Teaching Portfolio

Teaching Statement

My goal as a teacher mirrors my goal as a parent, mentor, and coach: I try to create a space for others to realize their potential.   The term “space” focuses on the social more than the physical.  I do think purposefully about how I arrange a classroom, in what neighborhoods my students work, or what educational technology we use.  These choices however, are driven by what I want students to do.  I invest more time designing the social environment so the class evolves into a community where students commit to a shared sense of discovery.  I view the classroom as a network of relationships, an idea-space in which students learn from each other and the intelligence embedded among the group.1 My goal is always to foster a learning environment that is supportive, challenging, collaborative, and engaging – for both my students and me. 

I employ various pedagogical strategies to achieve this goal, frequently pulling on perspectives learned as an engineer and a sociologist.  Engineering taught me the importance of embedding learning in authentic assignments. I regularly assign community-based learning projects.  Students are motivated and learn to transfer skills to new contexts when course projects explore relevant, realistic problems.  For example, students in a course I taught on diffusion of innovations wrote a proposal about how to improve life in Baltimore using the concepts we learned in class. The Baltimore Sun dedicated its op-ed page to the best student essays in my class. The final papers were some of the best ever submitted to me. Students shared that they were motivated by the opportunity to publish their ideas to a broad audience.

My work as a sociologist led me to understand the power of relationships in a learning community. At the core, I believe students learn best when they teach others. A strategic role of the instructor, therefore, is to create an environment in which everyone both learns and teaches.  Relationships also motivate students to engage in shared discovery.  I work hard to build social capital among myself and my students.  Social capital can take many forms; establishing trust and information channels are among the most important to me.  I use several strategies to accomplish this including seminar-style discussions and group assignments.  Students learn how to explain (i.e., teach) difficult concepts in seminar discussions.  I focus on listening and asking open-ended questions so that students take ownership of the conversation.  I encourage my students by telling them, “I am just as interested in your questions as I am your answers.” Group assignments build trust and establish strong peer-learning/teaching relationships among the students when they work together on structured activities.  Group work complements my use of authentic assignments as students gain valuable team skills.

An example of how I leverage these strategies is the final assignment in my Introduction to Urban Studies course.  Students conduct a cross-neighborhood comparison of a high- and low-income neighborhoods adjacent to each other – a common occurrence in Baltimore.  The project starts with teams collecting secondary, demographic data from multiple sources.  They use their findings to generate questions that guide their field data collection. Teams visit their assigned neighborhoods to take photographs, conduct interviews, and describe the neighborhood using several indicators (e.g., trash, housing stock, graffiti, police presence, pedestrian activity).  Students present their initial analysis as a team, and then write individual papers based on the feedback they receive from me and their peers. Students often report that the field research is their favorite part of the course. “The field work was fascinating, and it was very interesting to see concepts taught used in the real world.” 

Another form of social capital that I strive to build is a sense of obligation. Having a sense of obligation ensures that students feel accountable to their teams and other students.  I model this by clearly communicating my expectations. I state my learning objectives on the syllabus and at the beginning of each class meeting.  I share rubrics so students understand how I will evaluate their work.  I use team contracts so students articulate their commitments to each other.  I also try my best to provide frequent, timely feedback to model for students the importance of responding promptly and appropriately to me and their peers.

Learning is a social process. This is why I work hard to turn my classes into collaborative, supportive, and challenging learning communities. I also employ these strategies when teaching faculty about pedagogical best practices.  I model the active-learning strategies I am teaching them. My favorite sessions are when students or faculty participants take charge of the discussion or activities. It reminds me that while I may facilitate the course, students own the learning experience.      

1 Ogle, Richard. 2007. Smart World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing. p 13.