Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. Recently we have made the decision to expand and diversify the blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at We are especially seeking submissions in one of the five topic areas:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research
  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest
  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology
  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom
  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

This blog is intended to be a forum for graduate students and educators to share ideas and express their opinions about tried-and-true modern teaching practices and other currently relevant topics regarding graduate students’ teaching.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf.

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 24 Jan 2020 11:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Stacie M. Spencer, PhD, MCPHS University, Boston, MA

    Now more than ever, students, parents, employers, and the media are questioning the value of the bachelor’s degree. The term “return on investment” (ROI), once used figuratively in higher education to refer to intellectual growth and increased potential for employment, is now used literally as the financial relationship between the cost of education and future earnings. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) recently used U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard data (net price, median debt, median earnings ten years after first attending college) to rank-order 4500 colleges and universities in terms of financial ROI (Carnevale, Chesh, & Van Der Werf, 2019). The Washington Post report of the Georgetown CEW report was titled “Is College Worth It?”

    You might be thinking, “Of course college is worth it!” You also might be wondering what ROI has to do with you, one instructor who only teaches a course (or a few) within the curriculum. Although you do not determine college costs or establish wages, you do have the ability to prepare students to succeed in the workforce and to help students make explicit connections between the knowledge and skills gained through coursework and employer expectations. Professional development, one of the five goals for undergraduate psychology majors established in Guidelines 2.0 (APA, 2013), includes career exploration and the development of transferable skills. Career exploration is the iterative and nonlinear process of determining which occupations best fit an individual’s work values, interests, and skills. Transferable skills include the cognitive, communication, personal, social, and technological skills developed through the psychology major that cross employment domains and are valued by employers (Naufel et al., 2018).

    Professional development belongs in the curriculum. You do not have to be a career expert or seasoned faculty member to facilitate career exploration and skill development; you just need to create opportunities for students to engage in these processes. Think about the courses that piqued your interests. Perhaps you remember as an undergraduate thinking, “I love this course! I wonder if I could find a job related to this!” For most psychology students, that line of thinking typically ends by adding “psychologist” to the course title. You might have heard students say (or said yourself) “I like social psychology, I want to become a social psychologist” or “I like human development, I want to become a child psychologist.” These course-career connections are perfectly reasonable and are easy to mentor when in alignment with your training; however, only 14% of psychology baccalaureates earn a graduate degree in psychology and only 4% earn doctoral degrees in psychology (APA, 2018). We need to mentor the remaining 86–96%.

    The best way you can support career exploration in your courses is to engage students as active participants in the process of connecting course content to real-world applications and job opportunities. Simple and effective ways to engage students in identifying real-world applications are to send them to the Divisions of APA webpage, the APA Monitor, and the APS Observer to look for ways in which course concepts are used in diverse settings. To identify course-related job opportunities, challenge students to locate bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level job postings using job search engines (e.g.,,,, Prior to sending students on the search mission, establish search terms and criteria (Tip: for maximum search results, avoid using “psychology” as a search term).   

    When students share the information they gather, their appreciation of the breadth of applications of course content and the diversity of job opportunities grow exponentially. Working together to organize the applications discovered through the APA and APS websites, students improve their abilities to articulate concepts and examples. Writing job titles on the board and talking about respective roles and responsibilities provides a powerful illustration of the diversity of job titles and helps students see the connections between the major and potential job opportunities. Taking this one step further, identifying additional courses, volunteer, internship, and/or research opportunities that will prepare them for jobs provides the opportunity for students to take control and continue career exploration and skill development after the course ends.

    Skill development is just as important as career exploration and is often less intimidating for instructors to infuse into their courses. You can assess how well you are incorporating skill development in your courses by reviewing the five domains (cognitive, communication, personal, social, and technological) and seventeen corresponding skills described in The Skillful Psychology Student: Prepared for Success in the 21st Century Workplace (Naufel et al., 2018). If you already include activities and assignments that facilitate the development of employer-valued skills, you should make these connections explicitly clear by including skills in course learning objectives, connecting course content to skills (e.g., discuss how group think concepts can be used to improve group projects), and providing opportunities for students to reflect on skill development (Naufel et al., 2019).

