Some Tips To Start 2019

Happy New Year, and welcome to the start of another great year of programming at PACE.

Over the holiday break I had an opportunity to catch up on some reading, in particular this article that was shared with me by one of our instructors:

https://www.fastcompany.com/44276/attention-class-16-ways-be-smarter-teacher

It has some great tips and reminders for instructors at all levels of experience. In particular, three stood out for me:

  1. Teach from the heart
  2. Practice vulnerability without sacrificing credibility
  3. Avoid using the same approach for everyone

Teaching from the heart, teaching with passion, how ever you phrase it, is often cited by students as a reason why they enjoy particular courses.  Having an enthusiasm for the topic and the group helps keep students engaged, which helps with learning.

Admitting vulnerability is about not being perfect.  We are all human, and we don’t know everything.  It’s okay to tell the class, on occasion, that you don’t know the answer to something, or that you’ve misspoken – but find the right answer after!

Varying your approach is a key part of teaching.  Not everyone is going to learn the same way, have a variety of teaching methods in your day.  Use different examples.  Try to incorporate something for everyone (visual, auditory, tactile, note taking, etc.)

Check out the article for more tips and examples of how to make your teaching more impactful.

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Teaching Within Programs

Many of us have either worked in or read about the dangers of working in a silo.  Businesses work to break down the mentality that has people focused on only their piece within the organization.  At PACE programs and courses are much the same, with the danger that people can be focused too narrowly on only their single course.

It’s important to remember that, with only a few exceptions, all PACE courses are delivered within programs, programs that include courses which build on one another to equip students with the knowledge and skills to be successful and competent in the workplace. Within a full-time program, it is advantageous to be aware of  the other courses that are delivered to the class.  Look at commonalities, and tie in concepts in materials so that students see the full picture of how the pieces come together, and not just within a silo.

Every diploma from PACE includes courses which focus on developing written and oral communication skills, as well as courses such as organizational behavior, and business fundamentals.  Each program has a variation on the topic of strategic planning and leadership.  Tying concepts from these courses into your specific course can provide students with more comprehensive and concrete understanding of  work related topics and organizations.

The integration of concepts from across a program, by referring back to concepts already taught or foreshadowing courses to come, helps with the overall student learning experience.

Course Evaluations

Course evaluations are a part of every PACE class. They can be both a valuable insight for instructors, and a source of stress.  Knowing how to look at them takes some forethought and practice.

All instructors are asked to provide time in the last class for students to complete evaluations. In the full time programs, evaluations are completed online.  Students have a link from Nexus to the evaluation page which they can complete for each course in the program.  In part time classes, students complete the evaluations in hardcopy; best practice for these paper forms is to designate one student to collect then and return them to the PACE Registration office or drop box.

To encourage completion, it is best practice not to do them as the last item of the day or before lunch; students tend to just get up and leave. A better practice is to ask students to complete them right after coming back from a break or at the start of class to encourage better completion rates.  It’s also a good idea to remind students that the evaluations are anonymous and shared with instructors only after grades are turned in.

When you go to review course evaluations, it’s is best to ensure that you are in the right frame of mind. If you are unhappy, you are going to fixate on the negative comments, which is unfair to you and your next group of students.  (A tip I picked up listening to the podcast Teaching in Higher Ed, episode 165: http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/teaching-lessons-course-evaluations/)

As you review the evaluations, keep in mind the population you are teaching. Some students are going to love you no matter what, some students will hate you no matter what; throw out the top comment and the bottom comment.  You are teaching to the students in the middle, pay attention to what they have to say.

Looking at those comments from the middle, remember why you reading these: to learn and improve yourself. Look at comments that provide some insight beyond just “this was good” or “I liked it”.  In some cases, you may need to remind yourself about why certain points are in the materials.  I have seen comments where students question the material being taught; I always revisit why it is present and confirm that the material is valid.  Students are not necessarily in the best place to judge why material is included, but they can certainly provide insight into how material is being received.

Take the feedback to heart, identify something that you will do differently next time and make notes right away so you don’t forget. No one is perfect, so taking the time to look at small ways to improve our content and our delivery is always a good idea.   With a little bit of practice on how to read them, feedback can be an invaluable part of growing as an instructor.