Mentoring and Transforming: Small Practices, Big Changes: A Conversation with Peter Felten

What is mentoring?
On  April 9, in partnership with Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, CNDLS hosted Peter Felten, Ph.D., Assistant Provost of teaching and learning and Executive Director of the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University, as part of the Mentoring Initiative. He spoke of the importance and impact of mentoring students, and some of the small changes faculty and staff can make in their approaches to student communication that can have a big impact on student success.

Felten defined mentorship using guidelines set out in the writings of W. Brad Johnson, who sees mentoring relationships as dynamic, reciprocal, and personal, and identifies a mentor as someone who acts as a guide, role model, teacher, and sponsor. Felten acknowledged  the difficulty of creating and maintaining meaningful mentoring relationships However, he argued that a good education is a relational education, and working to build relationships with students outside of the classroom and helping students to build relationships with each other enhances the educational experience.

Participants then broke into pairs to discuss their relationships with their own mentors. They answered questions asking: How and why did the relationship develop? What happened? Was it transformational?  Was it a positive change? What do your stories suggest about the nature of mentoring, and what can we do to be good mentors?

Characteristics of a good mentoring relationship
Participants identified characteristics of meaningful mentoring, including transitioning from a transactional relationship to a relationship with longevity, watching the relationships reverse as the mentor learned from the mentee, and mentees beginning to feel as though they were being taken seriously as adults.

Felten remarked that he had found many of these characteristics in his research and in working with students at Elon University. Students reported that the most useful and empowering mentoring relationships came from instances when mentors lent perspective on students’ capabilities that the students could not see themselves. He also addressed some of the formulas for success in mentoring relationships, such as being consistent and honest about your own limitations as a mentor, and the importance of asking students questions, rather than just giving them answers.

Hurdles to Good Mentoring
Mentoring relationships can have complicated dynamics. Students are often aware of the inherent power inequality between themselves and faculty, and this can lead to a feeling of obligation or intimidation from students. In order to be responsive to these concerns, faculty interested in mentoring students might, for instance, allow students to approach them to form a relationship, while also being conscious that many students may not feel as though they deserve to ask for that kind of relationship. An important step in becoming an effective mentor is recognizing what the student thinks you can offer.

Students who could most benefit from mentoring relationships could be the least well-equipped to seek out a mentor. Good mentoring contributes to equalizing academic outcomes for traditionally marginalized and underrepresented students,. For example, first generation and minority students often come to campus with less social capital than their peers, and some of these students may carry with them the assumption that asking for help is inappropriate These students also often fear that if they do seek out a faculty member they will have nothing to contribute and will waste faculty time. Therefore, mentors should work on communicating that “good students ask for help,” and share the expectation that students should have relationships with faculty.

The conversation then turned to the particular needs of first year students, who are often more focused on surviving their transition to college than seeking out mentoring relationships. Felten observed that many first year students put their “identity in a lock box” for the first year, and begin to try on identities in later years. He noted that the end result of this is that students can sometimes be in radically different emotional, social, and mental stages, even though they might share other similar characteristics, such as year, major, and GPA.

Non-faculty mentoring
Mentoring relationships with students are not reserved for faculty Felten told an anecdote of one academic who made this discovery during a visit to a small university. As he walked around campus, he asked students, “Who is the person I need to talk to about what makes the education here so remarkable?” All of the students answered the same person, who he assumed was a professor. He wrote down in his notes, “We need to speak to Mesreeta.”

He later found out that “Mesreeta” was actually “Miss Rita,” the woman who served coffee at the cafe in the college’s science building They found that it was her warm, non-judgmental, open, and confident relationships with the students that had such deep and lasting impacts on students, and that all members of staff—not just faculty—have the power to be influential mentors in students’ lives.

Steps to Good Mentoring
Felten also shared some concrete practices. For example, Guided Reflection on Work (GROW) is a practice at University of Iowa where students meet with their supervisors twice a semester and go over these questions:

  • How is this job fitting in with your academics?
  • What are you learning here at work that is helping in your academics?
  • What are you learning in class that you can apply here at work?
  • Can you share examples of things that you are learning here at work that you will use in your future profession?

