In this section, Kate Mytty shares her insights about developing a classroom culture that promoted the development of personalized relationships with students.
In teaching EC.716 D-Lab: Waste, my co-teacher, Pedro Reynolds-Cuellar, and I, realized that although not all of our students would end up working in the waste management sector during their careers, each one of them would influence the waste system at an individual level. With that in mind, we intentionally structured assignments to help students explore waste through approaches that spoke to their own interests. As instructors, we spent a lot of time creating a classroom environment that helped us get to know students and how they were understanding and approaching the subject of waste.
One way we created this kind of classroom environment was by holding several one-on-one check-in sessions with students throughout the semester. During our first check-in session, we asked students questions, such as, What brought you to this class? Why are you interested in waste? What do you hope to get out of this class? How can we help you get the most out of your learning experience? and What kind of resources can we send you throughout the semester that will help you explore waste through your own interests? As the semester progressed, our check-in sessions also involved conversations about students’ individualized final projects.
This approach for getting to know students grew out of my experience serving as a teaching assistant with a colleague who was a very engaging educator. We had 25 students in our class and he created a profile for each student. The profile included information about the student’s major, interest in the course, career path, and the kinds of resources the student would find helpful. Every few weeks we sent students new resources based on their profiles. We also documented the resources we sent them. This system allowed us to develop personalized relationships with students and to provide them with an experience that extended beyond the explicit learning goals of the course.
I found that intentionally creating similar opportunities to get to know students in EC.716 D-Lab: Waste was valuable for Pedro and I because it allowed us to learn from students’ expertise. Doing so also helped students understand that we, as the instructors, were deeply invested in their education, which is something I think is often missing from students’ post-secondary learning experiences.