By Long S. Le
In a recent “check-in” with my international business (IB) course, I told students of being captivated while watching a mixed martial arts fight of Kron Gracie and his ring persona. I highlighted Kron’s family enterprise in innovating Jiu Jitsu in Brazil and its impact on modern day mixed martial arts organizations in the US and Japan. Specifically, I seized on Kron’s journey of discovering his own martial arts identity while at the same time critically reflecting the obligation to represent his family’s Jiu Jitsu to the world.
However, I did not tell students why I was affected by Kron’s process of becoming: I personally connected to Kron’s approach through which his teaching Jiu Jitsu is deeply related to his fights. Here, Kron makes a point of managing a schedule where he could both teach and train. This is because he finds value in teaching and working out with his students as much as he does in training with his team of fighters and coaches when preparing for a fight.
“Jiu-Jitsu for sure will save your ass, one way or another. Not necessarily a physical fight but also being able to deal with yourself, know about yourself, and really improve yourself as a whole.” – Kron Gracie
This perspective has, in fact, inspired me to continue in integrating both the performance side and the personal development side of my teaching.
In particular, I value accompanying and collaborating with students outside of the classroom, as well as sharing and co-creating pedagogies with educators from other academic disciplines. Over time these practices help me to develop a teaching persona that reflects my larger true self rather than the expectations of others. Importantly, they also help me to reflect on how I construct my teaching persona and whether it is one that motivates and supports student learning. So when I step in the front of the classroom to perform, I have an ongoing understanding of who I am as a teacher and have (re)designed class activities that invite and engage as many students as possible, striving to make the subject relevant to their lives and their future careers.
If students read this blog, they know that I too am striving to be a learner in order to become a better teacher. Why I interact with students the way I do, and what it is that I value in the study of IB, might also become more visible to them.
Like going to the gym, blogging about the process of becoming is important for sustaining a healthy interior as well as exterior of teaching.
By some accounts, some teachers make their way to their teaching identities but do so in haphazard ways or without really knowing how they’ve gotten there. Some create a deliberate persona or try on teaching personas based on characteristics of what they believe to be an ideal teacher and find that they are becoming someone they are not. Even among more seasoned teachers, there are times when the classroom is lifeless and they seem unable to do anything about it, leaving them to doubt whether they have mastered the art and craft of teaching.
According to Parker Palmer, a key reason why it is so difficult to do even passably well in teaching is that knowing students and the subject depend heavily on our self-knowledge. When we don’t know the shadows of our unexamined lives, we cannot see students clearly, and we cannot know our subject at its deepest level of personal meaning. Therefore, we need to open the inner landscape of our teaching lives.
“If I am willing to look in that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge—and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.” – Parker J. Palmer
I began to blog on IB education as a purposeful way to explore my teaching identity rather than have that emerge more by happenstance. Blogging for me is a space where I think through as well as express my own thinking process in keeping up with the rapid changes in IB. It is also a mirror that I can use to become more self-aware and discover my teaching persona, which I am still prototyping and testing to become a better conduit for my students in connecting the theory and practice of IB.
Somewhat surprisingly, studies have found that educators who blog are not directly motivated by teaching practices, purposes, and identities. Instead their focuses are mainly on expressing views on particular debates, disseminating research findings, and writing about academic life. In comparison, educational blogs – reflecting on one’s teaching and learning that is in the interest of the learning environment – have yet to be really considered an effective platform for professional learning and development.
I see and experience added values in blogging. I find it to be a flexible platform in that it can be both public and private. In fact, I try to integrate values from these two paradoxical spheres, where they could serve me better together rather than separate. For instance, because blogging is public, I’m attentive to the quality of writing that aims to make the thinking and reflection of my teaching experiences and purposes visible. Additionally, blogging motivates me and makes me accountable in living up to my declared teaching and development goals both inside and outside of the classroom.
Blogging is the intentionality that gets me to “the gym,” revisiting and acting on who I am when I teach in ways that promote care of student learning and care for the subject.
At the same time, I consider my blogging as a private space in the sense that I’m more interested in “scaling deep” than “scaling wide.” I’m still exploring and journaling on my teaching purpose and identity and how that contributes to students engaging and realizing meaningful experiences in the study of IB. Because it is self-published, I can and have gone back to reedit my mistakes or revise the About page. Moreover, granting that readership is important, I prefer to have growth in readership and reader comments as a function of “scaling deep” rather than explicitly or purposely marketing to attract traffic to the blog.
Educational blogging is the new “building block” for professional development in the digital age.
In general, blogging is a commitment to regularly expressing our approaches or philosophies of teaching and learning. By contrast, managing a personal webpage that updates our resume, research, course offerings, and professional development can be rather static. Once we make that commitment to creating an educational blog, there are indeed added values to be gained, as more research is being done toward connecting how blogging can be utilized for professional learning purposes.
Over time and experience, a “building block” of my personal development – the process of my becoming a more authentic teacher and the role it plays in the learning environment – has emerged. In many ways, my digital becoming is traceable and transparent for not only me but also the readers to (re)visit and (re)evaluate (publically or privately). And by blogging on my personal development, I’m moving forward and exhibiting my professional practice and lifelong learning in a more global and digital society, which I plan to blog more about!