Instructors: Be kind to your future self

I’ve posted a few times on helping your students cultivate a growth mindset. But I think its also important to think about our own mindsets as instructors. How can we cultivate a growth mindset about teaching, learn from our mistakes, and make our courses better each semester? I have a couple of suggestions.

Read my previous posts about the growth mindset: At the End, I’m Looking to the Start and Cultivating a Growth Mindset in Your Students.

My first suggestion for instructors is to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t during each class session. Then, right after class is over, put a note to future self in your PowerPoint presentation. The note should be obvious, so you don’t miss it, and it should include the date you wrote it. Something like the PowerPoint slide below:

2020-02-13 10.11.13 am

 

A second idea is to ask your students two questions during a class leading up to an exam. One is “What is the most interesting thing you have learned during this portion of the semester?” That question is a favor to your present self because it helps reassure you that at least something was interesting, despite the sea of expressionless faces that greets you each day. The second question is, “What is something you still don’t understand?” You can sort the answers by frequency and use them to formulate a review session before the exam. But they are also a favor to your future self because those answers can reveal where you can improve your teaching. For me, bond polarity and hydrogen bonds frequently top the list of topics students don’t understand before exam 1. I have therefore worked very hard to improve my approach to those topics.

I have one more suggestion for a way to be kind to your future self, and it pertains mostly to instructors who teach classes that meet once a week for several hours. My writing class fits that format, and it’s a challenge to plan out the three hours such that the pace is not too rushed and not too slow. One suggestion is to make a plan on paper for each class, e.g., from 4:30-5:15 we’ll recap their homework, readings, and other assignments for the past week, from 5:15-6:00 we’ll do peer review, at 6:00 we’ll take a 10-minute break, and so on until class ends at 7:20. During class, note right on the paper how long everything actually took, along with observations about what worked and what didn’t. After class, take a picture of the paper and insert the photo into your class PowerPoint. Next time you teach the class, you’ll have a better idea of how to adjust your strategy. Trust me when I tell you that your future self will thank your past self for taking a few minutes after class for this task.

Instructors, in what other ways are you doing favors for your future self? Leave a comment to let us know.

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