Reflective Responses

Reflective Responses – EDUC 408

Question: Reflect on some of the assumptions you hold about being a teacher and/or on teaching and learning. Drawing from the readings for Theme 3, how do these align (or not) to what Brookfield and/or Noddings have to say? Is there one assumption, in particular, that you would like to deconstruct, critically reflect upon, to determine if this assumption still holds true for you? What are your thoughts on how this assumption was formed? Are there risks involved if you modify or let go of this assumption? 

I believe that Brookfield had some interesting things to present regarding our capacity for critical reflection as teachers. His opening statement “We teach to change the world.” (1995) provides a powerful and overarching assumption that serves to push our practice forward. As a student of Critical Theory, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the nature of teaching and my aims as a teacher.

While I do believe strongly that we must be aware of the assumptions that we make within our teaching practice, I do not also believe that every assumption must be altered. As a teacher, I must believe that all students want to learn. While this may not be “true” in the purest sense, I believe that it is a foundational belief that guides my practice and my relationship to my students. In my mind, this is a paradigmatic assumption, which also influences many other perscriptive and causal assumptions surrounding how I hope to teach and the ways I hope to reach my students. (Brookfield, 1995) The reason that I believe that this is a helpful assumption for my teaching practice is quite simple. The moment that I believe that my students do not want to learn, is the moment that I can begin to justify giving up on those who struggle. While it is true that teaching will never be a wholly inclusive activity, and that every student may not bring the same level of engagement to the classroom, it is fundamental to my practice as an educator to believe that students wish to learn.

As stated in the Brookfield article, “teaching is never innocent.” (1995) I would also say that our assumptions are never innocent either. The difference in believing that I will “meet everyone’s needs” and that all students want to learn is a large one. In many ways it is a leap of faith, but it also does not place the burden of education solely on my shoulders. If a student wants to learn, then they also are responsible for their learning journey.

I also really appreciated the analogy of lifelong learning provided by Aspin and Chapman where learning theories are like a boat that crosses the sea. As time goes on and pressures change, wear will require us to attend to our assumptions or theories about our practice. We must continually revisit what it means to teach, learn and to be a part of our global community – making patches for our boat from whatever theories or knowledge seem to fit. (2000) I think that this is quite an apt analogy, as our learning (and thus the learning of those we teach) “continues to be shaped by the values, culture, and political context within which is it being defined, interpreted and applied.” (Kawaliak, 2012) Just as my assumption about my students want to learn serves my purposes today – it may not in the future, and I will endeavor to make the changes necessary to continue forwards.

Brookfield, S. D. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kawalilak, C. (2012). Professional development & lifelong learning: Plenary Februrary 29th [PowerPoint slides].

Aspin, D. & Chapman, J. (2000) Lifelong learning: concepts and conceptions. International journal of lifelong education. 19(1), p. 2-19.

Question: Theme 2 locates all of us as “adult learners” within the landscape of adult education and adult learning (the broader landscape that we explored throughout THEME 1). With this in mind, and as you reflect on yourself as ‘adult learner on a lifelong learning journey’, reflect on and share your insights, questions, perspectives as to whether or not there is a significant relationship, in fact, between our identity as adult learners and our identity as teachers (and our role in nurturing the desire to be lifelong learners in others).

I believe that it is impossible to fully integrate our role as teachers within the classroom community if we cannot also think of ourselves as learners within the space. Far too often, teachers are thought of as being wholly removed from learning – they are simply transmitters of information. In addition, they are seen as the authority and keeper of knowledge, knowledge which must be imparted to those who are without authority and deficient in their understandings.  However, if as a teacher we can conceptualize themselves as a lifelong learner (in both adult and child educational environments) we are much more likely to impart our enthusiasm, excitement and passion to learn. The way in which this small (or great) shift can change the influence and understandings that we have around our life as learners – does affect our students. Regardless of the subject being taught, most people who can say that they had a truly inspiring teacher speak about their enthusiasm towards the material. It does not matter if they had taught the class 100 times before, the sense of excitement and wonder was inescapable, and the students felt it too.

While reading The Self and Adult Learning, I was really struck by the discussion in the Dorothy MacKeracher article, regarding the figure and ground relationship. As a visual artist, this relationship is highly familiar to me and I was really interested in the way that it was related to learning. While I found that this article tended to focus on the assumption that all learners did so individually, I believe that this concept can be extended to include the classroom or learning environment as a contextual community. The nature of perception is incredibly important; the figure highlights the things that are most important or central to us in our understanding. The ground serves to hold the rest of the information or experience that does not resonate with us as strongly. The challenge, she states, is in making sure that we expend energy to “overcome the human tendency to conserve existing relationships rather than modifying old ones or developing new possibilities.” (MacKreacher, 2004, p.33)

I believe that this relates strongly to the learning that we have done regarding the ways in which the education system currently works and the more inquiry based focus that we are being shown. This need to continually revisit and revise our perspectives helps us to be more aware of ourselves as individual learners and the context in which we are teaching, learning, and exploring. (Caffarella & Merriam, 2000, p.62) This feeds into our relationship with our students. As inquiry based learning supposes, we must trust in our students and engage in a learning process within and through their discoveries. I believe that it is only as engaged learners that we can be truly engaging teachers. As explained in the plenary on January 25 – “it is not who walks into the class, it is who they are when they walk out.” (Kawalilak, 2012) This is equally true for those who are “teachers” as it is for those who are “learners.”

References:

Caffarella, R. & Merriam, S. B. (2000). Linking the individual learner to the context of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kawalilak, C. (2012). Professional development and lifelong learning (EDUC 408): An adult education course for pre-service teachers. Recorded Lecture January 25, 2012.

MacKeracher, D. (2004). Making Sense of Adult Learning: Assumptions about Adult Learners. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

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