Thank You, Belmont Faculty

“‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say.” – Alice Walker

November ushers in a time of intentional gratitude and signals that we pause and reflect over all that we can be grateful for right now. In my reflection, I always give thanks for those who taught me the importance of a genuine “thank you” – my father, mother, and grandmother. Each lesson built on each other: my father’s constant reminders to say, “thank you,” followed by my grandmother’s echoes/questions of if I had said, “thank you,” then my mother’s reinforcing requests to write those thank yous down in meaningful ways. All of this has helped me become a person who tries to never miss an opportunity to say, “thank you.”

For this month’s post, I gave some Belmont students an opportunity to say “thank you” to Belmont faculty. We know that students are grateful for the work we do, but these thank yous serve as tangible reminders that they see us and our work and, in these challenging times, are thinking of us in gratitude. As our lives, at work and beyond, become busier this time of year, I hope we can pause and let these thank you notes fill us with the love with which the students wrote them.

Thank You Notes from Belmont Students

Thank you to the professors of Belmont. I feel like I am always learning new information every time I go to class. They are always available for me to ask questions when I cannot understand the material or when I need help. I feel very lucky to be a part of this institution.

Thank you for your guidance and kindness throughout the semester!

 Andrea Poynter – Thank you for always being upbeat and inclusive in class. Your class is a highlight of the week. Even though it is a longer class, you make the time fly and spread everything out, so it doesn’t feel super long.

 Thank you, Dr. Wayne Barnard, for being a great professor throughout the semester. The semester has been crazy because of online classes and lab cancellations, but we know you did your best.

 The professors at Belmont are some of the most genuine people I’ve met! They all truly care about our well-being, both in and outside of the classroom, and do all they can to ensure it.

 Thank you for all you do for us and always being there to help us in any way we need.

 I would like to thank Professor Jay Gilmore for his commitment to caring for his students, both in and outside the classroom. Professor Gilmore always checks in on his students whenever we miss a class, asks us about our weekend plans every Friday, and always stops to say hello when he sees one of his students around campus. I have been very privileged to be one of his students this semester!

 I thank all of the professors that I have had this semester, because they have helped me to think critically in the world. As a college student the classes I am taking have helped me be aware of everything around me.

 I really appreciate the transition from online to in-person. I know some things are more efficient and convenient online, but thank you for understanding and believing in the importance of human interaction. I couldn’t do another year like last year. Thank you for making a difference.

 Thank you, Professor Shaw, for being one of the best teachers I’ve ever had!! I appreciate you for treating us like adults and trusting us enough to have deep conversations without shying away from important topics. You created a wonderful class environment where we all really respect each other and we’re not afraid to offer up our opinion. I’ve learned so much about how to critically but respectfully listen to information and other people’s viewpoints, and how my own experiences affect my way of looking at the world. I also just really appreciate how kind you always are and understanding of our struggles as students/young adults. I always feel respected and seen in your class. I’m going to use the things I learned for the rest of my life and I’m endlessly grateful for the time and effort you put into making this class as helpful and meaningful as it was. You’re amazing!!! Thank you!!!

 Thank you to Dr. Stepnick for being a wonderful teacher and kind person! Your passion for sociology is contagious, and it makes class even more engaging. I always appreciate how collaborative class is and how you encourage us to share our ideas without being afraid of making mistakes. I also really appreciate how much you clearly care about us and how understanding you are, always making sure we’re not too stressed out or struggling with anything. I feel very supported and encouraged in your class, and I just want you to know how appreciated your kindness is by all of us. Thank you for making sociology my favorite subject!! You rock!! 🙂

Thanks for all the work you do. Last year was rough and everyone is still adjusting. You have been patient with us, and we can’t thank you enough for it.

 Thank you to the songwriting professors for being so kind and helpful!

 Dr. MarQo Patton, thank you for seeing potential in me and your other students. You have a love for others that is so drastically underrated! Your style, expertise and humor are second to none! May you stumble upon many blessings and opportunities in the future!

Many thanks to the students who took the time to pause, reflect, and say, “thank you!”

