Keynoting It!


Last week was spring break, and I holed up for days getting ready for a keynote presentation I’m doing this coming Saturday for an adjunct scholars’ conference at Indiana University Southeast. My topic is: “Building Strong Student-Teacher Relationships and a Positive Classroom Climate.”

I’m actually somewhat of an accidental keynote speaker. I submitted this topic as a workshop idea, and the folks at the Institute for Learning Excellence liked it so much they asked me to be the keynote speaker.

I’m always nervous when I have to give a speech. As Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, most of us are so anxious about public speaking that we’d rather be in the coffin at a funeral than delivering the eulogy. But I’m also really excited because I’m genuinely passionate about this subject, and the research is compelling that student-teacher relationships make an enormous difference in student motivation and persistence in college.

 With three master’s degrees and a varied background, my college teaching career has been eclectic, to say the least! I’ve taught dance, sociology, public speaking, interpersonal communication, and now writing. The reporter from the campus news outlet assigned to cover the conference asked me an interesting question—what I’d learned about teaching across so many different disciplines. I wanted to share my response with you, so here goes:

What I’ve found is that teaching is a calling, an art, and a skill that is transferable from discipline to discipline. It has mattered less what I am teaching and more how I approach the work. To teach anything well, you have to have a sufficient level of expertise, as well as passion and excitement about the subject matter. Passion is definitely contagious! And of course, you have to be willing to invest time and effort into your preparation and the structure and content of your classes.

But that’s not enough to fully engage and motivate students. You must work just as hard to build strong relationships with them and a positive classroom environment. It’s vital that our students know that we care about them and we want them to be successful.

Like us, students also want to feel respected. They want to feel their questions, their input, and their opinions, including opinions that diverge from our own, matter.

I’m not a big fan of the “sage on the stage” approach to teaching. I’ve found that students really value opportunities to actively engage with one another and the material in class and become a supportive learning community.

 So, there you have it—my teaching philosophy in less than 200 words. Of course, on Saturday, I’ll be going into a lot more depth about the research and the specific strategies I’ve found that are effective in the classroom, and I’ll invite attendees to share theirs.

Meantime, I’d love to know what you think! Have you had a teacher(s) who motivated and inspired you? What made studying with this teacher memorable? I’d love to get your input!

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