Monday, January 18, 2010

A Little Better Everyday

I believe that, as an institution, we are very good at carrying out the College's mission of promoting "student success and community involvement through a commitment to excellence and a spirit of service." To me, a commitment to excellence means that, each and every day, we challenge ourselves – individually and collectively - to serve students; to carry out our responsibilities; to work effectively with each other; to do our jobs better than we did them yesterday. Last week's employee enrichment program, the 2010 MVCC Spring Institute, is a shining example of how deeply and sincerely MVCC faculty and staff hold that commitment!

This year's Spring Institute offered two sessions of five concurrent workshops, mostly focused on the needs and interests of faculty. The sessions covered topics from curriculum and classroom management, to educational technology and teaching students with autism. More than 150 members of the MVCC family deepened their connections, attending various sessions throughout the day, including an informal lunch of pizza and wings.

Amidst all the energy and engagement, the mid-day plenary session left a particularly deep impression on me. We were so fortunate to have nationally recognized consultant and award winning teacher, Dr. Idahlynn Karre, speak on active learning strategies. She spoke in the Utica Campus Theater which, although beautifully suited for live performance, is not an ideal venue for an audience interaction/participation presentation. Despite that fact, Dr. Karre demonstrated that the principles of active learning can be dynamically employed even in a relatively fixed environment.

She referenced Harvard University research, which showed the normal adult attention span to be only about ten minutes. The study suggests that active learning requires teachers to change their method of delivery every ten minutes or so. Dr. Karre’s reference to the work of Pat Cross and Tom Angelo, with Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), was an important reminder as the CATs accelerated my own effectiveness in the classroom, to be sure!

Throughout her presentation, Dr. Karre emphasized the perspective that the best teaching and learning occurs when our focus moves past "just covering the information." By recognizing that talent and experience shapes individual meaning, we can help our students "bolt" new information, fresh ideas, and expansive concepts to their knowledge "infrastructures", making learning personal and, thus, relevant. That’s how we all learn. Karre referred to community colleges as the “Hopeful Enterprise” and closed with the affirmation that our students, all students, have great potential. Part of our job - as the faculty and staff who make up this wonderful institution, is to recognize it and nurture it.

At the conclusion of Dr. Karre's presentation I turned and saw a sea of talented faculty and staff, clearly energized by what she had to share. The whole experience makes me proud to work in a professional community that isn’t afraid to learn; to risk; to take the chance that - through "a commitment to excellence and a spirit of service" we can get a little better each day. If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.