The Snow Is Over But The Semester Is Still On: Last Days Matter

April 22nd, 2015 by CITL Ambassadors

Our February 24th blog post talked about the importance of not losing faith in our students and in ourselves given all the snowstorms. In addition to all the snow, students and teachers endured cabin fever, tested our resilience, coped with various forms of emotional distress. It is now mid-April and we are bravely asserting that spring has arrived. Indeed, spring is finally here and so is the end of this unusually difficult Spring 2015 semester.

In this blog, thankfully free of thoughts of snow, we offer some tips for closing this semester with dignity and good feelings about ourselves, our jobs, and our students. Hopefully these suggestions will allow you, in the remaining weeks of this arduous semester, to maintain and reflect on the quality learning experience you provided despite your doubled work load of rescheduling and redesigning classes, while keeping students engaged and encouraging them to continue to complete their assignments.

During our March “Let’s Talk Teaching” (LTT) lunch, the attendees engaged in discussion about intriguing topics that included:

  1. how to make up the valuable in-class time during the numerous cancellations at the beginning of the semester,
  2. how to most effectively deal with the fact that students still, at this point of the semester, have difficulty connecting to the subject matter and to one another.

Regarding 1.: those present utilized Canvas for discussion, lectures, or for presenting various class materials on the day(s) of cancellation. As the discussion progressed, issue 2. emerged as the more pressing question – how to reach out to students who had lost connection to, and even interest in, classes that had not met or met intermittently? How to avoid taking this malaise personally, to teach students who were suffering from post-snowstorm traumatic syndrome in and outside of class, and how to address this reality head on?

As one contributor to this discussion put it, due to snow days during the first weeks of the semester, the essential establishment of social bonds between the teacher and students was inhibited. Consequently, students and many teachers now have deal with the after-effects of the lack of connection, from now until the end of the semester.

The main question that the March LTT discussion inspired was: Can we – at this point in the semester – establish a connection between our students and us? The shared perception and answer is yes. Even now it is still not too late. Your students need you more than ever at this point of the semester. Try to make up for the lost social bonding time by using any or of the following tips:

  1. Use icebreakers, such as what’s your favorite color, snack food, TV show, or movie, etc.
  2. Use small group/teams (maximum 4-5 students) for class learning activities and reserve 3-5 minutes at the start of each learning activity for students to get to know each other. (Our next blog and LTT will discuss group/team learning activities).
  3. Give your students specific written or/and oral feedback on their work that starts with constructive and positive commentary.
  4. Listen attentively to what they are and are not saying. Identifying and alleviating their end of semester anxiety will go a long way.
  5. Acknowledge their contributions and progress and affirm that their work matters in class and beyond (orally and/or in writing)
  6. Remind students of your office hours and encourage them to drop in or make an appointment with you. You also can schedule appointments with your students.
  7. Remember to breathe, smile, and be relaxed.
  8. Don’t complain about make-up classes to students.
  9. Remind them that attendance is important; it is their responsibility to come to class and be prepared as attendance is a critical component of meeting the requisite in class contact hours.

Soon Spring Semester 2015 will be a memory! If you have any misgivings about your teaching experience this semester, if you feel disconnected from your students, or if you or your students are not happy with the classroom dynamics for any reasons, please comment on our blog, come to our events, or contact one of us to schedule a one-on-one consultation.

CITL Ambassadors

Our next LTT lunch is on Thursday, April 23 from 12-1pm.


Teaching Philosophy Statement

April 2nd, 2015 by CITL Ambassadors

Why do we teach? What do we give? What do we get from our students? Who was your favorite teacher or was your best teacher? Why? What would three students say about you at your retirement party? What makes you the unique teacher that you are?

On 26 March, 15 teachers came together for a CITL workshop – “What You Teach No Matter What You Teach: How Your Teaching Philosophy Guides Your Practice.” Robert, Daniela, and Bethany, CITL Ambassadors, facilitated the workshop.

The conversations were lively. The passion for teaching, the reason for teaching, and the desire to be a catalyst for bringing knowledge to and opening the minds of students, were palpable.

Every teacher in the room remembered by name their favorite or best teacher. In responding to that question, they could not restrain themselves from telling the group a brief anecdote about that teacher although they were not asked to provide one.

