In which successful teaching and successful learning aren’t so different.

The professor plays a huge part in the quality of our university experience. Professors can bring to life the driest of semesters, but can also drain all excitement we might have had about classes. I’ve had plenty of great professors and not-so-great professors. As I got further into my program, I began choosing courses based on who taught them, as opposed to what was taught. After all, the professor’s performance directly impacts my performance because how anything is taught shapes how anything is learned. So what makes a good professor? What makes their teaching effective and their lectures engaging? What enables students in their classes to understand, enjoy and engage with the material?  

Effective professors possess the habit of self-reflexivity

In my experience, the best professors are the ones who constantly turn a critical eye on their own craft, assess their effectiveness and adjust their methodology when necessary. I’ve noticed professors ask students’ opinions and preferences regarding assignments, or adapt their methods after noting factors that detracted from their intent. This gives students agency to co-create the learning environment.  The same habit allows us as students to become smarter learners, to be critical of our own preferences, our own biases and our preferred way of thinking. Such self-knowledge makes us more conscious and self-aware learners, in and out of the classroom.  Am I studying efficiently? What time of the day do I get the most work done? Where? Why am I studying what I’m studying and what do I enjoy about it?

photo 1

"does this bow tie distract the ladies from my lesson?"

Effective professors are intrinsically motivated

What often disconnects us from the classroom experience is when we don’t see the connection to our practical daily reality. Really brilliant professors frame each lesson contextually as a matter of great consequence to persuade us that something fundamental is at stake in this area of study, and that we should care. If there is nothing at stake for us beyond a GPA, we will only ever be extrinsically motivated: learning for the sake of a reward or avoiding punishment. In other words: Study so I will pass, or so I won’t fail.

photo 3truly the most practical and effective study method.

To be Intrinsically motivated however, means learning in meaningful ways. We engage because it's personally relevant, because the pursuit of such knowledge is personally rewarding. When I started connecting what I learned in the classroom to the society I lived in, I began to pay more attention to what happened in the classroom. As students, we need to look for ways to make our education personal. Asking questions that highlight what we study in relation to who we are gives us the chance to make connections on more than just an intellectual level. Why does this matter to me? Does this change the way I think about anything? How?  

Effective professors practice active listening

I've been challenged most by the professors who rephrase my questions and comments back to me, because they actively invite me to build mutual understanding. They are not absorbed in merely making a series of points, but are interested in how dialoguing about those points can better reinforce our understanding of key concepts and ideas. These professors foster the best class discussions because they are able to take key points from each student’s contribution and make connections or corrections to facilitate discussion. If we practice active listening as students, we engage on a level of critical thinking that helps us to understand and wrestle with the material we are studying in different ways. Instead of just absorbing whatever the professor says, take a step back and try to explain it to yourself, in your own words. Write down notes not in direct transcription, but in your own language.

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if notes were actually written in some of my thought process language...

What makes a good professor for you? What kind of classroom do you find the most rewarding?  

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