The Necessity of Reflection

There are many surprising truths I have learned in my semester of blogging—that vulnerability is powerful, that online community can be Bashawtangible and unifying, that bloggers are often on the front lines in the war against injustice and ignorance (and are sometimes the most blatant promoters of injustice and ignorance).

But the greatest thing blogging has taught me is the necessity of reflection.

Reflection is necessary for self-understanding and societal awareness—As human beings living in an age of hyper-technology, we tend to think we are more connected to people and ourselves than we have ever been. We believe that watching 24-hour news, following the latest YouTube trends, and posting our daily activities and random emotions on Facebook make us experts on people, connections, and ourselves. But, in reality, we are less aware of our own feelings and problems and blind to the needs of others because we do not take the time to think, reflect, and write. We fill our heads with the opinions of others and never stop to consider how we feel about those opinions, never process the changes in the world and the changes in our hearts. Reflection is the antidote to ignorance of self and society.

Reflection is necessary for teaching—Since I have only been a full-time professor for two-years , I am clearly not an expert educator. Every day, I make mistakes in my teaching. In academia, however, there is an unwritten rule of “fake it until you make it” (even if you never actually “make it”). We think that in order for students and other teachers to respect us and listen to us, we have be experts, to always be right, to never show weakness. And so we fake knowledge and good teaching until we forget that we are faking and begin to believe that we do know everything. And that makes it hard to know our faults, hard to listen to others, and hard to learn and grow as teachers.

Robert Frost had it right when he wrote, “I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.” Reflecting and talking about myself and my teaching this semester (however narcissistic it may sound), opened my eyes to the areas in which I needed to grow. As I shared these areas for improvement in my blog, I was teaching others. And, beautifully and ironically, what I taught to others was always what I most needed to learn.

Reflection is necessary for faith—It is quite popular these days to talk about faith as a journey. This is far more than a trendy illustration; the idea originally comes from the Bible. In Scripture, we can follow the stories of people of faith, from Abraham to Esther and Levi to Paul, and see that faithful living requires forward movement and a purposed destination.

Faith is moving forward—moving away from the old self and its desires and moving toward the new self, the new kingdom, a new calling. And movement forward does not occur without a radical change in perspective and situation. Abraham’s faith required a geographical shift of epic proportions. Esther’s faith demanded death-defying courage and commitment. Levi’s faith forced a career transfer, from tax-collecting to disciple-making. Paul’s faith necessitated a name change and initiated one of the most significant life transformations in all of history. Faith compels us to change. But we cannot change, cannot move forward, if we do not know who we are and where we are now.

So, reflection is necessary for faith because reflection is necessary for change.

The greatest truth I have learned from blogging is that reflection is what moves us forward; it gives us the tools and time to understand ourselves and our society; it unveils our faults, our inadequacies, and our need for improvement; it forces us to not just have faith but to do faith; it motivates us to follow God’s call, to reform (re-form!) our hearts, and transform, not just our lives, but our world.

 

jgb

Thankful

When you ask a professor to reflect on and blog about her experiences in the classroom, expect there to be a bunch of grousing about students’Bashaw laziness and lack of commitment, and some lamenting about the moral decline of civilization, as seen in the youth of America.

And maybe I have done a fair amount of complaining as I have pondered the intersection of faith, teaching, students, and society this semester.

However, as I reflect on my job as an educator-counselor-learner-mentor-pastor-motivational speaker, there is much more for which I am thankful.

