May 30, 2012

For the Love of Students

I had a wonderful opportunity to present at the NISOD International Conference on Teaching and Leadership.  In short, the focus of our research is to contextualize Arts and Sciences courses at technical colleges, so that students will value those courses and see them as a crucial component of their technical programs.  Of course, we have devised, and continue to devise, strategies and methods to foster that contextualization, so that students will ultimately achieve success, and quite frankly, so that instructors can teach along the path of least resistance.

The focus of this four-day conference was the role of community colleges in higher education.  There were some wonderful gems throughout the four days.  There was Eduardo Padrón, President of Miami Dade College, who has received countless national and international awards for his institution's results in the areas of student success, retention, and graduation.  Dr. Padrón's open and inclusive approach has helped to fulfill the dreams of hundreds of thousands of students in an urban and immigrant community that would otherwise have no access to higher education.

There was also the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching represented by Susan Fong, Karon Klipple, and Jan Muhich.  Their research focused on non-cognitive paths to student success.  They found that, often times, barriers to student success in English and Math are rooted in faulty mindset.  It's an old concept with a new approach.  "If we believe it, we can achieve it."  Change the mindset – change the behavior. 

The most memorable keynote speaker was Dr. John Roueche of the University of Texas at Austin and the Sid W. Richardson Regents Chair in Community College Leadership.  His talk was titled, "Student Success is Everyone's Job."  From the moment a student steps onto a college campus, moves through the admissions and registration process until the student enters our classrooms, that student's success is based upon each of those experiences. Ultimately, he said, "You have to love your students more than you love your discipline."  This is what it boils down to.  This resonated particularly, because "loving" students is at the core of any good research on humanistic approaches or non-cognitive research or paths to student success.  Many of us teach because we want our students to feel that same sense of pride, accomplishment, and empowerment that education (no matter the discipline) has offered to us.  And we keep coming back, semester after semester, for more punishment because we live for that spark, that hunger, that drive we see in our students when they finally "get it." Those of us who teach at community colleges and technical colleges eventually become entangled in the web of our students' lives.  We become invested in their success.  We become a part of their support systems.  And if we're lucky, we become a part of their story.  And, yes, I guess that's love.