When facilitating instructor or leadership courses, one of the first tasks for the group is to identify the attributes of an effective instructor or leader. Invariably, a common theme has evolved. In no particular order the attributes most commonly identified are being knowledgeable, adaptable, personable, a good communicator and listener.
Professors and colleagues having a profound impact on my teaching all have common attributes: they presented material in a manner that caught and held my interest, clarified complex issues through the use of various presentation techniques, put knowledge in a context that its application was readily apparent, listened to what students had to say and modified their presentation styles to meet the needs of the group. In order to be effective as an instructor, I need to be cognizant of these characteristics.
Learning is not a passive activity. Students need to be encouraged to participate in their acquisition of knowledge and feel they have a certain level of control and input into the process. Although the role of the instructor may be perceived to be that of the expert, I believe that the most effective learning takes place when an environment is created that promotes the sharing of ideas and concepts. Students become more self directed instead of dependent and take more responsibility for their learning.
It is important to allow students to be critically reflective in their learning. Students today are far more sophisticated, technologically savvy and are not content to be told, “That is the way it is because I said so.” At the same time, it is as equally unproductive for me to simply justify the concept. The teaching – learning process must become one of a collaborative nature in which the students and instructor identify the need to learn and develop an application for that knowledge. In doing so, students will develop the skills needed to cope with their progress in their academic careers.
I believe it is my responsibility to create an environment that allows students to learn at all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and not simply memorize the material. In this manner, they develop skills to become independent learners and problem solvers. I also believe students need to be provided with an opportunity to experience the notion that there is often no black and white, just varying shades of gray.
As an instructor in physical education, I benefit from having students who are eager to learn an intrinsically interesting, multifaceted, albeit difficult course of study. A unique variety of clinical experience provides me with opportunities to present a pragmatic perspective amid the torrent of information, which some students have analogized as “take a sip from a fire hose”. As part of the instructional strategy, clear instructional objectives are given to the students. By providing clear expectations right from the start, the students soon learn the differences between the need to know and nice to know material.
In the final analysis, students are responsible for their own learning. Although I have used the words “teach” and “instruct”, it is in a sense arrogant of me to think I can teach students. While I can provide the environment and the encouragement for students to learn, ultimately it is the student’s choice There are the students who will learn regardless of what I do; they are intrinsically motivated and will be successful whether I am there or not. There are also those students who choose, for whatever reason, not to learn. No amount of coercion or other means will change that behavior. The remainder, making up the bulk of the student body, can be directly affected by the challenges provided to them in the classroom. Incorporation of activities directed toward the various preferred learning styles of these students will allow them the opportunity to be successful in the world of academia, and more importantly, successful in life in general.
D.J. Kato MA, CSCS,*D