What does it mean to think critically and creatively about teaching? The invitation to do instructional development at the intersection of these two concepts is what guided my participation in the Reinert Center’s Winter Institute on January 7. As each presenter facilitated discussion on a variety of teaching-related topics, I noticed two themes begin to emerge during my individual and collaborative reflections:
- Be critically mindful of the learner(s)
- Be creatively responsive to the learning
The critical dimension of my work encourages instructors to be mindful of their students when designing and facilitating a course. The goal is to move beyond universal notions of ‘the learner’ to begin considering how multiple learners, embodying myriad categories of social difference matter for the context in which learning occurs. The creative dimension of my work emerges from the unknown possibilities produced in the complexity of intersecting learner differences. I often invite instructors to imagine the breadth of these differences (e.g., gender, ability, religion, age, race, nation, health, etc.) and how each matters for the choices made in course design and facilitation (e.g., goals/objectives, readings, assignments, rubrics, technology, etc.). In this way, difference informs creativity and creativity affirms difference. This form of reciprocity is an exciting realization of the Jesuit concept of cura personalis, as it attends to the needs of others, their circumstances and concerns, and recognizes their particular insights for the ongoing consideration of how and why we teach.
The Reinert Center’s Winter Institute provided a context for me to re-consider my philosophical commitments as a teacher, but it also afforded me the opportunity to join an interdisciplinary conversation about instructional development in the context of Jesuit higher education. In previous blog posts, I emphasized the important role of communication in developing and sustaining engaged communities of learning. I am proud to be a (new) member of a Center that works to create the conditions for ongoing conversations about teaching, recognizing the powerful possibilities of coming together to critically and creatively support one another in this work. I am also proud to be a graduate (A&S ’05) of an institution that values difference and the unique gifts each student, faculty, and staff can offer in these ongoing moments of togetherness. As such, we must also be critically mindful of the teacher and creatively responsive to the teaching—and seek out contexts, again and again, to question the intentions of our methods and reflect on the lessons to be derived from our experiences.