Readers of this blog are sure to be familiar with the cliché that teachers are the worst students. There is some truth to the idea that when people are passionate about something, it can be difficult to change their beliefs. In the case of teachers, that something is education. Perhaps teaching teachers is difficult because so much of our identity is wrapped up in our passions, and therefore changing our beliefs about those passions may necessitate changing our beliefs about ourselves (Shapiro 2016).
I must admit that the cliché about teachers being bad students applied to me, mostly in a benign way, when I began my PhD program this summer. I was excited to learn more about education, but frankly I did not expect any changes to my own self. Entering the program was more about the badge of honor than any meaningful changes to myself. However, my first few classes have required true internal reflection and, as a result, an articulation of my values and mission as a professor. Despite the complications in adding doctoral studies to my already-full life, this work has invigorated my teaching and renewed my dedication to the craft, the university, and my students.
In the class Values, Ethics and Foundations in Digital Education professors Wicks and Paulus asked us to generate a statement of our vision as a digital education leader accompanied by three guiding principles or values. This is not unlike the final essay required in our American Education: Past and Present class. In that course, the Professor Renn asked us to determine what we were teaching for and against, and how we would go about doing it based on the content of the course. Since I am a professor and an administrator at a university’s branch campus focused primarily on online education, I have necessarily blended the idea of digital education leadership with my teaching style and philosophy.
This post explores my core values and teaching philosophy with concerns particular to digital education for adult learners. It also integrates the International Society for Technology in Education’s Standard for Coaches #7.
While all teachers want to be excellent, excellence need not look the same in all teachers. In fact, excellence should not look the same. We are different people operating in different contexts. We must be ourselves (more on this below) and speak using our own voices. Given my own experiences, temperament, and interests, I choose the following as my core values and principles as a digital education leader:
- Self-Determination | Becoming
While I teach in a Christian university setting, these values and principles are appropriate and useful in a secular setting, as well. Therefore, this explanation should be of use to teachers in any context.
As I explain in my American Education final essay, excerpted below, I believe that leadership and teaching are both core components of one another. Good teachers are leaders and good leaders are teachers:
“I am an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean at Abilene Christian University – Dallas branch campus. The stated mission of Abilene Christian University is “to educate students for Christian leadership and service throughout the world,” (Abilene Christian University Board of Trustees, 2012, p. 38). I find this mission persuasive both as a graduate of ACU and as an educator at ACU. In other words, my mission as an ACU graduate is to be a servant leader in my spheres of influence. Thus far these spheres of influence have included law, Texas politics, the Churches of Christ faith tradition, and now higher education. Additionally, I also think it is appropriate for me as a professor to have a mission to create servant leaders. On my LinkedIn profile, my headline is that “I journey alongside students as we gain expertise and wisdom to better serve our culture according to our callings,” (Halbert, 2020[b]). This statement denotes instilling servant leadership specific to the students’ individual contexts and callings, a collaborative relationship, a need for both field expertise and wisdom in application and leadership, and a withness instead of an overness. Collins (1970) adds that “We can and do find truth, but the search must be constant. The human condition demands it,” (p. 7).
“Practically, I think the best form of teaching is serving as an exemplar of both what a successful individual in the field looks like, as well as what a servant leader looks like. Collins (1970) would likely agree, as he asserts that teachers are public learners with more responsibility. The purpose of teaching is “to cause a personal discovery in the mind of the learner” and teaching is essentially “re-learning and is done publicly (in the presence of at least one other),” (p. 4).
“In addition to this shared discovery model that is part of both leadership and teaching (which is a form of leadership); servant leaders should display the specific traits of intellectual humility, curiosity, and becoming or evolving.” (Halbert, 2020a)
Whether we are discussing good leaders or good teachers, then, many of the same values and skills apply. Both positions require service, first and foremost: one must be willing to place the needs of others first and to act a living example or manifestation of what a successful person in a given field looks like.
The International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) Standards for Coaches contemplate and expect both service and leadership, if not “servant leadership.”
Standard 7a asks coaches to, “Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities,” (International Society for Technology in Education, 2020). My LinkedIn headline was written before reviewing the ISTE Standards, but the expectation of engagement and improving one own community, or context, matches well.
Standard 7b asks coaches to, “Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology,” (International Society for Technology in Education, 2020). Servant leaders put others’ needs and well-being first, and I assert this is the ultimate form of respect. It is love, really. As discussed above, leaders should be exemplars. Students and peers take cues from leaders on what the true organizational culture is. If leaders can demonstrate balance with technology, then they will signal to others that balance is appropriate and desirable.
