Teaching

The Primacy of Caring:
Paula MacDowell’s Teaching Philosophy

KNOWING

My passion for teaching fuels my passion for lifelong learning. Socratic questioning, design thinking challenges, student-teacher conferencing, and ongoing formative assessment are effective techniques that I use to encourage intellectual growth with rigor and humility. Nurturing a just and caring learning community in each of my courses is important to foster a sense of belonging and collective identity amongst academic peers. I work hard to design and facilitate learning environments that are welcoming, respectful of differences in experiences and worldviews, and often transformative for my students’ thinking.

My teaching philosophy reflects my interests in living curriculum, which brings forth awareness of learning as complex, collective, and connected to the wholeness of our shared world. Epistemological and ontological concerns are examined as we study how our learning affects the entire community, in a variety of contexts and across the lifespan. For example, I walk with my students to the UBC Japanese Gardens to be still, to listen, and to appreciate. This involves growth-minded learning experiences in which we are not filling up our heads with more facts and information. Rather, we are slowing down to see our presuppositions and to study our as-yet unexamined assumptions. We are stilling our minds to open our minds. We are catalyzing consciousness and self-awareness.

DOING

The everyday dimension of my pedagogical practice is guided by principles of inclusivity, strength in diversity, recognition and celebration of individual achievements, watchful listening, respect for multiple sources of wisdom, and meaningful engagement with with media and technology. With much care and deliberation, I select personalized learning resources and plan experiences that facilitate each student’s intellectual and professional development in-interaction-with communities, cultures, technologies, and worlds. My key role is to design and facilitate learning environments where everyone feels safe to take intellectual and creative risks, and to speak without fear. I want to bring out the best in my team, so I do not hesitate to take action when student(s) interfere with the opportunities for others to learn.

Building community and trusting relationships are essential for transformative teaching and learning in my classes. Hence, I plan for students to attend conferences, facilitate workshops, host gallery walks of their learning artifacts, peer edit course assignments, and share leadership roles. I develop multimodal and multi-access classroom spaces that respect and privilege my teams’ diverse abilities, needs, goals, preferences, and perspectives while simultaneously pushing them to think deeper and drive their own learning.

My pedagogical goals are: 1) to empower teachers to realize their greatest possibility-to-be in the worlds of their classrooms and beyond; 2) to encourage values of integrity, ingenuity, respect, diversity, and inclusion in everything we do; and 3) to provoke critical and creative abilities for teaching effectively about, from, through, and with/against technology.

BEING

Always, care! Though minds move, care holds. My teaching embodies a caring disposition that is deeply relational in being-alongside, belonging-with, and attending-to, as I try to understand my students’ lives, goals, needs, anxieties, and learning styles. The structure of care in my classroom (on-site and online learning spaces) is such that being-cared-for is intensified with the desire for becoming-caring-about. I have high expectations for all students to care for themselves, others, coursework, and most importantly, to care for and respect learning. I believe, as Barbara Carson (1996) writes in Thirty Years of Stories: “Students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them.”

As a researcher and instructor of media and technology, I am both excited and troubled by their contradictory influences on our lives, families, communities, schools, and worlds. The primacy of care is pedagogically privileged in my philosophy of teaching as I believe that it invites technology to encounter teaching in a tendered modality, in the Heideggerian sense of dwelling in a place of thinking where the ethical questions concerning technology (which we typically pay little attention to) are carefully asked, heard, and cared about.

My personal approach to teaching in and about technology concerns: a gathered being-in that remains a learning-in (as well as a creating-in); a critical questioning-against that leads to both a demystifying-of and a redesigning-of; and a constant caring-about that brings forth a rethinking-with and a resensitizing-towards. My objective is to draw students’ awareness to the manipulative and “none-too-visible” dimensions of technology. I want to deepen our understanding from design, technical, cultural, and environmental perspectives, with careful attention that our being in-interaction-with technology is governed by our being for the ecological world.

ILLUMINATING

Teaching is a communal experience of knowing, doing, and being in a reflective cycle of interaction with living curriculum: working with it, seeing into it, being moved by it, and caring for it. I am continually inspired by my students and feel privileged to be part of supporting them in their dreams and aspirations, academic and career pursuits, social and ethical commitments, and creative explorations with new learning technologies.

When I see “light” (intelligent or innovative use of knowledge) shining through my students’ work, I know why I keep doing the work that I do. Teaching is how I can serve to empower the next generation of child advocates, educators, and researchers to: 1) be leaders and change makers in taking collective action towards improving the lives and learning circumstances of children and youth; and 2) address the diverse challenges of creating a more equitable, harmonious, and sustainable world, with meaning, purpose, and quality of life for all.