    Another way you can support professional development is to design assignments that yield portfolio artifacts (i.e., evidence of skills). Artifacts can include traditional course assignments, such as APA-style research papers and slides for oral presentations; however, most employers are interested in products that more closely resemble non-academic tasks. Generating workforce-relevant assignments does not mean eliminating traditional and important assignments. For example, rather than replace the research paper, you can have students use the information submitted in the research report to create an infographic for a specific audience. Whereas the research report demonstrates critical source synthesis and writing, the infographic assignment demonstrates the ability to communicate concisely and visually with non-academic audiences.

    When designed well, professional development assignments help students identify interesting career paths, develop and demonstrate employer-valued skills, and assess the value of their investment in the bachelor’s degree as a positive ROI. For you, adding professional development assignments to your courses will result in an incredible set of student-generated examples you can use in mentoring beyond the classroom. As more departments seek ways to incorporate professional development across the curriculum, you will also be a strong candidate for faculty positions.


    American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. APA. Retrieved from

    American Psychological Association. (2018). Degree pathways in psychology. [Interactive data tool]. APA. Retrieved from

    Carnevale, A. P., Chesh, B, & Van Der Werf, M. (2019). A first try at ROI: Ranking 4500 colleges. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from

    Naufel, K. Z., Appleby, D. C., Young, J., Van Kirk, J., Spencer, S. M., Rudmann, J., Carducci, B. J., Hettich, P., & Richmond, A. S. (2018). The skillful psychology student: Prepared for success in the 21st century workplace. APA. Retrieved from

    Naufel, K. Z., Spencer, S. M., Appleby, D. C., Richmond, A. S., Rudmann, J., Van Kirk, J., Young, J., Carducci, B. J., & Hettich, P. (2019, March). The skillful psychology student: How to empower students with workforce-ready skills by teaching psychology. APA. Retrieved from

    Additional Resources

    Halonen, J. S., & Dunn, D. S. (2018). Embedding career issues in advanced psychology major courses. Teaching of Psychology, 45, 41-49.

    Spencer, S. M. (2019, October). One course, two courses, three courses, more? Providing career support throughout the undergraduate curriculum. APA. Retrieved from

    Strohmetz, D., & Ciarocco, N. J. (2019, December 9). Enhancing skill development: The potential of high impact practices. GSTA Blog. Retrieved from

    Stacie M. Spencer, PhD, is professor of psychology at MCPHS University (formerly known as Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences), director of the BS in health psychology program, and recipient of the MCPHS Trustees’ Award for Teaching Excellence. She earned a BA in psychology from Allegheny College and PhD in experimental social and personality psychology from Northeastern University. Dr. Spencer completed a post-doctoral fellowship in behavioral medicine at the University of Miami and a post-doctoral fellowship in psycho-oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Her current research focus is on professional development and interprofessional education. 

  • 23 Jan 2020 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Aaron S. Richmond, Ph.D., Metropolitan State University of Denver

    Hello Graduate Students! I wanted to take this occasion to tell you that there are exciting changes coming to the Society of Teaching of Psychology’s (STP) flagship journal Teaching of Psychology (ToP) and I want you to be involved. But first, let me take this opportunity to thank Drew Christopher, the outgoing Editor-in-Chief, for his exemplary service to ToP and STP. He has helped shape our field and has guided graduate students (like me at the time) with a gentle, supportive, and constructive hand in the process of publishing their first work in ToP. His editorial style and guidance are responsible for instilling the passion of the science of teaching and learning to many of us. Thank you Drew, we will be forever in your debt.  

