9x9x25 #7: This is why we do this work!

The stars and galaxy as seen from Rocky Mountain National Park.I’m reflecting on teaching and learning and why this work is worth doing. What keeps me coming back? What makes it all worth the effort? This reflection is partly a post-TESS18 curation, but more a reframing of what this means for my own teaching. At the end of every day, I should be able to say, “on this day, I made a difference to the world, or the life of one human being”. I should be able to qualify, or quantify if necessary, the contribution I’ve made to the world. Some may think of this in terms of a ‘gratitude’ statement. I think of this as an impact statement, not in terms of grandiose results, but in terms of small, unrecognizable, actions, words, works or deeds that have made a positive difference to someone else in my ‘sphere of influence’ or my constellations (to bring the TESS OERangers metaphor into this reflection).

From my TESS18 experience, student humanity, and how to bring it into conscious awareness, resonated through this image and tweet.

This image was juxtaposed and echoed in the Virtually Connecting session with Robin DeRosa, which followed her keynote talk at TESS18. Robin, with tears closely contained, shared a personal experience that she could not share in the larger presentation, about how important it is to consider student humanity in the work we do. Tiffany’s story has left a lasting legacy in recognizing the power and potential of shifting from ‘bail to sail’. Robin’s words echoed against my own experiences with students who ‘bail’. These students are often just numbers on a roster for some academics and higher education accountants.

“This is not just a plea to stop labeling reconfiguration as a bail, it’s also about leveraging the power of this experience for student growth and for the growth of our academic fields, both of which stretch in new ways when content knowledge is coupled with an applied, high-impact learning experience. That applied, high-impact learning experience? Living a human life.”

Read Robin DeRosa’s thoughts to understand this notion since her keynote is posted on her blog site: A Human Framework for Institutional Innovation. My children, your children, Terry’s young daughter, and all of our students need to be the ones who benefit from this shift away from counting successes and measuring failures. We need to continue to be better at turning failure and ‘bail outs’ into ‘sail into something new’ or parachute toward a different target. Our humanity depends on our awakening of student humanity. This can be the one interaction with a student that may make a difference in their day. It could be that my one small act of kindness or treating a student as a human being, that can make a student’s day. It means engaging in conversations, and asking caring questions about what matters to them.

Engaging that student voice, and truly listening, was also brought to the forefront at TESS18, where I met Tumelo Mashabane. He is a student at Lakehead University Thunder Bay, who is working with others in the SXDLab, funded and supported by eCampus Ontario.

This panel presentation was followed by a conversation by these students about their work at the SXDLab on a Virtually Connecting session, where they elaborate on their ideas of student design projects. Their insights add much to the conversations about student engagement in learning, beyond the disposable assignments that are completed in many courses. I look forward to future learning opportunities and possible collaborations with Tumelo Mashabane, who can provide many insights for me, as an instructor at Lakehead.

Final thought – remember the human, the individual, the student. Behind all the tasks, assignments, interactions, algorithms, and designs of learning, there are human beings making sense of all this learning. That requires, as Robin DeRosa stated at the end of her talk, “How beautiful would it be if our humanity wasn’t an impediment to learning, but its heartbeat?” Make a difference – in one small way, with one act of understanding or kindness.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

(Stephen Covey).

You can learn more from my fellow Lakehead University 9x9x25 blogging challenge partners:

Shauna Burnie: https://shaunaburnie.com/blog/

Steven Secord – ​http://teachingbythebay.ca

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash