Community Building at CSUSB

My time at CSUSB has been one of great personal growth. In the years before returning to school, I knew I wanted to be an educated person, but it was for all the wrong reasons. I was looking at the prospect of earning a degree as more of a status symbol than an opportunity to better myself. It wasn’t until I actually started taking classes, making friends and acquaintances, and engaging in academic discussions that I realized the actual opportunity in front of me. I realized very quickly upon returning that I wanted to do something to help people, to work toward eliminating ignorance and biases, and do my part to build a better future. Once I decided to pursue a future as an educator, my goal at both RCC and CSUSB became to attempt each and every assignment I did in a unique way in an effort to practice reaching a multitude of learners. It was a goal most classes at CSUSB afforded me the opportunity to practice.

As I take part in the activities within this portfolio, the sample lesson plan, the PLO’s and their narratives, and my reflection on the high impact practices experienced at CSUSB, a common theme presented itself; the emphasis the university has placed on collaborative and group work. This aligned with the initial goal I set for myself once my path was set before me, and it has been such a wonderful, exciting, and engaging experience. This goal developed and evolved during my time at CSUSB and over the course of the past couple of years has become a philosophy I will carry with me into my future as an educator. At its core, my philosophy is to use learning as a tool to continuously develop the skills I will need to reach, and teach, diverse groups of people and learners in a manner that is empathetic, engaging, fun, respectful and ensures the development of well-rounded individuals, both academically and socially, that will ultimately develop into lifelong learners themselves.

If I had to point to one singular event that began to shape my goal into a philosophy, I would look to one of the first classes I enrolled in at CSUSB, Math 3011. The professor in this class, Andrew Lavengood-Ryan, was one of my favorite professors and had us engage in group work on a daily basis. Eventually, we were placed in groups and we would continue to work with these people for the remainder of the semester. I was placed with three young women who, while very smart, did not seem to mesh with Andrew’s teaching style. I did, so this was a great opportunity for me. Almost every day after class, and in the weeks before major assignments were due, these women and I would get on Zoom to go over material that they did not understand. This was the perfect opportunity for me to put the very ideas and concepts we were learning to practice. As I worked with them, I identified the best way they learned, then did my best to explain the material using methods and techniques they understood. This worked so well for all parties involved that I began to think back on the experience when I would begin planning how I would accomplish assignments in other classes. This, I believe, becomes evident as one reads through my artifacts and narratives for program learning outcomes as well as the reflection on the high impact practices encountered at CSUSB.

There are a few common themes in the majority of the artifacts I used for my PLO narratives that I think encapsulate methods of learning CSUSB excels at, as well as the development of my own professional philosophy. The majority of the artifacts I selected have some sort of collaborative aspect and/or afforded students the opportunity to approach the assignment in a unique and creative manner. Artifact 2 stands out as a perfect example of both in a single assignment. When developing an academic presentation, from my perspective, the go to method students use for disseminating the information is a tool like PowerPoint or Slides. When my group and I began brainstorming this project, it was the first idea proposed. Now I have no problem with PowerPoint and it is a great tool that I have used both academically and professionally. However, after discussing the project a bit more, we decided we wanted to do something a bit more fun and engaging. Our thought was, while we are doing an assignment for a grade, we are also planning on becoming educators and should be flexing our creative muscles and looking for engaging and fun tools whenever possible. The final result became artifact 2, a video that accomplishes the goals and learning outcomes of the assignment. Rather than a standard PowerPoint presentation, we came up with something a bit more unique and fun, at least in my opinion. Putting it together took a bit more time than a traditional presentation would have taken, but it was a rewarding experience for all of us and introduced us to new tools we can someday use in the classroom.

