Up until the past few years, I never considered myself a teacher. That changed once I started working in libraries. My definition of teaching expanded and I realized I had been teaching for years–not in a classroom– but in the workplace.
I started my first job at the age of fourteen, as an assistant at my local State Farm Insurance office. I answered phones, processed payments, and filed paper work. Later that summer, I started my second job–working at a restaurant. I loved working because learning on the job, or learning by doing, empowered me in a way classroom learning did not. I found that I loved training new coworkers. It quickly became as skill I sought to develop further. By the time I graduated high school, I had more work and training experience than most college graduates. Because of this experience, I interpret pedagogical theory, principles, and practices relative to my experience training, instructing, teaching, and sharing knowledge in the workplace.
Whether my role is that of collaborator or leader. I strive to create an environment in which people feel comfortable and capable, an environment that includes:
- Kindness, authenticity, and honesty
- The setting of clear expectations, goals, and standards
- Communicating often and documenting things clearly
- Addressing potential difficulties early
- Leading by example
- Giving feedback, encouragement, and guidance when needed
- Not asking others to do something that I wouldn’t, if capable, do myself
- Personal and collective goals are valued, attainable, and supported
- Different ways of knowing are respected, encouraged and explored
- Curiosity and critical thinking is vital
- Participants are empowered and feel safe asking questions or not knowing
Depending on the setting–whether it be the archives, a library, a classroom or at work–my goal is to introduce a concept, resource, tool or skill as being of value to each person in some way. After establishing value, I identify the appropriate tools and resources needed to meet the needs of those participating. Identifying appropriate tools and resources is followed by creating a comfortable and safe environment in which these tools and resources can be used or explored and new knowledge applied. The ability to adapt to the needs of participants is key. By recognizing that not every participant may need to or be able to reach the same level of understanding is crucial to my success as an instructor.
Success, in terms of learning outcomes, is simple: Does it meet the needs of those participating? Can the participant apply this knowledge in a way useful to them? Can they access further information on their own or in a more efficient manner? Because the list of possible learning environments is endless, continuing to develop new skill sets and tools for teaching is also crucial.
Striving for Inclusivity
It is important to me to recognize problematic practices in institutions–past and present–that impact communities of color, those experiencing homelessness, refugees and immigrants, the LGBTQ community, etc. I strive to push the field I work in towards inclusivity and connected learning. I operate under the belief that everyone brings their whole selves, their past experiences and expectations–negative, positive or neutral– into an environment. Also crucial for me is the understanding that there is no one way of knowing. If we value other ways of knowing, we should also strive to develop different ways of measuring success, competency and understanding. Respecting and recognizing the value of non-academic, non-Western, and indigenous ways of knowing is critical to my ability to meet the needs of those in any given environment.
Lastly, I recognize that I won’t always be the right person to lead or teach in a given environment. It is important to know my strengths and weaknesses, my personality, my abilities and where they are useful. Emotional intelligence, respect, social awareness, sensitivity, honesty and compassion, is paramount to my success as a teacher, collaborator or leader.
Header image by Julian Peters