By Kendra Dority
Our classrooms, academic disciplines, and university as a whole communicate values, both implicitly and explicitly, to students. It’s imperative that we recognize what we communicate implicitly and focus on the act of teaching as an opportunity for explicitly defining, cultivating, and enacting a set of values. I use the word value to reflect a few entangled meanings: a quality that one might deem important, and that guides one’s actions; and an attribute that we may associate with self-knowledge or identity-formation—that is, with how we define ourselves, how our students define themselves, and how we all make meaning in our work. Value also implies ethics, in that it can name one’s capacity to act in alignment with an ideal. It’s a word that I find helpful because of the way it links idea with action.
In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the preparation of Humanities PhDs for diverse career paths, the executive director of the Modern Language Association notes that the most successful PhD programs “help students to understand and be articulate about the skills, values and perspectives they’ve gained in their doctoral work.”
Exploring the values that inspire my work has helped me find a professional direction that transformed my experience as a Literature PhD into my current position as Associate Director of Programs at the Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL). Through a series of learning opportunities, I found that pedagogical situations, in a broad sense, afford an opportunity to attune to others. At my best, teaching allows me to play a supportive role in facilitating others’ learning, as I anticipate and respond to students’ needs, the challenges they might face learning new skills, and the ways their strengths and perspectives enliven the course content. It became clear to me that a pedagogy-focused career could allow me to support students to learn with and through their interactions with others, to see how their learning depends on the contributions of the people with whom they are in community.
Based on this experience, I encourage graduate students to consider the values that inform their research and teaching and to align their career paths with those ideals. At the same time, I bring the importance of values-driven work to CITL as I encourage all educators on campus to ask, what values do you aspire to enact through your teaching? And, what values provide a foundation for what you hope to cultivate with students in the classroom?
The academic and personal success of our students has been shown to be linked to the values we communicate. For example, one educational study on the navigation of STEM fields by underrepresented women of color found that students who are able to link their own values with their academic pursuits are able to successfully define their own disciplinary identity. To support more inclusive learning environments, the authors call on educators to actively emphasize the values and perspectives that students bring with them to the classroom—values that may contradict traditional (and often marginalizing) disciplinary norms. Locally at UC Santa Cruz, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Faculty Director of the Student Success Evaluation and Research Center (SSERC) Rebecca Covarrubias and her research team emphasize how first-generation college students’ values and motivations for attending the university (e.g. interdependence, through giving back to and supporting community) often differ from the norms and expectations communicated by the university (developing independence). They ask us to think about how the values and expectations that students bring with them to the university might transform the institutional culture.
This research on teaching and learning points to the importance of the structures of our classes and interactions with students. What kinds of class activities, assignments, and modes of communication can best enact the values that matter most to us, and to our students?
Kendra Dority facilitated a PhD+ workshop that led graduate students and other campus educators through a series of exercises to define their own values-based pedagogy.
Read the full article at The Humanities Institute News page.