A Resolution for the New Year: More Mindful Teaching

by Debie Lohe, Director for the Reinert CTTL

As we head into a new year (and a new semester), I have been contemplating resolutions, like many of you.  Most years, I enter the early days of January with a resolution or twelve, for all the changes I’ll make, all the walks I’ll take, all the books I’ll read.  By Valentine’s Day, most of us will have long forgotten those resolutions: they don’t have “sticking” power because most of us don’t set specific, measurable, scaffolded goals for those resolutions.

Specific, measurable, scaffolded goals……this reminds me of something…..

Over the break, as I listened to numerous “experts” on numerous “news” shows explain why so many of us fail to achieve our New Year’s resolutions, it became clear that the same rules apply to this as to teaching and learning.  Which makes sense to me, because I typically resolve all sorts of things at the beginning of a new semester, or a new course, not just a new calendar year.  All of this got me thinking: what is a resolution, anyway?  And what do they have to do with teaching?

To begin my quest, I started where I often do: the OED.  (For those who have not heard me extol the virtues of the Oxford English Dictionary, stop into the library and ask me about it sometime.  Better yet, go look up a favorite word in the OED Online, which you can do through SLU’s databases, and consider the wonders of all the various usages of the word, its origins and history.  You will learn subtleties and obsolete meanings, and you will have a new appreciation for the word when you sign off.)  Now, back to my quest….

The OED cites definitions and usages of “resolution” from a variety of disciplinary perspectives: meanings come from medicine, astronomy, math, logic, poetics, and music.  A few highlights (some of them rare or obsolete today):

  • Reduction or separation of a material object into its component parts or elements
  • Softening of a hardened mass in the body
  • Death or bodily dissolution or decay
  • The process or capability of rendering distinguishable the component parts of an object or image
  • The process of reducing a non-material thing into a simpler form or forms, or of converting it into some other thing or form
  • The process of defining something according to its distinguishing features
  • The alteration of a discord, or relatively dissonant harmony, so as to form a concord, or relatively more consonant harmony
  • The reconciliation of conflicting views or parties in regard to a matter
  • The examination of the truth or falsehood of a proposition by working backwards from a particular conclusion which it entails
  • The removal of doubt in regard to a particular matter
  • The act of finding the answer to a question, the solution to a problem
  • The act of resolving or determining; a fixed or positive intention.

I’ll bet you didn’t know some of those.  And I’ll bet you’re wondering what this has to do with teaching?

For me (setting aside the definition that involves death), all of these definitions have a bearing on my “determination” and “positive intention” to be a more mindful teacher this semester and year.  This spring, I resolve to:

  • Separate course materials and learning goals into their component parts or elements, for easier understanding
  • Be open to learning from my students, thereby softening any hardened assumptions I may hold from previous courses
  • Render distinguishable the component parts of readings and theories and pedagogical strategies
  • Convert theoretical learning to practical, previous experience to new learning, learning to future action
  • Define the varied and various distinguishing features of excellent teaching
  • Alter discord and dissonant harmony so as to form concord and more consonant harmony in intellectual debates and discussions in class
  • Reconcile conflicting views wherever possible
  • Work backwards from learning goals, examining the truth or falsehood of beliefs about what “must” be “covered” during class
  • Remove doubt about self-efficacy and learning potential
  • Find (and help my students find) answers to questions, solutions to problems (and to ask and pursue them in the first place)
  • Undertake teaching mindfully, with positive intentions for what my students can teach one another

Of course, these aren’t the only things I am resolving to do as I return to the classroom this spring.  After being away from formal teaching for a while, I find myself committing to all sorts of interesting things, and I am energized and excited about all the possibilities before me.  Hopefully, if I am mindful about teaching, I won’t have lost all that energy by Valentine’s Day!

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