Saying-is-Believing is another system by which students write and share (out loud) a brief analysis or story that reinforces a growth mindset. Students often struggle during their first semester, so describing how they can be successful can give them “academic hope.” A sense of agency and a plan helps students be successful.

Offering constructive criticism can also be helpful in showing students that you have high standards for them and their work. Rather than just placating a student and telling them that they tried hard when they fail, explain to them that you both have high standards for academic work, and that this doesn’t meet them. Explain to them where these standards come from, why their work isn’t meeting these standards, and that they are capable of meeting those standards. Articulate that you know that the student is capable of meeting those standards and that you will support them in doing the work necessary to achieve their goals. Expressing faith in their capacity as a person without ignoring the flaws in the work is more effective than simply offering encouragement.

Next Steps
For the final break-out group discussion, participants were asked to think about what structures and incentives support mentoring in their context, and what authority and intimacy looks like. In response to a question about the balancing the current harassment culture, Felten emphasized the importance of directly and explicitly addressing these issues and clearly defining boundaries.

Felten also talked about the institutional barriers that sometimes stand in the way of good mentoring. Sometimes universities “Reward A and expect B” in terms of valuing your time and input in student relationships.

By the end of the session, participants in the workshop were able to consider their own teaching practices in a new light, discussing in small groups what they could do to develop or deepen their mentoring practices. Springboarding off of Felten’s lecture, participants brainstormed the ways in which their own teaching could be enriched through student partnerships and a consideration of the student perspective. Keeping in mind a nuanced understanding of the many institutional challenges that sometimes stand in the way of effective mentoring, participants considered ways in which the many benefits of strong mentorship could be brought to a wider portion of the student population and how they could begin to work toward cultivating a spirit of mentorship among their colleagues and throughout campus.

Teaching and Learning for Reconciliation: 2018 Doyle Engaging Difference Symposium

If you missed the 2018 Doyle Engaging Difference Symposium or would like to revisit this year’s theme, the panel session was recorded and can be viewed here. If you are interested in learning more about the Doyle Engaging Difference Program, please visit its website.

On Friday, March 16, 2018, the Doyle Engaging Difference Program hosted its ninth annual Doyle Symposium in collaboration with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. The symposium featured a diverse panel speaking on this year’s theme, “Teaching and Learning for Reconciliation.”  The panelists sought to explore the concept of reconciliation, both historically and as it is enacted in the present day at a local and global level, as well as its relationship to Georgetown University’s mission.

Moderated by Berkley Center Senior Fellow and CNDLS Doyle Faculty Fellow Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, the panelists included Deirdre Jonese Austin (SFS’19), a student fellow in the 2017-2018 Doyle Undergraduate Fellows cohort; Father Ludovic Lado, S.J., Visiting Professor of the Walsh School of Foreign Service from Cameron; Dr. Cheryl Suzack, Associate Professor of English and Indigenous Studies at the University of Toronto; and Andrew Walker (SFS’16), Program Associate of the Office of the Vice President of Global Engagement.

Balzer opened the panel with a brief overview of the cases to be covered including those related to pre-colonial Indigenous Peoples, the Piscataway, and others including Georgetown University’s effort to reflect on, engage with, and learn from its historic ties to slavery. She initiated the conversation by asking each of the panelists to describe what reconciliation means in the context of their research and activism. She then followed up with questions specific to each individual panelist. The panel then took questions directly from the audience.

In describing what reconciliation means to her, Austin discussed how she was first introduced to the topic through the book Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism by Allen Boesak and Curtis Paul DeYoung. This led her to think about reconciliation as creating or recreating simultaneously a practice between God and self as well as between the self and others to repair broken or nonexistent relationships.

Upon discovering its historical ties to the institution of slavery, Georgetown University assembled Georgetown University’s Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation to engage with and learn about Georgetown’s past and make recommendations to guide Georgetown in its ongoing work. Austin offered a student’s perspective on the Working Group, pushing the University to move past offering an apology and preferred admissions status and toward paying direct reparations to the descendents of the enslaved individuals sold by Georgetown in 1838. She also argued that the University’s reconciliation work needs to expand beyond the direct descendents. “I think it’s important to address the current students on campus, specifically the black students who have been impacted by the implications of slavery, which are present in society today in housing practices [and] criminal justice.”

