10/02/2007

Inspiration

There is much ado about student learning outcomes and accountability these days. We are challenged to identify specific outcomes, changes in student ability, which can be measured quantitatively. This is all well and good, as it reminds us to think critically about what we are doing. But, when examining learning and contemplating what it means to be an educated person, we should not limit our scope of inquiry to that which can be quantified. Doing that would really miss the boat. So much of “being educated” defies statistical evidence, and must be explored in the qualitative realm.

Thinking of our own days of formal higher education, undergraduate or graduate, can often be a source for insight. What really made us “educated?” Was it Question #12 on that chemistry exam on that rainy Thursday afternoon? Or was it much more than that? Perhaps gaining a love of learning? Perhaps understanding what critical thinking is? Or perhaps even beginning to believe that we are capable of success? Higher order learning experiences such as these did not likely come from any exam we might have taken.

Becoming a truly educated usually involves inspiration from another person, most likely a teacher. The word inspiration means the awakening of a spirit within us. In the case of education, this spirit is learning.

Who or what inspired each of us in our journeys in education and learning? I think a dialogue on this could enrich our quest for student learning outcomes; particularly those outcomes that involve inspiration.

Please post your thoughts.

14 Comments:

At 10/02/2007, Blogger Jim Wright said...

In high school and college I was taught in a very traditional manner. I was the empty vessel needing to be filled. In college I was taught to teach high school students in a very traditional manner. My students were empty vessels needing to be filled (by me!). But there was a problem in the implementation. Try as I might, the vessels never seemed to get filled. Neither was the Jim Wright vessel feeling sufficiently filled.

I entered a graduate program in adult education through the University of Maine for two very pragmatic reasons; 1) with graduate credits I could earn more money, and 2) the courses were being held at the high school in which I worked. The first course I took was called Adult Learning Theory, taught by Dr. Lee Vaught. Lee exposed me to people who thought about learning very differently that I had ever known. The book we used was, The Adult Learner, A Neglected Species, by Malcolm Knowles. The theory of andragogy caught my imagination. And Lee encouraged me to imagine more.

A true paradigm shift for me was an understanding of the concept of self directed learning. This was the opposite of the model of the empty vessel needing to be filled. It was quite the gestalt for a 25-year-old high school teacher! Not only were my ideas of learning and students shifting, but it caused quite a change in my own self concept. I was not an empty vessel. I could be a self directed learner. Learning is not a chore, but a way to become fulfilled as a person. Lee helped me change my view of graduate study and he was the major reason I came to think of myself as someone who could earn a Ph.D.

Lee helped me with my struggle with this new identity. He encouraged me to try some of the adult learning approaches with my high school kids. Although fearful at first (we were taught and expected to be “in control” of our rooms), I found most of my students took to these approaches. I did not give up my concern for covering content. But I took on the goal of helping my students become self directed. It changed the way I looked at them and the way I looked at myself. A major part of this was treating them as though they were capable of being self directed. This made me a much more effective teacher, and equally important, a much more effective person.

I wonder sometimes what might have been my personal and career pathway had I not been inspired by Dr. Lee Vaught.

 
At 10/02/2007, Anonymous Wayne Yuen said...

I've always found that it is the material that inspires me more than anything else. The material, may not be the traditional focus of academia however. I might be watching the discovery channel and see something about a insect, or a critter, or some strange scientific experiment, that makes me want to learn more about it. Its that tickle of curiosity that I think we should try to be providing in our classrooms.

For example, in my ethics class I present a case study that most definately made me curious. A man came up to a doctor and wanted to have his perfectly healthy leg cut off. The man suffered from Bodily Integrity Identity disorder. By itself the disorder is utterly fascinating to me. It definately gets the students intrested and inspired to learn more about it. I channel that inspiration into a discussion about the limits of self-determination and then connect it to the issue of Euthanasia.

 
At 10/02/2007, Blogger Katie said...

When I was in college I knew I wanted to teach art at the college level. I remember watching my professors. I took mental notes of who I felt connected to and who I didn’t and why. One of my drawing teachers was a great inspiration. It took me a long time to pinpoint exactly what it was that kept me engaged. She came into the classroom and set up the still life and walked around and said very little. It was her intensity in the end that was her strength. It was addictive. The sense of focus she established in the drawing room made everyone better.

