There is nothing quite like a Friday afternoon. The hurry-up pressures of the week come to a halt, and I can catch my breath against the wide open space of a weekend. But Fridays are special for another reason too. They give me a chance to actively reflect on the teaching and learning that occurred (or didn't occur) during the previous five days in my classroom.
For the past seven years, I have been sharing these Friday afternoon reflections with my students via email. I've coined them my “random memorandums,” and they incorporate a variety of observations about my task as professor, their role as student, and the interactions we share. At the outset, these ramblings appear quite arbitrary. (In fact, one student christened them my “stray thoughts.”) However, a closer examination reveals that they are not random at all. On the contrary, these Friday messages are an extension of the school experience. In fact, some might even call them “pedagogy.”
Following are some key features of these weekly conversations. I have also included some of my entries from past random memorandums.
We all know that teaching is a work in progress, and as we construct an image of the kind of professor we want to be, it is important that we are recognizable in our practice. One means of distinguishing ourselves is by communicating with our students in an open, honest manner. The random memorandum is one way of accomplishing this.
AUTHOR UPDATE (received 9/23/2019): I strongly believe that our learning spaces must be built on relationships and that random memorandums (RMs) nourish the humanity that exists between a teacher and her students. Acknowledging the successes of the week, along with the challenges, contributes to the honest and open atmosphere that promotes learning. I also often found that exposing the fact that I struggled with pacing or clarity during a specific lesson was a wonderful gift I could give to my students. They learned that absolutes simply do not exist and that teaching is full of decisions (trial and error) that often multiply faster than the teacher can respond. They also learn that our storehouse of instructional knowledge continues to evolve throughout our professional careers.
I think the RMs are easy to tailor to any course. They provide an additional avenue of communication, plus the opportunity to converse about pedagogy. All of us have afterthoughts when the session ends and we leave the room or log off. Sometimes these afterthoughts are more valuable than the lesson itself. They offer one more teachable moment we have with our students. It lets them know that what we talked about in class is still on my mind and I’m hoping on theirs as well. We learn and teach together—it’s a humbling experience for both of us.
Finally, I found my Friday afternoons a perfect time for contemplation and solitude from the demanding pace of teaching; the RMs were an opportunity to take ownership of my successes and challenges and to let my students know that good teaching cannot be willed. It is a continuous stream of decisions and reflections—and both increase the probability of learning.
Contact Deborah Bracke at firstname.lastname@example.org.