90 Vulnerability, Caution, and Willingness

Leslie Blakney

Spring 2022

It is hard to believe that I have closed in on my first year teaching at Plymouth State University and without doubt would not have done it with grace, appreciation, enhanced confidence and newly defined compassion without the CPLC community.

I have spent the last 14 years as a career educator, preparing traditional aged students for the world of work. While I proudly have always been an educator, venturing into the academia side of “educating” I have grown to understand, appreciate and rethink our roles in “teaching” students.

I had the privilege to teach in our General Education program, a section of our Tackling a Wicked Problem (TWP) course. I had an obvious motivation to teach, as it is in big part a skill-development course that I saw quick alignment with career success skills. What I have grown to love more about this course in the intense focus on creating community and belongingness for our students – these were core values for me at the start of my CPLC journey.

While there are several areas that I could reflect on, there are a few key areas that I deeply valued and appreciated about this experience. Prior to sharing these reflection I would be remised to note the motivations of these reflections came at a time of rippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and implications on student behaviors, learnings and simply attending (or not) classes. With no particular order of importance, some of the most compelling takeaways from this year include:

  • Serving as a co-learner. I recall in the Summer of 2021 speaking to a variety of more established TWP instructors and how some shared that they titled themselves in the role of a co-learner. While there were easy and evident areas to establish components of being a co-learner, some were not so easy. Becoming a co-learner with students meant I had to design an environment and experiences that brought me to the peripheral of the classroom and brought them to the center. It also meant that I needed to be okay with not knowing everything and or being the expert at all moments. This instilled moments of vulnerability, caution and willingness to release structure. However, ultimately what this created was trust and a mostly eliminated version of hierarchy between students and me.
  • Bridging compassion and accountability. Whew, was I (and quickly learned from others) not prepared for the intense rise of students not attending classes and the implications that had on their learning, class dynamics, influence on grades and more. There were moments where I needed to let go of preconceived notions I had but also helped reinforce that flexibility and compassion are not in lieu of accountability and the importance of that in helping them and develop their self-regulated learning and management. Certainly, this area weighs heavy on my mind closing out the academic year and how to bring refined balance and integration of the two of these areas moving forward.
  • Community is by far one of the most critical factors to student success in classroom environments. While I felt I knew this going into teaching, I learned to appreciate it in a very different context. In particular how detrimental it can be to student learning, belongingness and frankly retaining our students. As I closed each semester with this course, I built in time for feedback sessions during our finals period to help students practice collaborative constructive feedback and practically to give me space to understand what students appreciated and how I could enhance the course moving forward. Overwhelmingly, students shared how much they appreciated getting to know other students, that they made new friends and that they actually felt excited to come to class. While this may not seem like some new innovated practice to teaching, what it helped me understand was how lecture based courses do not help create community and belongingness in the class. Students are thirsty for a deep sense of connectedness.

These moments truly built a new sense of grace, appreciation, confidence and compassion in me and very grateful to have contributed to student learning and my own growth this past year.

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