Byron's Babbles

The Right Concepts

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 27, 2014

“It is virtually impossible to make things relevant for, or expect personal excellence from, a student you don’t know.” ~Carol Ann Tomlinson

originalYou have probably seen this quote from Carol Ann Tomlinson before, but it is so true it bears repeating frequently. I was reminded of this again this morning during my morning personal study time (yes, even on Thanksgiving day) when I was reading an article in one of my favorite periodicals, The Chronicle of Higher Education. An article entitled, “Colleges’ Prestige Doesn’t Guarantee a Top-Flight Learning Experience.” The article was about the National Survey of Student Engagement, which was released last week. This survey is known as Nessie, and was done to to identify educational quality at the institutional level. The data was collected last spring from 355,000 freshmen from 622 institutions. The research used two indicators for quality: student-faculty interaction and effective teaching practices. This research really caught my eye because of my belief in the three Rs of education: rigor, relevance, and relationships. The most important of which I believe is relationships. In fact I have blogged about this in the past. Click here to read my post entitled, “You Want Me To Do What? Teach.” Needless to say, my long and storied career in education would never have happened without the great relationship forged by Dr. Hobe Jones and myself. Obviously, this relationship has affected my feelings, attitude, and allegiance to Purdue University. I have been very blessed to have been very involved with Purdue in many ways since graduating with three different degrees.

Interestingly, this research involved asking students questions that included how often they talked with faculty members outside class about career plans, course topics, or other ideas. Wow, that is exactly what Dr. Jones did! We talked daily. Yes, you heard that right even on a campus on a university the size of Purdue with over 34,000 students. The College of Agriculture has mastered the art of making a big university small. It is really about understanding emotional intelligence. The days are gone when the preeminence of IQ as the standard of excellence in life was unquestioned; a debate raged over whether it was set in our genes or due to experience. But here, suddenly, was a new way of thinking about the ingredients of life success. Emotional intelligenc involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention. Dr. Jones, through our relationship, was making sure I was paying attention to important decisions that would affect my life forever.

The other measure, which involved effective teaching practices, qualitatively analyzed the perceptions of how often their instructors clearly explained course goals and requirements, taught in an organized way, used examples to illustrate difficult points, and improve feedback. Amazingly, this list would be the same for what we would call highly effective teaching at the k-12 level. This is why the relevance part of the three Rs is so important. As we look at college and career readiness it is important we have our students ready for the teaching environment of post-secondary education. It was also no surprise that students perceived time spent improving teaching means less lecturing. Students participating in the study stated that instructors who were bettering their teaching used discussions, small group activities, student performances and presentations, and experiential-learning opportunities. It seems to me this research data allows for many partnerships between secondary and post-secondary education.

A Gallup-Purdue Index survey released earlier this year found that graduates were three times as likely to report thriving in their sense of well-being if they had connected with a professor during college. I am certainly proof of this. I believe this is true of k-12 students as well. Therefore, all of us in education have an obligation to be forming positive relationships and using effective teaching practice. After all, these are the right concepts!



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