Jason Olsen, Ph.D.
I am a terrible bowler. This might seem like a strange confession to make, right here at the beginning of the introduction to the latest issue of the Journal of Empowering Teaching Excellence, but it is true. I don’t even know what hand I’m supposed to use—neither one feels right. My only sustained bowling success correlates to when bumpers are set up for family time.
But, here’s the thing—as terrible as I am, I have had moments of success. They are fleeting moments, no doubt about it—but they are successes. While my final bowling scores may barely register in the triple digits, it’s not like I don’t hit a strike once in a while. Not consistently, of course, but occasionally. I might throw my next few rolls straight into the gutter, but that does not take away my bright and shining moment.
Bowling is not teaching. You cannot enter a classroom (whether a physical space or a virtual one) and expect to roll the teaching equivalent of a strike when you haven’t put in the preparation to get it done. Instead, teaching requires both preparation and reflection. An instructor who does not prepare, plan, and reflect is bound to miss every opportunity to succeed. In short, even the worst bowler can luck into a rare but occasional strike. But teaching is a fluke-proof space. Teachers must put in the work before, during, and after they teach.
The articles in this issue provide pathways for embracing reflection. In the study, “Reflection Impacts Preservice Teachers’ Instruction and Planning,” Joanna C. Weaver (Bowling Green State University), Cynthia Bertelsen (Bowling Green State University), and Kaylani Othman (Bowling Green State University), present the concept of using SOAP (Subjective, Observation, Assessment, Planning) Notes in order to provide instructors with “an opportunity to reflect on instruction and student learning.” The authors present reflection as a central part of planning and organization, helpfully providing clear steps for effective reflection.
Similarly, María Luisa Spicer-Escalante (Utah State University) and Sylvia Read (Utah State University) present us with “Documenting your Teaching: A Guide to Promote Reflective and Responsive Instruction,” an insightful article that tracks both why teaching documentation is crucial for improving one’s teaching and how best to manage and organize a teaching dossier. Instructors may find this article useful for not just a “how-to” on documenting teaching for a promotion process, but also for the information it contains about the value of reflection and response in the classroom.
While Weaver et al. and Spicer-Escalante and Read show us the benefit of structured self-reflection, reflecting upon student performance in the classroom is also worthwhile. “Student Stories of Online Learning,” by Carrie Lewis Miller (Minnesota State University, Mankato), and Michael Manderfeld (Minnesota State University, Mankato), provides and analyzes data from a survey of students that gathered information about how students experienced online course design elements. This article allows instructors to better understand the effectiveness through the eyes of students themselves.
In “Examining Math Instructors’ Knowledge, Beliefs, and Attitudes of Student Learning Strategies in a Faculty Development Workshop” by Roxanne Brinkerhoff (Utah Valley University), Becky Connelly (Salt Lake Community College), and Sam Gedeborg (Utah Valley University), the authors discuss in-depth the value of a faculty development workshop in a specific discipline (math). The article includes self-reflective comments from the instructors who participated in the workshop that review the workshop’s effectiveness, providing contrasts between instructors open to changes in their teaching approaches and those more resistant.
We conclude with “Changes in Obstacles to Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic for University Students and Recommended Solutions,” by Becky Williams (Utah State University, Uintah Basin) and Sunshine L. Brosi (Utah State University, Eastern). Williams and Brosi reflect on teaching (and learning) changes forced upon teachers and students by the COVID-19 pandemic and provide specific and detailed information culled from a student survey that indicated the most pressing obstacles to their learning successes. This data paints a picture of student challenges and provides instructors with information that can inform future student interactions. The article concludes with thoughtful potential actions proposed by the authors as to what instructors can do to assist students with their challenges, both during the pandemic and beyond.
These articles present a compelling case both for reflection and ways to act upon the knowledge gained through that reflection. Thoughtful consideration and action will lead to increased success with students and course design, and that success definitely won’t be a fluke. And it certainly won’t be a gutter ball.