In 2015 I was a part of AAC&U's PKAL Summer Leadership Institute. It was a week-long intensive workshop to develop leadership in the STEM faculty who were going to be doing the work of transforming STEM education. I don't think I was quite in a position to reap the benefits at the time, but I did walk away with a strong network (specifically a mentoring network) and a better sense of myself. This sense of myself was built on the Strengths Based Leadership assessment, where I came to understand my strengths as a reflective, flexible learner, strongly connected to others, seeking input. This was formative for me because it made me realize that I didn't need to be like other people in order to be effective (as a leader, as a teacher, as a human). No wonder I had the worst teaching experience when I tried to be someone else. When I tried to be an influencer.
So what has influenced my pedagogy? Primarily reflection on how I learn best.
As a Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley, I was never going to get experience teaching. Believe me, I tried. So I settled for "outreach". I volunteered at the science museum and watched kids form deep intuitions about how the world works as they played. Bridge building, flyers, Bernoulli. Learning by exploring. This resonated with me and when I asked one of the curriculum developers where I could learn about how to teach this way she recommended The POGIL Project. Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning opened up my whole world. It felt like, having never had an education class ever, I was suddenly immersed in constructivism. Plus, the community (yes community, not network) was immediately welcoming and supportive. I had found my people! This community continues to expose me to new pedagogical ideas and fosters my curiosity about teaching and learning.
Once I started teaching I learned SO MUCH. About chemistry, about skills, about interacting with students and colleagues. And I came to realize that the most learning I had ever done was when I was teaching. So I started asking my students to teach each other. It is a mantra that I repeat (although I can't find the original quote in order to attribute...):
"Learning from lecture is less effective than learning from your peers, learning from your peers is less effective than teaching yourself, and teaching yourself is less effective than teaching others."
Every year I understand my discipline more deeply and new epiphanies lead me to change how I teach that content, how I represent it visually and physically, and how I create new analogies and applications to deepen the learning of my students. Then I realize that the connections that I am formulating that deepen my understanding are not necessarily easily transferrable to my students. They all come with their unique histories and experiences. They need to create their own connections. So now I give students more and more opportunities to reflect on the material and tell me how it connects to their lives.
And so, as as a reflective, flexible learner, strongly connected to others and seeking input, I listen. I take in far more than I can process, I attend far too many PD workshops, and I volunteer to do the work that many others avoid. But all that information gets sorted, especially when I reflect on who I am, how I learn, and how I can give students the opportunities to develop themselves.