I have been making some headway catching up with literature on education, educational theories and helpful instructional books for emerging teachers in higher education. There is a lot of ‘because I say so’ writing. As Erziehungswissenschaftler (learning scientist) this is rather a nuisance. It makes we want to rebel:
I am not saying that we shouldn’t familiarise ourself with constructive alignment, intended learning outcomes, assessment criteria and the whole lot. But what I would really, really like us to do is to become wholly and fully the best version of ourselves we can be, for our students. Just be who we are. And if we really want to, if this is a risk we think we can face, we can always work on becoming the teacher we wished we had when we were a student. It doesn’t matter here that everyone (all the 3,5 people) who read this will have a completely different picture of that most awesome, inspiring teacher. Because being an educator, learning—together with our students—is messy, it is challenging, it is risky, is puts us on the spot, it puts our identity in the crossfire of curious, excited, disengaged, highly motivated, luke-warmly interested, cleverer than us, struggling, or sailing through students. Ultimately, the whole range of humanity we will encounter in this enclosure that is our lecturer hall, seminar room, or office. This is why there is no educational theory to rule them all. There is no one teacher who is the perfect teacher.
Yes, there are patterns, there are things that will work better than others. However, this can be circumstantial. That something worked incredibly well with one cohort, does not necessarily mean it will work exactly, or exactly as well, with another cohort—or the same cohort at a different time for that matter, or with another teacher.
When studying educational sciences in Germany, we studied neuro- and cognition sciences, developmental psychology, philosophy, didactics (as in instructional methods), education etc … because learning is a mixture of physiological conditions (synaptic plasticity for instance, or the different brain processes when having dyslexia), learning is identity negotiation (we constantly negotiate who we are, where our place in the world is (Weltaneignung)), and sometimes our students identify themselves by their ability to perform in a subject, and if this performance does not meet expectations, we are met with their anxiety, stress, disengagement, or over-engagement and burnout. Learning is social (think peer support or peer pressure, think sharing notes and study buddies). Sometimes I think no matter how many more conceptual suggestions we come up with, that explain learning, that explain how we make sense of the world, how we negotiate our environment and our-selves, ultimately they are just adding to the educational multiverse: they are all somehow true at the same time.
Therefore, I am writing this Note-to-self: Be brave. Be yourself. Take risks. Be authentic. See your students. Hear your students. And first and foremost commit to your students, because they know, and this commitment reflects their engagement.*
* Yes we have the data to prove it, dissemination forthcoming…