Maintaining Your Instruction Mojo

This post is somewhat of a follow-up to my last one on the involved library administrator. In that post I identified some reasons why an academic library administrator should consider staying actively involved in public services. That includes teaching instruction sessions.

There are many dimensions to being a great library instructor. Teaching regularly can certainly help to keep those skills sharp, and it affords the needed opportunity to experiment with learners, to try new things, and to stretch one’s capabilities in the classroom. While I advocated that academic library administrators should endeavor to continue their teaching role (BTW, there are college presidents that continue to teach regularly), having fewer opportunities to do so isn’t without consequences. For one thing, you become a bit rusty. In addition, since moving into administration is something you typically do in the latter part of your career, you’re a bit older, maybe less energetic and perhaps a bit less eager to try new things. Oh, and the students look much younger.

I volunteered for a few freshman instruction sessions this semester and I got to thinking about whether I’m going to appear too old or out of touch to the students. Using a cultural reference to the sixties that no contemporary student would understand is not beyond the realm of possibility for me. I’m certainly older than most of the lecturers teaching the courses. I’d like to avoid coming off as out-of-touch. On the other hand I absolutely don’t want to seem like I am trying too hard to be cool. I got to thinking about this a bit more when I came across an article in the August/September 2009 issue of The Teaching Professor titled “Why Don’t My Students Think I’m Groovy“. (sorry – not freely available online). The author raises concerns about how to keep her teaching methods fresh so millennial students can connect with her.

The author suggests the five R’s for engaging millennial students:

1. Relevance – The big challenge is to connect course content to the current culture – learning has to be relevant to them.

2. Rationale – Today’s students were raised in a non-authoritarian manner. They won’t comply because the instructor is in charge, but will be more likely to do so when given a good rationale.

3. Relaxed – They thrive in a less formal environment in which they can interact informally with the instructor and each other.

4. Rapport – More than previous generations they are used to having adults in their lives and show interest in them. They appreciate it when instructors show interest as well or when we connect on a personal level.

5. Research-based methods – Millennials have grown up constantly engaged so they can tend to bore easily, so be prepared with active learning methods

These are good tips to keep in mind. Something else that can help is the ability to demonstrate comfort and flexibility with technology. Being a geek could potentially score additional points with today’s students. Again, trying too hard could be problematic, but showing some skills with the smart classroom technology or navigating the web could work in your favor. If you end up having to ask the students for help you may be in trouble.

So how have things been going for me? I now remind myself to dress more casually on days I teach an instruction session. For these groups, I don’t think a suit and tie makes the instructor appear as likable or approachable. I make sure I’m comfortable with the technology. In fact I downloaded our clicker software and spent time learning how to create slides that will work with the clicker technology we’re using in our instruction this semester. I can’t say for sure if I’ve got my instruction mojo working at full capacity, but things seem to be going well. No one fell asleep in the 8:00 am class I did last week.

8 thoughts on “Maintaining Your Instruction Mojo”

  1. Your comment about suit and tie speaks to me. I’ve noticed that, on my campus, suit and tie is getting less and less common among the male faculty. I happen to be comfortable in it, and like the look… but it seems to be quickly becoming “period costume.” If I’m trying to blend in with the faculty, it’s not working. (Although neither is the encroaching grey hair…)

  2. Great job finding the link to that article Pam. You can always count on a librarian to come up with the link. I must have read a condensed version of this longer article – in The Teaching Professor. Actually I’m glad readers will have access the full article – and I’ll add the link to the original post. Thanks again for your help on this one.

  3. There is a danger in dressing down in today’s society, though. There still needs to be a boundary between teacher and buddy. I make it a point to wear a shirt and tie when I teach (I must admit I have never worn a suit coat though, and don’t plan to.) just to be more professional. I have noticed that when I wear a shirt and tie to a classroom as an observer, the professor often starts to wear one, too, by the end of the semester. No lie. It is not a competition between me and the professor so much as an invitation to be more professional. Some will never be caught dead in a tie and that’s just fine. I think there are some others, though, who are just looking for an excuse to be a little more professional.

    But from a library standpoint, our students and our society as a whole need more visual reinforcement that librarians are not cardigan-wearing, pointer-finger-shushing 20th century librarians. We are different. We are shiny new librarians with a sunny disposition and a strong desire to foster collaborative learning; if not, we should be (fake it till you make it).
    Instead of concentrating on the tie/no tie and librarian image dilemma, #4 Rapport can really be easily attained by actually trying to learn students names (and laughing and not being embarrassed when you forget, because you will. Often. 🙂 ). This really goes far. When we ask questions, ask respondents’ names the first time they comment. The next time they raise their hand, call on them by name. This works wonders in the instruction room.

  4. Gerrit – I don’t think it much matters whether you wear a tie or not when you are the instructor. I could just remove my suit jacket and there I’d be with a shirt and tie look. I think you can do well with a casual business look – try going no tie – but a sport jacket. You’ll probably still be better dressed than the course instructor and you’ll get that professional look you desire. But I fully support your suggestion to get to know student names. I’ve been doing that in my sessions for years.

  5. In my many years as an academic librarian (and nearly all of them as a Director), I have refused to be in a situation where I don’t “do” public services. I work the Reference Desk, I work the Circ Desk, and I engage tours and classes. That’s why I became a librarian! I understand that this won’t work in all situations and that at some level of the food chain, direct public services work drops off the job description. Thankfully, I’m right where I want to be–in the middle of the food chain; a medium fish in a medium pond.

    In the classroom (or at the service desk), I make an effort to smile, establish eye contact, express enthusiasm for the Library and its resources and for their research/class topic. If I come across as a bit geeky, that’s OK. I also seek out professional development opportunities focused on improving the practice of teaching. We just didn’t get enough of that in Library School or at library conferences!

    SO, I applaud you, Steven, for making the effort to keep that invaluable connection with your students.

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