Student-Teacher Narratives: Teaching at the Intersection of Identities

Textbook imageby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center       

Reading personal narratives about teaching is a powerful way to reflect on the more visceral dimensions of our work. I am particularly drawn to narratives that attend to matters of difference in teaching, as both a topic of inquiry and an embodied presence in our classrooms. As Leda Cooks and John Warren (2011) observe, “Many scholars writing about schooling and the body do so from positions of marginality and struggle, but with the allowance that these positions provide openings into other ways of knowing that are, ultimately, pedagogical” (p. 212). I find these personal accounts challenge me to confront the limits of how I teach while also helping me develop strategies to meet these challenges.

Below, I recommend three pieces that invite this type of critical development for teaching. Included is a detailed abstract for each article and a link to the full-text. A common theme across these readings is the intersection of marginalized student-teacher identities and experiences, offering a more relational approach to how we think about (and consequently do) pedagogy. These are compelling reads for anyone wishing to deepen their understanding of diversity and practice of inclusive teaching.

If you would like to discuss these readings and how they might inform your own teaching, please contact the Reinert Center to schedule an individual consultation. Please also share your reactions in the comments section below. Happy summer reading!

Hao, R. N. (2011). Rethinking critical pedagogy: Implications on silence and silent bodies. Text and Performance Quarterly, 31, 267-284.

“Many critical pedagogy scholars claim that agency and dialogue in the classroom can only be achieved through students’ engagement in verbal deliberation to ‘voice’ against oppressive actions. As current discourses in the critical pedagogy literature tend to consider silence as a negative attribute in the classroom, I argue that they privilege a western construct and a very particular way of being and thinking. By using performative pedagogy as a theoretical framework, it is imperative to discuss the macro and micro implications of how discourses in the critical pedagogy literature affect how we understand silence theoretically and pedagogically” (p. 267).

Lindemann, K. (2011). Performing (dis)ability in the classroom: Pedagogy and (con)tensions. Text and Performance Quarterly, 31, 285-302.

“Disability has become a pervasive and contested issue on college campuses, and instructors and students find themselves occupying physical and discursive spaces that hold great pedagogical potential. This essay pursues such a consideration. It examines one physically disabled student’s staged performance of a personal narrative, her ethnography of a university’s disabled student services office, an in-depth interview with the student, and the author’s family experiences with disability to illustrate the ways a performative pedagogy offers insight into (dis)ability in the classroom. The analysis illustrates the classroom as a site for identity negotiation, performance as a tool to deconstruct and reconstruct notions of ability, and family relationships as an integral part of a critical communication pedagogy” (p. 285).

Moreman, S. T., & Non Grata, P. (2011). Learning from and mentoring the undocumented AB540 student: Hearing an unheard voice. Text and Performance Quarterly, 31, 303-320.

“This essay provides a space for understanding the experiences of the undocumented college student. Following Moraga and Anzaldúa’s “theory of the flesh,” a student and professor come together as allies to recognize and honor an enfleshed voice that is often unheard or ignored. In three separate parts, the writers provide a space for the readers to grow through deeply understanding the daily reality of students across the US who deal with the fears and frustrations of being undocumented and the ways that academia might exacerbate those fears and frustrations” (p. 303).



Cooks, L., & Warren, J. T. (2011). SomeBodies(‘) in school: Introduction. Text and Performance Quarterly, 31, 211-216.

Book Review: Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom

Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroomby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom

by Julee B. Waldrop & Melody A. Bowdon (Eds.)

Although there are a number of resources to offer tips and strategies for implementing the flipped classroom instructional method, evidence to show how the flipped approach can support college-level learning outcomes can be difficult to find.  The book, Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom (2016), provides faculty with an excellent overview of the flipped classroom method in higher education.  Edited by Julie Waldrop and Melody Bowdon, the book showcases qualitative and quantitative case studies and supporting pedagogical theories to help articulate how the flipped classroom approach can appeal to a variety of college-level academic disciplines, physical environments, and student populations.

While the book illustrates many of the benefits, challenges, and considerations of incorporating the flipped method, it also offers several useful suggestions for faculty who are new to flipping or who are investigating how to improve their flipped course.  A concise and resourceful read for anyone interested in flipped classroom course design, this book could be a nice addition to a list of pedagogical texts to read over the summer.