In response to the question, “What makes you the unique teacher that you are?” the teachers’ paraphrased responses were:

  • I inspire, ignite students’ passion,
  • invite experimentation,
  • share their life experience to provide a different perspective,
  • draw out each student’s stories,
  • assist students to grow and blossom,
  • make knowledge accessible,
  • invite individual students to engage,
  • provide real world perspectives,
  • make it fun to learn,
  • examine and evaluate,
  • adopt a different approach,
  • adapt their thinking,
  • trust the students,
  • encourage the emotional side of learning,
  • translate theory into practice,
  • transfer knowledge that is applicable.


Further quoting the teachers present on the question “What do we, as teachers, get from our students?” their answers included: “passion, fresh perspective, challenge, more challenge,hope in the future generation, optimism, energy, enthusiasm, frustration, and excitement; I learn new things, I feel younger because I am around them, I learn more about my area of subject matter expertise from my students.”

The meaning and heart of teaching maybe different for each of us, yet we all share a similar joy and enthusiasm for doing it.  These conversations reminded all of us that we teach because it is what we do.

In this light, a teaching philosophy statement is a declaration to ourselves and to others of that unique reason that each of us prepares for our classes, facilitates learning activities, and meets with students before or after class.

A teaching philosophy statement is like true north on a compass.  Like true north it is constant and when you move in that direction your teaching emerges from a place that is deep within you, taps into your passion and allows you to bring your authentic self into the teaching experience. Teaching is a science and an art.  At its core, teaching is a social experience. The parties to that experience are interdependent and co-create the social experience with a teacher’s guidance.

The following is offered as one approach for developing your own teaching philosophy statement.

  1. Tell your story – What is it or who that influenced you to teach?
    Teaching is a vocation.  A story is more powerful and engaging then listing your teaching experience. Beginning your philosophy statement with your story draws in the reader and you become three-dimensional.
  1. Why do you teach?
    The why you teach is a concise way to capture and convey what drives your passion for teaching.
  1. One principle or several guiding values or principles for you as a teacher
    What are the values or principles that guide you in shaping your courses and your approach to teaching them whenever you teach?
  1. Your teaching objectives (not course dependent)
    Like course objectives, what is it that when you teach regardless of the course. What do you want your students to walk away with?
  1. Your measures for determining if you met these objectives
    How do you determine whether your objectives are met?  What are the observable or measurable shifts that you look for?
  1. Closing or summary statement

Please post your perspective on this question here so all can benefit from your experience.

Difficult Classroom Discussions

March 10th, 2015 by CITL Ambassadors

Topic: Is it appropriate for teachers to initiate classroom discussion regarding current attention grabbing news stories of local, regional, national or global significance?

On Thursday, February 26th, as part of a monthly CITL event open to all Emerson faculty entitled Let’s Talk Teaching, 13 teachers engaged in a thoughtful and lively discussion. The discussion centered on the question of the appropriateness of teachers to initiate classroom discussion regarding current attention-grabbing news stories of local, regional, national, or global significance.

The teachers present agreed that these types of topics should definitely be discussed in class, with the following caveats and guidelines. We are happy to share these caveats and guidelines with teachers who are also interested in initiating, supporting, and facilitating this type of discussion in the classroom.

Consensus = YES with caveats and guidelines:

  1. Structure the introduction and the questions to minimize opinion stating
  2. Teacher introduces and facilitates the discussion but refrains from giving their opinion
  3. Teacher introduces and facilitates the discussion and gives their opinion when they have a strong connection to the topic or when the teacher senses that students are seeking your adult teacher perspective
  4. Provide a balanced perspective to the issue or topic
  5. Be as neutral as possible
  6. Use as a vehicle to teach students to create well-reasoned arguments that are credible and justifiable
  7. Provide background information about the topic because not all students may be cognizant about the topic
  8. Foster students’ didactic and analytical capacities
  9. Be prepared that a prior class activity may have greater import and significance because of a news event that preceded or is subsequent to a news event
  10. Be prepared for a range of interest from “Lets move on.” to “We haven’t processed it enough.” and everything in between.
  11. Be aware that students from different countries, cultures, or life experiences will perceive these events through their particular lenses and not necessarily understand or agree with the “American” majority or minority viewpoint of the news events
  12. Provide a 10-minute window for such a conversation and be prepared to honor the boundary as some students will not want to devote 10 minutes to the topic and others will want to devote more time to it
  13. Acknowledge an event of serious nature with a moment of silence
  14. If you can, link the news event to a concept discussed in your course
  15. If your course is not related to the news event, you can ask the students how they think it might be or you can point out that whatever the course material, the college is not an island in the greater social and global context.

