Reflections on “How do I cultivate a sense of joy, passion, and purpose in my teaching, and how do I share that with my students?”

Mark Carrigan recently asked quesions for a reflective teaching practice on his blog, and one really resonated with me: “How do I cultivate a sense of joy, passion, and purpose in my teaching, and how do I share that with my students?” This question seemed extremely relevant and here is my attempt at figuring out an answer for myself.

Quick reminder: I (often, and in this case) write in order to help me think, so this is not 100% thought through yet. When I think about teaching in this context, I think about my work as academic developer, giving all kinds of different workshops on teaching.

How do I cultivate a sense of joy in my teaching?

What brings me joy in teaching is seeing that topics we talk about have an effect in participants’ reality. This can be how they react in conversation, how they transfer of methods in their context, how they talk about their teaching afterwards, how the way they talk about students changes. I love interacting with teachers and seeing them develop is exciting and makes me happy! This is independent of whether this happened because I “taught” something, or just because they are great teachers.

I also get a lot of joy out of teaching working out the way I planned, for example when I teach about a deep approach to learning (as you see in the featured image, and I described it a year ago). Guiding people to discover something and then seeing how it suddenly just makes sense to them, and how they use an analogy that I came up with over and over in their discussions is just great! And it worked even better this year than last due to some small tweaks in how I did it.

And then I just love preparing teaching in the widest sense: I enjoy reading articles and blogs, and listening to podcasts about teaching (and summarizing a lot of this on this blog), I love discussing with colleagues, figuring out how participants can interact with content and each other (for example recently through liberating structures), preparing materials and going fully overboard (like the #scicommchall egg stands or #WaveWatching fortune teller or, more seriously, our Bingos).

So this is what BRINGS me joy, but how do I cultivate it?

I guess by investing time in preparation not just of concrete teaching, but in constantly exploring the wider field, and using the inspiration to feed into teaching in the near and far future. It really does bring me joy to collect the nuggets of wisdom, create slides summarizing a concept even though I don’t know yet if and when I will teach about it, also just sitting here on a Saturday afternoon, reflecting on my teaching prompted by some random question I saw on the internet. THIS brings me joy!

How do I cultivate a sense of passion in my teaching?

Ok, first things that come to mind when I try to write something about what my passions are: I do love water, and I do love teaching.

Cultivating my passion for water is easy: I often bring in examples that are somehow about water. Recently I used the U-tube example to talk about eliciting, confronting and resolving misconceptions; or as I showed above, I overlay one of my freediving pictures to give people an analogy to remember. And I use #WaveWatching all the time to talk about connecting disciplinary concepts with everyday experiences. So I basically find tons of opportunities to talk about water, whether it strictly fits the context or not.

Cultivating passion in teaching is a bit more difficult, because I cannot always influence the setting. When I worked as a consultant, I would run 90 minute to 3-day workshops and have almost always new participants every time (some repeat customers were awesome — hi Katja!). Now that I am employed in a faculty, I want to work with people over a longer period of time, and I try to convince people to let me teach in settings where it is possible to build relationships with participants rather than just using me as a one-off consultant. But this sounds much worse than it is — I am just passionate about teaching, and I cannot remember a teaching situation in which I was NOT passionate. Meeting teachers (or “real” students!) is always enjoyable and makes me realize that I am indeed passionate about teaching.

How do I cultivate a sense of purpose in my teaching?

I feel like a real, deep sense of purpose in my teaching has only developed fairly recently, over the last 2.5 years here in my job, when I have over time come to the conviction that the problem I want to contribute to solving is sustainability, and that everything I do should be working towards that goal. Before I had that clarity, I also brought in new topics that I found important, like microaggressions, but committing to making teaching for sustainability my focus gave me a much broader sense of purpose, and one that I was missing before. I am still interested in topics that I was focussed on earlier, like science communication, but even though it brings me joy, it does not give me the same sense of purpose to see that someone is doing great science communication on Instagram as it does seeing someone bring in elements of sustainability in their teaching. Looking back, I remember Kim Nicholas saying something 2 years ago about how she had at some point decided to fully commit her work to fixing sustainability, and how I thought that was admirable but unrealistic, but I feel like now I have reached that same point and it feels fulfilling.

How do I share the sense of joy, passion, and purpose with my students?

This part is actually a really difficult question, and the one that I found initially intriguing, probably because I recognized that this is where I need to do some thinking. How DO I do it? DO I even do it?

I think what brings me joy and what I am passionate about shines through when I am teaching. But I see great potential about being more explicit about how I cultivate it, especially since I am teaching about teaching, and these questions are as relevant for the participants in my workshops as they are for me. I guess here it comes down to knowing what brings you joy and what you are passionate about, and finding ways to do it?

Ironically, sharing my purpose and how I cultivate it is maybe what I have been doing the most explicitly since I found it — telling people that they can teach for sustainabilty even when they are not teaching about it, for example through “Liberating Structures” and equitable teaching strategies. And putting a lot of effort into normalizing conversations about sustainability, while being explicit that that is what I am trying to do. But maybe, thinking about it now, I have only been explicit about the teaching for sustainability part, not that this is actually where I get my personal sense of purpose from, and that that might work for them, too?

And this is where I leave you to think about the question for yourself, while I go cut some salad for dinner and do some more thinking of my own…

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