Lado echoed Austin’s thoughts about the personal, spiritual, and relational aspects of reconciliation. He remarked that working toward “reconciliation with the estranged” is written as a requirement in the foundational document of the Society of Jesus. However, he warned, “there’s always a huge tension between reconciliation and justice.” Justice, Lado said, is often a matter of identifying who is right and who is wrong, and meting out punishment and reward; reconciliation, which resonates with the African concepts of ubuntu, or unity, prioritizes the health of the community and a path forward toward making what is broken whole.

Suzack spoke from her experience working with the government-led reconciliation commission in Canada to provide recognition and redress to the tens of thousands of Native Canadians forcibly removed from their homes and enrolled in the Indian residential school system. Additionally she discussed some of the complexities that reconciliation faces in practice: the difficulty of sharing and reliving past suffering, the potential for the objectification of those experiences, and the fact that many communities felt excluded and argued that the agreement did not speak for them. Despite these difficulties, Suzack was clear that there has also been the opportunity for healing through the ceremonies and rituals that have been part of the reconciliation process in Canada. At one moving event she mentioned, attendees sang “Happy Birthday” to survivors of the schools, who had been denied such small joys in their childhood.

Reconciliation has also allowed the indigenous community of Canada to connect with other communities that have experienced similar injustices, such as South Africans who lived through apartheid.  “To my mind,” she concluded, “one of the goals of reconciliation should be coalitions, reaching out and working with other communities…racial justice is not self-evident, and the way to achieve it can’t always be looking backward, it has to look to a future.”

Walker addressed his own work at Georgetown on behalf of HeForShe, a United Nations initiative to encourage men and boys to stand in solidarity with women to promote global gender equality. He pointed out that those who are complicit in systems of oppression often seek reconciliation in order to receive forgiveness, which adds an additional burden to those who have been marginalized.  And he warned that too often, communities like Georgetown struggle to move from dialogue to action in effecting change.

Because Mentoring Works: The Mentoring Initiative at Georgetown

Have you ever had a mentor—someone who took the time to meet with you, to let you know that they believed in you, to share inside information about higher education generally and the field more specifically? If you’re successful and satisfied in your work, the answer is probably yes; many academics have at one time or another depended, both professionally and personally, on someone further along to give them a boost.

That’s because mentoring works. As experts find again and again (and again and again and again and again), mentorship helps students succeed and thrive not only in school but also well beyond. And yet, perhaps because of time constraints on faculty or a lack of institutional support for reaching out to students in this way, mentorship is still the exception, not the norm, for most students.

And so, with the generous support of Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) and donors Alida and Christopher Latham, CNDLS and NHS launched the Mentoring Initiative this past fall. This initiative sponsors events open to the whole Georgetown community, including talks this year by U.S. Naval Academy Psychology professor W. Brad Johnson and Director of Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning Peter Felten, and has also enabled an ongoing cohort of faculty who are meeting to explore ways to encourage more mentorship on campus. Learn more about our Mentoring Initiative here!

We’ve also created a Mentoring Students page on the Teaching Commons for all the faculty who want to make this a bigger part of their work with students. You’ll find an outline of some of the research on the power of mentoring as well as tips for how to mentor effectively (even when time is scarce), resources for further reading, and a list of opportunities for actively taking this role on here at Georgetown.

As many of us know from our own experience, good mentorship can be the key to students finding their best paths and stepping onto them with confidence. We hope the Mentoring Initiative and the resources we’re gathering online will support faculty as they, in turn, give students crucial support themselves.

As always, if we can help, please reach out to us at!

The Veteran Education Training Ally Program: VET Allies

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

Georgetown is a military-connected campus—about a thousand of our students are active duty, veterans, reservists, or spouses/dependents of military students—but what can we do to make sure that Georgetown is also a military-friendly campus?

LeNaya Hezel, director of the Georgetown Veterans Office, came to TLISI 2017 to talk about exactly that. In her panel “The Veteran Education Training Ally Program: VET Allies,” Hezel outlined some of the strengths that military-connected students bring to Georgetown, such as leadership and teamwork skills, resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, organization, and empathy. They also may face challenges here, however, as they transition to a very different culture than the military, as they navigate the ways in which their background and age might not match the students around them, and as they handle possible stress around national/international news developments and the possibility of military reactivation.

