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Phillip Tobin - Lessons Learned

Editor’s Note: It's been almost a year since Cardinal Gibbons transitioned to distance and hybrid learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. In that time the obstacles have been formidable. But in true Gibbons spirit our school community faced the challenge head-on and through ingenuity, perseverance, and courage has re-imagined the way teaching and learning takes place during these unprecedented times. We asked educators about their experience since last March. Each day for the next several days we will share one educator’s experience with you in this new series, Lessons Learned. Today, we continue the series with Theology Educator Phillip Tobin, above.

Q: Looking back, how have you grown as an educator? 

A: I've grown more patient, more open-minded to the needs of students, and I’ve become a better collaborator over the year, soaking up the wisdom of other educators. I'm lucky enough to be working at a school where we have numerous resources for professional growth, and I've allowed those resources to begin shaping my classroom.

Q: What new teaching strategies do you use now that you didn't know or use last spring? 

A: For various reasons, I was lucky to have begun transitioning to digital learning platforms leading into the pandemic (Google classroom, actively learn, Edpuzzle.) So even though the pandemic was a traumatic severing of normalcy, I felt prepared for the new teaching world that was about to unfold.

However, there were still plenty of lessons to learn from last spring. I've learned to slow down, to find the essence of a lesson, and to center the week around the core of what needs to be taught. As teachers, and academics who care deeply about our subjects, we can get lost in the details and finer points of a topic. We’re also creatures of habit, and when we find an effective lesson plan we don’t want to give it up! Last spring, I attempted to force my past lessons into the remote learning schedule with some success. However, to get through the content I had to give up some of the things that (upon reflection this summer) make theology class profound – seminar and discussion.  I, like many educators, have learned to give myself some grace to not cover everything I would have in past years, to focus on what's best, what's most relevant to the lives of our students, and what I’m most passionate about. Ultimately, this kind of course “trimming” will make my courses stronger moving forward.

Finally, I'd say I've learned how to use an asynchronous model of learning to make time for those important conversations with students. It's not always easy to have theological conversations, especially on Zoom, but I've begun to manage how to create time for meaningful seminars and discussions when students are in the classroom. It's these kinds of discussions that I find to be the most productive and rewarding for students.

Q: What skills and/or strategies will you continue to use when we are not in hybrid/distance learning that will improve teaching and learning in your courses?

A: The asynchronous model might continue to be an effective tool for creating time for meaningful discussions, and if that proves to be true I will gladly keep utilizing the strategy. I'll certainly continue to use Zoom or other online communications to have conversations with students whom I don’t see often - it gives us an invaluable way to communicate when we can't in person.

Most of all, I think I'll keep the mentality I've developed this year - slow down.  I'm hoping the careful curation of content that I developed this year might lead to more conversations, projects, and even some field trips in the years to come.  When I think of all the possibilities that my course “trimming” opened this year, I get very excited for next year.


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