I see myself as an amateur philosopher (aren’t we all) and one of my greatest interests is how everything fits together. This idea is considered in some fashion in monism, pantheism, and panpsychism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2020); Zen Buddhist koans; the apostle Paul’s discussion of the cosmic Christ (Colossians 1:15-20, New Living Translation); Tillich’s definition of love as the reunion of that which is separate (Tillich, 1954); and any number of other strains of philosophy or religion.
This is a core interest in my own life and osmotically has become a core component of my teaching focus and style. This search for truth and reconciliation and finding how all things fit together is what I mean when I write about integration. Our understanding of the world should fit together in the sense that there are no silos but instead one whole, and our actions should align with what we believe to be truth.
Implicitly the ISTE Standards recognize that our understanding and actions should align. Perhaps most importantly, Standard for Coaches 7d (2020) helps to ensure that students have the power and even the mandate to present the online identity that matches their intent and true personhood: “Empower educators, leaders and students to make informed decisions to protect their personal data and curate the digital profile they intend to reflect,” (emphasis added). If character is important to a person, ISTE Standard 7b (2020) also considers “respectful online interactions” so that stated values and demonstrated values align. Finally, ISTE Standard 7c honors integration’s never-ending search for truth and understanding by encouraging the critical consideration of online sources of information and why they exist.
Self-Determination | Becoming
The very first Model Standard of Conduct for Mediators is that participating parties are the ones most able to make decisions about their own lives: “Self-determination is the act of coming to a voluntary, uncoerced decision in which each party makes free and informed choices as to process and outcome,” (American Arbitration Association et al., 2005). This idea of liberty to build one’s own life is a classically liberal one appropriate for teachers to consider, as well as mediators. While we have expertise in our fields and lives, we are not experts in the lives, goals, and contexts of our students. As previously discussed, my LinkedIn headline is that “I journey alongside students as we gain expertise and wisdom to better serve our culture according to our callings,” (Halbert, 2020[b], emphasis added). It is not appropriate to force students down a particular path, especially in the university setting in which we are walking alongside adults in their own journeys.
ISTE Standard for Coaches 7d (2020) protects the self-determination and autonomy of students by ensuring that they control how their data are used and how they are presented online: “Empower educators, leaders and students to make informed decisions to protect their personal data and curate the digital profile they intend to reflect.”
Standard 7c also protects autonomy, although perhaps less obviously: “Support educators and students to critically examine the sources of online media and identify underlying assumptions,” (2020). If students are manipulated by the resources they interact with online, they cannot truly make informed decisions or act rightly according to their preferred values and self-decided goals. Standard 7c makes sure that students are actors instead of acted upon. In a way, Standard 7c also keeps teachers more honest and self-determined, as it requires frequent consideration of one’s own biases and motivations in how information is presented, and for what purpose. It helps to ward off value-drift.
There are many ways to act as an excellent teacher. Personally, my navigation method includes the core values of servant-leadership, integration, and self-determination. In the unique context of online higher education, the ISTE Standards help me to better describe what excellence should look like.
Abilene Christian University Board of Trustees. (2012). For such a time as this: Identity, mission, and the future of abilene christian university. ACU Today. https://www.acu.edu/content/dam/acu_2016/documents/acu-mission-identity-2.pdf
American Arbitration Association, American Bar Association, Association for Conflict Resolution (2005, September). Model standards of conduct for mediators. Retried November 27, 2020, from https://cdn.ymaws.com/acrnet.org/resource/resmgr/docs/MODEL_STANDARDS_OF_CONDUCT.pdf
Collins, P.M. (1970). Some philosophical reflections on teaching and learning. Teachers College Record. 71(3); 413-422.
Halbert, J. (2020, November). Final essay: A challenge to act [Unpublished course assignment]. School of Education, Seattle Pacific University.
Halbert, J. (2020, August). Scholarship. The Beginner: Promotion portfolio for joseph halbert, esq. https://blogs.acu.edu/jrh02a/scholarship/
International Society for Technology in Education (2020). ISTE standards for coaches. International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved November 27, 2020, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Metaphysics Research Lab (2020). The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Stanford University.
Shapiro, D. (2016). Negotiating the nonnegotiable: How to resolve your most emotionally charged conflicts. Viking.
Tillich, P. (1954). Love, power, and justice. Oxford University Press.