Even though I only had one semester with Jacqueline Bishop, I have remained in contact with her. I visit with her nearly every year when I’m in New Orleans, and I continue to be inspired by her. I love not only the world she has created in her art studio, but also the art she has collected over the years that covers the walls of her home. Surrounding oneself with what excites or stirs oneself, I suppose is another great lesson I took from her.

 
At 10/03/2007, Anonymous Heather McCarty said...

I imagine that most of us had at least one teacher that inspired us onto to our paths as educators. It is fun to read about how varied our sources of inspiration have been. For Dr. Wright is was discovering self directed learning, for Wayne it was the material itself, and for Katie it was the intensity and strength a teacher exuded in the classroom. For me it was discovering that history is interpretive, and realizing that there was more than one way to think about an issue and interpret material. This challenged my entire way of thinking and inspired me to teach so I could share this experience.

Reading about all of your different sources of inspiration just reinforced for me the need to remain vigilant in incorporating a wide array of teaching techniques in class every day. We all learn differently and I want to reach all of my students. Thanks to you all for reminding me of this and inspiring me this morning!

 
At 10/04/2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Heather that it's really wonderful to read what others have to share about the subject of inspiration.
I've come to understand that two things are needed for inspiration. The first is the willingness on the part of an individual to be open to the inspiration. I'm sure many of my colleagues have seen students sitting in class, arms crossed, disengaged, dozing off or worse. They're not in the space to be inspired in my experience. On the other hand, students who are open and ready reveal themselves immediately. It's helped me as a teacher to acknowledge that you can't force this on someone. The second thing needed to be inspired is the person or idea that lights the fire.
For the first part, I consider myself very lucky in that I was taught from a young age to be open to inspiration, especially as it came in the form of education. This was an everyday reality. Both my parents were undergraduate students when I was in elementary school, so the learning of new things, the discovery of answers, the ideas of the world that we could learn more about was in the air. I was very fortunate. The only down side of this has been, I have come to learn, is that I often take this for granted and am unduly surprised and disappointed when I see students sqandering their opportunities to be inspired by new ideas, just going through the motions of getting an education.
In terms of that second part of inspiration, the person or idea, I've also been lucky to have had many great teachers, starting with Mrs. Bickham in kindergarten. Beyond this, it's also clear to me that aspiration is just as important for me as inspiration when it has come to pursuing my ambitions. I've never quite gotten to the point of having the idealism of Cesar Chavez, but I will continue to aspire to it.
Thanks, Jim, for starting this topic.
J. Dean, English Department

 
At 10/05/2007, Blogger Yvette said...

Students need to have more opportunities to be inspired by people who have already navigated the "career path" and landed in a fulfulling career. Unless the student has a parent or other close personal connection to someone who is an architech or an anthropologist, how can the student possibly see themselves ultimately arriving there? So students somehow need to be exposed to professionals in all sorts of careers, for a source of inspiration -- maybe hearing a speaker, maybe attending a panel discussion, maybe job shadowing. In fact, even shadowing a farm worker for a day would be inspirational, even if the inspiration teaches them that they NEVER ever want to be a farm worker.
This opportunity for exposure to people in careers is sorely lacking in the lives of many young people, especially those from the underrepresented populations.

 
At 10/11/2007, Blogger Jon said...

Here is the politically incorrect view.

I don't believe we can inspire anyone unless they are ready to be inspired. The first instructors who come to mind when I think of those who moved me to greater heights are the worse ones I've ever had.

On a related note, we take great pride as instructors and administrators with the fact that our college is still growing when others are not, but I dare say that it has nothing to do with the quality of our instructors or staff/administrators; it's just our student population.

Assessment and SLO's are nothing more than exercises in futility demanded by politicians with desires to destroy public education. I try to comply with these requirements just to keep the flame burning a little while longer and as long as I am in the system.

 
At 10/12/2007, Blogger Jim Wright said...

Choosing Pragmatic Optimism

Very provocative Jon, and I mean that in the most positive sense. Sometimes to be provoked can inpsire deeper thinking that can enrich a dialogue. You have inspired me to add the following to the discussion.

I believe there is a spirit born into every individual that is ready and naturally willing to be moved. Nothing is better proof of this than spirited young children at play. But the world happens; and some young children benefit greatly from the world, and others have their spirits dampened by it. We have students who the world has blessed and those who have not been so lucky, and many variations in between. I believe community colleges and the people who work in them provide a place where the human spirit, ever ready but often smothered, can be freed and nurtured and allowed to take it’s natural course to fulfillment. To me, this is not politically correct; it is rather morally correct.

