Teaching as a Core Value
Teaching and learning constitute the central and defining activities of Point Loma Nazarene University. Although teaching and learning remain the responsibility of the entire Point Loma community—students, faculty, administration, and staff—Point Loma professors recognize themselves as principally responsible for student learning. They understand that effective teaching involves maintaining a vital relationship with one’s discipline, establishing a positive connection to students, and building a bridge between students and the academic material. Faculty understands that teaching is a multi-faceted art, always in process, never truly perfected. Good professors continue to grow in their understanding of their discipline, their students and the ways to connect them both.
Point Loma professors are committed to keeping current in their discipline by whatever discipline-appropriate means available—reading, conference attendance, public presentations, publication, laboratory work, library research, fieldwork, or travel. On the basis of these activities, professors regularly update and renew classroom material. A professor’s personal pursuit of life-long learning offers a valuable, living model for students and reflects a strong commitment to provide knowledge grounded in an up-to-date understanding of one’s field.
Point Loma professors also recognize that good teaching depends in part on the creation and maintenance of a positive relationship between professor and students. Establishing a solid connection to students not only helps motivate them to do well but also guides what and how a professor teaches. Faculty who understand the students’ world, their thinking patterns, and their needs can more easily relate course material to student concerns, student knowledge, and student values. More important, however, professors must understand students well to make an accurate assessment of what they actually need to learn and what they can realistically manage to learn in the time allotted.
In the context of Point Loma’s strong commitment to liberal arts, it is particularly important that the professor identify skills that students need to develop and ones they may already have developed in another arena and that they could transfer to academics. Teaching students to communicate clearly, to think in an orderly manner, to perceive with sensitivity, to reason carefully, to organize and apply information, to ask intelligent questions, and to develop a repertoire of techniques by which to search for answers provides students with tools for living a thoughtful life and teaches them the vital connection between good thinking and good living.
As Christians committed to a path of personal, spiritual development through a relationship with the living Christ, Point Loma professors recognize that they teach personal as well as intellectual skills. Every professor, in every class, forms a relationship with students, whether he or she does so consciously or not, and the nature of this relationship communicates values and beliefs. If asking too much of students can communicate a belief that only perfection succeeds, asking too little can communicate a lack of faith in the student’s ability to overcome obstacles. Accepting where each student is as a starting point but refusing to accept it as an end point can teach that learning involves a complex process demanding time, the ability to delay gratification, and the slow development of skill. If a professor understands a student’s struggles and frustrations but does not allow the student to use frustrations as an excuse to stop learning, the professor teaches perseverance, patience, and an empathy that does not rescue.
Finally, good professors help connect students to a discipline whose relevance students might not see initially. Neither maintaining excellent, up-to-date scholarship nor connecting to the students’ world constitutes an end in itself. Each should help a professor to build the bridge between the students and the material to be studied. Thus, although an understanding of the student’s world and interests provides an important starting point or point of connection for good teachers, it rarely represents the end point towards which such professors aim. Point Loma professors realize that the art of establishing the connection between students and material requires discovering and developing one’s own “teaching style”, comprehending and empowering the students’ own “learning styles” and responding to the teaching and learning styles that make most sense with the material in question. Good professors remain open to trying new techniques and new technologies while always recognizing that technique and technology can, at best, only aid intellectual work, but can never substitute for thought.
Point Loma professors, however, share responsibility for student learning with the students themselves as well as with staff and administration. A professor cannot force an unwilling student to learn what the student refuses to study and good professors know the difference between support and rescue, between empowering and enabling. Professors can help students learn how to function effectively as students, but ultimately the student must become responsible for his/her own behavior.
The administration also plays a crucial role in maintaining excellence in teaching and learning by creating and supporting an environment that facilitates learning. The administration works to provide teachers and students alike with appropriate classrooms conducive to learning and with reasonable access to necessary books as well as with fully functioning and reasonably up-to-date laboratory equipment, computers, computer programs and other learning tools. The administration also works to provide faculty with the time, the support, and the equipment needed to continue to grow in their teaching and their own learning. This support takes a variety of forms from professional development money offered annually to each faculty member to internal grants. This support also involves a teaching load that allows professors to fulfill all their responsibilities as well as a teaching schedule that leaves time available in which professors can do the out-of-class activities needed to keep classroom instruction fresh and dynamic. This support also includes organized mentoring programs such as the New Faculty Seminar, the hiring of qualified support staff around campus, and some specific campus entities such as the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, the Center for Women’s Studies, and the Center for Wesleyan Studies.
The pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning is the effort of the entire Point Loma Nazarene University community whose various parts are connected in this endeavor by the shared belief that Christians are indeed called to grow in all knowledge and discernment, the shared belief that the creation of thinking Christians is a service to the Church and the world beyond the Church, the shared belief that learning more about the world we live in can ultimately only deepen and enrich our faith in the Lord who is creator and ruler over all.