  • I am thankful that God has allowed me to work in a career that demands constant learning, that challenges me to get better and know more every day;
  • I am thankful for the privilege and challenge of teaching the Bible, in its messiness and glory, and for the opportunity to communicate my love for Scripture with my students.
  • I am thankful for daily deadlines (and I also curse this!), that I must keep on top of things and strive for excellence not just for my own improvement but for the education of others.
  • I am thankful for the constant interaction with young people, which forces me to learn how to tweet, compels me to learn new colloquialisms (that’s ill!), and keeps me in touch with the challenges and contributions of this up-and-coming generation.
  • I am thankful for flexibility of my classroom, that my teaching need not fit into a rubric or someone else’s expectation. I can lecture or use pod casts or facilitate discussion or show youtube clips or encourage journaling or sing songs or have confession time, depending on what best communicates a particular subject to my students at a particular time.
  • I am thankful for the teamwork involved in a university setting, that professors and administrators and maintenance crew and IT and cafeteria workers and student workers and resident directors all work together for one noble goal–to provide the best education for our students.
  • And I am thankful for my students: students who are trusting enough to listen and learn, who are brave enough to show vulnerability in the classroom, who are caring enough to support their peers in their needs, who are committed enough to be leaders even in their young age, who are strong enough to overcome all the challenges they face in their personal and private lives in order to remain committed to education and to their faith in the midst of a distracting, discouraging, sometimes dream-crushing world.

For all these things, and all these people, I am truly thankful.

jgb

Collegiality

// Collegiality:

the cooperative relationship of colleagues

One of the best lessons I have learned through this reflection process is to learn from others. Other professors in my department and outside of my department have extended wisdom, and support at times when I needed it.

I used to think that I encountered “unique” issues and situations. I have learned through this reflection experience that we can learn a lot from talking to each other.

It is not weakness to seek others for advice… it is wise to seek those who have the experience and knowledge.

This past week I was approached by a student about a moral/ethical question. I gave her advice, but I could see that it was difficult for her to take the advice because of her current life experiences (don’t worry it wasn’t anything bad or life threatening… it was minor and won’t really make a difference one way or another).  But, the best thing about this encounter is that I saw myself in her. I saw that sometimes I ask advice from more experienced faculty, and sometimes I have a hard time understanding that advice.

I grew a lot from this encounter. It showed me that I can learn a lot from others if I just take the time to understand that my colleagues have that advice to offer. I understand that I am in my own growth process as a professor and that it may be at a different place than other people. AND that’s okay…

I can see myself maturing as a person and as a professional. I don’t do things the same way I did my first year of teaching. In five years, I probably won’t teach the same way I am teaching now. There is nothing wrong with what I am doing now but I hope to learn and to grow.

I am grateful that I am surrounded by co-workers that work together. I hope to continue to grow from using a collaborative approach to evaluate my actions a professor. I plan to be that peer or mentor support to future faculty.

We are stronger when we work together and when we learn from each other.

lm

 

Discipleship in Christian Education

makingdisciples

Disciple:

a:  one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another
b:  one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ’s followers according to the Gospel accounts
c:  a convinced adherent of a school or individual


Student’s see professors through a very narrow perspective;  life experiences thus far. They can only compare you to their previous experiences, and they are at the mercy of their current situation. Their perspective influences how they interact with you ,and how they expect you to interact with them.

For instance, at the beginning of the semester I always have a few students that cannot understand why I won’t take late work. They fuss and complain, not getting them any closer to me accepting their late work. By the end of the semester, I don’t have any students kicking and screaming about late work because this is the new ‘norm’ in their perspective.

I think it is important for me to understand and consider why students behave the way they do. They behave this way because, at some point, this behavior got them what they wanted and it was reinforced.  This brings me to my next reflection….

Recently, I had a student that sent me a text to landline message. This type of message occurs when the student decides to send a text message to my office phone rather than calling my office phone.

I was checking my voicemail one day this week and this is what it said in a robot computer voice…

“Hey Dr. McRee. This is (student’s name). I am sorry I missed class. I slept straight through my alarm. I was wondering what all I missed today.”

At first glance, this looks like the student is really trying to get the information from class. However….. After I emailed her back telling her to come to my office to go over what she missed, she did not come to my office. I plan to explain to her in detail that I appreciate her reaching out, but that her efforts were minimal. Technology cannot replace your personal work ethic and follow through.

Am I a bad professor for telling her this? Has no one ever told her this? A number of questions run through my head. I ask fellow professors and they agree that she could improve her professional interaction.

Which brings up another question… How do we as professors help shape our students in ways that are not grade related?

