Teaching Philosophy

Experience Is the Foundation for Learning

Pencil on lined paperI have a vivid memory of the passage in Richard Dana’s Two Year’s before the Mast where he describes his seasickness on his first voyage. When I read this book, I was crewing the 130-foot research schooner Westward in the Atlantic Ocean, a student in the Williams College-Mystic Seaport Maritime Studies program. I looked up from Dana’s words that day to witness my own crewmates hurling their breakfasts overboard. The classic tale of a 19th century merchant sailor came alive for me because I was living it.

I am merely a guide on a student’s path to discovery. Training as a journalist prepared me for this in one critical way: I learned how to ask questions. Asking questions sometimes leads to answers but almost always leads to more questions. Not only must a student ask questions about the world around her, she must also look inside and discover her creative path.

Every human being is a creative being

How does one teach creativity? By exposure and reflection. Leonardo Da Vinci’s greatest inventions were inspired by water stains on his studio walls. Herman Melville discovered his Moby Dick as he gazed out the window of his mountain-view home.

Imagination and creativity need to be fed by inspiration

Inspiration arises from any number of sources; it is different for each one of us. As a teacher, my role is to encourage students to tap into their own creativity by providing many and varied opportunities for inspiration to occur. These opportunities may not be as dramatic as an ocean voyage; a simple walk in a field may do. It’s not the scope of the adventure, but the willingness to see adventure in everyday experiences. There will be failures, but failure is an integral step in achieving mastery. I provide an environment where taking risks is not only permitted but supported; I encourage my students to take risks, to be creative, to look beyond the literal and to see whales in mountains.

Equally important, a teacher must provide the feedback that allows them to understand how they can turn those mistakes into positive learning experiences. Learning is both interactive and collaborative. A teacher has a responsibility to be an active learner as well. From experience comes knowledge and wisdom, but one only gains experience by testing limits, exploring ideas, discovering new worlds and making mistakes. Galileo had it right when he said, “you cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself.”

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