March 23, 2022

Finding Your Voice in the Classroom

Written by Noah Ringler, PFF Fellow and Doctoral Student, Psychology. Noah’s research focuses on mindfulness, moral development and wisdom.

An article on the chronicle of higher education entitled “Why the Science of Teaching is Often Ignored” discusses the large body of learning science that often never finds its way into the classroom (you can find the article here). I’d highly suggest reading the article as it highlights the systematic barriers that frequently prevent faculty from experimenting with various pedagogical techniques. The article discusses how rare it is to find educators informed about the science of learning and how it often leads to the continual use of teaching techniques that are harmful to our students. I wholeheartedly agree.  

Upon reading this article, an additional problem occurred to me, and it’s an issue that I seldom see discussed: finding your voice in the classroom. Learning science is a great starting point to find out, on average, which teaching practices work best. However, we need to experiment to identify what works for us. Having a great plan means little if you can’t execute it well.  

As a student, I’ve seen great professors effectively use a variety of pedagogical techniques: lectures, active learning, fishbowl discussions, humor, no humor, etc. When a teacher is confident in what they are doing, how they are doing it and receptive to their class’s reaction to it, there is a decent chance that their students are learning. To this point, Klassen & Tze (2014) conducted a meta-analysis to examine how teachers’ self-efficacy and personality were related to teaching performance. While the effect between teaching performance and personality characteristics was weak (r = .10), the strength between self-efficacy and teaching performance was fairly substantial (r = .28), highlighting the importance of one’s confidence in the classroom. Of course, the obvious follow-up question is how do we come to learn what works for us? 

First, just like anything, it takes practice. The more you teach, the more comfortable you become. At times, I’ve found teaching similar to (what I imagine) stand-up comedians go through. You have your lesson plan, and at first, it does not always go well. However, the more reps you get, the better your teaching becomes.  

Second, you have to find your connection to the material. How we get there differs from person to person. You may want to free-write about why you find it important; you may want to first real-world examples of when this knowledge is valuable. Personally, I like to sit down with a topic that I am about to teach and write several paragraphs about how it relates to my life and why I think it is a valuable topic to learn and for whom. When I go through this process, I often feel better prepared and energetic about teaching the topic.  

Third, I would strongly suggest against becoming too attached to a particular teaching style. Finding your voice in the classroom requires us to align our actions to our goals explicitly. When we first want to introduce a topic to somebody, a lecture-style approach may be suitable. However, that same style may not be suitable if we want to build on that introduction and ask students to begin to apply that knowledge concretely (view Bloom’s taxonomy of learning or Fink’s Significant Learning Outcomes to help think about the various types of learning in the classroom). Furthermore, sometimes each class has a different personality. To best engage them, you may need to experiment with different approaches to teaching according to that class’s personality (you may want to look at this article from Faculty Focus that discusses several teaching styles). 

Ultimately, the best educators know learning science but also know themselves. Indeed, this is no easy task and requires experience and intentional self-exploration. If you would like to talk further about these topics or anything else related to pedagogy, always feel free to make an appointment with our team at PFF 

 Klassen, R. M., & Tze, V. M. (2014). Teachers’ self-efficacy, personality, and teaching effectiveness: A meta-analysis. Educational research review, 12, 59-76.