Courage in Teaching and Learning – by Julie Timmermans

Courage boulder
Photo by David Bruce, available under the Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives License

As events unfold globally and more personally, I have been reflecting a lot lately on the meaning of courage. And I’ve wondered, “How does courage manifest itself in teaching and learning?” I offer here a few reflections on some of the many instances of courage I have observed in learners and teachers.

In the fall, as I was teaching, I was struck by my students’ courage as they tried to adopt the language of a new discipline, and as they worked to make connections among ideas that they were just learning about, knowing they would be evaluated on these.

I was humbled by students’ willingness to admit when they did not understand something.

I was touched by their willingness to share personal struggles, such as loneliness, physical pain, mental distress, (likely) with the hope that these revelations would be met with a human response.

I was grateful for their efforts to analyze deeply their personal experiences and draw relevant connections to the material we were studying.

I was amazed at the student who had been so sick for over a week, but who came to class after a sleepless night because she didn’t want to miss our last day of class.

There are so many ways, too, in which we demonstrate courage as teachers:

  • by infusing our selfhood into our course material – teaching “who we are” and how we think, sometimes to many hundreds of students at a time
  • by trying instructional strategies we have never tried, with the hope that they will help student learning
  • by admitting that we don’t have the answer to a student’s question
  • by opening up the class to discussion, when we’re not quite sure in what direction the discussion will take us
  • by sharing an article or chapter that we’ve written as part of the course readings
  • by gathering with a group of our peers to work on our teaching and course design.

What instances of courage come to mind when you think about teachers and teaching, learners and learning? What do we/can we do individually and collectively to en-courage each other and ourselves in teaching and learning?

Author Parker J. Palmer offers a wonderful perspective on courage in teaching in his book, “The Courage to Teach”.

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Julie

Julie

As the Instructional Developer - Consulting and Research, Julie supports research on teaching and learning. She is Chair of the annual teaching and learning conference at uWaterloo: Opportunities and New Directions and manages the Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement (LITE) Grant program. She also collaborates on research projects, regularly reviews journal manuscripts, and works on publications. Most recently, Julie has had the opportunity to facilitate a week-long course design workshop in Japan and see first-hand how the questions, frustrations, and joys related to teaching are both similar and different across cultures.

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