Incorporating Inclusive Elements for Our Courses, Classrooms, and Labs

As teachers, we need to be intentional about our course design and activities because they impact how we engage students and recognize their diverse identities and experiences. While it can be challenging to identify ways to show a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, checking in with colleagues and discussing their approaches is helpful. The Teaching Center’s workshop, Incorporating Inclusive Elements for Our Courses, Classrooms, and Labs, featured our colleagues Dr. Paula Roberts, Dr. Gideon Park, and Dr. Jimmy Davis who offered insights we can all use in our courses, classrooms, and labs.

Learn students’ names – A student’s name can be the first part of their identity and individuality that we encounter. By investing time in learning our students’ names, we signal that we see them and are committed to creating a community where all students are valued and recognized. If you find learning names challenging, consider the following:

  • Use name tents and have students place them in front of them for the first few class meetings or until no longer needed.
  • Have students complete profiles that include more specific information about them and their interests.
  • With their permission, have students upload a photo on Blackboard.

Acknowledge your personal identity – Ignoring our own identities may signal to our students that we do not have a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. By acknowledging that you are part of, for example, majority and historically valued groups, you can help contextualize and acknowledge certain perspectives and ideologies in honest and transparent ways that can help both teachers and students navigate the emotions and reactions that come with learning.

Incorporate relevant readings/studies/assignments connected to your field of study – While this is often seen as the low-hanging fruit of DEI strategies, it is one not to be underestimated. Every field has opportunities to explore diverse scholarship, studies, and conversations. Some students may not see the impact their biases and limited knowledge can have on their field, but through assignments, readings, and activities, they can have the opportunity to engage with the possibilities of understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion in their field.

Syllabus statement – Students often encounter our syllabi before they even begin the course, so it is an important opportunity to include a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement to establish your commitment to it for the course. There are plenty of options for how to incorporate this, but here is an example from my syllabus:

In this class, people of all abilities, ages, ethnicities, genders and gender identities, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, regions, nationalities, and other categories of difference have a space to learn and share their perspectives. If you do not feel included, please speak with me as soon as possible to discuss this and important resources.

Influence our professional organizations – The need for diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies stems from larger systemic concerns likely found in the professional organizations that set standards and practices that influence our campus cultures and courses. The trickle-down effect easily finds itself in how we design and implement learning practices. Our involvement in these organizations can help shift the professional standards. Whether publishing in the field’s journals or working in leadership positions, we can help our professional organizations grow to reflect a more dedicated mission to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

Our conversation during this workshop included other ways to incorporate inclusive elements, so continue to explore ways that work best for your course and students. If you have inclusive elements you would like to share on the blog, contact me, and it may be featured soon.

Teaching Tips from the Pandemic

As the pandemic continues, its lasting impact on our pedagogy is evident in how our shift included unexpected silver linings. Our first Teaching Center luncheon explored what colleagues learned about their pedagogy and how they decided to stick with those techniques/activities that may have started as temporary. Here are a few highlights from the luncheon:

Group Office Hours

Choose a time when students can stop by in groups on Zoom and ask questions. This gives them an opportunity to hear and learn from each other’s questions and get important information and insight from the professor.

Blackboard Announcements

This feature gives students and professors a space where information can be gathered and shared. With so much going on, everyone knows there is one place where they can find what they need. Students also receive an email when announcements are posted for the extra communication option.

Learning Triads

Building community is more challenging as we are mindful of physical distancing and its impact on our health and safety. Helping students create triads or assigning triads helps students create community that can be used for peer review or peer check-ins. Whether participating online or in-person, students create connections with another peer they can contact about the course.

Inclusion Resources

This pandemic has been not only about our public health but also about our society’s systemic ailments. Creating resource packets with intention can help you highlight resources and knowledge that contributors of undervalued groups – e.g., Asian American and Pacific Islander, Black/African-American, women – add to the access students have to various perspectives and expertise in the course.

Flexibility

March 2020 revealed the importance of flexibility, and the lessons learned show that flexibility is a requirement in this enduring pandemic. When availabilities shift and guidelines change, it impacts our pedagogy.

These shifts proved to be integral beyond the earliest parts of the pandemic. While we are still learning and teaching in this pandemic, we are learning more about ourselves, our pedagogy, and our students’ engagement. As we adjust with new and different techniques, may we have moments, as our colleagues at this luncheon shared, where we can find ways to create a new normal in an ever-changing academic experience. Many thanks to our colleagues who shared their experiences and techniques!

