Joy W. Ackerman, PhD

Core Faculty, Director of Self-Designed Studies Concentration
Department of Environmental Studies

Teaching Philosophy

I like to be prepared for class.Learning requires intellectual effort and emotional resilience, motivation and frustration tolerance. Time in the classroom is limited and precious. So what goes on outside of class as learners and teachers prepare for their time together is vital. It’s important to me to be well-prepared for each class, in the larger sense of knowing the field and designing the syllabus; and in the day to day practice of reviewing and preparing materials. The learning experience flourishes when students are also well-prepared for class, through active engagement with assignments, initiating dialog on-line, and bringing new and relevant material to the group.

I think something organic happens when we learn. Our brains and our bodies change as we recognize, reiterate, digest, and integrate new concepts and skills. Rushing to ‘cover material’ is not an efficient or effective way for me to learn or teach. Learning is a spiral process in which we ‘learn and return’, over and over again, each time gaining a new perspective or deeper level of understanding or competence. My courses include opportunity to reflect on and revise assignments, to build confidence in new skills through repetition with increasing levels of autonomy and integration.

I trust that students are here to learn. I’m here because I have learned that Antioch students take responsibility for their own learning. I am delighted to partner with them in that project, and through my teaching I seek to provide a balance of structure and openness to help students reach their learning and professional goals. At Antioch, the learning partnership encompasses student-student learning and teaching. My courses balance of independent and collaborative learning activities.

I know that each student is unique. Students come to Antioch with a wealth of experience and a remarkable variety in background education and professional aspirations. How does one course fit all? I use a variety of approaches to address the diverse needs of our adult learners: assessing where students are and what they want to learn at the start of a class; reflecting on student work throughout the semester and adapting communication to meet them where they are; using a variety of learning activities; and taking a pro-active approach if a student seems to be struggling.

I believe the classroom is sacred space. Entering sacred space means setting boundaries: putting aside other cares and concerns, limiting our conversations to the course topic, starting and ending on time. Ritual behavior is important: speaking with courage, clarity, and civility; taking turns; listening deeply; respecting the role of silence. Sacred space has a compelling center point: a story, question, or task that engages our attention and interest, and draws us together to explore, debate, and discern something new, or something familiar in a new way. Whatever the subject, we relate our work to the ‘big questions,’ to what ultimately matters, and remind one another of the dignity and value of our common purpose.