I was at an ETBU leadership workshop ( Breakfast with Fred ) earlier this semester and this was one of the proposed questions. So, I asked my students if they think that I help them develop in the ways listed below. These 10 items were published in a journal article as the “Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace”

  1. Integrity
  2. Communication
  3. Courtesy
  4. Responsibility
  5. Interpersonal skills
  6. Positive attitude
  7. Professionalism
  8. Flexibility
  9. Teamwork skills
  10. Work ethic

I personally could only pick out three that I could actually attach a grade to the “soft skill”. BUT, to my surprise… My students justified how I was able to teach them all the 10 skills without always assigning a grade to each of them. We had an honest conversation and it was interesting to see their perspective. I was shocked and told them I was very flattered… I told them that many times I don’t feel like I am able to breakthrough with some of these skills because of the dynamics of grading in higher education. I ensured them that these skills are needed in the real world, but that sometimes I am unsure of how successful I am at implementing them in the classroom.

So, as I reflect back on the TEXT to LANDLINE situation, I can see clearly that this is an opportunity to disciple this student. Interactions such as these do not always lead to a quantified grade, but they do shape the future leaders & graduates of ETBU.

My goals moving forward are to change the perspective of my students early on. To consider where they are, understand why they are the way that they are, and provide support for them to get to the behavior they need. To take situations on a student-by-student basis, and see what they need from me to mature. It is important to disciple our students… even if it means giving them feedback in ways not related to their grades.

LM

Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills Needed in Today’s Workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 453-465. doi:10.1177/1080569912460400

Approval Addiction & Who’s Approval to Seek

 

Quote Eleanor Roosevelt

I recently gave some advice to a student about her first job. She was concerned that she was not doing a good job. I asked her why and she said it was because her students were unhappy. She said they wanted her to be easier, and lower her standards.

My advice: You are not there to make friends. You are there to help them develop and change. You do not need their approval. You need to do a job. The kids may not like you but they are still developing their appreciation of hard work, integrity, and knowledge. You don’t need to be mean… you just need to have good leadership skills, treat them with respect, communicate when needed, and encourage as much as you can. If they can not rise to your expectations, It is not you. You are called to get the “best out of them”… not settle for mediocre behavior.

After I got done giving this advice, I realized that I need to take my own advice. The only approval I need is God’s. He is equipping me and challenging me to be the teacher he would have me to be. I need to seek God’s approval on my life… and that is it. If I am doing all the things he would have me to do, I am satisfied.


Podcast Update: Today we had another flipped class room. Prior to coming to class I had 6 students out of 19 access the podcast. The same 6 also turned in all their work that was due today.

I am finding more and more that good students do what you ask them. They excel with the effort they give, because the effort prepares them for class discussion and the test. I will continue to monitor this number as this class takes the test next week. I am interested to see if more students listen to the podcast as it gets closer to the test, or if the grades will be better with the students that listen to the podcast.

LM

The Next Seven Years

Last spring break I read a book that changed my perspective about students, and myself. It is called “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcom Gladwell.

outliers1

We are all an element of our circumstances. Our lives are shaped by the advantages and disadvantages we encounter.

It seems as if we can look back on our past and point out the bad decisions or all the things that maybe didn’t go to our advantage. I see students making bad decisions weekly and sometimes daily. These decisions lead to sometimes lifelong heartache and struggle.

I want to encourage you today to make the sacrifices needed today so that you can have the opportunities tomorrow.

I want to share a little bit of my journey as a ETBU student to a current ETBU Assistant Professor.

When I reflect on my life story, I can’t help but notice how many situations allowed me to have an advantage. For example, I was 1 of only 8 people that were allowed to take dual credit college courses at my high school. We were the first group in the history of the high school to have access to this opportunity. When I came to college, I had 12 college credit hours completed. This allowed me to graduate early. Since I knew I could graduate early, I realized I could take courses over the summer and graduate even earlier. I graduated from ETBU in 5 semesters or 2.5 years.  I then got a Graduate Teaching assistant position and moved into an apartment across from UNT. A year into my Master’s, I got the opportunity to be a House Director at one of the Sorority houses. I was then able to stay somewhere rent free, get paid to live/work, and still keep my job teaching at UNT. I was able to pay for most of my Masters  & PhD degree out of pocket. During my PhD program at Texas Woman’s University, I had 2-3 other part-time adjunct teaching jobs at other universities (in addition to being a Graduate Teaching Assistant at TWU).  I successfully defended my dissertation in Aug. 2012.