For the most part, Ohlone is not made up of prideful people. I do not encounter anybody here, faculty, staff or administration, who take personal pride in our enrollment. What I do encounter, everyday, are people who are personally committed to make Ohlone a welcoming, accepting and intellectually stimulating community for anybody who wants to join in.

Our educational system is a complex social, cultural and political phenomenon. It is also thankfully an open system. By being open, it is influenced by a wide spectrum of beliefs and influence. When you have been in it long enough, you realize this system is dynamic, always in flux, and subject to the shifting waves of the public sea. Earlier in my career it was “A Nation at Risk” and “back to basics.” Now it is No Child Left Behind. Ten years from now it will be something else.

To survive these often challenging waters, we must navigate our ship so that it does not capsize. To me, this often involves turning inconvenient political pressure into an opportunity to make things better for our students. To do otherwise will leave you dispirited and bitter. That is why I advocate that we look at assessment and SLOs as the current opportunity for institutional reflection and critical thinking. Our curriculum should undergo continual faculty review, so why not look at the outcomes we expect and our way of finding the extent to which they are achieved? Our students benefit from a curriculum that is always being reviewed, updated and improved.

Certainly I can understand the more pessimistic viewpoint. I just chose not take it.

 
At 10/12/2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can appreciate Jon's perspective, and the provocateur in any system (school, office, organization) is as indispensable as the cheerleader, in my view. In Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail," he exhorts us to see the need for "gadflies" in society, for those people who provoke and aggravate us to change (he cites Socrates, but we understand MLK himself to have been the most useful of "gadflies"). This is an argument for inspiration of the 'I'm-not-going-away-so-you-might-as-well-listen-to-me" genre.

Those who inspired me were always of the 'feel-free-to-ignore-me-but-do-so-at-your-own-peril" school. They inspired imperceptibly, by seduction, by example. Two of my early mentors here at Ohlone were Dennis Roby and Walt Halland. Dennis is an amazingly intelligent and articulate man, and he inspired in me what many of my brilliant professors in school inspired: gratitude. I was grateful just to spend time with him, to watch his active mind at work. I wanted to talk like him, to have read all the books he had, to know as much as he knows, and wanting to emulate him helped me forge my identity as a teacher.

Walt was just a supremely personable, curious teacher. His mantra was "The instructor must stay amused" and his reasons for saying so made a lot of sense to me and still do. Our amusement, our ability to laugh at ourselves, the obvious enjoyment that our subjects bring to us personally--all of this transfers to students and, in my mind at least, make inspiration likely.

--mark brosamer

 
At 10/12/2007, Blogger David said...

I am sure all of us share some of the feeling Jon expresses about SLO's and any rigid requirements that seem to come down to us from "politician's" more interested in statistics and the bottom line than pure learning. But I am a pragmatic idealist and when life gives me lemons, I make lemonade! In this case, I was browsing through a second hand bookstore and came across a small paperback for 50 cent by an author named "Robert Mager" titled "Preparing Instructional Objectives". He is not a politician and subtitles his book "...for teachers...and anyone interested in transmitting skills and knowledge to others..." He makes some very good arguments that teaching effectively requires knowing the objectives you are trying to meet. So I think despite the required nature of SLO's, they really do have an important place for us. Better perhaps to just let each faculty member decide when to use them and when not to use them, but, still, using objectives is unlikely to harm us! One of the eye-openers for me in finding this booklet is that it is not latest fad that we may think, but was written in 1962! Let's make lemonade!

 
At 10/15/2007, Blogger Paul Mueller said...

Last year I spent some time going through the Library's holding of photography books. It was clear to me that the collection was in need of some fresh books. I put together a wishlist of books (several, several books) and presented it to the Librarians.

These books are now arriving into the collection and finally I can send my students to the TR (Photo) section in the library where they can plop down and crack open some books and (yep, this is where I'm going) be INSPIRED.

When I was at the SF Art Institute I spent hours in the library looking at photo books. As you might guess, the collection was really great. I learned a lot this way and always walked away inspired to do more work.

Thanks to the Ohlone Library for understanding the real value of real books!

