By Jeff Murphy, September 22, 2023
Author and educator Flower Darby, right, enjoys a light-hearted moment showing off a dance move to her audience as University of Central Missouri Faculty Senate President Daniel Wilcott offers technical support during the Faculty Senate Teaching and Learning Conference at UCM.
WARRENSBURG, MO – While talking about “Small Teaching Strategies to Help Students Engage and Learn,” author and educator Flower Darby encouraged University of Central Missouri faculty members to nurture their own health and emotional well-being as a way to maintain their motivation for teaching and building connections with students.
“What I want to argue today is that you have an amazing opportunity in front of you. You are the key to your students’ ability to engage and learn but only if you are doing okay yourself. It’s really hard to help our students if we are feeling low,” she told a large group of faculty members during her remarks on Sept. 18 in the ballroom of the Elliott Student Union.
Darby, who has more than 25 years of experience in higher education, and is the co-author of the book, “Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes,” was the keynote speaker for UCM’s second annual Faculty Senate Teaching and Research Conference. With the theme, “Strengthening Our Practice: Empowering Our Students,” the one-day event provided numerous breakout sessions, and around-the-table discussions led by faculty members designed to foster ideas and strategies for educators.
The Teaching and Research Conference was sponsored by the Faculty Senate and the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Provost Phil Bridgmon spoke briefly to the gathering shortly before Darby’s remarks. He noted that each registered faculty member who attended the event would receive $500 in professional development funding for their participation. Bridgmon als thanked the Faculty Senate Teaching and Research Conference Committee for coordinating the event.
“I’m looking forward to the ideas because I think small can lead to something big and significant,” Bridgmon said connecting the events of the day with Darby’s presentation topic.
In her presentation, Darby said before a teacher can expect to motivate and empower their students, they need be aware of their own health and emotional status. She pointed out that there has been much written recently about the busy work culture that exists in the teaching profession.
“Let’s face it, we live in a systematic culture that prizes overwork. If we are sitting in this room, we are probably overachievers by nature,” she said, “Those of us who chose to pursue this as a career, we tend to value hard work, and sometimes in different seasons of our life we thrive on that hard work, but it is really easy to lose site of the need to nurture our own well-being.”
She said teachers need to give themselves “permission to rest.” Part of the small teaching philosophy is that they should not “attempt to do everything all at once.” If they take away ideas from the conference that resonate with them, for example, they should implement them but don’t overwhelm themselves. It is okay to take a break from productivity.
“A colleague reminded me it’s also good to have time with family and friends, but you need some ‘me time’ whether that is exercise, meditation or sitting outside in the beautiful weather,” Darby said.
She also spoke about various strategies a professor can employ in the classroom to help students better connect with them as a person. According to Darby researchers have found that this is important in building a student’s intrinsic motivation to learn.
“Can you imagine getting your students’ minds to think ‘Hey, I really want to do this work because it is rewarding, it’s important, and I see the value of it,’” she remarked.
Darby also spoke about the benefits of helping students to feel competent and confident in their ability to complete a task, and building autonomy so that they perceive they have a degree of control over what is happening within the context of their learning environment. These efforts help build a student’s intrinsic motivation, which is necessary before students will engage in the learning process.
Among many other suggestions to enhance the learning experience, Darby emphasized educators should proactively look for ways to design their classes to help all students to be successful, regardless of their social identities, their current life circumstances, backgrounds, or disabilities, “because no two people learn the same.”