Last spring, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue a certificate in higher education teaching. I had meant to draft a reflection piece afterward, but as with so many things last year, COVID and the resulting transition to remote learning meant this got put on hold. So here I am a year later, finally taking a moment to reflect on some of the lessons learned.
From the onset, I appreciated the opportunity to think critically about my teaching philosophy and pedagogy. The course allowed me to reflect deeply on my own experiences with teaching and learning, who I desire to be as a teacher, and how I can best achieve my instructional goals. And I wasn’t just thinking about these things in the abstract. Each week, I was asked to write about these and many other instructional ideas, from traditional approaches to teaching law and legal research, to how I could have better learned as a student, to what truly makes a successful teacher.
With respect to some of the topics examined, I studied and practiced how to best align assignments with intended learning outcomes, provide and make use of constructive feedback, approach lesson delivery, create lesson plans, support student development, incorporate active learning techniques, and more. Individually and alongside similarly situated groups (like those teaching other social sciences), I dug into the anatomy of a well-written assignment, shared why legal research (and information literacy generally!) is so important, drafted course materials, recorded myself teaching, analyzed others’ lessons, and provided and received meaningful feedback. As an additional benefit, the course allowed me the opportunity to put together a comprehensive teaching portfolio, complete with a written philosophy of librarianship and teaching, lesson plans and learning activities, assignments and grading criteria, and a course blueprint and syllabus.
Prior to the course, I hadn’t thought much about different types of analytical reasoning and how they contribute to student learning outcomes. But delving into deductive and inductive teaching approaches allowed me to recognize the value of each, to better identify some of the problems in more traditional law teaching approaches, and to view my discipline as a critical part of the solution. Fortunately, skills-based courses present an important opportunity to help students develop deductive reasoning skills alongside inductive reasoning skills, each of which are necessary for the practice of law, and the legal research classroom is one in which we are able to demonstrate such skills from the outset of one’s legal education.
Of course, given the nature of a practical, skills-based course, the importance of active learning techniques to student engagement and ultimately retention cannot be overstated. So, it was extremely beneficial to have the opportunity to dig into various types of active learning techniques. And since students can find legal research to be easy, boring, or unimportant, it was further helpful to think about different ways to get creative and make research FUN!
Sadly, I cannot say I studied the backward design framework as a law librarianship student, and I know there are many teaching librarians in the same boat. While the concept is straightforward, I found great value in getting additional practice and feedback in working backward from the AALL Principles & Standards for Legal Research Competency to develop various assignments.
In thinking about the larger, more philosophical takeaways, a few things come to mind. First, I realize that teaching is constant, and my learning never stops. There are always more ways to grow and improve, so the work of teaching is never “done.” And like legal research, teaching is a skill that must be practiced and improved over time. Second, I walk away with a recognition of the importance of seeking to become and remain a reflective practitioner. While an understanding of fundamental teaching and learning concepts and a comprehensive portfolio are obvious benefits from the course, I can’t help but recognize that the opportunity to think and reflect critically on so many of the issues and questions above is one extended to few new law teachers. For this opportunity, I am most grateful. Third, I take away that there are teaching and learning lessons all around us, in all areas of our lives, if we simply open our eyes to them. Indeed, there is an abundance of lessons we will gain from our students throughout the course of our careers. And finally, I appreciate that our profession naturally allows for a most beautiful symbiotic relationship. Teachers are students, and students are teachers. So, honestly… how lucky are we?!