As an educator, consider this question: is functioning in a transformative manner a matter of making consciousness choices in how you act while you are teaching, or is it a result of every interaction you have with your students? Not every student is going to have a positive experience while they interact with you, despite the best of intentions you may have set, yet when students know their instructors care they are more willing to put in the time and make an effort to try when it comes to being involved in the learning process. That extra effort on their part is sometimes all a student needs to get past potential barriers or hurdles.
My experience as an educator has taught me that I always know where I stand with my students by the way they are responding to me, whether in class or through some form of communication such as email. More importantly, I know I have made a long-term impact when I receive unsolicited emails from students and they share special moments from class, lessons learned, challenges they have overcome, lightbulb or “aha” moments, or growth they have experienced; even after class has concluded, as many do not realize the impact of what they have learned until some time later.
When students have a positive experience and look up to an instructor, what do they “see” in some manner? They usually “see” someone who cares about their students and that does not mean they will bend the rules or give away grades. They can empathize with their students and listen. Students are also inspired by this instructor, as this instructor usually provides ideas, suggestions, and tips that are individual in nature and meant to address specific developmental needs. More importantly, this instructor makes time to offer assistance and demonstrates their engagement and presence in class.
When students look up to an instructor, they also have a feeling response. They will usually feel respect for this instructor, along with trust and appreciation. There is a sense of having a working relationship with this instructor, which is challenging when an instructor is viewed as an authority figure in traditional classes or not visibly present in online classes. What I have learned overall about students who develop positive feelings is that it does not depend upon the class conditions, which I may or may not be able to fully control. The primary factor is the extraordinary steps an instructor takes to inspire their students within the best, and even the worst, of circumstances.
It is easy to see why teaching in a transformative manner would matter greatly for students. Yet I know from my own experience, and having worked with hundreds of online faculty as a mentor and trainer, that this approach to teaching requires an investment of time and energy. The question I know some educators would raise is this: yes, it matters for students, but what value does the instructor receive from functioning in this manner? The answer is that a transformative approach to teaching transforms both the educator and student. It is about the fulfillment of your mission as an educator, going beyond the function of what you do and even more than knowing the subject of what you teach; it is about the connection you establish, cultivate, and nurture during the time you have with your students – whether it is a few weeks or an entire term.
Teaching in a transformative manner is about changing the focus of your instructional strategies from being teacher-centered to student-centered, with meeting the needs of your students as the primary focus, and any educator is likely to find this to be very fulfilling. As educators hone their instructional strategies or their teaching craft, and refine how they communicate, interact, and address the developmental needs of students, the more meaningful their work becomes. Sometimes this is a product of time and practice, along with trial and error. It also involves being responsive to your students and listening to them, receiving feedback from them and being willing to adapt your instructional practice to meet their needs. An educator should also make a commitment to being a lifelong learner, with a willingness to grow and adapt.
My own goal is to be a role model, mentor, and coach to students. A role model is someone who will lead by example, which means setting a bar and meeting students at that point. For example, when I have established my own standards or expectations for writing or class discussions, I show students what academic writing and substantive posts are like when I am engaged with them in class. Being an example for students is becoming someone they want to emulate in some manner. A mentor is someone students need to work with on a regular basis, not just someone who gives them the answers or tells them to review the course syllabus. When students view an instructor as a mentor, they believe this instructor has the knowledge and wisdom necessary to help them. More importantly, a mentor will take time to help guide them as they learn.