If you are considering flipping your course, or if you want to learn more about successful strategies to improve your course design, contact the Reinert Center at

Waldrop, J. B., & Bowdon, M. A. (Eds.). (2015). Best Practices for Flipping the College Classroom. Routledge.

What Will You Leave Behind?

Dr. Tom Landy speaks to SLU faculty, staff, and grad students

by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Last week, at our annual May event, Dr. Thomas Landy (Director, Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross) talked about the importance of seeing as a foundational aspect of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit education. He explained that the act of seeing deeply – of paying attention – is at the heart of Jesuit traditions.  It’s important to see the world and one another and ourselves as we really are, both the good and the bad, if we are to bear witness to the created world and the possibility of the divine in that world. As Dr. Landy explained, the notion of seeing, in this way, is fundamentally a theological proposition for Jesuits, whether or not we (as members of a pluralistic university) encounter it as one.

As Dr. Landy talked about the importance of teaching students to see deeply, he expressed a common frustration many of us feel at Jesuit institutions: the idea that the magis – the “more” – can often be experienced as a “do more” mindset, wherein we pile more and more mission-focused aspects of our work onto our existing stack of professional responsibilities and duties.  In deepening our understanding of Jesuit values and traditions, and in thinking about how we will do the work of Jesuit education more intentionally, it is important, Dr. Landy said, to figure out what we will leave behind as we apply new understandings.  He spoke not of legacies but of letting go.  In one poignant anecdote, he described handing each student in a class a stone, and asking them to leave it on an altar, let it symbolize one thing they will leave behind, let go of, in order to do something else.

As you complete your grading for this semester, as you contemplate what more you will do in your teaching next term; in your research; in your service commitments to campus and community – I invite you to identify one thing you will leave behind in order to create space and energy for a new commitment.  What no longer serves your passion? What no longer serves your students, or your course goals? What no longer advances your scholarly inquiries?

Find one thing – if only a small stone – that you can leave behind to create space for something new.

What Teaching at Saint Louis University has Taught Me

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214by Lenin Grajo, Assistant Professor, Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

The reflections shared in this post were edited from the reflection I gave during the recently concluded Spring Certificate Ceremony of the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.  At the end of this month, I will conclude four amazing years teaching in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. I wanted to capture and share some of the valuable lessons I have learned as an educator at SLU.


 “Dear Dr. Grajo…… You have a gift for teaching and keeping your students both engaged and challenged.  Your classes taught me so much about occupational therapy.  And if I ever go to academia, I hope to be at least half of the professor that you are to your students….  Thank you and enjoy New York City.”

After teaching my very last class at Saint Louis University this past Monday, I tried very hard to keep my composure and emotions when I said my last words of wisdom to my students. I received this hand-made card and note on my way back to my office.  After reading this message, I finally gave in and cried.  I love being an educator.  I love the big and small ways that we are able to impact and influence the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of our students.  I love how we are able to transform them to a different, hopefully better, version of their selves.  In my field and profession, I particularly love how we are able to shape future occupational therapists that will someday change the lives of countless patients who typically seek our services during a challenging period of change, transition and many times despair.

Today, I have been asked to share a few reflections and thoughts about my journey to teaching and offer some tips to all of you, new and seasoned educators, who are here today because you all want to be transformative educators.  I hope I can give this honorable task some justice.

I wasn’t a typical child growing up.  When I was five, when most of my playmates’ symbolic play often involved being a doctor, housekeeper, policeman or firefighter, I already knew I wanted to become a teacher.  In a quiet corner with a blank wall divider at our consanguineal home in the Philippines, I would gather up three to five of my cousins and neighbors, scribble on the wall using small pieces of chalk that my father would buy for me, and I would teach them lessons from the children’s bible.  That afternoon, while they all imagined being naughty and silly students, I was seriously envisioning myself being in a huge classroom and being a great teacher.  If I did not become a pediatric occupational therapist and educator, I would have been a first grade teacher.

There are many ways to become a great educator, an effective educator, a transformative educator.  I want to share with you some thoughts and ways that I have learned and valued as an educator here at SLU.