    Now, the exciting changes to ToP that you, as graduate students, can be a part of. First, we are integrating Open Science practices into ToP. You as an author in ToP (hint, hint) can now have your materials be open, your data be open, and include preregistration with each manuscript. Second, much like most medical journals, were moving to a structured abstract for both data and non-data driven articles. This will allow graduate students to better access, summarize, and cite the important work that is published in ToP because the structure will allow you to go directly to the results, or the method, or the educational implications. Third, we have reorganized the types of submission that you can submit to ToP. Specifically, we are now accepting manuscripts in one of four corners: Replication Corner, Proof of Concept Corner, Science of Teaching and Learning Corner, and the Scholarly Teacher Corner.

    The Proof of Concept Corner will house promising pilot studies or small-scale studies. In this corner, we are looking for  shorter articles that provide quantitative evidence for teaching and learning related interventions, establish associations in teaching of psychology variables, and/or to present descriptive data to purpose problems to solve. For graduate students, this is HUGE. It will allow you to develop the seed of an idea and get it published in a quality journal. You can then use this “proof of concept” as a rationale or evidence for a larger project like a grant proposal (hint, hint).

    The Replication Corner will encourage graduate students and their collaborators not only to replicate findings from previously published studies, but to also have some novelty to their study (e.g., different type of institution, psychology subject matter, class size, additional measures). The beauty of this corner is that it does not require you, as an overextended graduate student, to reinvent the wheel.

    The Science of Teaching & Learning Corner will be full-length articles that are data- or theory-driven, meta-analytic investigations, or conceptual position articles. Submissions to this section are meant to illuminate teaching of psychology topics with broad implications or importance to SoTL researchers.

    Finally, the Scholarly Teacher Corner will be a forum for shorter articles that provide practical reviews, activities, and/or resources for teachers of psychology to directly use in their classroom or teaching responsibilities. They can be reflective essays, practical activities, nondata driven emerging ideas, subject specific (e.g., abnormal, developmental), how to incorporate a book into your course, research reviews that illuminate findings for teachers of psychology, translating new research, issues to consider, etc. This is another type of submission that is perfect for graduate students. Typically, you won’t need IRB review (halleluiah) to write up and review these materials. For more details about the changes to ToP follow this link.

    Another change that is coming to ToP is our emphasis on involving graduate students. In the past, graduate students have not been officially involved (although they were welcome). Therefore, I’ve specifically reserved a seat on the editorial board for at least one graduate student that serves a 3-year term. I am pleased to announce that our first  graduate student and GSTA member to serve as a Consulting Editor (not just an ad hoc reviewer) is Raechel Soicher from Oregon State University. Moreover, I highly encourage you to volunteer to become an ad hoc reviewer for ToP. By becoming an ad hoc reviewer, you are on the path to becoming a member of any editorial board. It is a great line in your Curriculum Vitae. If you are interested in becoming a reviewer, please contact me @  

    Finally, I would like to leave you with a few ideas on how to create cultural shift of involving GSTA and graduate students with ToP and the field of science of teaching and learning in general. First, I want to create a mechanism by which you become more involved in the science of teaching and learning. STP is a community of teacher-scholars and scholarly teachers and the entire society starts with you. Meaning, many of us “seasoned” society members had someone who was passionate about STP, or teaching, or the science of teaching and learning that sparked a desire to be a part of this incredible community. Whether they modeled exemplary teaching, or they were incredible scholars, or whether they introduced us to STP—it started in graduate school and we are committed to this wonderfully supportive academic community. Consequently, I want to involve you in this outstanding field and especially through ToP. You may ask: How may we accomplish this task? My first idea is to suggest that you apply to be a part of STP’s SoTL Writing Workshop. Dr. Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges is the Director of this program and (a) she is incredible, and (b) if you are accepted into the program you will be matched with a scholar in our field and be mentored for over 6 months on your project. You will then meet at STP’s Annual Conference on Teaching to participate in the workshop. I have mentored several graduate students in this program and it is in an amazing opportunity to learn how to become a scholar in the field and invariably get published and do great work. My second idea is to create a mentoring program for reviewing for ToP. I would like to establish and match graduate student reviewers with experienced Consulting Editors so that they could guide students through this somewhat “implicit procedural knowledge” process. In other words, there are weird social norms and templates used to review manuscripts that most students do not receive guidance or training on—they are just expected to know how to do it. Thus, having someone who has literally done 100s of reviews is extremely important.

