I teach a variety of subjects in a wide variety of settings. To do this, I think about connection as much as content.

Course content is relatively straightforward. For every course, every section, and every session I try to teach a specific skill or concept: e.g., how to write a business plan (course), each section of the plan (e.g., marketing), and how to interview a prospective customer (session). But I usually plan to devote only about 50% of course time to prepared material on specific content.

I treat the other half of the class as conversation. I’ll think in advance about interesting extensions of the material but I only talk about them if they seem to flow from the conversation. I want to know what, if anything, students get out of a reading, assignment, class, or course section. More generally, I’m curious about their lives, the potential role of the course in it, and their questions. Just as in a conversation, I ask questions I’m curious about and share relevant ideas and experiences, and try to create an environment where they feel comfortable doing likewise.

In this conversation, I focus on connection with and between students:

  • I try to connect with the class as a whole: their cognitive and experience levels as well as the emotional tenor of the group: Are they optimistic? Anxious? Overwhelmed? I try to adopt a compatible attitude, while also providing any needed antidotes: e.g., reality for the overconfident, confidence for the insecure.
  • I try to create connection between students through projects and discussion. In class, I seek to create a discussion web, rather than just individual dialogs.
  • Finally, I try to be aware of any subtext in class comments, and engage in dialog outside of class. I try to learn what they want from my class and from life. If I can, I provide it.

(from a presentation on Teaching given to new faculty)

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