“The willingness to be vulnerable, to speak mistakes, and to talk for growth in the classroom creates a valuable dialogue between teachers and students. We learn that we are all human beings, imperfect and flawed – and that's okay."
Associate professor of education
A few years ago, Professor Sarah MacKenzie-Dawson, education, was notified about a death in her family just before a scheduled class. "I walked into the room and burst into tears," she recalls. "While it was frightening to be so vulnerable in front of a roomful of students, it became a very real learning experience for me."
This experience has since informed much of MacKenzie-Dawson's research and work with preservice teachers in the education department at Bucknell. "The willingness to be vulnerable, to speak mistakes, and to talk for growth in the classroom creates a valuable dialogue between teachers and students," she says. "We learn that we are all human beings, imperfect and flawed – and that's okay."
In her work, MacKenzie-Dawson combines an interest in the vulnerability of human experience and how that connects students and teachers, and an enthusiasm for the use of arts in education, used to express those connection and ideas. "Some researchers call it 'a/r/tography,' and others 'scholartistry,'"she says. "But whatever you call it, it's a fusion of the arts and scholarship that becomes very enriching. The arts are a wonderful avenue for the exploration of thoughts and the creation of conversations."
MacKenzie-Dawson has collaborated with other professors from theatre and dance, sociology and psychology to create these hybrids of humanities study and education. "These types of inquiries make great use of the richness of experience Bucknell students possess," she says. "They foster a conversation between the quantitative and the creative that embraces the teacher and the student as whole beings, complete with the quirks, strengths and weaknesses that make us all unique."
While her focus on the arts in education may spring from her undergraduate days as a theatre major, MacKenzie-Dawson says her work on wholeness and connectedness in learning informs her ideas about diversity and identity, both for teachers and for students. "Empathy," she says, "is not simply about being able to walk in someone else's shoes, but also learning to realize that we can never know the path that got someone to where they are helps us recognize that diversity can be more complicated than what we see on the surface. Really, we're all connected."
In her teaching, which includes courses like Education and the Human Spirit and Integrating the Arts in Learning, she encourages her students to take risks, in work and in life. "Many students avoid risk due to a fear of failure," she says. "But moving within that space can lead to innovation in the classroom, creating an environment where teachers are present and ready to learn from their students, as well as the students learning from their teachers. Asking what it means to be a teacher and a learner in experience leads us to exciting new connections."
Posted October 3, 2013