    I would like to leave you with an open invitation to contact me about what I have proposed, ToP, career advice, or whatever you would like. I welcome your thoughts and wishes.

    Dr. Aaron S. Richmond is a professor of educational psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver and is the Editor-in-Chief of STP’s flagship journal Teaching of Psychology. In more than 85 publications involving over 50 undergraduate and graduate students, Dr. Richmond has explored effective pedagogical approaches to instruction in both the k-12 and higher education setting. He is a passionate and accomplished teacher who loves to engage and mentor his students. 

    Contact Dr. Richmond via email ( or Twitter (@AaronSRichmond).

  • 13 Jan 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jeffrey D. Holmes, Ph.D., Ithaca College

    Since you are reading this blog, it is likely that you aspire to become the most effective teacher you can be.  Perhaps you are already teaching or are working as a teaching assistant for college classes.  Perhaps you attend teaching conferences or read empirical research about teaching.  If you are particularly lucky, you may have had the opportunity to take a course designed specifically to teach you how to teach.  You may even consider yourself to be passionate about teaching.  Although “follow your passion” is a common mantra that does not always represent sound or realistic advice, it is quite relevant to your career as a teacher because such intangible teacher variables likely have a substantial impact on student outcomes. 

    There is extensive scientific literature on the relative effectiveness of various pedagogical strategies.  For at least a century, researchers have been on a perpetual search for the techniques likely to yield the greatest benefit in terms of student learning.  These researchers have provided us with expansive ideas about how to approach our roles and responsibilities as educators.  To be sure, such research is sometimes used to advocate for exclusive implementation of certain strategies and the denigration of others.  Findings often are discussed—perhaps unintentionally—in falsely dichotomous terms as if even a single study, at a single institution, often in a single academic subject, revealing modest effects without controlling for a host of relevant variables justifies sweeping, generalized conclusions such as “lectures don’t work.”  It is certainly true that some studies show certain methods to be superior to others in certain contexts and for certain objectives, but virtually none of these studies control for the interests, motives, engagement, or other characteristics of the teachers who implement the strategies.  Moreover, most studies comparing teaching methods are conducted by instructors who are invested in the efficacy of a specific method; therefore, conclusions warrant particular caution especially since blinded studies of teaching strategies seldom are feasible (see Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999).    

    Even in light of such methodological limitations, the difference in student learning outcomes associated with differing teaching strategies tends to be small.  This is not to malign the critical efforts of those who conduct pedagogical research, as it is extraordinarily challenging to conduct studies that are both methodologically rigorous and ecologically valid in terms of actual classroom implementation.  Nor is it to say that what we do in the classroom does not matter or that we should not carefully scrutinize our strategies and objectives.  However, mountains of research data have not helped educators to identify methods that are unambiguously superior across instructors, students, and contexts.  Moreover, meta-analyses sometimes indicate that as study quality improves, effect sizes indicating differential effectiveness of various strategies declines (e.g., Kavale & Forness, 1987).   

    The disappointing reality is that differential teaching strategies are associated with less variance in student outcomes than we might like to think (Detterman, 2016; Jacob, Lefgren, & Sims, 2009).  The more palatable interpretation is that as long as instructors are motivated in their work and passionate about student learning and inspiring students to think, there is little evidence that varying teaching strategies will have a dramatic separate effect.  Aspiring teachers, as well as those with years or decades of experience, would be wise to maintain their familiarity with the scientific research on teaching.  Such familiarity helps us to continue moving incrementally forward in our endeavors to help students learn, and it also helps us to avoid unproductive paths such as attempting to teach students according to their presumed learning styles (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2009).  Most people who take the time to conduct or consume pedagogical research are probably already among the most passionate instructors.  Research comparing the effectiveness of teaching methods is a critical tool for those wishing to maximize their teaching efficacy, but lesser-studied factors such as teacher enthusiasm, engagement, and rapport with students may be just as important.  There is little reason to hope that any teaching method will counteract the detrimental effects of a disengaged instructor; however, there is likewise little reason to fear that any method will substantially disadvantage students when implemented by a passionate, reflective, inspiring instructor.      