So what can faculty and staff do to make this campus work for our military-connected students? Hezel offered some recommendations, including:

  • Get educated about veteran experiences and opportunities here at Georgetown. The Veterans Office on campus is a great place to start! Meanwhile, express interest in the experiences, past work, and goals of the military-connected students in your courses, while of course allowing them to decide what and when to disclose.
  • Make your syllabus and course policies military-friendly. For example, did you know Georgetown has a military leave of absence policy that you can incorporate explicitly into your syllabus?
  • Bear in mind that certain holidays/occasions may elicit strong emotions, including not just Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Independence Day, but also Alive Day.
  • Find opportunities inside and outside the classroom for military-connected students and civilian students to build bridges.
  • If students are facing transitional challenges, meet with them privately, and connect them to campus resources, like the Veterans Office, the Academic Resource Center, and CAPS.

As a Jesuit institution, Georgetown is committed to the value of cura personalis, which means engaging the uniqueness and complexity of all of our students. When it comes to military-connected students, this means going beyond “thank you for your service” to make sure that this is a place where they can thrive.

Values-Driven Teaching: Caring Holistically for Each Student

Among Georgetown’s foundational values, there are two that may seem hard to disentangle: care of the whole student and cura personalis. Both of these values concern caring for our students in thoughtful and complex ways—but each approaches those questions of care from different directions.

Care of the whole student involves engaging the full humanity of your students, going beyond addressing their intellect to fostering holistic growth across many aspects of life; cura personalis, on the other hand, asks us to consider each student as an individual, distinct from all others. While the first might make us think primarily about bringing issues of student well-being into our courses, the second invites us to think about how to make our classrooms as inclusive as possible.

At CNDLS we have resources designed to help with both. We’ve talked previously on this blog about our Teaching Commons page on Teaching Well-Being, for example. But we also have a page on Inclusive Pedagogy. On that page we outline some of the research demonstrating the importance of building a learning space where all students have access to learning, and where we explore local resources as well as teaching techniques that help you reach everyone.

Taking these values seriously means thinking about the ways that the larger world reaches into our courses. Most recently, in the context of a national landscape frequently shaken by troubling events, we’ve put together an online collection of resources on Responding to Critical Events, which includes a page on Teaching in the Shadow of Gun Violence. The hope is that, through thoughtful preparation, we can meet our students where their thoughts and hearts are.

More generally, we think this is at the heart of what it means to teach well: educating our students as whole people and to create classrooms where there are no margins, where all of our students are at the center of the learning experience. Teaching in this way, we can make our values real in the world.

As ever, please reach out to us at if we can help!

Student Activism at Georgetown University: The Role of the Educator

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

To tackle the next era of issues and injustices—whether it’s barriers to affordable education and housing, labor exploitation, or climate change—it is imperative that students find their voice, and fight for the issues about which they feel passionate. Student activists’ efforts not only have the potential to spur change and add responsible citizens to the world, but they also provide an avenue through which young adults can explore their identities and realize their full potential as students, citizens, and changemakers. Yet, oftentimes, for students to realize this potential and become leaders in creating change, they need mentors who can cultivate and encourage their passion and engagement. The 2017 TLISI panel “Student Activism at Georgetown: The Role of the Educator” demonstrated not only how educators can shape student activists, but also that these mentors can be found throughout our very own campus.  

The session’s panelists were identified by Georgetown students as educators who effectively support student activism and engagement. These panelists included Professors Denise Brennan (Anthropology), Marcia Chatelain (History), Mark Lance (Philosophy), and Sylvia Önder (Arabic and Islamic Studies).  Kicking off the session, the panel’s moderator, Daviree Velazquez Phillip (Center for Multicultural Equity and Access), reminded us of the many instances of student activism we’ve seen on campus in the past 5 years. From American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance to workers’ rights, these instances of student activism are reflective of not only the passion and determination of the students, but also the dedication of many Georgetown faculty.

The first question posed asked the panelists to address a challenging, yet important question: “How do you support student activism efforts when those efforts are against your own stance on the matter?” So long as the student’s stance is well-intentioned and not harming another individual, Chatelain responded that she will make her own opinions clear to the student, and then help the student devise a strategy without micromanaging their plans. Chatelain reflected that it is important to her that the student engages in an activism experience that works best for that individual. Lance echoed Chatelain’s sentiments, reflecting that for him, it is more important students understand how to build an effective movement.