If you’re interested in taking this opportunity to publish about your pandemic experience with teaching, check out this post from The Scholarly Teacher.

Have a pedagogical shift that you would like to share? Email it to Heather Finch – heather.finch@belmont.edu . We might feature it in a future blog post.

What Faculty Do Matters

At the end of an exhausting academic year, it is good to stop and celebrate the importance of our work. In 10 Reasons Higher Education is One of the Most Challenging Careers, Terry Doyle does so by discussing the challenges faculty overcome to do their jobs well. In the article, he outlines 10 reasons why college teaching is one of the most challenging jobs in the world and one of the most important:

  1. Faculty Teach More than Content.
  2. All Learning is Interconnected.
  3. Faculty Have Little Control Over Many Aspects that Impact Learning.
  4. Faculty Cannot “Make” Students Learn.
  5. Time to Teach is Limited.
  6. Learning is a Social-Emotional Experience.
  7. Teachers Teach the Whole Person, Not a Subject Area.
  8. Diverse Learners.
  9. Technology as a Tool for Learning or a Distraction from Learning.
  10. Preconceived Expectations of Learning.

Doyle concludes that college teachers are “miracle workers” that are integral to every occupation and profession. He ends the article with an encouraging affirmation for faculty. “Although it is easy to focus on fatigue and negative aspects of being a college faculty member,” Doyle said, “create time to realize you do what few in our society can do, and it makes all the difference.

Terry Doyle is an author, educational consultant and  professor emeritus of reading at Ferris State University where he worked for 38 years. His work focuses on ways to assist higher education faculty in becoming learner centered teachers and how faculty can apply  new findings from neuroscience, biology and cognitive science in their teaching to improve students’ learning.

Interested in learning more about the scholarship of teaching and learning or accessing more of these resources? Belmont and Bunch Library offer the SoTL Resources at Bunch Library that provides information on SoTL professional organizations, research journals, conferences, etc.

Fostering Civil Discourse in the Classroom and Beyond

It’s no surprise that Americans believe that America has a civility problem. What may surprise you is that this is not a new phenomenon. In Civility in America: An Annual Nationwide Survey, Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate  conducted poll tracking since 2010 on the state of civility and found that 93 percent of Americans identify civility a problem, with 68 percent of those classifying it a “major” problem.

As a result, five Belmont students recently developed a campaign focused on improving civil discourse.

In their blog How to Start Engaging in Civil Discourse, they offer five practices for creating and sustaining healthy discourse in and out of the classroom:

  1. Prepare for civil dialogue 

A first step to engaging in civil discourse is creating an accepting and welcoming space for conversation and disagreement. You want to ensure that you do not silence differing opinions, but remain open to these conversations.

  1. Set boundaries

As you begin difficult conversations, be aware of your own mental and emotional needs, setting boundaries when necessary. You may need to limit the conversation time or scope in order to ensure a healthy and positive conversation for both you and your conversational partner(s).

  1. Focus on the issue

Miscommunication is real and can quickly reduce civil discourse. It is essential that all individuals in the conversation are on the same page so that miscommunication can be prevented. The more each individual keeps the evidence, comments, and conversation to the topic at hand, the easier it becomes to have civil and productive conversations.

  1. Listen to understand

Listening is essential to civil discourse. Individuals need to approach conversations with an open mind and a willingness to hear the other person. The central goal is to listen in order to understand, not listen in order to respond.

  1. Be honest and respectful

Civil discourse doesn’t mean censoring or downplaying your beliefs. In fact, it’s the opposite. Be honest about your own ideas, beliefs and opinions, and be respectful of the honest conversation of others.

The classroom is an important space for personal growth and development. By affecting civil discourse in the classroom, these Belmont students believe we can create a more civil and collaborative community beyond our academic borders. To learn more about their Talk the Talk civil discourse campaign, visit their website and take the pledge to demonstrate your support of engaging in civil discourse.

Self-Care While Teaching During a Pandemic

In her keynote presentation, professor Stephanie Dashiell opened with the words, “I’m not okay . . . and that’s okay.” She was speaking at the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy @ Virginia Tech to educators who continue to grapple with the demands of teaching during a pandemic. Her message was simple — just as we care for our students, we must also care for ourselves.

