Reading 'Personal theories of teaching' by Dennis Fox (1983) provided a framework to consider my teaching approach. While I saw many similarities between my own theory/style and the 'Traveling' and 'Growing' theories presented by Fox, there was no theory presented in that article that focused on teaching as transformative. I developed and explore here, through Fox's framework, a theory of 'Transformative' teaching:
Verbs commonly used: Co-create, explore, challenge, question, encourage, develop, enable, grow, privilege, resist.
The subject matter: Viewpoints, possible/multiple truths, results of decisions affected by power, ways of knowing, experiences to be incorporated.
View of the student: Community builder/member, explorer, co-creator, growing entities with deep roots, ally.
Community builder: As a community member/builder, students actively contribute to the building of a learning community to which they give as well as from which they take. Thus, students are responsible not only for their own learning but also, in some ways, for the learning of others. The minimum aspects of this are respect, a willingness to give another the benefit of the doubt, and a minimum of participation in some form. A truly successful community, however, is built through member's investment and involvement.
Explorer: Students are active explorers of knowledge, values, worldviews. In education, they seek information and understanding. They are open and enthusiastic about exploring new terrain, if given the necessary guidance, resources, and encouragement.
Co-creators: Students are not only explorers but also co-creators of knowledge and meaning. They actively engage with and work to integrate the information and experiences they encounter in the classroom. They actively create meanings by integrating new information, experiences, values, and voices with their previously existing understandings. These meanings are shared through exercises, assignments, and discussions in class so that each participant in the class affects the meanings created by other participants.
Growing entitities with deep roots: Students are seeking not only to know and explore new terrain of thinking and perceiving, but also to grow and explore their own development and place in relation to their self, families, and communities. Attention to socioemotional development of students within their contexts is necessary for good education. Facts are not enough.
Ally: Students either do now or will come to hold the power to influence/direct the society of which they are a part. They are future allies in creating social justice, resisting oppression, and contributing to positive social change and maintenance.
View of the teacher: Community organizer, guide, co-creator, model, goad, nurturer/gardener, activist.
Community organizer: If a community is to be built within the classroom, some organization is necessary. Teachers are both community members and the primary (but rarely only) community organizer. Attention to process dynamics, making space for the voice of different members, facilitating relationships and connections, enabling constructive dissent, fostering shared goals and directions, and structuring initiatives are part of community organizing.
Guide: As a guide, a teacher explores with students the terrain of the content: multiple worldviews, facts, knowledges, "lenses" through which to view the world, and new experiences. The guide calls attention to new experiences and things to see. The guide directs attention to things that might be overlooked, as well as exploring why we might overlook them. The guide discusses with student explorers the decision points within the journey, in an attempt to make transparent the process of guiding and path building/choice, so that student explorers may develop guiding skills of their own to enable future journeys.
Co-creator: Like students, teachers are co-creators of knowledge and meanings. Teachers actively work with students to integrate and create meaning from multiple sources: (a) the teacher's own understanding (past and present) of the content, (b) students' understanding of the content, (c) teacher's experiences and worldview shaped outside the classroom, (d) students' experiences and worldview shaped outside the classroom and (e) the knowing and experiences shared within the classroom. The teacher as co-creator has skills that contribute to helping the process of co-creation through facilitating clarifying, interpreting, and connecting the different contributions.
Model: Teachers are always models, regardless of their intentionality in this area. As teachers share their understanding of content, they model one possibility of what can be known. In sharing their journey to their current understanding and trying to make this process of learning more transparent, they model a process: ways of learning, approaching, and questioning; an openness and an understanding that the knowing is incomplete, a work in progress, a journey with many choices and continuing uncertainty; and a comfort with this uncertainty and a willingness to not know in order to learn.
Goad: Teachers act as goads, encouraging students to take risks, to step outside what is comfortable and known and critically examine this. Teachers encourage students to question how they know what they know and how they know it to be valuable or "true." They goad students to consider other possible ways of seeing and understanding and the influences on valuing one way over another. They goad students to challenge themselves and their knowing and to contextualize both in relation to sociohistorical systems both within education and outside of the classroom and educational institutions.
Nurturer/supporter/gardener: Growth and learning frequently entail taking risks, becoming uncomfortable and, sometimes, experiencing pain or other negative emotions. To nurture students and enable their learning and growth, it is necessary to provide both intellectual and emotional resources, to acknowledge and applaud the risks and courage to face discomfort, to build supports and connections with other students, to encourage and appreciate learning and growth.
Activist: Education is not value-neutral. Educational institutions have been and frequently still are places that allow or encourage oppression, through content, pedagogical practices, and institutional policies. The teacher as activist recognizes this history and resists participation in its maintenance. In content, one aspect of the teacher as activist is making space for historically excluded knowledge and voices. In relation to practice, one example of teachers as activists is structuring classroom spaces and assignments to enable different ways and traditions of knowing (e.g. using a talking stick for discussion or an open-media project in place of a term paper). Teachers as activists call attention to systems of oppression and bias within education, within disciplinary fields, and within the larger social context. They must be knowledgeable about all of these areas and about their own place in relation. Teachers as activists frame education itself as a way to resist oppression and actively demonstrate alternatives.
Teaching methods: Discussions (multiple approaches), simulations, exercises with unpredictable outcomes, students-teaching-students, mini-lectures/overviews that utilize student input and connect experiential learning with abstract didactic material.
Focus of Teaching Methods: Exploring new perspectives and knowledges; experiencing as well as thinking; critically examining one's own worldview; critically examining dominant "truths," ways of knowing, and the processes that make these dominant; integrating personal experience with new learning, information, and experiences.
Methods for measuring progress: "Travel journals": descriptions of what students have seen, heard, and experienced including reflections on what was new, previously unseen, or changed from prior context or experience. Personal reflections on development and understanding. Integration of new concepts and knowledge with previously established knowledge and/or with personal experiences.
Explanations for failure due to student: (Note this can be the teacher's view or the student's view.) Expectation that learning is passive, investment in banking model or education, lack of motivation to explore, narrow vision of purpose of education, overly rigid or overly committed to a single truth, unwilling/unable to contribute to community.
Explanations for failure due to teacher: (Note this can be the teacher's view or the student's view.) Not sensitive to students' place in developmental journey, not open enough to students' feedback, poor guide, unclear or too difficult terrain to explore, poor directions or structure, poor community organizing, poor model for integrating experiences, not providing enough resources, not knowledgeable about sociohistorical context and current influences on education content and pedagogy and the ways in which education historically privileges some and oppresses others.