Further Notes from Intentional Teacher Immersion

| December 13, 2010

As I’ve reported in previous posts, I was in Nashville, TN from Wednesday, November 10th through Sunday, November 14th to participate in an intensive Information Literacy program for instruction librarians with more than 5 years experience, the Intentional Teacher track (as opposed to the Teacher track, which is designed for more or less beginning instruction librarians).  I’ve described the activities of the group, which consisted of 20 librarians, during the first day and a half of the Immersion; this post will describe what transpired during the second full day, Friday, November 12th.

Essentially all of our work together took place in Laskey B, a room on the second floor of the reception building for the Scarritt-Bennett Center.  Within this space our teachers, Susan Barnes Whyte and Randy Hensley, kept us moving from table to table,  group to group,  and activity to activity.  It was here that they also made themselves available in the evenings for consultation on the teaching philosophy statements we were all involved in developing for ourselves.  At this point I have very fond memories of the time I spent in Laskey B with my fellow intentional teacher-librarians, but I’d be less than truthful if I said that I wasn’t stressed out and uneasy about a fair amount of what we were doing, probably as much as anything because of not knowing what was coming and feeling uncertain about my ability to rise to the occasion.  As I said earlier, I’m a bit of a newcomer to intensive programs involving focused intragroup interactions in rapid succession.  I sometimes felt fairly overwhelmed and more than a little inclined to check out early, but you know, I seem to have survived unscathed, and in reality I wouldn’t have missed a minute of the experience for the world.

One of the framing elements of the Immersion was Stephen Brookfield’s book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, of which we had been asked to read the first two chapters in advance of coming to Nashville.  It’s Brookfield’s contention that teachers become critically reflective by continually examining their practice through the lenses of their own life histories, their students’ perspectives, their colleagues’ perceptions, and what the research literature has to offer.  I’ve been very impressed with Brookfield’s wisdom and scholarly acumen, and I’ve gradually come to realize that he and I overlapped here at TC, where he taught from 1982 through 1991 (I began  working at the library in 1985, though I can’t say that I clearly remember having intersected with him).  Brookfield incidentally will be back at Teachers College in December to conduct two intensive programs of his own, one titled Developing Critical Thinkers (December 3rd and 4th), a second titled Critical Theory and Adult Learning (December 6th and 7th).  I’m hoping to find a way to slip in to catch some of the proceedings; in view of my Immersion experience, it would be very interesting to see and hear the man in person.

So what did we do on Day 2.5?  Among other things:

  • As a group, we analyzed what we’d seen in the two Glee episodes we watched on Thursday evening;
  • In groups of three, we talked about student work we’d brought with us (since I don’t actually see that much student work, I brought a student’s rather detailed description of what she hoped to accomplish in a recent research consultation);
  • We looked at the question “who are our students?” with an eye to hunting assumptions (Brookfield’s term) about our respective roles, expectations, responsibilities in their academic lives;
  • A group of 11 volunteers did a Readers’ Theatre presentation of a chapter from Frank McCourt’s book Teacher Man that we had read in advance of the Immersion, the one in which McCourt asks his students to write (as they already do, i.e., forge for themselves) excuse notes for imagined children of their own, then for various Biblical figures, then for increasingly evil historical personages;
  • We discussed student perspectives on us as teachers and characteristics they want to see in us (honesty, compassion, curiosity, respect, focus, spontaneity, the ability to back off from what’s not working, etc.);
  • In groups of  five, we wrote a job description for the colleague the students and we need.

In addition to some time off in the afternoon to take advantage of the fine weather in Nashville, we also had the opportunity in the evening to do brainstorming/collaborative work on our teaching philosophies. This turned out to be a good opportunity to hang out with and get to know Susan and Randy, our remarkable teachers.

What was clear from the outset of the Immersion, and was substantiated throughout, was the complete generosity of spirit of all involved, the commitment of all participants to becoming the best possible teachers by whatever means available, and the genuine community that steadily grew among our group of librarians/whole persons from widely diverse backgrounds, geographic locales, and institutional milieus and roles. Almost certainly I’ve come to mythologize many or most aspects of the intensive experience we shared, and I’m happy to accept that likelihood. The reality is that I felt, and continue to feel, increasing bonds of affections (Lincoln’s wonderful expression, taken out of context, but hey) for my Intentional Teacher ’10 cohorts; that’s my story (and stories are a lot of what it’s all about), and I’m sticking to it.  As before, to be continued.