When news of events outside of college life, such as most recently, the Boston Marathon bombing, killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the death or Eric Garner in New Jersey, occur they are likely to be in the mind’s eye of faculty and students.  Awareness of such events is overwhelming and cause both emotional distress and cognitive dissonance. This is a time when a young person’s belief structures are likely to be turned upside down if not challenged in a fundamental way.

To proceed with teaching course material as if such a current event has not happened is difficult as teachers and students have their attention directed to the latest news about those events.  As adults with whom students have the most regular contact, it is our responsibility to be available to them, to help them make sense of what happened and reassure them that they will get their feet back under them again.  Without such conscious attention, such traumatic events can linger all semester long. 

An announcement about future workshop dates and topics along with Lets Talk Teaching dates will be made in this blog and by CITL.

  • Were you teaching courses when an event of local, regional, national or global significance occurred?
  • What did you do, if anything, to discuss it at that time in your course?
  • What did you learn from using this approach?

Please post your perspective on these questions here so all can benefit from your wisdom experience.

Facilitating Classroom Dynamics

February 24th, 2015 by CITL Ambassadors

It is hard to believe that winter and all this snow will eventually disappear and that spring is around the proverbial corner. The fact is, students, teachers, and the residents and commuters of greater Boston are all suffering from snow shoveling and commuting nightmare fatigue. With the challenges of cancelled classes, the rescheduling of classes, and falling behind on planned learning activities, everyone is a bit edgy. How not to lose faith in better teaching days?

All of these challenges have an effect on classroom dynamics.  If you are experiencing a shift in your classroom dynamics and you were unable to attend our Facilitating Classroom Dynamics workshops, we offer some guidance for getting through the rest of the semester with less stress. Remember, there is no set formula for facilitating the dynamics in your classroom.  With variables such the students in the class, time of day the class is held, the number of students in the class, along with so many others, having a one-size fits all formula is impossible, if not impracticable.

Here are 10 + 1 types of students-teacher dynamics and tips for working with them:

    1. Student or teacher fatigue – shorten the time of your “lecturing” to 25 minutes and have the students talk to each about what you just spoke about
    2. The dominate-discussion students(s) – before they speak or as they begin to speak say:  “Let’s give other students a chance to respond or to offer their opinion.” Or, ignore that student and call on a student who has not spoken.
    3. The incessant questioning student(s) – Inform the student  that questions are welcome and a valuable element of the learning process, but this is not the right time to take questions; ask questions at the end of this segment in the class, at the break, after class, or during office hours
    4. Electronic device syndrome student(s) – This can be a hot button for any teacher.  We all want our students’ undivided attention.  When they don’t give it because they are using an electronic device, often hiding it below the top of their desk or behind a book, it can be annoying and evoke a visceral response.  If you are that teacher, the following may be helpful: first, breathe; if you score student’s in-class participation deduct a portion of the score then mention it to the student after class; speak to the class and reiterate your electronic device usage policy and instruct anyone who must use their device to leave the classroom and return when they are done; or explain to the students why using an electronic device during class is disruptive to you and other students.
    5. The body is present, but not the student –  One option is to call on the student and the other is to ask the student to stay after class, tell them what you observed, and ask them if they are okay. You can also have the students talk to each other in pairs about a question.  This sometimes pulls in the mentally absent student.
    6. It’s the subject matter – Every course has some course material that is as dry as stale toast.  Often it is a slog for both you and the students.  One way to get through this is to acknowledge that it is a slog and explain why the material is relevant and important to them in their future career.  Also, you can chunk the material so that after 15 – 20 minutes max you have a large or small group discussion.
    7. It’s your teaching style – Teaching is hard and tiring work – maintaining the attention and the interest of undergraduates is trying.  Each teacher has his or her own style.  Know what your strength is as a teacher and play to it.  If you have a reserved teaching style, consider using Youtube videos or TED Talks to give the students a different learning experience.
    8. The know-it-all student – Yes, you are the teacher but a student thinks they know more than you or the other students.  This can be a difficult student to teach.  Their attitude can negatively influence a class and their resistance to you or the material can easily become a distraction.  Once this student self-identifies by their behavior, the best course of action is not to engage with them in class.  Ask them to come to your office hours where you can demonstrate to them that they still have more to learn, and how you can help them.
    9. The insecure teacher – Facing a classroom of 20-year old students can be intimidating. There is a room full of them and only one of you.  Trust what you know and your own teaching style and then adapt as the semester evolves and you get a better sense of how this group of students interact with each other and with you.  At the end of the day, you assign their final grades.
    10. The whatever students – While it is easy to blame the student(s) who have a ‘who cares?’ attitude and behavior regarding what you think are clear expectations or guidelines for students in your course (e.g. late arrival, use of screens or reading the assigned texts,) unless you set clear expectations and enforce them, your students will walk through, under and over those expectations every chance they can. Setting clear expectations is important, enforcing them consistently is even more so.
    11. When all else fails – When this occurs, talk to another teacher or contact one of us – your CITL Teaching Ambassadors.  Talking with another teacher breaks the isolation and you quickly realize you are not alone and you are not the first teacher to experience a particular classroom dynamic.  Most likely the teacher or one of the TAs will listen and offer some helpful guidance