    Detterman, D. K. (2016). Education and intelligence: Pity the poor teacher because student characteristics are more significant than teachers or schools.  The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 19, 1-11.

    Jacob, B. A., Lefgren, L., & Sims, D. P. (2009). The persistence of teacher-induced learning. The Journal of Human Resources, 45, 915-943.

    Kavale, K. A., & Forness, S. R. (1987). Substance over style: Assessing the efficacy of modality testing and teaching. Exceptional Children, 54, 228-239.

    Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.

    Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69, 21-51.

    Jeffrey D. Holmes, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Ithaca College where he teaches courses on psychological testing and assessment, abnormal psychology, controversies in psychology, and introductory psychology.  He is the author of Great Myths in Education and Learning, and has published research in journals such as Teaching of Psychology, The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, and the Social Science Journal.  He is currently Treasurer of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, and he is a licensed psychologist specializing in psychological testing.

  • 02 Jan 2020 1:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Dr. Guy A. Boysen, McKendree University

    My wife and I were recently on the market for a car. We had a list of “must have” features: four doors, a sunroof, heated seats, under 30,000 miles, and less than 4 years old. When a pushy salesperson tried to get us to drive cars without these features, my reaction was “Not interested, bye,” not “Yes, I would love to buy different car than I asked for!” Academic search committees can be choosy too.

    Faculty positions in psychology often yield dozens of qualified applicants. As such, search committees can be selective. Poor fit is a kiss of death that leads to automatic rejection (Boysen, Morton, & Neives, 2019). Getting on the short list of applicants to be interviewed requires nearly perfect fit with the qualifications listed in the job advertisement.

    Lots of great cars sit undriven on car lots, and lots of highly qualified candidates get rejected for faculty positions. No, I do not want an SUV, even if is top of the line. And, no, your amazing record of research or teaching will not get you a job unless it matches what the search committee is looking for.

    The importance of fit cannot be overstated. In fact, there are several different types of fit to consider when applying for faculty positions (Boysen, 2019).

    Specialty Area

    The first type of fit to consider is specialty area. Search committees want someone with training and experience that falls into a specific area (e.g., clinical, cognitive, social). Candidates from other areas will be rejected. Despite all the work some candidates put into writing application materials that make themselves seem qualified for positions outside of their specialty area, the first line of their CVs may be the only thing search committees read if it lists the wrong specialty.

    Research vs. Teaching

    The second type of fit is with an institution’s relative focus on research and teaching (see more on this topic here). For example, as illustrated by the figures, faculty at doctoral universities report that having few publications is very much a kiss of death that leads to automatic rejection, but they are only somewhat kisses of death at master’s universities and baccalaureate colleges (Boysen et al., 2019). Teaching experience is essential too, but it follow the opposite pattern of importance by university type. Of course, at community colleges, there are no scholarship requirements, so extreme research productivity in the absence of teaching experience is a sign of poor fit.

    Teaching and Research Topics

    Job advertisements often list specific courses that successful candidates will be able to teach and specific areas of scholarship that successful candidates will be able to publish in. Although a candidate’s teaching and research area often overlaps with their specialty area, the two are not synonymous. Two psychologists in the same specialty area can have nonoverlapping teaching and research experiences. It is best not to stretch the truth about who you are as a psychologist. Neither you nor your future employer will be satisfied if you are hired to teach or do research in an area that does not fit your interests or expertise.

