I value a pedagogical approach aimed at educating the whole student, integrating responsiveness in real-time to the outside world with a holistic emphasis on creative and critical thinking and a commitment to fostering diversity of both input and output within the classroom. In practical and scholarly courses, I create a classroom environment akin to an experimental laboratory, in which all results are useful because even failure generates productive discussion and inquiry. I encourage students to make bold choices and push their own limits by engaging actively, challenging them to jump in and try without self-critique or judgment. I believe in developing critical thinking skills and fostering personal responsibility in all of my students, no matter the discipline of the course I teach. Since I have been fortunate to teach across departments, I detail below the way my philosophy manifests across learning environments.
In all classes I teach, I select critical and creative reading materials that provoke thought and stimulate discussion about both a work’s artistic qualities and its place within the context of the real world. I consistently commit to the mantra that representation matters by selecting course materials with an eye for diversity in all of its forms, ensuring that my course materials include works by marginalized authors and communities and also selecting materials that promote students to see the world from a different viewpoint. In teaching English Composition at a women’s college, for example, I asked my students to write their textual analysis paper on excerpts from Nellie Bly’s 10 Days in a Madhouse, a 19th century exposé on the deplorable conditions at New York City’s Blackwell’s Island. This selection generated a wealth of responses from the students who both appreciated Bly’s innovative approach as a pioneering woman in investigative journalism but also felt troubled by Bly’s privileged and often short-sighted responses to the abuses she observed as an upper-class outsider in the institution. I strongly support inviting social, political, and ideological issues and discussions into the classroom and consistent encourage my students to consider the ramifications and contexts of the work we study and make together in class on the world at large.
In the performance classes I teach, I borrow an experiential philosophy from my mentor, Doreen Bechtol: “less talk, more monkey.” When working with middle and high school students at the American Shakespeare Center Summer Camp, for example, I find that the rehearsal room can quickly become an environment of all talk and no action as students aim for perfection and correctness in playing their roles. Thus, to encourage more play in rehearsals, I believe that my most critical job as a director and teacher in these environments lies in framing the theatrical process as a collaborative exploratory mission rather than a problem-solving endeavor. To do so, I structure my directorial approach around open questions designed to fuel experimentation within the work itself rather than set off a lengthy hypothetical conversation that holds the work at bay. In fact, I actively limit the amount of talking inside of a rehearsal process and instead encourage my students to actively try their ideas and trust their impulses. Additionally, I value repetition inside of rehearsal because I believe that an iterative process helps awaken creativity and unlock my students’ powers of innovation and expression. Blending my “less talk, more monkey” ethos with a repetition-based rehearsal philosophy helps students develop their independence, self-discipline, and focus while simultaneously freeing them from the paralyzing need for outside approval or permission.