So I went from… freshman year at ETBU as a student in Aug. 2004… to Assistant Professor (ABD) at ETBU in Aug. 2011. I was motivated. God gave me the desire to work hard and to take advantage of every opportunity.

I do not apologize for being young. I have worked hard to get here. I still have a lot of work to do.. God is still shaping me.

When reading the book “Outliers,” I noticed how our good and bad decisions take a toll on the direction of our life. It is easy for me to write the paragraph above and leave out all the failures I encountered along that 7 year journey. But the important thing is… I got where I wanted to go. I didn’t stop or give up when I encountered those difficulties.

So when you encounter your next “failure” or “difficulty”… remember that this is a journey… not a sprint… not a race won by only one path…

I don’t know exactly where I will be or what I will be doing in the next 7 years. But I hope I look back on this time in my life and can see how God was shaping me for what is ahead.

LM

What my wrongs (and N.T. Wright) taught me this week

There are weeks when I feel particularly inadequate as a teacher.Bashaw

This week, I attempted to teach the entire book of Romans to my NT Intro students in a 45-minute lecture. I stood in front of my students, some of them Bible-idolizing and some of them Bible-illiterate, and I tried to walk that fine line between teaching and preaching, between information and emotion. I gave the most pertinent background information and I highlighted Romans’ literary features. Then, we discussed the terms and imagery that Paul uses to explain salvation, and I pleaded with them to understand that salvation was more like a process than a one-time decision, that sin was serious and that Christ’s sacrifice was miraculous.

I made a valiant effort but at the end of the class, I still felt like a failure.

How can I sufficiently describe some of the most complex theological concepts in the Bible when I myself still fluctuate on the particulars? How does justification work? Is salvation a past action or a future action or both? Is “once saved always saved” even a biblical principle? What does sanctification look like in the life of the believer?

Isn’t a Bible professor supposed to know the answers to all these questions BEFORE she attempts to teach them to her students? Fail, fail, fail.

Then, for my New Testament Theology class, we read the script of a brilliantly crafted lecture by scholar and bishop, N.T. Wright (“Whence and Whither Pauline Studies in the life of the church?”). In it, Wright presents one of the most eloquent and comprehensive analyses of Pauline thought I had ever read. There is a beauty and clarity of thought in his words, in the simple yet profound truth that he declares. I had to wipe the tears from eyes more than once while I read (Who would have thought that Pauline theology could bring anyone to tears?). I was in awe of him, in awe that someone could not only understand Paul so thoroughly, but could teach the core of his message with such precision and depth.

And it struck me that Wright’s lecture affected me in the way it did because it did not just teach me truth; it demonstrated a truth. N.T. Wright has been studying the Bible, teaching, pastoring (is bishoping a word?), and lecturing for more years than I have been alive.  He did not have such a clear understanding of the intricacies of Scripture twenty years ago. It was a process. Much like sanctification.

Sanctification is the process by which a believer becomes more and more like Christ. We tend to assume this refers to an ethical or moral change, but I think it is more than that. As we study and read and live and love, the Holy Spirit does not just help us grow in character. We also grow in knowledge and understanding of God and Scripture.

If a solid and deep understanding of the Bible and its theology comes only after the long process of learning and teaching, of articulating and correcting, then I have awhile before I will be confident in my knowledge and certain in my theology. And that is how it should be.

I will probably never understand the Bible the way N.T. Wright does. However, I understand more every day.  I am still in the process of sanctification—a sanctification of mind, heart, and life. And although I do not have perfect understanding, I praise God that I have enough understanding  to teach others…others who are just starting the process of sanctification or have yet to begin.

Podcast Progress

My reflection of my podcast experience with my students thus far has been a positive one.