1.  Consider that every teaching and learning moment counts.  Like everyone else, we educators have our bad days too. Despite these bad days, please do not forget that every opportunity to teach and learn with your students count.  I always think of my every teaching moment as my first and my last Broadway performance.  I have to deliver.  I have to elicit great responses.  I need to make it a moment that my students will think as a good and inspiring class.  It doesn’t matter what you teach, you have to make it count, always.

2.  Trust begets trust.  If you want your students to trust you, you have to trust them in return.  They maybe the naïve freshman, or the know-it-all doctoral student, or the whiny and “I need some help, actually a lot of help” master’s student, you need to cultivate a climate of trust in your classroom so students also trust you.  You have to trust that your students want to do good, that they are not just in it for the easy A, and that the paper they submitted is work that is original and a product of real hard work.  It is not easy, especially during a time when access to information is just one click, one app, one copy and paste away.  But trust me, you have to trust your students.

3. Listen and give your students undivided attention.  We all have the tendency to spread ourselves thinly and overcommit:  an extra meeting, appointment to a new committee, tons of research data waiting to be analyzed and written, grants to be submitted, and long pages of student reports that need to be graded.  However, one of the greatest joys I have as an educator is when I know, that even for 5, 10 or 15 minutes, I listened to a student, understood his/her struggles, and offered how I may be of assistance.  Those small nuggets of time, even if they take so much of your finite energy and resources, are valuable nuggets of time. Our students may or may not express how they appreciate it all the time, but I know my time is something they always find valuable.  So even when it’s the craziest time of the semester, please give them some time.

4.  Do not feel complacent and get stuck in old, usual, tested ways of doing.  These days our students are evolving faster than we could ever imagine.  Student attention spans are getting shorter and their study methods are becoming more interesting and unconventional.  Commit yourselves to constant re-assessment and reinvigoration of your teaching methods.  Try a new technology.  Try new and interesting methods of delivering material.  Try a new testing method.  Try a new way of getting your students interested.  Try a new collaboration with a co-faculty, department, program or university.  Try something new, and try it often.

5.  Lastly, express to your students how you care. Students who know that you genuinely care about how they think, what they think, how you want them to learn and grasp material, and how they will use this material are students who can and will make a difference after your class has ended.  Just like many professions, teaching is an art and science.  With the emergence of evidence-based practices, many ways of looking at teaching have evolved more into the science of teaching – the what to do and how to measure- and less about the art of teaching.  Translate knowledge to practical applications, help students bridge concepts to the real world, and allow students to ask questions, regardless of how silly those questions may seem to be.  Share a story, ask your students to share a story, and add humor.  Please, add humor. Give your teaching style your own personal flair and do not be afraid to be creative.

The Reinert Center is such a great resource and I am so happy to have utilized and have collaborated with the Reinert Center during my days here at SLU.  I have evolved into a better educator because of all the rich experiences and resources available here.  I hope that you will continue with your journey towards becoming truly effective and transformative educators.  Thank you for this opportunity to share some reflections, congratulations and I wish all of you good luck and happy teaching!


Congratulations Spring 2016 Certificate in University Teaching Skills Recipients!

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning will honor 18 Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients and 10 Foundations Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients at our spring ceremony on Friday, April 29, 2016 from 3:30-5:00 in the Boileau Hall.

Reinert Center Faculty Fellow and assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Dr. Lenin Grajo, will begin the ceremony by sharing a reflection on teaching with the recipients, friends, and family in attendance. All faculty and graduate students are invited to join us Friday as we celebrate our shared commitment to teaching and learning.

This semester’s Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients are Elizabeth Brennan, Thu Do, Madeline Ericson, Ummu Erliana, Edward Holt, Rachel Hughes, Alan Johnson, Shannon Kispert, Allison Kittleson, Sang Bong Lee, Steven Liu, Fnu Meiliana, Melissa Mendez Valladares, Shannon Nicks, Annie Rues Niedel, Lauren Stein, Ranya Taqieddin, and Zhan Wang.  The recipients of the Foundations Certificate are Crystal Botkin, Amy Estlund, Brenda Kichoff, Julia Lopez, Samantha Marquard, Kelly McEnerney, Alexander Ocasio, Matthew Parker, Brittany Robinson, Austin Turner. We will also celebrate the dedication to teaching and learning shown by those faculty members who served as teaching mentors to the certificate recipients.

