You guys know that we do things a little differently at Wayfinding. One of the biggest elements of the Wayfinding experience we have refined over the past couple of years is how to teach here. We don’t have tests or grades. Our classes are small and our pedagogy is based in discussion and experiential learning. Course assignments are largely individual self-directed projects.
Even folks who have been teaching for many years and are excellent teachers often have to stretch to adapt their style to Wayfinding. We also sometimes hire folks for whom this is their first time as a professor in a college classroom. While they have depth of experience and knowledge, they appreciate tips on how to teach.
So, over the past few months we have put together some tips for teaching at Wayfinding that we share with all new faculty. We thought you might be interested in this behind-the-scenes glimpse of our lessons learned. In turn, if you are a teacher or have had a favorite teacher, we’d be curious to hear about what ideas you have to best serve students and help them get the most out of a learning experience.
- Have a reason for everything we do and articulate those reasons. At Wayfinding, we encourage students to ask “why” about everything and to expect a solid answer when they ask. If we cannot provide a solid “why” we should rethink what we are asking them to do or why we are doing something the way we are. Presenting the theoretical and practical underpinnings of our lesson plans motivates students to get excited about projects and activities.
- Bring in guest speakers to add new perspectives and get lived experiences other than our own into the conversation. This also provides students with new community connections and strengthens Wayfinding’s connections with community members and organizations.
- Get out of the classroom – we believe community and college should be woven together and that Portland is our campus. Many of our students are from other parts of the country and getting out into the city to visit places and do things is transformational for them. Students who are from Portland benefit from experiencing the city in new ways.
- Bring students on board as co-creators of the course. They’re experts! They take all the classes, they take Labs, they do all the Wayfinding things, they see what works best. We ask them how class assignments, projects, and discussions can be optimized for them. Rather than faculty reinventing the wheel each time they design a course, we have students clue us in to extant best practices. For example, one of our faculty has written on her blog about collaborating with students to make class discussion very lively!
- Meet with each student individually at least once during the term. Individualized personal relationships have a positive impact on the class setting. Students all know each other really well; individual meetings with faculty give them a chance to get to know us. Individual meetings also provide a way for more introverted students to tell you how they’re doing, what they need, and what they love right now.
- Make classes interactive and experiential whenever possible. Our students love to learn by doing and then discussing what they did and what they got out of it. Experiential lessons also allow them to integrate their interests into course material and to create things to add to their portfolio.
- Create and maintain an inclusive learning environment so that all the students can get the most out of their education. Below is a link roundup of some resources we have found to be helpful on how to do this effectively.
- Challenge the students – they love to work hard and learn new things!
Want to try out a Wayfinding class? All our Labs are open to the community, so check out our Lab offerings here and join us if you are able!
Resources for creating an inclusive environment:
“The Case for Inclusive Teaching” from The Chronicle of Higher Education
Cornell University’s “Building Inclusive Classrooms” provides a list of resources and ideas for icebreakers, ground rules, teaching strategies, classroom climate, and connecting with students
Edutopia’s “Creating an Inclusive Classroom” focuses mostly on K-12 classrooms, but has some good suggestions for basics on creating a safe and inclusive learning environment
“50 Tips and Tricks to Facilitating a More Inclusive Classroom” from We Are Teachers
University of Michigan’s guidelines on Creating Inclusive College Classrooms
University of Denver’s “Creating an Inclusive Classroom” resource has some good suggestions for ground rules to set in class and recommended language for a syllabus
Melissa Crum’s TEDxColumbusWomen talk about the powerful role teachers play in students’ lives and the responsibility that comes with that role
Still want more? This is a 204 page really comprehensive handbook written by the staff at the Center for Teaching and Learning