    “Additional” Qualifications

    Job advertisements can include a host of additional qualifications. Just to name a few examples, search committees may want candidates who know advanced statistical methods, who are dedicated to liberal arts education, who have assessment experience, or who have a commitment to diversity. Although qualifications like these may be categorized as “preferred,” “ideal,” or “additional,” do not treat them as optional. You can apply for positions where your CV does not cover every additional qualification, but you should take care to explain why you still think you are good candidate even without some of the qualifications. Ignoring holes in your CV is yet another kiss of death.

    Conclusion: Your Final Checklist

    When my wife and I were looking for cars, we created a list of features that became our car-search guide. You can do the same during your job search. Use the qualifications listed in job advertisements as a checklist for your application materials. Ensure that your materials – especially your CV and cover letter – demonstrate fit with most everything on the checklist. The search committee is assessing fit, and you should too.


    Boysen, G. A. (2019). Becoming a psychology professor: Your guide to landing the right academic job. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Boysen, G. A., Morton, J., & Nieves, T. (2019). Kisses of death in the psychology faculty hiring process. Teaching of Psychology, 46, 260-266.


    Guy A. Boysen, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology at McKendree University. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota and his PhD from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. His scholarship emphasizes the teaching of psychology, professional development of teachers, and stigma toward mental illness. He is the author of Becoming a Psychology Professor: Your Guide to Landing the Right Academic Job and An Evidence-based Guide to College and University Teaching. Dr. Boysen is on the editorial staff at Teaching of Psychology and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. Visit

    Contact the Author

    Twitter: @guyboysen

  • 09 Dec 2019 7:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Karen Brakke, Ph.D., Spelman College

    One of my intellectual heroes is Jerome Bruner.  In graduate school – back in the last century – it was his writings on infant language acquisition and skill development that guided my thinking.  As my research interests drifted into early motor development, I stepped away from Bruner in favor of another hero, Esther Thelen.  Then, around 2010 I joined a faculty book club on my campus and read Acts of Meaning.  I fell for Bruner all over again; this time focusing on his arguments about the use of story and narrative to share meaning and create identity.  Since that time, I’ve had the good luck to engage in a number of collaborations that have convinced me that story and narrative are critical tools for psychology instructors, and that these tools can be used to advantage in many ways.

    Stories themselves are not new, of course, nor are the narratives or frames used to tell them.  In fact, the power of story lies in its timelessness.  Our ancestors have told stories since the dawn of recorded history, and probably for generations before that.  Indeed, in many ways our brains are built to create and learn through stories. Throughout the millennia and across all cultures, as Bruner argues, stories have been used as a way for people to share experiences, pass along knowledge and wisdom to others, and provide frames of meaning to our lives.  In short, stories have long been the tools of education.

    One of the goals of contemporary teaching, particularly in this age of staggering data proliferation, is to help students generate meaning about what they learn. Why not use stories to help do this?  As psychologists teaching about human behavior, many of us already use stories to support our work in the classroom. We may do so, however, with little thought other than wanting to provide an illustrative example here and there. Or we may write case studies without fully realizing the narrative devices that make some cases more effective than others.  We may not take advantage of all the ways that stories can be used in our classes to introduce or assess material, to reinforce and apply concepts, or even to help our students practice life-authorship as they prepare for adulthood.

    This blog doesn’t provide nearly enough space to discuss all the ways in which story can support teaching and learning.  Fortunately, there are many resources available that support the pedagogical use of story in higher education.  Several websites are devoted to the art and craft of storytelling. Among these is Tim Sheppard’s site (, which provides a clearinghouse of resources that you may find helpful. If you are interested in digital storytelling, the Creative Educator website  ( is a good place to start.  The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science ( provides a host of resources on case-study development and has several psychology-relevant case studies available for use as well. 