The requirements for the Certificate in University Teaching Skills are themselves learning experiences that help participants to make deliberate and intentional choices about teaching. Friday’s ceremony will acknowledge the time and commitment these participants gave to earning one of the Certificates.

If you plan to attend this joyous event, please use the following link:

Refreshments will be served.

For more information about our certificates visit

The Love and Joy of Learning

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214by Kenneth L. Parker, Steber Professor in Theological Studies

In October 1985, I entered a Benedictine monastery in the Mojave Desert to prepare for a life of prayer and reflection. The previous 25 years had been spent in some kind of structured education. I had been formed to earn grades, complete requirements for degrees, and master concepts and content teachers and professors assigned. I had replicated this pattern in my brief career as a high school instructor and in my one year of university-level teaching. I understood the rules and played the game. I knew what the system required of me, and I bent my will to its demands. In that process I learned a lot. But I did not love learning.

My life changed when I became a monk. My PhD from Cambridge University did not matter there. My degrees did not mark me out for privilege. During those years of monastic formation, I followed the routine of five periods of community prayer a day, and two work periods filled with manual labor. We had one period of formal monastic instruction for an hour each day. Superiors oversaw our labors and assigned tasks. In the early months those routines seemed familiar … because I approached them as I had systems of education. I thought I understood instructional “systems” and how to bend my will to mastering their demands. Indeed, I excelled at keeping the new rules. But I did not find joy in them.

Yet as the months progressed, other aspects of the monastic routine did begin to change me. We had twelve hours of “Grand Silence” everyday. Our evening meal was eaten while one of us read a text assigned by the superior of the monastery. Every morning and every evening, I spent 30 minutes in the chapel with a text of my choice, the only requirement being that I must read no more than two or three sentences, and reflect on their meaning. In the routine of monastic prayer—especially praying the psalms—words and small phrases stuck in my head and wove themselves into my interior life as I did simple tasks. I began waking up earlier in the morning to enjoy more of the Grand Silence, and discovered the pleasure of spending time with my own thoughts. I learned to cherish the short unstructured moments in my day, and filled them with little projects of my own devising, or reading a page or two of books I had never had time to read. In short, I discovered a love of learning and found joy in that experience.

When I returned to academic life in 1991, it was impossible to engage undergraduate and graduate education in the same way. Twenty-five years later I retain a suspicion of institutional structures that prioritize rules over the cultivation of a love of learning. When the “standards” of the discipline are valued over the life-giving joy of curiosity and discovery, something has gone wrong, and as educators we have lost our way. My happiest moments in the classroom have been when students embrace the freedom to bring their insights into our common learning experience—and when they find pleasure in the knowledge that they can teach me new things.

As educators, we must realize that our primary task is the empowerment of learners. We must not fall into the trap of merely dispensing systems of knowledge and guarding the gateways to our academic disciplines. Even if our students master these, we may have failed them; for while these structures may facilitate formal adherence to standards of our devising, these may become systems that destroy the love and joy of learning. We must never forget that students do not exist for universities; rather universities exist for students.

Our students will not look back fondly on the curricula we devise, but will remember our joy in their discoveries and our pleasure in their successes. Our passion for learning will inspire them. Cultivating spaces where a love of learning can flourish will nurture joy and feed the core of our humanity. As educators, we must always remember this simple truth—and act on it.

Establishing Credibility in the Classroom: Day One Tips

14734962322_45d7fff3e9_zby Mitch Lorenz, Graduate Student, Psychology

My first teaching assignment fell into my lap unexpectedly at the institution where I received my Master’s degree. This seemed like good fortune and a great opportunity to gain some teaching experience. I was excited to transition from student to teacher but, after a brief period of elation, reality began to set in. I only had a few weeks to prepare, and I had so many questions!

