The most powerful driver on student attitudes and behaviours is not what we tell them, not how we structure our sessions, not the content, but how we model our engagement with the enterprise of learning and teaching. What are we like when we stand amongst our students? We may or may not bemoan the hierarchy of authority in our teaching space, and may even seek to ultimately subvert it, but it is a most powerful force in the room when we begin – and we would be fools to not seek to harness its power. Students may have learnt little else from the decade-plus of formal schooling before they enter University, but they have learnt a lot about tone, and how it is set.
Our sense of what it is to lead in an academic context, is based in the notion of modelling. This is a contributory factor to making it possible to engage with complex material, in ways where students can express where they are struggling – where we get to be amongst our students, in the business of trying to answer the questions of the discipline. This may begin with small, but important, resolutions. Not to interrupt students asking questions, for example, not cutting them off and finishing their sentences, and to be open with them about your gaps in knowledge, and the gaps in the subject’s own account of the world.