Sharing Our Experiences While Teaching

This idea in Brookfield (2015) caught my interest: “teachers don’t know how to unlock their experiences and reflect on them in a way that provides problem-solving insights” (p. 11). I have been exploring what Brookfield calls our truths about teaching. Here’s an excerpt from my journal:

I feel authentic when I’m scared, anxious, and tongue-tied. These feelings mean I am considering other perspectives, I’m in the process of learning, and I’m not sure that others agree. Still I’m sure this is the best I have at the time and share anyway with good intent.

Brookfield (2015) says that our experience can be distorted, unexamined, constraining and self-fulfilling and so we must be self-reflective, critical, and open-minded when relying on our experience. I’m thinking about how scared I felt opening the Indigenous Education Symposium last week. I told some stories about a teacher and a presenter that were provocative and contentious because they speak to the muddy and chaotic process of decolonizing public education.  When I did a little research on faculty sharing personal experience the importance of student-faculty relationships for enabling learning was prevalent. Brookfield points to sharing experience as part of establishing credibility and authenticity (pp. 46-47).

Yorke and Brennan (2015) say a good story helps students understand a concept from another point of view (para 2). Their advice is to start with a story we often tell.  Before telling the story to your students they recommend practice as well as developing your purpose and clear relationship to the course material.  They also suggest directing students to social media where you have told this story. Now that’s scary! 

The advice that one’s own experience, perhaps through storytelling, can be as effective as scholarly or expert content makes sense.  After all, working on my PhD I am reviewing a lot of poor research, research that is not self-reflective, critical, or open-minded. I feel encouraged to keep sharing more of my own experience, especially as I get older and have more stories to tell.  Of course this will feel frightening in academia, where if the source isn’t published it can be questioned. But I have to remember that a lot of my experience is now based on research as well as confirmed or negated by life experience.

Grandpa the Storyteller, by Sculptor Victor Issa, from City of Loveland

Grandpa the Storyteller, by Sculptor Victor Issa, from City of Loveland

I will consider framing my future opening remarks in a story, perhaps stories I know about the keynotes, or stories of my own related to the event's themes. I’ll return to the instinctual proposals in my journal this week – if this scares me and makes me anxious then I’m probably self-reflecting and being open to others. However, when the moment arrives, I must quiet internal voices so that I’m with the audience.

Brookfield’s provocative idea that instructors underutilize their own experiences in teaching and learning requires more exploration.  Similar to sharing any published scholarly or expert work the practice of sharing experience requires self-reflection, openness to others, and critical thinking. Our insights, intuitions, and insights are part of our professional practice.

Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom. John Wiley & Sons.

 Yorke, A. M. & Brennan, M.L. (October 30, 2015) Once upon a time:  Integrating stories into your teaching. Retrieved June 27, 2017 from