be told what to do so they can pass the course and move on. But I believe it is important for students to learn how to think than what to think. I support students to think critically and creatively, to take risks for learning and to challenge the status quo.
I also support Parker Palmers idea of a Subject-centred classroom– where we all gather around concepts searching together for deeper truths. This idea is different from the “student-centered classroom” in which their ideas dominate. Or “teacher-centered classroom” where teachers are can control and dominate with their own ideas and points of view. (Palmer, 1998, p. 115-120). I discuss with students at the beginning of the course my philosophy of teaching and include a paragraph or two as a hand out.
I ensure they know and understand that it is not my job to tell them the answer or to tell them how to think. I encourage exploration through asking them questions that helps them to go deeper in their own thinking and exploring.
My teaching is inspired from the work of Paulo Freire in which students learn to dialogue and engage in praxis (theory integrated with practice) or reflection and action cycles. When I prepare for teaching, I look for strategies to make what I am teaching meaningful to students with opportunities to develop their reflective skills. This occurs by sharing professional stories, using examples such as guest speakers, current nursing events and policies and integrating activities that help student to draw from their own experiences to situate learning and enrich classroom discussions.
Other strategies I have utilized in my teaching such as creative and artistic methods of drawing, body mapping, drama, storytelling, photovoice and video clips, engages students’ bodies, hearts, imaginations, and minds.
The reflection/action cycle also plays a significant role in how I ask exploration questions in the classroom or in clinical and our subsequent actions. During each class, I check in regularly with students by asking what learning they are experiencing through the writing, speaking, thinking, and experiential activities I facilitate I ask students at the end of class to write down what questions about the content have emerged or remain unclear. They hand it in to me and we pick up on it first thing in the next class.
In addition to asking students for end-of-term feedback on their learning experiences, which I use to enhance the next offering of the course, I invite students to submit midway feedback about what is working well, what is not working well, what could be changed, and what should stay the same in the course. This allows for change or action to happen to enhance student learning.
Another aspect of the reflection/action cycle is ongoing self-reflexivity with regards to my teaching practice through continually re-examining my teaching practices and seeking feedback from students. I believe “…we teach who we are”(p. 15). So knowing my strengths and weaknesses in the classroom and reviewing them with an eye to improve is a goal I set for myself each course which has helped me over the years to build my strengths. I often turn to Parker Palmer for inspiration in the classroom who says “knowing students and the subject depends heavily on self-knowledge”(p. 15).