A recent interview with the new President of Goucher College appeared in Education Life, a section of this Sunday’s New York Times. Not sure this section is really a game-changer in terms of content. It is filled mostly with ads and short seemingly irrelevant articles from my perspective. However, one article that I found interesting was the interview with José Antonio Bowen, Goucher’s President. He seems like a leader who is looking to forge a new path, one that harkens back to a time when school was about the human relationships between students and teachers. The title of his recent book gives you some idea of how he thinks about education, Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. His background as a music educator, jazz musician, and long-standing professor of music provides a fascinating foundation from which to lead an institution of higher education.
Here are a few quotes that illustrate where Dr. Bowen’s focus is being targeted.
So If what faculty do is profess to students, their relative value has diminished. If we’re going to stay in business, we’re going to have to offer something of value that people will pay for, something that no one else does. The most important thing is that students are actively learning in your class, that they have a reason to go.
Give students something to do before they come to class, and then when they get to class, make that assignment more complex. Teaching is not just getting the facts across to the students, but sharing the context and the complexity of what we know.
What if in addition to talking about the importance of 21st Century skills like the 4-Cs (communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration) we also talked about the importance of the 3 Rs (relationships, resilience, and reflection).
We talk about the three Rs: relationships, resilience and reflection. If you increase those things, students will learn more, and teaching content becomes less important.
I hear many educators talking about the importance of reflection in learning, but we almost never give our students time to reflect on what they are learning. Reflection is a process for students to consolidate what they have learned. It involves giving them time to make meaning out of the learning.
I found it particularly interesting in the interview when Dr. Bowen encourages us to think about teachers as “cognitive coaches” not sages on the stage. He says:
In the old days, your value as a faculty member was that you knew more. Now you need to think of yourself as a cognitive coach, more like the trainer who says, “Get back on the bike, you can do it.”
Finally, in being a leader of innovation at Goucher, Dr. Bowen clearly sees his leadership and role-modeling as an important first step towards changing the cultural landscape. As a risk-taker, he wants to lead the way for students and faculty to feel OK about failing, learning from one’s mistakes, iterating and continuing the journey towards that goal of continuous learning. He says:
I think about myself as a curator of risk. I want to encourage more innovation, more risk-taking. We are medieval institutions. I’m talking to the faculty about how we might improve things, and the first thing we’re talking about is freshman grades. They add stress and I don’t think we need them. We need to be willing to try new things, even if they fail, because that’s how we get progress. And I’m willing to fail.
Words of wisdom from an informed risk-taker and learner!