March 05, 2020

A New Community of Learning: Introducing SATI (Student Advisors to the Tang Institute)

Inaugural student board will participate in shaping, evaluating, and improving the Institute’s work and impact.
by Corrie Martin

I love talking about pedagogy with my colleagues—whether it’s around the water cooler or conference table—but there’s a palpable infusion of energy and insight that only happens when you talk with students about teaching and learning. And I mean more than seeking their feedback on how your own classes are going, what seems to be working well or falling flat, as instructive as that can be. I mean opening up the hood and looking at the machinery together, talking with students about their ideas, experiences, and questions about teaching as an art form and a profession, about the differences and overlaps between schooling and education in the broadest sense, and about what they’re interested in learning and how they’d like to learn it.

With all that in mind, I should not have been surprised when over thirty students, ranging from 9th to 12th graders, responded to our recent call for interest in joining the inaugural board of Student Advisors to the Tang Institute (SATI). Interested students were asked to introduce themselves and write about why they wanted to become involved with the Institute. Their responses were powerful and spoke to the fact that they are already engaged in the very things I mention above. One student was inspired by the legacy of a grandfather who founded several schools in India. Another thinks the intersections between computer science and philosophy have interesting implications for teaching and learning. A third helps create and distribute innovative lesson plans and activities that teach STEM skills and concepts to kids in other parts of the world. And yet another is driving interest in curricular change across disciplines in the area of climate change and climate justice.

Lucy ’20 wrote, “I am a 4-year senior. I am on the crew and JV swim teams, I do Model UN and science club, and I am a peer tutor in math and bio. I am interested in serving on the board because I feel some students are not aware of what the Tang Institute does (myself included until recently). This is a good space for conversations about education and different approaches to learning.”

Building upon the foundation of student-faculty collaboration started by Caroline Nolan, the inaugural director of the Tang Institute, we are engaging students directly in the process of shaping, evaluating, and improving the Institute’s work and impact. SATI members are connecting with faculty fellows in a variety of ways, working with them to advance research and helping to design and implement new ideas about teaching and learning.

For example, advisory board members decided one of their priorities is to get to know the work of current and former Tang fellows like Dr. Kiran Bhardwaj, instructor of religion and philosophy, and Dr. Nicholas Zufelt, instructor of computer science, statistics, and mathematics. Bhardwaj and Zufelt are now involving these students in Ethi{CS}, their joint computer science and ethics project, by getting their feedback on lesson plans they are developing. This will help the fellows refine their plans so they can be shared with other schools interested in new ways to teach computer science skills through the lens of ethical inquiry and discourse.

Other SATI members have stepped up to be the first students to test an online creative writing course developed by Kate McQuade, English instructor and former Tang fellow, and Erin McCloskey, associate director of educational initiatives. The course has never had a run-through with real students so this pilot group will provide helpful feedback.

With the introduction of SATI, we are drawing back the curtain and inviting students to see and take part in the often invisible “behind the scenes” thinking and planning teachers do. I suspect that being genuinely open with our students about our reasoning behind our instructional moves and design choices might ultimately entail committing to growing into a different kind of teacher, one who embraces a new kind of relationship with our students. As educator Zaretta Hammond explains so compellingly in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, building an authentic “learning partnership” with our students is critical to cultivating their inherent cognitive resources for deep, self-directed learning.

Bringing our students into the conversation about teaching and learning strikes me as a partnership that directly and exponentially benefits both. This direct pipeline to students’ imaginative and collective wisdom, and to their diverse perspectives on their educational experiences, can only be a win for the Tang Institute.

Sati, which means mindfulness or awareness in Pali and is derived from the Sanskrit word smriti, is an apt moniker for the work of the Tang Institute.

Corrie Martin is an English instructor at Phillips Academy, a senior Tang fellow in engaged pedagogy, and a member of the Workshop faculty.

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