Making the most important connection

As educators we talk much about helping students make the connections … unfortunately, we’re usually referring to cognitive connections.

The past couple of days I was in Atlanta at the International Society for the Exploration of Teaching and Learning conference. This is not a technology conference, it is in the tradition of the scholarship of teaching and learning. This is my 3rd ISETL conference in the last 4 years: 2004 – Baltimore, 2005 – Cocoa Beach, 2007 – Atlanta. We didn’t go last year because we were in Thailand – you can read about that trip in last October’s posts.

Anyway, SOTL conferences are attended by college/university professors and graduate students who want to learn more about teaching. As we all know, all you need to get a job as a college prof is a doctorate … no teacher training courses … no student teaching … only expertise in your field of study. This is a major issue that many colleges deal with through their SOTL programs. Illinois State, where I am, has an entire SOTL program with its own endowed Chair. In fact, if you Google scholarship of teaching and learning, the ISU website is at the top.

As a career educator my first experiences with SOTL conferences were underwhelming. Because of my experience and education I knew most of what was presented … all very basic teaching methodologies. This year was different. I was able to see the heart of the folks who attended ISETL … they love their students and they love teaching.

This came across best in a session led by Lynne Anderson from National University in La Jolla, CA. That was our initial connection, talking about California and San Diego. She had us get to know one another a little, sharing our names and something significant – we were given name cards (cut from manila folders) and were instructed to write our names and then draw a picture depicting something about ourselves. Soon after, she passed around stacks of postcards from all over the world and told us to pick two – one we would write on and give back to her and one we would write on and keep for ourselves.

The first question was: What kind of relationship would I like to have with the students in my classroom?

While we were thinking, she told us about how she and her colleague conducted a study with this question. They asked 250 undergraduates and 50 faculty to tell them their answer. Interestingly, the student responses centered on connection and the faculty responses focused on … you guessed it … students being good students – disciplined, on time, completing work, etc. You can find the entire study and its results in her book, The Joy of Teaching: A Chorus of Voices.

Then she directed us to the second postcard, the one we were going to keep. This was a message to our future students. I took what I wrote on the first one, added a little, and wrote something from my heart. That’s what was so interesting – this entire experience touched me affectively. That was the point … we in the ivory tower (which I think is crumbling) don’t connect on the heart level with our students nearly as often as we should.

This Wednesday, my undergrads are going to be writing their answers to the question. I asked Lynne, “What should I say to lead them into this? How should I set it up?” She said, “Just ask the question, they’ll follow you.” I’m looking forward to what they have to say. More than that, I’m looking forward to helping them connect with how they feel about their future students.

So what about you? How would you answer the question? What would you say on a postcard to your future students?

Connecting affectively with our students will create the relationship that helps them understand how special each one of them are. As a teacher educator, I have to make sure that I’m modeling more than cognitive connection – I’m modeling relationshipping (new word).

This picture is from a great blog post: How to Hug a Baby.

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