Photo Credit: Colleen AF Venable via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Colleen AF Venable via Compfight cc

It is important to note that the Podcasts in my class are not meant to replace the in-class learning experience. It is meant to enhance it. The idea of a “Flipped” classroom is that the students are more prepared to ask questions, and discuss the topic.

 Students will need time to adjust to the new classroom expectations. Some students expressed frustration that they had an assignment outside of class.  I addressed this perception with my students… However, the students that are frustrated about listening to the podcast are also the ones not reading the textbook, or turning in other assignments.

So thus far, I can say that the podcast has enhanced the learning experience for students that are wanting… and willing to learn. It hinders those students that are already underperforming. I do not believe it is the podcast that is facilitating this behavior, rather the initial LOW-achieving behavior that is working against the purpose of the podcast.

I will keep introducing one podcast with each test. On the next podcast, I plan to quiz them on the material at the beginning of class. This will help me gauge how many students are listening to the podcast prior to coming to class. My goal is to get all of my students to listen to the 30 minute podcast prior to coming to class so we can have more meaningful & interactive discussion.

I will keep everyone posted on the progress.

When Empathy Backfires

I almost never get angry in the classroom.Bashaw

I place a high value on empathy and understanding, so in most stress-inducing situations involving students, I make myself stop and consider perspective of the student. For example, if a student has forgotten to do his journal assignment three classes in a row, I tell myself, “Perhaps this was a difficult week for him.” Or if someone makes a belligerent comment towards me in class, I reassure myself, saying, “Perhaps her family environment has developed this trait in her but she means no harm.”

But yesterday, the classroom empathy that I take great pride in, finally (and with finality!) failed me. I experienced a boiling fury—the kind that starts as bubbling acid in your belly, spreads like poison through your shaking limbs, and results in a red-faced, hyperventilating eruption—and I almost spewed fire and sulfur (of the Sodom and Gomorrah type) all over my Biblical Interpretation students.

she-hulk08pic2Roughly two-thirds of my class had not done their reading OR their homework!!! The reading schedule was on the syllabus and I had even reminded them of the details of the assignment during our previous class meeting. And yet, thirteen of my (Religion!) students showed up completely unprepared for class. I was shocked and hurt and angry and I wondered, “What went wrong?”

It was then the great spirit of empathy I had patiently practiced, which usually resulted in a renewal of hope and optimism in my heart, showed me that last thing I thought it would…reality.

As I stared into the eyes of my slacking students, I felt what they felt. They did not do their work because they knew, from their former experience with me, that I would allow them to turn in their work late, even very late, with only a 10-point penalty. And they had decided that the lack of preparation was worth the penalty.

I realized in that moment that empathy in the classroom is not always a good thing.

I went to sleep that night with a clawing feeling in my stomach. I had always thought that mercy and empathy were the twin pillars that made me who I was as a person and a teacher. And I liked those characteristics in me. Those were pillars I constructed to emulate Jesus’ life and characteristics. But it seemed that those pillars were crumbling at the cracks and I did not understand why.

Then today God showed up to spackle and buttress my pillars.

As is often the case, God encouraged me in a mundane, unexpected moment. In preparation for another class, I watched a short video by Daniel Goleman about leadership and the three kinds of empathy. A good leader, he explains, practices all three kinds of empathy:

1) cognitive empathy—the ability to see things from another person’s perspective

2) emotional empathy—the ability to feel another person’s feelings

3) empathic concern—the ability to help another person to do better and be better

And it became clear what was wrong with my empathy.

I  had been passionately practicing the first two kinds of empathy, seeing the perspectives of my students and feeling what they felt, but I had not begun to help them to be better or do better in my class. I was not showing the third kind of empathy, empathic concern. My “merciful” policy about late work and my deep “understanding” of extenuating circumstances had worked to my students’ detriment.

So what God taught me this week was that being an truly empathetic teacher means being an abler for my students…not an enabler. May God give me the strength to do just that.