Have you experienced or are you currently experiencing any of the types of student-teacher dynamics described above? Tell us about how you work with your students and how you handle any of these situations in a comment below.

An announcement about future dates and topics for our Facilitating Classroom Dynamics Workshop will be made on this blog and by CITL.

Welcome to iTeach!

February 18th, 2015 by CITL Ambassadors

Hello and welcome to Innovative Teaching (iTeach), Emerson’s new blog sponsored by the Center for Innovation and Teaching Learning (CITL). The focus of iTeach is to provide an online venue for Emerson’s full- and part-time faculty to share and examine tried-and-true and innovative pedagogy theory or practices. It is a forum available to all Emerson faculty to share their enthusiasm, knowledge, and love of teaching. iTeach blog entries will be published bi-weekly.

iTeach is written by Robert Kubacki, Daniela Kukrechtova, and Bethany Nelson. We are the recently selected CITL Ambassadors. We think of ourselves as Teaching Excellence Associates, which translates to experienced and committed teachers who, like you, share a love of teaching, a desire to become an excellent teacher, and continuously aspire to facilitate a stimulating and engaging learning environment for our students. As your colleagues, we are a personal resource to you. We can connect with you virtually or face-to-face to discuss whatever is on your mind about teaching. Our other role will be to facilitate CITL sponsored workshops that will address specific topics related to teaching throughout the semester.

Who are we?

Bethany has taught at Emerson for over 15 years. She is a full-time term faculty member in the Performing Arts Department and Area Head of Undergraduate Theatre Education. She teaches core education courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and supervises student teachers in the field. Her emphasis in teaching is on student engagement, active learning, higher order thinking and making knowledge accessible to every learner.

Daniela teaches literature and poetry courses in the Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department and is entering her eighth year with Emerson as a part-time faculty member. In addition to modeling passionate interpretive and critical approaches to literature and poetry, her teaching focuses on and supports collective analysis, in-class writing, and work in teams as learning methodologies for students to achieve both individual writing and thinking excellence and empathy.

Robert is new to the Emerson community as a part-time faculty member of the Communication Studies Department. He brings over 15 years of experience in higher education with a strong background in on-line learning. He believes that course administration is a critical component for engaging students. He emphasizes critical thinking and linking course topics with students’ real life experience.

During the 2015 Spring semester, CITL will sponsor and we will facilitate workshops twice per month. The first one, in February, is entitled “Facilitating Classroom Dynamics.” We will invite workshop participants to consider techniques to set and maintain learning and behavioral expectations for students in the classroom environment. We will facilitate conversation regarding what has worked best in this regard based on the attendees’ experience and offer additional strategies for establishing positive and effective classroom learning dynamic.

February Workshops
Topic: Facilitating Classroom Dynamics
When: Thursday, February 19th from 1-2 p.m. and Monday, February 23rd from 3-4 p.m.
Where: Campus Center L151
Focus: Are you a new or seasoned teacher? Are you wondering what you can do differently to create an environment that supports teaching and learning? If so, this workshop will provide a variety of techniques for establishing, supporting and sustaining the learning environment that you want. You will have the opportunity to share your experiences about student behavior in your classroom that are challenging. Workshop participants will be asked to engage in offering how they address these types of challenges. CITL’s Instructional Development Ambassadors will facilitate the workshop.

Let’s Talk Teaching – Lunch Time Conversations
Topic: Whatever the participants would like to discuss about teaching
When: Thursday, February 26th from 12-1 p.m.
Where: The Multipurpose Room at the Campus Center
Focus: Collegial conversations, scheduled once a month, allow faculty to gather in a space and for a specific time in their schedule to talk to each other about teaching at Emerson College. CITL’s Instructional Development Ambassadors will
facilitate this conversation. This event will focus on discussion of how to sensitively and effectively address challenging and difficult topics in class, such as Ferguson or the Marathon bombing. Lunch will be served.

Please tell your colleagues about the iTeach blog and we look forward to making it a blog you will want to check frequently.