Teaching as an Advocate Planner and Designer
I view teaching as an extension of my work as a social and environmental justice activist and community planner and designer. I want to develop students’ skills, creativity, and courage them to act as socially and environmentally responsible community citizens, stewards, and leaders to build more equitable and enjoyable cities and urban places. I aim to challenge their assumptions, critically engage their values and beliefs, and foster compassionate listeners, who are empathetic, aware, and open to difference.
I believe that we have to learn to work together to solve big problems. Global climate change, rising income inequality, urban sprawl, racism, entrenched poverty, food insecurity, and other twenty-first century challenges are complex problems that require that they learn to work with others respectively and responsibility. This means that sometimes they we have to take charge to get things done, and other times sit back and listen; sometimes we will do more than our own “fair share,” and at other times we will do less. Working together is never easy, but it teaches us how to act as a community and as common citizens on the planet. Students must learn to honor what each person brings to the table.
I believe that our best learning happens when we have an open mind and a respectful disposition. We all have prejudices, stereotypes, and ideas about the way things should be. Sometimes we are aware of them and sometimes not. We must be honest with ourselves about the baggage (good and bad) that we carry into the classroom. Our ideas, meanings, experiences, and goals matter, but are not universally held. When we tackle hard questions, others’ often challenge our most deeply held values and beliefs, but offer opportunities for deep learning. While we may not always agree, with a little empathy, a positive attitude, and an open mind, we can always learn something new.
I believe in student-centered learning. I don’t like to lecture because I think we learn best when given an opportunity to play with new ideas, talk about them, see them through the lens of their own experience and that of others, reflect on them, and apply them in different contexts. Learning new ideas involves a process of meaning-making that is different for each person. It is hard, and sometimes painful, work.
I believe that every class is different. Everyone comes with different needs, expectations, and goals, so what works for one, might not work for another. I like to get feedback early and often, and use many different mediums to speak to students’ different learning styles.
I do not believe in the separation of the classroom from the “real world.” Students are already in the real world, and need opportunities to confront hard questions and apply new ideas with people beyond their peer group. Interacting with people and communities outside the University tests their personal and professional skills and beliefs in new ways. It will helps them hone their “soft skills”—communicating with, listening to, and building trust and rapport with people different than themselves—that will likely prove just as important in their careers as the “hard skills” stressed in most of their course work.
I believe that I am training the next generation of change agents. Tackling the big problems requires courage, conviction, and compassion for one another (and all others living beings on the planet). To create a more socially and environmentally just and sustainable future, I encourage my students to dream big, work hard, keep our goals in mind, our head on our shoulders, and let their hearts lead the way.