    Other resources not only provide practical ideas to use in the classroom, but also delve into the science behind storytelling.  For a quick overview of using story to teach psychology, I recommend three articles: Green and Brock (2000), Hazel (2008), and Landrum, Brakke, and McCarthy (2019).  One of my favorite sources of inspiration – and not just because I worked on it – is Telling Stories: The Art and Science of Storytelling as an Instructional Strategy, an STP ebook available for free download at Collins & Cooper’s The Power of Story: Teaching Through Storytelling is a handy book as well.  For a deeper dive into the role that stories play in human development and culture, I suggest (of course) Bruner’s Acts of Meaning and Actual Minds, Possible Worlds; Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories, or Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal.  Once you start looking, you’ll find a wealth of additional resources to support different uses of story in your teaching.  If you take the time to explore and let your creativity flow, I’m confident you’ll find a lot of engaging and effective ways to expand your teaching toolkit with story.


    Boyd, B. (2009). On the origin of stories: Evolution, cognition, and fiction. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

    Brakke, K. & Houska, J. A. (Eds.). (2015). Telling stories: The art and science of storytelling as an instructional strategy [ebook]. Retrieved from

    Bruner, J. S. (1990). Acts of meaning (Vol. 3). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

    Bruner, J. S. (2009). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

    Collins, R., & Cooper, P. J. (2005). The power of story: Teaching through storytelling (2nd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

    Gottschall, J. (2012). The storytelling animal: How stories make us human. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C. (2000). The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology79, 701-721.

    Hazel, P. (2008). Toward a narrative pedagogy for interactive learning environments. Interactive Learning Environments16, 199-213.

    Landrum, R. E., Brakke, K., & McCarthy, M. (2019). The pedagogical power of storytelling. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 5, 247-253. DOI: 10.1037/stl0000152 

    Karen Brakke is Associate Professor of Psychology at Spelman College in Atlanta GA, where she teaches a variety of courses and serves on several committees.  A developmental psychologist by training, she has published on early cognitive and motor development as well as teaching and learning.  Brakke is active in the Society for the Teaching of Psychology and has participated in many of the organization’s initiatives over the years. 

  • 09 Dec 2019 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By David B. Strohmetz, Ph.D., University of West Florida and Natalie J. Ciarocco, Ph.D., Monmouth University

    Increasingly, faculty are being asked to incorporate “high impact practices” into their classes. This can be a confusing request as many of us may already believe we are making our courses “high impact.” At the same time, we are being asked to find opportunities for improving the career-readiness of our students. However, these two goals are not mutually exclusive. We can make our high impact practices even more impactful if we more intentionally integrate skill development into these experiences.

    The label of “high impact practices” (or HIPs) can be, in large part, attributed to the work of George Kuh and his colleagues (Kuh, 2008). They identified participation in certain educational experiences as related to important student outcomes such as improved academic performance, increased retention, and greater self-reported gains in learning. What makes HIPs “high impact” is that these educational activities require meaningful student investment of time and effort as well as substantive interactions with faculty and diverse others (Kuh & O’Donnell, 2013). HIPs provide students opportunities to engage in real world applications of their classroom learning and reflect upon their learning. Examples of HIPs include collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, writing intensive courses, internships, and capstone courses and projects. Quality HIPs require students to engage in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and problem solving. We would argue that what makes HIPs particularly impactful is that they also provide opportunities for students to develop and practice the types of skills that employers desire in recent college graduates (Fabris, 2015; Hart Associates, 2018).

    Given that the majority of undergraduate psychology majors directly enter the workforce after graduation, increasing attention is being given to the skills students should be developing to facilitate their success in the workforce (Landrum & McCarthy, 2018). Appleby (2014) identified seven broad skills employers value in recent college graduates: communication skills, critical thinking and research skills, collaboration skills, self-management skills, professional skills, technological skills, and ethical skills. These skills reflect the types of activities which are characteristic of HIPs, meaning HIPs might serve multiple outcomes for our students, namely deeper learning and career preparation.

