Goldman School of Public Policy
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs
Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award is sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center.
I don’t claim any particular expertise or wisdom with regard to mentoring GSIs but I’ve tried to follow four principles which seem to me to be useful.
1. Model genuine intellectual passion and excitement. The most important thing a teacher can do is model his or her love of teaching and love of the subject being taught. Students and GSIs learn most from being inspired. There are few things more inspiring than bearing witness to someone who is passionate about what they’re doing.
2. Give weekly coaching about pedagogy. I believe it useful to spend significant time with GSIs, talking not only about the subject at hand but also about the process of teaching. My role here is that of a coach rather than an executive. I want GSIs to feel responsible for their sections and to exercise a certain degree of autonomy while they gain practice as teachers. They need to know that pedagogy matters. To this end, each week I meet for lunch or dinner with my GSIs. The meeting occurs immediately after the class I teach, which they’ve attended. During these weekly “GSI seminars” we discuss pedagogical techniques that seem to work well and those that are less successful, as well as the week’s major lessons. I ask the GSIs to share experiences about the sections they ran during the week, and to ask me and the other GSIs for guidance about any matter that may have come up, either substantive or pedagogical.
3. Create a team. We function as a team. GSIs take turns developing “lesson plans” for the weekly section meetings, and share them with each other. The GSIs and I also maintain an active correspondence over email. Immediately after their sections, each GSI sends me and all other GSIs a short summary of what occurred in section — how responsive students were overall, issues students had difficulty understanding, and substantive and pedagogical questions that arose for the GSI during the course of the section. This team approach not only enables me to help the GSIs but the GSIs to help one another, and me.
4. Invite feedback in all directions. All of us — students, GSIs, and I — are engaged in a learning process. The GSIs and I need to learn how best to get across complex concepts to the students, while the students need to learn them. This mutual learning necessarily requires a rich and constructive feedback system – feedback for the students about how well they’re learning, feedback for the GSIs and for me about how well we’re teaching. No two sections or two classes are the same. What “works” in one instance may not in another. My role and responsibility is to engage students and GSIs in this mutual-learning system, and keep their attention on it. For example, halfway through the term, GSIs distribute in section a questionnaire that asks students what’s most helpful to their learning in section and in lecture, what the GSIs and I could do that would be even more helpful, and steps the students should take to get even more out of the course. GSIs then summarize these responses and share them with other GSIs and with me.