FC Missional Moment: Voices from the Commons

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** The Name Game Professor

Overcoming classroom cynicism and building a special learning community takes work.

I sacrifice the first ten minutes of every single class building community. That’s a large chunck of a 50 minute class, but I’m convinced that when a student feels connected, secure, loved, and seen, their brains move from reactive to responsive states; they receive instruction easily and take risks in their writing.

They move away from the crippling emotions of shame-based teaching and the fear of failure, and they embrace vulnerability and perseverance through hard writing tasks.

** Name Games

In those first ten minutes, I play name games.

First, I request that we learn each other’s first and last names, hometowns, and high school achievements. I answer the questions, too. They know I was on a nationally ranked debate team and read grammar books for fun in high school, and the students shake their heads with compassion about my nerdy teenage years.

** My Professor is Terrible. We play stupid name games.

Some students do resist it at first. I was leaving class one afternoon, and I saw my student (who couldn’t see me), light up a cigarette with a group of friends and say, “My professor is terrible. She makes us do these stupid name games like we’re in kindergarten.”

I shared with some friend how the comment hurt and what a bad teaching day it was. Two former students heard about this naysayer. They actually drove from Pittsburg to visit this same classroom to defend the Name Games. I’m not kidding. These alumni sat in class and shared their stories of how my community building changed their lives and set them up for their professional goals.

When I asked the students why they came all that way to defend me, Hank said, “Nobody messes with Dr. H. and the name games.”

[Endearingly enough, on the last day of that semester, the cynical student who hated the name games actually cried in class. He wrote me a long note on a special card and had the whole class sign it. He brought me a gift, and even now, we remain friends on social media and often talk about his journey as a writer and scholar.]

** The Power of Community Building Questions

In the following weeks, I ask students to answer one question before my teaching begins every single class day. The goal is to bond well with one another, build empathy, and overcome the fear of sharing authentically. This is also important for their professional development where success is often a measure of rapport, effective communication, and appropriate bonding with others.

Over the semester, I keep and use a list of 50 or so questions ranging from what their favorite home-cooked meal is to the first song they remember loving.

My favorite connection moments are questions about movies they think everyone should see and movies they think no one should see (
Shawshank Redemption, yes! Battlefield Earth, no!) I confess my love of any cheerleading or dancing movie like Bring It On or Center Stage. As the semester moves on, I’ll ask about sentimental objects they brought to their college dorm rooms (baby blankets, photographs, jewelry from a grandparent), greatest fears, or sublime experiences in nature. The goal remains honesty, transparency, and acceptance by the group.

Since I go to class early, I always have some time before class begins. I ask the early-arriving students what they would like to learn about each other that day. I also ask them questions about their other classes, their activities, their dorm life, and their musical tastes.

** What are your favorite apps? YouTube videos?

They arrive always with headphones on and iPhones scrolling, so I immediately ask what they’re listening to (usually Kanye West or Eminem) and what great apps have their attention (Twitter and Snapchat). I shamelessly share my love of country music and that I still don’t understand my iPhone.

My name games over the last 20 years have evolved with the changing times; I’m asking now about favorite apps and YouTube videos and shocking my students with the notion that I dated my husband in an era when cell phones did not exist and email was just coming into popular use.

They can’t help but ask: How did you find each other during the day? How did you know what people were doing?

What fun sharing my story with them.

–Heather Holleman, Penn State

Heather’s List of 50 Community Building Questions (https://gallery.mailchimp.com/38238054998a2e79e4668e3c7/files/Community_Building.pdf)

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“To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced. . . I know of one college with a marvelous motto, ‘The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends.’ Its founders clearly understood that the rigors of that pursuit require a bond of affection between the members of the expeditionary team.”–Parker Palmer

Good conversation begins with good listening, not forming any preconceptions about another’s beliefs and not focusing on what we want to say next. We have to listen to what the person is really saying. The Book of Proverbs reminds us that “He who answers before listening — that is his folly and shame. The ears of the wise seek it out.”—Proverbs 18:13,15 (https://www.facultycommons.com/3-steps-in-the-art-of-conversation/)


U (https://www.facultycommons.com/to-love-and-good-works/) pcoming FCMMs from Heather:
Gospel Conversations
Why are you so happy?
Our Grace-infused Role as Faculty

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