On the topic of sharing their views with students, the panelists acknowledged that it is almost impossible to hide your opinions and political leanings from your students. This is especially true if the educator is an activist and is already in the news for their own activist efforts. Chatelain also brought up the notion that many of us cannot hide our physical identities, which are oftentimes used by others, including students, to make assumptions about our views. Panelists agreed that it is best to be open and honest with your students, as it gives you a chance to confirm or dispel their assumptions, and also teach them about the reasoning behind that particular view. By sharing their own views, faculty are teaching students to consider the many sides of an issue, so they can gain a richer perspective and deeper knowledge of the issue.

The panelists also addressed any apprehensions they might have about supporting or encouraging student activist efforts. Brennan explained that the best teachers use their research to infuse ideas in the classroom, but recognized that encouraging political discussions and sharing personal views with students can make some faculty feel vulnerable. To combat apprehension and also allow for meaningful discussion, Brennan suggested easing into these conversations by incorporating a class project that just touches on a political issue or current affair. By doing this, the educator can gauge what issues the students are especially responsive to and guide them in pursuing activist efforts or projects that fulfill their interests accordingly.

Continuing on the topic of open communication, Önder noted that the educator can also learn from her or his student activists. Giving all students an opportunity to share their views is important, as it solidifies for them that the activist part of their identity is valid in the classroom. Önder also cautioned that when you facilitate political discussions in the classroom, it can indirectly silence other students, who have opposing views or who fear they might receive negative attention for voicing their particular stance. Önder explained that it’s a balancing act and that the educator should try to make a safe space for students to share.

To conclude the panel, participants were asked how they help students address the issues of risk and precarity that accompany activism efforts. Lance explained that he and the student identify the risks by considering context, the student, and the activist efforts they are conducting, and then, together, they analyze a careful approach. All of the panelists understand the risks associated with activist efforts and have all experienced some level of negative repercussions for their own engagement. However, they also understand the immense value of this work, as well as the benefits it can produce for both society and the student.

First Generation Students at Highly Selective Universities

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

What defines a first generation college student? What do you wish professors knew about first generation students? If money wasn’t an object, what would you do to support first generation students?

These are three of the questions posed during the “First Generation Students at Highly Selective Universities” session, which took place during TLISI 2017. Moderated by Jesse O’Connell (COL’04) from the Lumina Foundation, the panelists included Dr. Rachel Gable, a recent graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education; Corey Stewart, Assistant Director of the Georgetown Scholarship Program, and Cristina Velsaquez (SFS’17), a Georgetown first generation student leader.    

Utilizing Gable’s research on the experiences of first generation college students at Georgetown and Harvard as a springboard for the discussion, panelists traced the changes of Georgetown’s first generation students and addressed what might be done to further assist this group of students in the future.

The panel opened by defining a first generation college student as a student who arrives at college with no parent graduate and thereby without their parents’ specific experiential understanding of what it is like to go to college. After establishing this definition, panelists defined a second category of students: the continuing generation student. Gable explained that continuing generation students display the same needs as first generation students. To illustrate this she gave the example of  a student whose parents went to college in a foreign country and consequently do not have similar skills for support.

Stewart outlined the ways the Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP), a program for first generation Georgetown students, has developed in recent years, citing students at the forefront of “a major culture shift” on campus. He cited that in addition to having upwards of 650 students, GSP has expanded in terms of space as well—GSP students now have multiple group houses on campus which can serve as a way to extend their community. While GSP can help with common issues like how to register for classes, Stewart emphasized the importance of offering  a space where first generation students can have real-life conversations about their experience and find support from Georgetown.

Following this introduction to first generation students and the Georgetown community, the panel probed deeper to consider specific student experiences. In response to O’Connell’s question asking, “What do you wish professor know about first generation students?”, Velasquez offered a simple, yet compelling response: Be aware that struggling in the classroom is not always a direct result of not working hard enough or studying enough. Sometimes—with first generation or continuing generation students in particular—we must consider that students are behind and that they have missed key concepts along the way.

