Teaching Statement

Structuring a successful class is similar to constructing a building. To start, a construction team must have an effective leader who carries the big picture vision and sets clear expectations, goals, and guidelines. Working from this model, it is my role as the instructor to head up the “team,” primarily by laying out a clear syllabus and detailed set of expectations for the class to help the entire semester run smoothly and fairly. Within this framework, a teacher’s role is similar to that of a supervisor in that a teacher may take the leading role, but it is up to all of the members of the group to work together to make a finished product of which they can all be proud. Students in this case are active members of the team, who work independently as well as with the instructor and other students to fulfill their roles as a part of the class. Students are encouraged to think critically, problem-solve, and most importantly, engage in hands-on learning that teaches them the concepts in a more long-lasting manner. Just as construction companies have different technicians for different roles, students will have strengths in many different areas of learning styles, assessments, etc. As the instructor, it is important for me to notice, respect, and accommodate this variety of strengths. Overall, I see a well-structured class as similar to a completed building; a strong foundation is key, and while the basic structure is fixed, the workspace design is infinitely flexible. A class plan should have a clear overall theme and related activities, but should also allow room for student interest and participation.

The first step in building a strong foundation in my classes is to have a very clear set of guidelines and goals. In my syllabi and descriptions of assignments, I try to a) have a clear match between my course learning objectives and course assignments b) give students a detailed outline of what is expected for their performance (such as an explanation of the assignment as well as a grading rubric), and c) provide a list of resources/techniques which they might use to succeed in completing the assignment. Along with this structure for the course, however, I find it important to offer autonomy in what students want their assignments to be about. With the exception of examinations, I typically allow students to choose their own topics within the framework of the assignments in my courses (e.g. a paper is assigned with a general theme and students choose their particular content areas). I believe that students are most likely to engage with and maintain an interest in the subject matter when there is a balance between clearly stated expectations and the freedom to personalize the class material to focus on topics that are most interesting to them.

As the leader of the team, I also see it as my responsibility to provide students with an education that gets them involved with the concepts. The completion of this goal involves teaching in a way that ensures that students have an experience that builds on the basic level to include experiential and applied learning. To this end, I make sure to include hands-on activities that demonstrate real world applications, such as having students take a personality test in the personality section of an introductory class, or watching a case study video in a clinically-focused class. I also use technology to keep students engaged with the materials, particularly in larger classes or classes in which a more purely lecture-based style is indicated. An important tool that I have used for this purpose is called the Classroom Response System, or more simply, “clickers.” Every few minutes, I pause from our regular activities to have students respond to questions about the content we have been covering using their personal clickers. At times, students answer independently to test themselves, and at other times, students discuss the question in small groups to stimulate ideas before answering. This technique keeps students involved and serves as immediate feedback about student understanding of concepts.

In the service of addressing diverse learning styles, I try to present information in different ways, such as in text, chart and video form, and to assess students through a variety of formats. Depending upon the course, I use varied assessment techniques including exams, research papers, and other interactive activities such as group presentations or debates. Relatedly, I am also alert to differences in class cohorts. For example, in my first semester of teaching Statistics, I had a vocal group of students who seemed very willing to ask questions and raise concerns. In my second semester, I had a larger group, and students seemed more hesitant to speak up. Consequently, I frequently used a classroom assessment technique described as a “muddiest point” question, which asks students to write a brief statement of what in the class is currently the most confusing/difficult, to help address student questions.

It is also important to me to create an environment in the classroom so that students feel like our class is a safe space in which they can raise and contemplate controversial issues in a respectful manner. In order to help students truly foster an interest in the subjects we are studying and to create a space in which students are eager to participate, I strive to be well prepared to guide the class through both the basic information and the techniques for thinking and evaluating within the field. However, I am also willing to put the day’s plan aside if the class becomes excited about a particular topic. At all times, students are encouraged to participate by asking questions, giving comments, and sharing personal experiences. I believe that my personal strength as an educator is that I maintain a balance between being highly organized and flexible. Although I am always prepared for classes, I am also eager to engage students and take the session in a direction that feels more relevant to them. I feel that this enthusiasm for student learning makes me more approachable and sets up a positive classroom environment.

As a psychologist, I believe in evidence-based practice both in the clinical world as well as in the classroom. Well-validated techniques in pedagogy are emerging constantly, and I value keeping up with the research literature in this area to continue to improve upon my techniques, both in my own style as well as in the most useful technologies. My involvement with several professional psychological organizations allows me to stay up-to-date with the newest information in psychology, which in turn allows me to educate students in the field in a timely and relevant manner. Additionally, I have committed considerable time to the pursuit of excellence in teaching through my completion of the Certificate in College Teaching through the Colleges of Worcester Consortium. This coursework not only helped me to develop a clear set of beliefs about teaching and learning, but also improved my skill set as far as course design and implementation. My passion for teaching drives me to continually increase my knowledge and skills as an educator so that I can best assist my students in building a strong foundation both in psychology and in their undergraduate careers in general.