“Education, like the entrepreneurial process, is a journey rather than a goal fixed in one particular time period. The process of teaching new concepts and helping students discover a new world doesn’t revolve around reading slides and it doesn’t stop after class hours. As instructors, we contribute to building the character that makes students the leaders and experts of tomorrow, which makes the teaching method a critical component of the education process.”
Professor Gregory Adolphe-Nazaire
The first time that I encountered Professor Adolphe-Nazaire, was through Nicole Maunsell’s Dalhousie News post announcing that he had received the prestigious A. Gordon Archibald Teaching Excellence Award for the 2017 – 2018 academic year. The Archibald Award celebrates the art of teaching, of embracing a deep and profound commitment to knowledge, exploration, research and excellence.
CEGE Connection reached out to Professor Adolphe-Nazaire in a telephone interview, with one question: Why do you teach? Professor Adolphe-Nazaire’s passion and enthusiasm for teaching was evident throughout our conversation, clearly demonstrating his dedication to his students.
Professor Adolphe-Nazaire’s vision for authentic education is unmistakable. His call to action motivates as well as challenges. “If life is generous enough to give you what you need to succeed, you should be willing to give back to the community.”
A special thank you to Professor Adolphe-Nazaire for his generous willingness to join the CEGE Connection conversation and share his insights into teaching and creating environments that foster a powerful desire to discover and learn.
Editor & Blog Coordinator,
Professor Gregory Adolphe-Nazaire:
It is almost a cliché to quote John Dewey: “Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
However, in that very famous quote, the three definitions lead to one term: a dynamic. Education, like the entrepreneurial process, is a journey rather than a goal fixed in one particular time period. The process of teaching new concepts and helping students discover a new world doesn’t revolve around reading slides and it doesn’t stop after class hours. As instructors, we contribute to building the character that makes students the leaders and experts of tomorrow, which makes the teaching method a critical component of the education process.
We, the instructors, are considered a key part of the process and should strive to create an environment that fosters participation and encourages students’ critical thinking, even when it is sometimes deeply buried. We should also motivate them to go beyond buzzwords, faceless concepts and academic platitudes so they can put whatever they learn in proper context. Therefore, the dynamic should be based essentially on inspiration and mentorship.
However, whether it is in a classroom setting or online, one cannot become inspiring without being truly passionate about a subject. As William Arthur Ward put it so eloquently: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
Indeed, an instructor’s passion and enthusiasm for a particular subject never goes unnoticed. That desire to share information and knowledge can create an atmosphere in which students feel they are celebrating learning instead of enduring it. It may also help if students align their personal goals with the material being thought (e.g., personal life and financial planning or home economics) and thus have a sense of purpose rather than just aiming to pass the class.
As for the mentoring aspect of teaching, I believe that interaction with students and continuous feedback are paramount. My teaching approach at its core is dialogic rather than authoritative, horizontal rather than vertical—a philosophy shaped by my own experience with mentors both academic and professional, and where my journey as an apprentice was casual rather than formal.
However, we should bear in mind that setting that conversational and inclusive atmosphere in the classroom is like walking a fine line between making sure we have the necessary rigor for the conceptual framework while having students feeling empowered to participate and not intimidated. For instance, teaching a complex subject like finance requires an open setting where students are actively engaged in class discussions and are empowered to think critically rather than learning how to memorize.
At this point one needs to assess the social and emotional dynamics in the class carefully in order to avoid any misstep. Starting with anecdotes or stories about sporting events is helpful for creating a comfortable and collaborative environment in which to initiate that dialogue.
While for some topics it is easy to shift from one educational paradigm to another, it can be onerous or almost impossible to deviate from the orthodoxy in subjects like hard sciences. This is the case in some schools such as engineering, military or police academies.
Another key point of the mentoring aspect is the importance of feedback. Effective teaching has to be a two-way channel: you don’t just teach, but you learn as well. While I consider the Student Rating of Instructors (SRI) to be of crucial importance, it is essential to have casual and sometimes regular feedback from students, which gives me a much better portrait of the class’s evaluation of my methods. To receive honest and relevant feedback one must build a trusting relationship with students where they feel empowered and confident about expressing their opinion. It can easily be done by showing understanding and compassion while emphasizing a strong work ethic.
Throughout my career I have been very fortunate to meet extraordinary individuals such as my mentors. Their generosity and compassion have taught me one thing: if life is generous enough to give you what you need to succeed, you should be willing to give back to the community. This has profoundly shaped my approach to teaching and mentoring. So, if you show that openness and generosity, students will be comfortable enough to tell you what you need to know to teach them better.
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