 
At 10/15/2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like the question Jim posed as to what inspired each of us in regards to education and learning. And like Heather, I have enjoyed reading the various responses on this topic. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this for the last several days. I was fortunate to have many wonderful teachers in elementary, high school, and college—not to mention my parents, who loved learning, reading, and talking about ideas. But one teacher who was especially inspirational was Robert Pinksy who taught English at UC Berkeley.

Pinsky (who later became poet laureate) is clearly a brilliant man. After being a student in his class, I read his literary criticism, which is complex, insightful and profound. His poetry, too, is dense and complex and thought provoking. But in the classroom as a teacher he was full of enthusiasm and joy for his subject—and his primary mission was to communicate that joy to his students. He would do things such as read lines of poetry (not his) aloud and say how he wished he could have written that—and then explain exactly why: why the poem was so well crafted, why the ideas were so original. And he invited his friends and colleagues who were poets to class, such as Robert Haas and Frank Bidart, so they could read their poems to us. I could hardly believe as an undergraduate I was exposed to such talent. And I was delighted that talent was talking to me—not at me, not down to me.

One incident in the class that will stay with me is when several students in our Modern Fiction class failed the midterm exam on Lolita. The exam consisted of many questions that seemed like trivia items about the novel—I guess most students, who were English majors and had been trained to read for large themes, were stumped by what seemed like minutia. Rather than fail so many students, Pinksy came back to class and explained why he felt the “trivia” in the novel were important—how the details were Nabokov’s clues as to who Quilty was and they revealed in subtle ways how Humbert failed to see what was happening around him. I can’t remember exactly what Pinksy did (not count the score or had students retake the test), but I do remember being impressed that he cared so much that we could understand his point of view and why these details in the novel mattered so much.

I believe I was inspired for two reasons: 1) Here was a clearly brilliant man and an exceptional poet who I could listen to and learn from, 2) But also, this brilliant man was intent on making others understand and appreciate his view of the world—he never talked down to his students, rather he wanted us to understand. Unfortunately, I am not an original and brilliant thinker myself, but I am inspired to help my students to know what I know, to see what I see, and to understand what (I feel) is worthwhile and exciting to know, especially about literature. Like Pinsky, I don’t want my students to fail, I want them to learn and to be excited about learning.

Alison Kuehner

 
At 10/16/2007, Blogger Kim Stiles said...

I'll never forget having to take a research course in my Master's program. Every teacher who had presented research up to that point in previous courses was incredibly dry and boring. So I was NOT happy being required to take an entire course in this topic...and showed my displeasure quite blatently by slouching back in my chair with crossed arms and legs, and looking as disgusted and fed up as possible.
By the second class, the teacher, Susan Neville, asked me point blank in front on the whole class "Are you OK or are you sick or something?" Embarrassed, I straightened up a bit.
By the third class, her passion and enthusiasm had completely lit me up about research. What was so incredibly freeing is she encouraged us to design a project on ANY topic we wanted, using any research method we wanted...and I soared. Her class was tough and my other classes that semester rapidly took a backseat, but by the end of this 3 credit course I had a concept paper she encouraged me to publish. She was 100% enthusiastic for her topic and her students.
I still marvel how she transformed me from a total brat into an avid researcher by the third class!

 
At 12/15/2008, Blogger Alex Wolpe said...

Someone one's said to me that the best administrator is one who goes unnoticed (as an administator) -to be noticed as an inspration or leader is of course a good thing if the direction is clearly right. If inspiration,as much of these comments suggests, is something we want to foster more within the relationship of faculty and students in the learning process, then an infrastructure of communication, real program growth, and curriculum enrichment needs to be faciitated and fostered whithin individual departments and disciplines. In my opinion, at the deanship level, the workload imposed upon the deans may well be one very important factor limiting the growth of some of our programs and thereby of our spirit. When finance, enrollment numbers and objective tally sheets overtake this capacity for educational, program, and inspirational growth, then the balance of what we do as learning facilitators can tilt in the wrong direction, and smaller programs find themselves focussed on survival and not as much, if at all, on growth in the wholistic sense of the word. I have always been an advocate of dept. chairs, acting within the limitations of set budgets course offerings,etc., making the decisions to steer their respective disciplines in that sea of changing state imposed cuts, growth demands, SLO's and state-mandated educational slogans. Because of some of the moves we have collectively made to reorganize our college, and the overburdening of the deans resulting from condensing departments under fewer people, I fear that the administration has in some cases been unable to go unnoticed.

 

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