Teaching Reflections: Expectations.
Over the past couple of weeks, the new term has started, and it is the perfect time to start reflecting on my teaching practices.
I cannot get out of my head this one thing, something that seems to have been embedded across the board, not just with myself, but also my students, my colleagues, and my life outside of work too. I hadn’t anticipated it becoming as big of a deal as it has become, but it is interesting to reflect on how this has played out over the past couple of weeks.
So, for context - before the start of term, I’d made a conscious decision that I was going to explore expectations quite explicitly with students at the start of the year, and reflect on them as we move through the year too. The reason for this was borne from our departments review and planning sessions over the summer, where we spent a fair bit of time reflecting on our expectations of each other, of our students, and of our leadership team. I’d made infographics to reflect each these (because that is the kind of over-the-necessary-extra person I am), and below is a snippet from those:
From these sessions, I reflected on the notion that we - academics, lecturers, long-since students - are deciding on what we think students expect from us, and also what we expect from them. So I thought this would make as a great starting point. In higher education, there seems to always be reference to what we expect from students (eg. as differing from prior educational experiences), but I can’t think of the last time we really do this in an explicit and engaged way.
In the classes for that first week, I explained to students that this - discussing expectations - is important for me, as it sets up good practices from the start of the year, but also, so they can use it to keep me in-check and make sure I’m doing my job. That usually raises a few heads for interest, and I appreciate that can go either way - but I’m more than happy for students to call me out if they think I’m not doing something that I have said, and also, I'm comfortable in my own ability that I’ll be able to deliver what’s been promised.
Mostly, students expected respect, no judgements of each other, and engagement of each other. We spoke about how this is a really great set up for the year (and especially for my third year UG module, where we talk about some quite big topics where people are bound to say ’the wrong thing', even if by accident). Of what they wanted from me, there was a variety: students wanted me to bring snacks (I did say I make a mean vegan cinnamon cookie), they wanted me to provide support, and to make things clear. The students who are more familiar with me now from teaching them for a number of years wanted me to keep my teaching fun, and I love this, as this is something I pride myself on. The conversations on expectations were productive. For my third year module, I even created another infographic for them (why are you even surprised?), as I promised I would, so we have something visual to refer back to:
I was actually gong to write this blog last week, after these initial sessions, but I’m glad I held off. I was really intrigued to see how the expectations that we set would play out this week.
This week, my groups across the years discussed serious issues pertaining to class, race, disability, gender, and sexuality. These topics, and the combination of them, usually lend themselves to at least one protagonist, uncomfortable shuffles, silent rooms. And for me personally, I know I used to leave classrooms mentally drained for holding these discussions and trying manage expectations that hadn’t been explicitly set about discussing these topics. This year, so far, no such issues. We were able to reflect on race as a factor in upbringing. Gender as impacting how we communicate with people. The overlaps between these intersections. And the students followed through with being respectful, being engaged *consistently*, and being understanding of each other’s experiences.
As I’m writing this post, I’ve noted how much of a good mood I’m in, particularly because I feel like this has made such a difference in me enjoying my teaching, despite how hectic the new term currently feels. I think the main thing with this is that these expectations were set from the very start - if this was done in week 2, half way through the year, whenever - it wouldn’t have had the same impact it has from setting these things from the outset.
And I know I said at the start of this blog that there were other expectations discussed, not just between ourselves and students - but I’ll hold onto those for another day.