To get started I did what I imagine many first time teachers do: find someone who has taught the class and steal graciously borrow their materials. I now realize that there are various approaches to thoughtfully designing a course, but at the time I was less concerned with content and more concerned with how I could convince students that I was a credible and qualified instructor. I had just received my Master’s degree, but what did I REALLY know?

This type of self-doubt reflects what has been called the imposter syndrome: feelings of being unqualified or incapable of a task, leading to lower self-esteem, negative mood, and less goal-directedness within the workplace (Brems, Baldwin, Davis, & Namyniuk, 1994). Being grumpy and less motivated to work certainly isn’t going to help establish credibility. With this in mind, what can be done to establish credibility? Dannels (2015), who devotes an entire chapter to this topic in 8 Essential Questions Teachers Ask, offers a variety of helpful suggestions.

Establishing Credibility on Day One

  • Explain your connection to course content

Share your relevant experience with your students in order to establish your qualifications while also providing some personal insight into you as an academic. You can also use the opportunity to explore students’ experience in the subject area, helping to establish credibility while also demonstrating an interest in what your students bring to the class.

  • Provide a rationale for assignments, policies, etc.

You have likely given some thought to why assignment A is necessary, why your attendance policy is so strict, why you require X comment paper, etc. Sharing these explanations with your students provides insight into your motivations and how you imagine each decision fulfilling your goals for student learning.

  • Provide a course-relevant example not available in the textbook

Sharing an interesting piece of knowledge related to the course that is not covered in the text book, and accompanying it with a relatable demonstration (e.g., video, activity), is a great way to establish credibility while also ramping up interest in the course (did you see that example today?! Oh wow this class is going to be so awesome!).

These examples are only the starting point! Credibility is built over time and a great first day can only go so far if there is a failure to continue demonstrating credibility throughout the semester. The openness and clarity suggested in these day one strategies can serve as the basis for continuing to build credibility within a single class and across semesters. Hopefully, these strategies will help assuage impostor concerns so you can focus on helping your students learn effectively.



Brems, C., Baldwin, M. R., Davis, L., & Namyniuk, L. (1994). The imposter syndrome as related

to teaching evaluations and advising relationships of university faculty members. The Journal of Higher Education, 183-193. doi: 10.2307/2943923

Dannels, D. (2015). Eight essential questions teachers ask: A guidebook for communicating with

students. New York, NY: Oxford University Press

Image courtesy of Texas A&M University, via Flickr

Access and Inclusion in Online Teaching

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

This past weekend (April 1-2), the Reinert Center hosted an Online Teaching and Learning Institute (OTLI) for accelerated courses. This two-day intensive workshop was designed for faculty with minimal teaching experience in an online format. Participant-driven conversations explored effective teaching practices for any discipline, with special emphases given to course goals/objectives, assessment, student engagement, and selecting online tools to support learning activities (e.g., Google Apps to facilitate student collaboration).

An important aspect of each session topic was online access and inclusion for students with disabilities. Participants grappled with the tension of designing for and responding to different accommodation needs—and how they emerge, shift, intensify, and even disappear throughout online learning experiences. During the OTLI conversations, disability became a catalyst for creative pedagogical thinking about more inclusive forms of online course design. Disability Studies scholars describe this creative process as a rupture to normative ways of doing teaching and learning (Gotkin, 2012). As such, starting from the experience of disability allows for alternatives, options, and possibilities to emerge that transcend retrofitted accommodations linked to individual student needs. Rather, we start to design and develop courses for access and inclusion across teaching situations (i.e., face-to-face, flipped, hybrid, online, etc.). This is important critical and creative work that benefits all learners.

Ask yourself: How will students experience this course online? Consider the aural, spatial, temporal, and visual dimensions of online learning. Consider how cultural, physical, and technological factors can create barriers to online learning. Consider how different online learning activities might eliminate, frustrate, or produce diverse accommodation needs. These (and many other) considerations offer creative “places to start” when developing online courses (Dolmage, 2015).

What experiences do you have providing accommodations in online courses? Do you have creative ideas for designing online learning activities that are accessible and inclusive? Share examples in the comments section of this blog.



Dolmage, J. (2015). Universal design: Places to start. Disability Studies Quarterly, 35.

