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Teaching as a Learning Experience

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 

“Meet students where they are, but don’t ever let them stay there.”


The posting below talks about the connection between students' lived experience with their learning and reflection.  It is from Chapter 8 - Teaching and Learning that Make a Difference, by James L. Heft in the book, Teaching the Whole Student - Engaged Learning with Heart, Mind, and Spirt, edited by David Schoem, Christine Modey, and Edward P. St. John. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, Virginal 20166-2102. Copyright  2017 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.  Reprinted with permissiobn.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: The Textbook Transformed


Tomorrows’ Teaching and Learning

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Teaching as a Learning Experience


From early childhood, I watched my father tell stories. He was very good at it. I think from him I learned how telling a good story can capture the attention of others. Later, I realized that the more I knew of history and of the people who shaped it, the more interesting the stories I could tell. Subjects that I have taught at the college level, such as ethics and doctrines, have a content whose integrity needs to be respected. But I also realized that if I couldn’t illustrate through examples and stories what I was talking about, I rarely made an educational connection with my students. Moreover, if I didn’t get the students to ask their own questions, to discover what they might have been hesitant to ask because of embarrassment or shyness, they did not really learn as much as they might otherwise. Faculty can make students feel stupid; that is easy to do. It is much more worthwhile to help students discover that they have a mind, that they can ask good questions, and that their own ideas are worth talking about. A mentor of mind once remarked, “Meet students where they are, but don’t ever let them stay there.” To that bit of good advice, I would add, “Help students value learning, but also teach them to pay close attention to their own experiences.” Though limited, the ranges of experiences that young people have can often be underestimated. Taking experience to a level of adequate articulation is at the heart of integrative pedagogy. One must both think and live. If “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then the “unlived life is not worth examining.” We must both live and think; neither takes care of itself without personal discipline. 

Faculty mentors have an important role to play in encouraging students to bring together their lived experiences with their learning and reflection, and we can do this powerfully through the personal connections we make with students. For nearly 30 years, I taught an undergraduate course in Christian ethics at the University of Dayton. During my first year of teaching, at the very beginning of the semester, I interviewed all my students individually, a practice I have continued to this day, even now at a large secular university. These short, 15-minute interviews open up communication, create a more personal relationship, and help me understand something about my students I would not otherwise know. In that particular course, I also asked all the students to write what I called a spiritual autobiography. These essays, sometimes 12 to 15 pages in length, were incredibly valuable for me and, I hope, for the students. I asked them to be honest about themselves and their journey, the people who have been helpful to them and those who have not. I assured them that I would keep their papers in the strictest confidence; I would not grade them, either. Students who did not want me to read their story had only to write on the cover sheet “Do Not Read.” In 30 years, I think only about five students asked me not to read their essay; I did not read their essay. I encouraged all the students to keep these essays for the rest of their life and reread them in the years to come, promising them that they would find fascinating what they thought as college students. Over the years, students have told me that I can read their mind; not really, because they often tell me what’s on their mind, and I simply tell them what they’ve told me as a way of helping them reflect on and integrate their living with their learning.