Dashiell offered faculty several suggestions for practicing self-care, many of which we’ve heard before, but could probably benefit from a reminder:

  1. Set boundaries: Dashiell encouraged faculty to set specific work hours and stick to them as well as designate a specific space in the home for your work.
  2. Add smart/fun gadgets for the office: Provide yourself regular work breaks that encourage you to relax and move around.
  3. Music therapy: Dashiell explained the benefits of music therapy and its ability to inspire creative as well as relaxation.

Belmont faculty echoed many of these ideas in the recent panel “Teaching through Life Challenges.” In this presentation, five Belmont faculty shared their response to balancing life and teaching, adding a few additional points of encouragement.

  1. Let go of previous expectations that worked in different circumstances. Instead embrace that this time is different, which means we must moderate our expectations of ourselves and work differently.
  2. Find something that refreshes you and do it daily. Whether it is journaling, walking or embracing a new hobby, do something for yourself each day.
  3. Give yourself grace and ask for help.

In an effort to extend this conversation, the Teaching Center will host an Idea Swap on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 3:30 p.m. for faculty to discuss Self-Care and Supports While Teaching During the Pandemic.

 

Teaching Center Events – Spring 2021

The Teaching Center has a number of events and opportunities this semester. Details are provided below. The Teaching Center will email invitations and reminders for individual events and opportunities.

 Lunchtime Presentations 

Wednesday, January 20

Antiracism: Elements for Teaching and Learning

Noon – 1:30 p.m.

Zoom Online

*In conjunction with MLK Week 

Monday, February 8

Teaching Through Life Challenges: Dealing with Significant Life-Changing Factors

Noon – 1:30 p.m.

Zoom Online

Friday, February 26

Topic TBD

Noon – 1:30 p.m.

Zoom Online

Thursday, March 25

Teaching Innovations Inspired by the Pandemic

Noon – 1:30 p.m.

Zoom Online

 

Teaching and Learning Idea Swap Sessions

Wednesday 3:30-4:30 p.m.

February 17

March 3

March 17

March 31

 

Circle of Trust Experiences

Facilitated by Judy Skeen

Participate in as many as you wish

Monday, January 25

9-10 a.m. or Noon-1 p.m.

Wednesday, February 24

Noon-1 p.m. or 3-4 p.m.

Friday, March 19

Noon-1 p.m.

Friday, March 26

2-3 p.m.

Thursday, April 29

10-2 p.m.

 

Reading Groups

How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Dates and Times TBD

 

Belmont Applied Teaching and Learning (BeATLe) Groups

Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes

Engaging Learners through Zoom: Strategies for Virtual Teaching Across Disciplines

Dates and Times TBD

 

Additional Deadlines and Opportunities to Note

Tuesday, February 9 – 4 p.m.

Deadline to submit Teaching Center Travel Grant application for spring conferences (through May 2021)

Tuesday, March 9 – 4 p.m.

Deadline to submit Teaching Center Travel Grant application for summer conferences (June-September 2021)

 

Take Time to Reflect

Survival – that is what we are trying to do right now, and rightly so. Educators from every level of education, from those seasoned and those just beginning, describe this semester as the most difficult teaching semester of their career. But when we survive (and we will) what is next? In the article The Power of Reflection, educator Lori Cohen suggests that we take time to reflect.

Reflection is a common classroom practice. Faculty routinely ask students to reflect as a metacognitive exercise to strengthen learning connections and identify key means for improvement. Cohen encourages faculty to do the same for themselves. She describes reflection as a “thinking tool” that informs future mindsets and enhances decision making. Thus reflection may be our most valuable tool as we prepare for an equally uncertain spring semester. To develop this tool, Cohen suggests three key steps:

  1. Set conditions for reflection: Cohen says that each of us have “conditions for writing.” For some, it may be a comfy chair; for others, it might be a pretty pen. Cohen encourages faculty to identify and satisfy these personal conditions.
  2. Set a time to reflect: Cohen acknowledges that making space for reflection can feel like a monumental task, but it’s important to identify a time to reflect and stick to it.
  3. Determine a process that works for you: Often we assume reflection takes the form of writing, but there are other equally effective forms of reflection, such as sketch noting, using voice memos, or micro-reflecting on post-its. Cohen says the key is to make reflection easy and fit your strengths.
  4. Get started: Finally, Cohen says the most important step in the reflective process is to simply begin, and her article suggests several entry points for doing so.