Critical Incident Questionnaire

As part of this “reflective process”, I chose to introduce podcast lectures in to my classroom. I am only covering one chapter per test via podcast and the rest are delivered traditionally in class. I need to also clarify that the “podcast” is really a SCREENR.com videocast. The students will watch the powerpoints while I lecture over them. After the podacst is posted, the next two classes ( 90 minutes each) are highly interactive. Students are expected to come to class having already read the chapter and listened to the lecture. This is technically called a “flipped classroom”, and is supposed to promote learning on a more interactive level. ( see more about this topic here: http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/)

I wanted to get their feedback of the class as a whole & specifically the podcast lecture at midterm. The feedback I received was mostly helpful. I was able to understand the perception of students, and I was also able to clarify some of the misconceptions about the class. In summary, I feel like this was a good exercise. It helped me understand my student’s behavior, and I am more aware of their preferences. I believe clarifying the misconceptions of the class will really help moving forward.

I have categorized the feedback in to three different categories; Don’t like but can’t change, Things I can change, but I need your help; Things they like & don’t need to change.

  1. Don’t Like But Can’t Change
Student Feedback My Reaction & Reflection
Did not have time to listen to 30 min podcast The podcast is 30 minutes and lecture is generally 90 minutes. Find time to listen to lecture just like you would for any other homework assignment.
This is an undergraduate course not a graduate one. This is a misconception I corrected. I had mentioned that we use the same book in undergraduate & graduate. However, the graduate course covers twice the material on a much deeper level. I reassured them I am teaching on a undergraduate level.
Don’t like that attendance as a grade. I grade attendance to prepare you to be a professional. You must show up to work on time and your “absences” matter on the job. You don’t come to work, you don’t get paid.
A) How quiet everyone is and unwilling to talk.b) Don’t like having to tell personal stories or give examples about the topics we are learning.c) Talking one by one when we are assigned questions to answer in front of the group.d) Some students give answers that are not on topic I noticed that several students expressed a discomfort with the interactive part of class. I told the students that I will continue to call on students for answers and interaction. I explained that part of being a professional is being able to express one’s self in a group of people.  I also mentioned that it devalues the group learning experience when classmates do not talk on topic, or have not read before coming to class so they can’t talk on topic.

 

 

2. Things I can change, but I need your help

Student Feedback My Reaction & Reflection
Sometimes questions in class are confusing. Raise your hand if it is confusing & ask for clarification. I could type up questions and post them on the overhead or on blackboard ahead of time.
Discussion Board assignments not preparing me for the test. This is a misconception I was able to clarify. The purpose of discussion board assignments are for you to find articles about the topic we are discussing in the textbook and link it to a practical application. If you are not linking it to a practical application or topics on the test, then you are doing the assignment incorrectly.
In-class group discussion about discussion board topics. No one really contributes to the discussion. It is almost like they didn’t do it or they won’t talk. When I break the groups up, I was breaking them up into groups of 4-5. I now will break them up into groups of 2-3. This will encourage more one-on-one conversations. However, I need the students to be able to contribute in meaningful conversation.
A) Felt less engaged when I lecture over the slides.B) Slides talked about too fast I told the students to raise their hand or ask a question if they feel I am moving too fast. Also, when I am lecturing I will call on students to give me examples or answer questions about the topic. If the students are not liking to be called on individually or talking in-front of the group, I am not sure how I can engage them more during lecture. I told them I need their help on this, because I can only make lecture so exciting without interaction from the students.

3. Things they like & don’t need to change

Student’s Feedback My reflection
Acting out the topics with a partner& teaching to other classmates I think this is a great way for the student to apply and learn the material. However, it does somewhat conflict with the other feedback about students feeling uncomfortable talking in front of the class.
Podcast was easy to learn from. I think the podcast should supplement them when they learn and when they study.
Office hours & extra help is available. I have a few students that have come in and received extra help. I would like for more students to know this is a valuable option.
Study Guide are useful. I provide a study guide with about 80% of the material that will be on the test. I believe in the 80/20 rule. I give them 80% of the material to study and the other 20% they have to study on their own. I believe most students who do the study guide will pass the test, but if you want a ‘B’ or an ‘A’… you have to study on your own.
Examples & stories help me learn. I feel that examples help, but I tend to give these examples verbally instead of something written out or on the power points. I could give more structured case study assignments.