Collaborative endeavors like the two examples above were experienced in almost every class I participated in. As friendships and a small community developed with the classmates I navigated toward, these experiences became more and more rewarding. As I mentioned in my reflection on the high impact practices encountered at CSUSB, I was drawn to a group of women who had been working together for a semester already and was eventually incorporated into their inner circle, as they were mine. The amazing thing about this group was its diversity. We were all very different individuals with very different backgrounds and cultural upbringings. This afforded me the opportunity to step out of the bubble in which I had grown up and experience different perspectives. We worked together on class projects, with each person bringing ideas unique to them to the table. In Math 3013, we would take turns leading our group during the projects, which gave each of us the opportunity to lead, but perhaps more importantly, learn from another leaders’ preferences and leadership style. Eventually, these academic relationships evolved into real friendships. We engaged in conversations and debates outside of the classroom about our lives and our future as educators. Looking back, I cannot imagine experiencing the academic success I have had without this group and many of the ideas, principles, and skills I will carry into the classroom came from my time with these classmates/friends.

Aside from the friendships these women gifted me with, perhaps the most important aspect of our relationship was the diversity and inclusivity training my relationship with them afforded me. There are ideas and activities that can be seen in my artifacts that I owe to them. The great thing about approaching the university experience collaboratively is the sharing of ideas and philosophies one might not have experienced on their own. Artifacts 1b, 4a, and 4b were done with Yesenia Briceño as my partner. Our backgrounds and lives thus far have been very different and that has been a huge blessing. As we collaborated, she presented brilliant ideas that I would have never come up with on my own; ideas I will now carry with me as an educator. For example, artifacts 4a and 4b are activities we developed for a dance class, TA 4440. We used concepts we learned in the dance class to develop a 2nd grade social studies lesson plan and activities that incorporated different learning styles. One idea she brought forth was to take an activity using dance and movement techniques into a lesson that utilized Latino/Hispanic music from her own family’s history to tell stories about different eras and timelines. I found this brilliant because it took a social studies concept and incorporated creative dance, cultural awareness, and a music lesson into a single acivity. It was something I would have never come up with on my own, and in my opinion, highlights how community building and developing relationships can advance us as lifelong learners, affording us skills and tools we can use to help and teach others. These light bulb moments occurred on an almost daily basis as I progressed through my time at CSUSB and I have no doubt I will continue to benefit from them, as well as the aforementioned skills I gained, as I enter my career as an educator.

My experiences at CSUSB have really highlighted and shown me the different ways in which people learn. As I worked with different people, it afforded me the opportunity to get to know them and practice identifying the ways in which they learned best. As a result, I was able to develop the skills that enabled me to adjust my approach or how we worked on a project in such a way that allowed me to accomplish the goal of the assignment, while ensuring they were doing the same thing. In essence, it taught me to be more flexible in my approach. It taught me to care about what my partners were gaining from the experience. It further developed my empathy. I believe these are skills that will be useful in the classroom as they developed my ability to identify how a person learns and approach the assignment or project in a manner that caters to their learning style. As I discussed in artifact 6, the banking system of education, which treats students as empty vessels waiting to passively absorb material to be regurgitated at a later date, is not as effective as an education that treats students as active participants. As someone who aligns more with problem-posing techniques in education, it was important for me to harness and practice skills that will enable me to identify the different ways in which students in the classroom learn best and approach their education using a variety of methods that best serve multiple learning styles. Additionally, I believe educators should enter the classroom as learners themselves, and rather than approach the classroom as the sole repository of information, treat the classroom as an environment where everyone is learning and growing. I believe it is essential for “good” educators to also be lifelong learners.

I cannot state vehemently enough how beneficial my time at CSUSB has been in furthering my development as a well-rounded, compassionate, and empathetic individual. Furthermore, it has aided in shaping my career goals and the impact I want to have on society and the lives I have an opportunity to help shape. It gave me the opportunity to work and collaborate with brilliant minds that have touched me both personally and professionally. My professors challenged and encouraged me to approach assignments using unique and fun methods that I will carry with me into my own experience as an educator. The relationships I developed were invaluable to my experience during my academic career and have further shaped the person I am and the educator I will become.