Author Lori Cohen is the former Dean of Faculty at the Bay School of San Francisco and was the founder/coordinator of Bay’s Teaching Fellows program. She currently serves as an independent school consultant for Bright Morning Consulting. Her article The Power of Reflection was posted by the California Teacher Development Collaborative.

Interested in learning more about the scholarship of teaching and learning or accessing more of these resources? Belmont and Bunch Library offer the SoTL Resources at Bunch Library that provides information on SoTL professional organizations, research journals, conferences, etc.

 

The purpose of the Resource of the Month is twofold:

1) To encourage the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) by providing examples of high-quality research.

2) To provide faculty with innovative ideas that promote effective pedagogy.

Navigating Challenging Classroom Conversations

Recently the Teaching Center partnered with Belmont’s Faculty Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (FIDE) Committee to host the mini-workshop “Navigating Challenging Conversations: Growth Opportunities with Our Students and Ourselves.”

Through this workshop FIDE committee members discussed the importance of facilitating diverse ideas, perspectives and experiences with our students. While important opportunities, these conversations can often create challenges for maintaining a safe and positive learning environment. As a result, FIDE identified three steps to help faculty build respect while ensuring everyone has a voice in the classroom.

First, faculty should establish and maintain ground guidelines for respectful, engaged dialogue. For example, faculty could ask students to  help co-construct conversation guidelines, or ask students to try to understand each other’s perspectives before responding.

Second, faculty should promote different perspectives by modeling open-mindness. For example, during a conversation, faculty could invite those who have not contributed yet to join the discussion, or faculty might lead students in considering counter-approaches to an idea. Faculty could also offer students follow-up opportunities to continue or respond to the conversation by visiting faculty during office hours or emailing faculty their thoughts or concerns.

Finally, faculty should reflect, gather feedback and refine the approach. For example, if tension increase during the conversation, faculty could offer a five minute reflection exercise where students reflect, write and think about the topic and why it has become challenging. Faculty could also develop a “ticket out the door” formative assessment where students anonymously provide their perspective on the topic/discussion and what worked or could be improved.

FIDE committee members offered several additional examples on how to implement each of these steps in the classroom. The full resource is available here.

Belmont’s Faculty Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (FIDE) Committee is comprised of Michelle Corvette, Chuck Hodgin, Mona Ivey-Soto, Loren Mulraine, Doug Crews, Edgar Diaz-Cruz, Mary Mayorga, Marieta Velikova, Don Byrd, Matt Heard and Eric Holt.

Resource of the Month

The hyflex and online teaching formats have altered our approach to teaching and engaging with students as well as raised questions on how to enhance student learning in the age of COVID. September’s resource of the month briefly addresses one of these concerns, how to sustain emotional connections with students.

In the article “Cameras and Masks: Sustaining Emotional Connections with Your Students in an Age of COVID19,” Howard Aldrich, professor of sociology at UNC Chapel Hill, offers several suggestions on how faculty can enhance engagement in the classroom and online. Of those, Aldrich suggests faculty lecture less and utilize more structured discussions, polls, and in-class videos in an effort to “replace yourself as the chief talker.” He also suggests having a brief “check-in” at the beginning of every class “during which students can share some of the difficulties they’ve encountered in learning under the constraints imposed by COVID-19 restrictions.” Aldrich offers additional suggests on how to teach while practicing social distancing and how to handle student cameras when teaching online. This article is the first of a two-part series on how to foster and sustain student engagement during this time.

Author Howard Aldrich is a Kenan Professor of Sociology in the department of sociology at UNC Chapel Hill. His article is published in Tomorrow’s Professor Postings sponsored by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning. This publication seeks to foster a diverse, world-wide teaching and learning ecology among its over 65,000 subscribers at over 1,000 institutions and organizations in over 100 countries around the world.

Interested in learning more about the scholarship of teaching and learning or accessing more of these resources? Belmont and Bunch Library offer the SoTL Resources at Bunch Library that provides information on SoTL professional organizations, research journals, conferences, etc.

The purpose of the Resource of the Month is twofold:

1) To encourage the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) by providing examples of high-quality research.

2) To provide faculty with innovative ideas that promote effective pedagogy.