Gotkin, K. (2012, July 11). The rupture sometimes [Video file]. Retrieved from

Tapping Into Creativity Through Lateral Thinking

Brainby Jeanne Eichler, MOT, OTR/L, MT, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Here is the scenario…. We find ourselves stuck in a method of thinking or doing things that is more out of habit than of passion…. eventually taking all aspects of creativity out of the process and putting us on auto pilot…. leading to stagnation or burnout if we let it go too far….

Everyone who has ever locked into any idea and repeated it several times can likely relate to the above scenario.  In the world of healthcare, this looks like clinicians following a protocol or a standard routine without looking at the person in front of them—never asking themselves, “how could this person in front of me best accomplish their goals?”  Therapists report feeling disconnected, and patients report feeling like they are just a number to be “dealt with.”  In so many cases, this is becoming reality in our healthcare landscape- less time with patients, more paperwork and policy equals less personalized treatment and a (less than stellar) outcome.  It happens in the classroom, as well, in very much the same way- replace “therapist” with “instructor” and “patient” with “student” to see this picture in the context of education settings.

People are made to be creative.  Creativity has endless possibilities and can be fun if given enough time and resources.

I lead a program called Teen Connection to Social Competency.  My participants are college-/career-bound high school students who have difficulty making friends (most have high functioning autism or ADD) and an equal number of college students (future professionals representing a wide number of fields) who help me run the program.  The program started in 2010 at the request of a teen, and we have worked with over 100 teens and young adults since.

For people who are not familiar with a standard therapy group structure, it typically has a gathering/beginning time with some type of icebreaker, a big activity after some discussion of goals that will be addressed and expectations of group members, and a closing/wrap up that acknowledges what has been gained and gives participants ideas of what is coming next.

When I started working with these teens, I learned very quickly that my participants hated the process.  They were rather blunt in their honesty, asking me if we could “just stop” with the small talk at the beginning or eliminate the part where we went around the circle telling the person on our right something that we liked about them.  Some just flat out told me that they hated social skills groups and that this was just another one. Everything I had learned in school and had used for years in practice seemed to hit a wall.  I had to think fast or risk losing them.

I gathered my volunteers, all college students, and we worked together to take the whole group process back to the drawing board, stripped our plans bare, and engaged in some creative thinking.  We used a tool called “Six Thinking Hats,” a lateral thinking technique created by Edward DeBono in 1985 that emphasizes brainstorming in one area at a time, avoiding the phenomenon common in brainstorming sessions where one person negates the ideas of another.  These areas are identified as “hats” and are categorized as follows:

BLUE HAT: This hat is actually the PERSON leading the thinking session.  The BLUE HAT keeps everyone in the same area and determines the best order for discussing the identified topic.

WHITE HAT: This hat contains facts and figures- things that are definitely known about the topic without any interjection of opinion or feeling.  Statistics, descriptors, and definitions may apply in this discussion.

YELLOW HAT: This hat includes discussion of things that the brainstorming group LIKES about the identified topic.

BLACK/GRAY HAT: This hat includes discussion of things that the brainstorming group DISLIKES about the identified topic.

GREEN HAT: This hat is for growing ideas.  Participants are encouraged to generate ideas that may be impossible or are not logistically complete.  No idea is a bad one.  Typically the Blue Hat returns to this area at least twice.

RED HAT: This hat is for emotions.  “I am worried about _______,” “I feel passionate about __________,”  “I am scared that _________ will happen if ___________,” are all examples of acceptable responses in this area.

Each “hat” symbolizes the different hats we wear during each phase of a discussion.  The “blue hat” controls the progress through each phase, returning to past phases as needed. The photo below gives a sense of what the discussion is like:


Photo by J. Eichler. Used with permission.

The difference between brainstorming using critical thinking vs brainstorming through lateral thinking is that critical thinking uses clear reasoning and judgment to analyze a situation and lateral thinking uses a creative, non-linear approach to reach a conclusion not otherwise obtainable by step-by-step logic.