In considering how institutions like Georgetown can offer better support, the panel addressed what they would do to support first generation students if money was not an object. Gable emphasized the importance of creating a better-connected community and trying not only to change the culture within higher education, but also nationally. Importantly, she suggested devising a way to integrate first generation student families into the process past admissions. Stewart also indicated the value of creating a start-up fund for first year students to cover incidentals or move-in costs, and additionally suggested finding ways to improve food access on campus, so that students could more easily maintain a healthy lifestyle.

While these are long-term goals that seem to require improved financial assistance, the panel concluded with a discussion more applicable to the present. Gable cited a cognitive dissonance for some first generation students between their “Harvard or Georgetown hat” and “home hat,” noting the frequent disparities between the different aspects of first generation student life. She emphasized the possibility that these student identities are intersectional with the example of an Asian, undocumented, and first generation student. In light of the diversity illuminated in Gable’s example, her closing remarks serve as a reminder to be more cognizant of student identities and, moreover, continually find ways to reinforce the value of Georgetown’s value of cura personalis.

Georgetown edX MOOC “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone” Named #3 Best MOOCs of 2017 by Class Central

Each year, Class Central publishes a ranking of the best online courses of the year based on reviews from users. CNDLS is pleased to announce that the Georgetown edX course “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone” was named one of the top 3 best MOOCs of 2017. This self-paced course, taught by James Freericks (Physics), covers the fundamental notions of quantum mechanics at a level that is accessible to everyone. We would like to extend a very special congratulations to Freericks!! To read the full article from Class Central, please click here.

Georgetown’s partnership with edX is another way to expand the University’s outreach across the globe. To learn more and register for the “Quantum Mechanics for Everyone,” visit the edX course page.

Principles and Practices of Inclusive Pedagogy

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

During the 2017 “Principles and Practices of Inclusive Pedagogy” TLISI session, CNDLS staff members Joselyn Lewis, Michelle Ohnona, and James Olsen shared insights about ways to implement inclusive pedagogy practices in the classroom including definitions of inclusive pedagogy, their current inclusive pedagogy initiatives, and crowd-sourced resources and strategies for incorporating inclusive pedagogy in the classroom.

Setting the Stage
To begin the session, facilitators prompted the group to walk around the room, examining print-out slides featuring statistics about Georgetown students, their backgrounds, and the many identity groups of which they are a part. This exercise in empathy alluded to one of the central focuses of the session: the students’ experience, which inevitably permeates the boundaries of the classroom. In their book, “How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching” (Wiley-Bass, 2010), Susan Ambrose et. al describe this phenomenon:

“Even though some of us might wish to conceptualize our classrooms as culturally neutral or might choose to ignore the cultural dimensions, students cannot check their sociocultural identities at the door… Therefore, it is important that the pedagogical strategies we employ in the classroom reflect an understanding of social identity development so that we can anticipate the tensions that might occur in the classroom and be proactive about them.”

This discussion of the ways in which the student brings his or her multiple identities into the classroom serves as the basis of inclusive pedagogy, and kicked off the session.

Next, the group explored definitions for inclusive pedagogy. The session leaders admitted that definitions were something they struggled with—there are multiple ways to define how we create inclusive spaces in the classroom, or what those teaching strategies look like—but suggested “a” definition borrowed from Christine Hockings, a Professor of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at the University of Wolverhampton. In her 2010 article, “Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education: A synthesis of research” Hockings defines Inclusive Pedagogy as:

“the ways in which pedagogy, curricula, and assessment are designed to engage students in learning that is meaningful, relevant, and accessible to all. It embraces a view of the individual and individual difference as the source of diversity that can enrich the lives and learning of others.”

The argument for inclusive pedagogy, then, is to make difference an explicit part of the teaching and learning experience in the classroom.

Examining Yourself and What You Bring
Inclusive pedagogy, alongside exposing and celebrating difference in the classroom, embraces self-awareness. The session leaders prompted the group to consider individual identities, biases, and presuppositions that they may bring into the classroom as teachers. What were the barriers that their students faced in participating fully? How might student identities shape learning processes? What skills might be highlighted by using different teaching methods? Ohnona pointed out that self-awareness also comes with a degree of self-acceptance as a practitioner, but not an expert, saying that being a practitioner of Inclusive Pedagogy is not the same as earning a workshop credential or taking a course. In the words of Bell Hooks, “To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn.” The first step to being an Inclusive Pedagogy practitioner is awareness of what one brings to the classroom as a teacher and a learner.

