My Teaching Philosophy

My career passion as an academic has been engagement: what started with an effort to drive student engagement with my former institution’s participation in the American Democracy Project (ADP) has evolved into a drive to engage my fellow faculty in effective teaching, shared governance, development, and scholarship as well as building bridges between campus and community using civic engagement efforts such as political organization and service learning. That desire for creating pathways of engagement, whether among students, between students and faculty, or between different faculty members and levels of administration at Radford, West Georgia and Fort Hays State is the core of my pedagogical philosophy.

The first and most basic element of my teaching philosophy is to love what I do. If I come into a classroom and I lack enthusiasm for the subject or the job, why should I expect the students to be enthusiastic? Students model our behaviors and if we are passionate about the world of human governance then our students can follow suit. Thus I enter every classroom with energy and a positive attitude. The subject matter we deal with in Political Science is not only complex but emotionally charged. Students can easily become overwhelmed and off-put by our courses. By projecting positivity, I am subtly cuing students to approach their work with a commensurate amount of positive energy.

Since our subject matter is controversial, the other basic orientation I bring to my teaching is one of respect. All viewpoints must be respected and given a forum – such is the essence of a democratic society. We must, as political scientists, honor the evolving nature of our students’ ideological orientations. While we cannot – and should not – validate all viewpoints we must validate all students. Everyone deserves a forum, and in that forum there is the opportunity for debate. By respecting my students, their background, and their viewpoints, we can have frank discussions about controversial topics without causing students distress. In my Political Communication courses, I avail students of ADP-aligned opportunities such as the Unify America online dialog activity, where students of divergent ideological backgrounds are brought together to deliberate and find understanding.

Teaching for me is a collaborative and fully immersive experience. I believe that students deserve the same immersion and interactivity from the experience that I get as an instructor. I have never been a fan of the traditional “stand and deliver” method of instruction. Students today expect and need a more engaging classroom experience. From the very beginning of my teaching days as a graduate instructor and adjunct faculty member, I have used group work, simulations, and student-led activities as central to my teaching. In large American Government sections, I have used the Game of Politics simulation, for example. And I have developed group activities for other classes. In my Political Communication classes, I have developed group simulations where students prepare and produce their own newscast to simulate the news selection and presentation process. I have my Political Campaign Management students canvass a ‘neighborhood’ of colleagues’ offices on campus to simulate the door-to-door experience of a campaign. Seminar students conduct topical research and rotate serving as a lead student guiding classroom discussion and inquiry. By putting students in active situations we push them to apply their knowledge in tangible ways that improves not only their enjoyment, but their learning. Active learning is engaged learning.

I use the data from previous classes to improve my pedagogy. I am particularly proud of winning the Closing The Loop Award in 2015 at FHSU for using feedback data from internship providers to overhaul our Internships in Political Science course. Internship providers noted that students lacked professionalism - punctuality, dress, and decorum. I completely changed the curriculum to include training relevant to on-the-job behavior, and provider evaluations of our students jumped from mid-range and below to nearly 5.0 on a 5.0 scale.

I also believe that part of the teaching process is teaching students how to conduct research. All of my major classes go to the library for a class day of intensive research learning, including a source scavenger hunt. I require all student papers to be peer reviewed and presented to the class, where fellow students and I use rubrics to evaluate the presentations. Furthermore, I have mentored both undergraduate and graduate students in scholarship, having co-authored with several students over the last seven years. In my Congress class, I have students research and present on upcoming legislative elections at our signature Political Science Days event.

As a result of my passion for engaged teaching, I am rated highly by student evaluations of instruction for student-faculty engagement and support for student learning. My alumni are state representatives, lobbyists, and political professionals in the state and beyond. The placement success of my students in professional political fields is a point of special pride for me. I use my Political Parties class to introduce students to practitioners in the field to make connections that they then leverage into internships and career opportunities.

I am also proud of the regular recognition I receive for my teaching, from groups as diverse as the Interfraternity and Panhellenic Councils, Mortar Board, the Honor Society, I am a four-time nominee for the campus’ highest teaching prize, the Pilot Award. I innovate in the classroom as a regular user of technology from tools like Echo360 for live, embedded quizzing in introductory classes to use of online tools like the SDA statistical analysis tool for upper-division undergraduate research methods and political behavior classes.

Students do not need a ‘sage on the stage’, but a guide to learning. Students must see value, feel respected as individuals, be engaged and involved, and be called to purpose to learn effectively. I believe that my in- and out-of-classroom teaching and mentorship provide that value proposition, respect, engagement, and purpose.