Junior Faculty Spotlight: Brenda McKenzie
Each month, the CFT Newsletter highlights the work of our Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows. This month, Brenda McKenzie, Leadership, Policy and Organizations, talks about her teaching philosophy and interests
As a faculty member in the Higher Education Administration (HEA) program, I teach the core courses in the student affairs track, focusing on theories of student development and the practice of student affairs. Additionally, I coordinate and teach the HEA practicum course, teach an Ed.D. course on the college student, and teach an undergraduate HOD course.
Two questions lie at the heart of my teaching philosophy: What does teaching mean to me? How am I able to contribute to student learning in a way that provides opportunities for the application of theory to practice? My approach to teaching is informed by Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle – concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation – and my 21 years as a student affairs practitioner. Learning is a dynamic process, and I seek to create a connected classroom that links students’ in- and out-of-class experiences. My classroom is a space for caring and for challenging my students to think deeply and to open themselves up to new points of view. I provide opportunities in my classes to discuss and apply readings, to utilize activities to address different learning styles, and to encourage reflection on what learning means. Once we have established a foundation of trust, the students and I can then co-construct knowledge by sharing these intersections with each other.
Whether teaching at the undergraduate or graduate/professional level, I expect that students develop and utilize critical-thinking and creativity skills. I attempt to push students beyond their comfort zone through readings and discussions that challenge their existing beliefs and ideas. I want students to leave class in a different place than where they entered – more aware, more fluent in the academic literature, better able to critically think about and solve problems, and, most importantly, excited to continue learning.
At the core, my chief pedagogical aim is to impact student learning. As Brookfield (2017) states, “the most important pedagogic knowledge we teachers need to do good work is an awareness…of how our students are experiencing learning” (p. 62). I strive to know my students both developmentally and intellectually. This allows me to create optimal learning conditions for the students. I often survey students at the beginning of a course to provide a baseline of where they are with a particular subject. This informs the topics we address and my approach to those topics. I also use formative assessments at the end of class sessions such as asking students to respond to the following questions: What? (What did you learn?), So what? (What does this mean to you?), and Now what? (Now what are you going to do with this knowledge?) as ways to indicate where gaps may exist in student learning as well as in my teaching.
I am excited to explore ways to develop more complex and probing discussion questions for class as well as how to adapt my teaching to a variety of students and class formats through participation in the JFTF program. I look forward to an exciting year, exploring my own practice, and learning and sharing with others.