In the first day of teaching my course, Conservation for the 21st Century, we discussed the role of social sciences and economics in conservation. Our discussion quickly became heated when someone brought up the role of conservation in society, "I think conservation management should take priority over human rights." This was a development moment. Not a teaching moment, a time for me to offer my insight, but a development moment, a time for students to become self-empowered with a recognition of difference and choose to be objective about information. Just as I was questioning my silence, another student replied, "I think it depends on your definition of human rights," neutralizing the situation and opening the discussion further.
I aim to be a teacher that promotes student development as individuals, builds an inclusive environment for all learners, and advocates creativity within a STEM framework.
Following bell hooks, feminist philosopher and writer, I strive for an engaged pedagogy that develops students as people, not just learners. For example, I shifted the authority from myself as the teacher to create conditions that empowered students. I encouraged students to find something they are passionate about in the learning process through projects that allowed them to define the future and direction of the field of conservation, then presenting that to the class. Together, we broke the mold of what conservation was on the first day and allowed them to question the field and join in the debate that is happening amongst professionals in the field, and they were able to define conservation on their own terms. It was through this process that students were able to seek conservation innovation that excited passion in them and the class.
I honor that every individual has a unique learning style and have reflected on my own active style to ensure that it is not disproportionately represented in the classroom. I do not want to only identify with students that share my patterns and background, but rather, I acknowledge their thoughts lived experiences. For example, while I use active learning techniques like think/pair/share for class discussions, I also create weekly reflection assignments to give students the time and space to mull over ideas from reading and discussion material.
Finally, I believe that students should be challenged creatively, particularly in STEM disciplines to remain approachable future scientists. Outreach is in integral part of modern science, and the more ways students can express themselves, the better they can reach a broader audience. I had students interview a conservationist that represented their view of Conservation for the 21st Century and create a Podcast episode to share with the class. Through working with a new medium, students experimented with what makes compelling audio, a different challenge altogether than written stories. In the process, students developed a marketable skill that is frequently used to connect with broader audiences.
I feel it is my role as a teacher to foster students as people and scientists, regardless of their career path by creating an inclusive learning environment that gives students the power and structure necessary for self-exploration.