In the case of our Teen Connection program, we decided to start with what a high school student is; the things we know or remember, what we like, what we dislike, ideas (in the context of our group as well as for their overall quality of life); and feelings about what we generated in our discussion.  Nobody was told why their idea would not work or that they were wrong about a like or dislike. Everyone stayed on the same page… and magic happened.  It was in this discussion that we decided to focus on what teens wanted to experience (or learn to navigate) rather than focus on a therapeutic concept or goal.   We thought about milestones that teens experience in high school—dating, going out with friends after a football game, getting along with parents, group projects in class, dances/social events, hanging out, traveling, driving … and our ideas just flew from there.

Together, we decided to make the entire session about the activity that they were going to experience instead of making an obvious therapeutic structure—a strategy I now refer to as “burying the peas in the mashed potatoes.”  The teens loved it and so did we.  We would spend hours figuring out how many therapeutic goals we could bury inside of a simple and common activity, ultimately making something very complex look simple to anyone who might be observing, including our teens.  We took the goals that parents asked us to work on – often presented as complaints about maladaptive behaviors that kept their kids from fitting in – and turned them upside down into fun experiences and challenges that everyone could enjoy.  Volunteers transitioned from being “mentors” to “navigators” – a subtle and important focus on the individual becoming who they really are rather than emulating another person and one more consistent with development at a high school level.  The excitement was electric.  Possibilities were boundless.  Teens were listened to, were always part of the process, and found themselves growing in ways they had not imagined.  College students fearlessly designed innovative strategies for tackling common challenges … all hidden in the context of a simple experience, learning at the same time that it is okay to re-think even tried and true strategies.

For a minute, we forgot who the teachers and learners were.  We were a team, all with ideas and experiences of value to contribute, no matter how out of the box.  We were always thinking and coming up with ideas that we had never seen in action like that before. Oh, and we had to take our client into consideration and get to know them, too.  It became part of the fun and part of the adventure, hopefully shaping the way that the student team works with the people they will serve in clinics, schools, and businesses in the future.

My classroom?  I use this strategy to create assignments that are integrative and very real, requiring hard but self-directed work of interest to the student – again “burying the peas in the mashed potatoes” for college students who realize how much they learn months and sometimes years later.  For example, my junior students spend the entire year taking courses about Occupational Science, the study of what people do.  They are asked as part of their spring semester wellness course to use what they have learned all year to develop a “non diet and exercise” wellness proposal for a non-healthcare community partner.  Students may use the Six Thinking Hats strategy as part of their creative process – asking themselves, “what do we know?” as they list what they have learned that relates to their population. They can interject their opinions by answering one at a time, “what do we like about ____”, “what do we not like about ____”, and how do we feel about ______”.  As they generate ideas, they can list everything from the obvious to the seemingly impossible idea, developed or not.  From there, innovation happens if they trust the process.

My favorite part?  Not one project looks as “expected,” thanks to those hats.

To accompany our 2015-2016 theme of Thinking Critically, Thinking Creatively, spring contributors were asked to share their thoughts about two questions: 1) What does creative thinking look like in your field or discipline? And 2) How do you teach students to do it?

Portfolios as Tools for Reflection

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

This past weekend (March 18-19), the Reinert Center co-hosted our annual Academic Portfolio Retreat. Over a two day period, invited facilitator, Dr. Marilyn Miller led 25 faculty members through writing a beginning draft of each of the sections of their academic portfolio for tenure and/or promotion.

Attending this event each year reminds me that more than just a container to “hold” lists and artifacts of various accomplishments, a portfolio can be a powerful tool for reflection. Whether a faculty member’s professional dossier or a student’s final project, the occasion of assembling a portfolio can be one of contemplation and discernment. Curating the contents of a portfolio necessitates a decision-making schema that draws on the ways in which we make meaning out of our experiences and then retells our story to the portfolio’s audience through that schema.

This process requires us to take ownership not just of the artifacts of our experiences (journal articles, courses taught, student evaluations, etc. for a professional dossier or essays, poems, case studies, etc. for a student course portfolio) but also, the process by which we created and accumulated those experiences. We look to the ways that curation process helps us make connections among our experiences and how the collective whole of the portfolio represents an entire narrative of our journey in teaching, research, service, and other activities, thus far.

Do you use portfolios (either formal or informal) as a site of reflection? Share examples in the comments section of this blog.