The Five Axes of Inclusive Pedagogy
Lewis, Ohnona, and Olsen then presented five axes of inclusive pedagogy, to generate strategies for incorporating this way of teaching into the classroom. The first was pedagogy: how do you ask students to engage with content? The second, content, addressed the materials used in the classroom. What theorists are given attention? Whose voices come forth in the syllabus? Third, the group discussed assessment, asking questions like, How do you assess ways of knowing? How can you diversify that assessment? The fourth axis, climate, asked members to consider what environment they create in the classroom— emotional, physical, intellectual— and how students were asked to engage with that space. Finally, the group addressed power: what are the power structures that exist in the classroom, and how can they be diversified?

The latter third of the session was dedicated to brainstorming strategies along these five axes of inclusive teaching and learning. In walking around to different notepads on the walls, participants jotted down ideas from their classroom experiences that provided inclusive and diverse methods of teaching. The session ended with a share-out of ideas and resources to make classrooms more responsive, attentive, and student-centered for the benefit of all.

At CNDLS, we are pleased to offer a series of Inclusive Pedagogy workshops throughout the year which can be found here. Additionally, we are happy to arrange a custom workshop for departments and offices on campus. Contact us to learn more about these opportunities. Our website includes a plethora of information about inclusive teaching and learning practices, as well.

Teach the Speech Teach-In: Teaching Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

Every year, Georgetown University honors the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through a series of events as part of the Let Freedom Ring! Initiative. As part of the annual initiative, faculty, staff, and students across campuses and schools read and reflect on one of Dr. King’s speeches during the Spring semester. This spring, Dr. King’s April 3, 1968 speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” is the project’s focus. In collaboration with the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ), CNDLS hosted the “Teach the Speech Teach-In” on January 9, 2018 featuring keynote speaker Dr. Clarence E. Hardy III, Associate Professor of the History of American Christianity at Yale Divinity School.

Hardy emphasized the importance of providing context around the speech when introducing it in class. Modeling the use of available audio and video of Dr. King, Hardy played portions of several King speeches during his session. To highlight the differences between King’s first and last recorded speeches in public ministry, faculty and staff discussed differences in King’s language and focus topics after listening to the recordings. Hardy honed in on additional critical details to help put the speech in context, from the crowd turnout, weather, and King’s fatigue and travel delays that day, to his questions about the nonviolence movement overall and his desire to frame his life—and impending death—while he still had time at the pulpit.

Georgetown faculty members Marilyn McMorrow (Government), David Molk (Performing Arts), Ricardo Ortiz (English), and Mubbashir Rizvi (Anthropology) shared their insights and plans on Teaching the Speech in their courses. The faculty panelists reiterated the need for context around Dr. King and his speech. As Dr. King reflects on his place in time and (Western) human history in “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” faculty reflected on how to lead students to ask themselves why they are placed in this moment in time and what to do with their context in the spirit of cura personalis, or care of the whole person.

Drawing on similar topics, CNDLS staff Daviree Velázquez Philip and Graduate Associate Ijeoma Njaka led a workshop session after the panel discussion. Using resonant themes from “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” participants discussed connections between the speech and social justice at Georgetown in order to integrate the speech into their courses.

Throughout the teach-in, Hardy and the faculty panel reiterated important tips and takeaways for those interested in incorporating the speech into their classes, including the following:

  • Teach the speech throughout the semester, not just in January when the holiday falls. Find a time during the semester that works best for you to incorporate the speech around relevant topics and themes.
  • Provide context around the speech. As Hardy modeled, introducing students to teaching about the circumstances surrounding the speech—from the Memphis sanitation workers strike to the feelings racial terror—are critical to teaching the speech.
  • Tackle the veneration of Dr. King. As Hardy noted, Dr. King has a place in the American canon. Students and faculty might find themselves resistant to humanizing or critiquing Dr. King; however, this can be an edifying process for learners and educators alike.

To access more information about the Teach-In, including links to text and audio, visit the CSJ’s Teach the Speech site. For news about upcoming events honoring Dr. King throughout the semester, please visit Georgetown’s MLK 2018 Events page.