Instructors Share Practical Wisdom

August 6, 2014 in Teaching

The LCN Teaching Initiative supports college and university instructors in adapting our pedagogy to their teaching of community organizing, civic engagement, and  leadership. We kicked off our effort by convening the educators who have been  developing this work at five institutions, considering ways to engage others,  and developing a plan for the year. Educators from the following institutions participated in the kick-off convening: Harvard University, Wellesley College, University of Michigan, Providence College and Syracuse University.

The focus of the discussion and exercise in “practical wisdom”, as one faculty member put it, was on how to enable students to be more successful in their organizing projects, a key element in these practice-oriented courses. Instructors have experimented with a variety of approaches for connecting students with organizing projects: partnering with community organizations, coaching students on projects rooted in their own values, and a combination of these approaches. Here are some of the take-aways:

– Coaching by faculty, teaching fellows or peers who have observed their instructors modeling effective coaching is key to helping students identify good organizing projects.

– Learning is maximized when students ground their projects in their own values.

– Art Reyes (Harvard), Hahrie Han (Wellesley) and Ian Robinson (University of Michigan), spoke about the value of investing time in the “stars”, those students doing actual organizing work, and helping them thrive since this motivates and excites the “strugglers” and the class as a whole.

– Faculty need to be prepared to handle the reality that for the learning to be real, students must learn to cope with the experience of “falling off the bike”, of asking others for help, and of integrating their own needs with those of others. This means learning to manage the anxiety that goes with this reality.

– This emotional learning is inseparable from the practical skills-based learning that students also do. Marshall Ganz, Art Reyes, Uyen Doen and Ana Babovic (Harvard teaching team) discussed the significant role of coaching in scaffolding student learning.

– Tiffany Steinwert (Syracuse University) and Uyen Doan discussed how to draw on their own struggles with organizing to create an environment in which students “get” that failure is part of the deal. Hahrie Han invites alumni from the class to share their experiences about how they faced their fears and failures as a way to create an openness to learning and failing. Art Reyes described a “wall of fears” activity that Harvard has developed where students are coached through their fears in front of their peers.

The challenges faculty have faced with finding organizations that are doing true organizing highlights the need for more effective organizing everywhere. The Teaching Initiative is building on the excitement this meeting created among faculty participants to coordinate a community of practice for instructors teaching the course that will meet monthly beginning this fall. The learning continues!

 Join our mailing list for updates on this and other projects. To get involved with the LCN Teaching Initiaitve, please complete our faculty interest form.