    HIPs which involve appropriately setting performance expectations; investment of significant time and effort; and frequent, timely, and constructive feedback can help students build their professional and self-management skills. Collaboration skills are also reinforced in HIPs that involve substantive interactions with others and experiences with diversity. For example, common HIP activities such as learning communities or collaborative assignments and projects require students to work together to achieve desired educational outcomes. Other notable HIPs such as writing intensive courses, undergraduate research, and capstone courses not only build communication skills, but are also likely to strengthen critical thinking skills. Internships, service learning, and community-based learning provide students with opportunities to develop and practice a number of employable skills.

    To learn if participating in HIPs might be related to one’s perceived skill efficacy, we examined data collected from 1,125 undergraduates through our website, This website provides students with the opportunity to engage in a self-assessment of their employable skills. Students complete the Employable Skills Self-Efficacy Scale (Ciarocco & Strohmetz, 2018) and then receive feedback on how their perceived confidence levels compare to other students. We also give students tips on how they might strengthen their employable skills. Among the demographic information we collected, we asked whether the respondent had completed an internship or participated in research, two common types of HIPs. We found a consistent pattern in self-efficacy differences between those who either did or did not participate in an internship and/or research-related experiences. Students who had completed an internship were more confident in their communication, analytical, collaboration, and professional development skills. Students who reported engaging in research reported more confidence in their analytical skills than those who had not. 

    Our data suggest that students who engage in these types of HIPs feel more confident in their employable skills, which is encouraging given that this type of skill development was probably not the focus of these activities and more likely a happy by-product.  To strengthen our students’ career preparation, we encourage faculty to be more intentional about skill development when incorporating HIPs in their courses. There are many ways to include skills development while engaging your students in HIPs (for more details, see Ciarocco & Strohmetz, 2020). Some ideas include highlighting skill development on your first and last days of class, as well as in your syllabus. You might also ask students to reflect on the skills they have developed through their high impact experiences and help them translate those skills to interviews and application materials. With a little re-tooling of your HIPs to intentionally include skill development, you have the opportunity to help your students become deeper learners and more confident about their skill sets at graduation.



    Appleby, D. C. (2014). A skills-based academic advising strategy for job-seeking psychology majors. In R. Miller & J. Irons (Eds.), Academic advising: A handbook for advisors and students, Vol. 1: Models, students, topics, and issues, pp. 143–156. Retrieved from

    Ciarocco, N. J., & Strohmetz, D. B. (2018). The Employable Skills Self-Efficacy Survey: An assessment of skill confidence for psychology undergraduates. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology4, 1-15. doi:10.1037/stl0000102

    Ciarocco, N. J., & Strohmetz, D. B. (2020). Psychology for the Workforce: Using the Classroom to Help Students Develop and Market Their Employable Skills? In T. Ober, E. Che, J. Brodsky, C. Raffaele, & P. J. Brooks (Eds.). How we teach now (Volume 2): The GSTA guide to transformative teaching.

    Fabris, C. (2015). College students think they’re ready for the work force. Employers aren’t so sure. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

    Hart Research Associates (2018). Fulfilling the American dream: Liberal education and the future of work. Washington, DC: Association of American College and Universities.

    Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. AAC&U, Washington, D.C.

    Kuh, G. D., & O'Donnell, K. (2013). Ensuring quality & taking high-impact practices to scale. Washington, DC: AAC&U.

    Landrum, R. E., & McCarthy, M. A. (2018). Measuring the benefits of a bachelor’s degree in psychology: Promises, challenges, and next steps. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology4(1), 55–63.

    Dr. David Strohmetz is Chair and Professor of Psychology at the University of West Florida.  Dr. Natalie Ciarocco is a Professor of Psychology at Monmouth University.  They frequently work together to promote undergraduate professional development and best practices in the teaching of research methods. Their collaborations include developing a self-administered assessment of employable skills (, authoring with another colleague the innovative textbook, Discovering the Scientist Within: Research Methods in Psychology, and creating the teaching resource

  • 09 Dec 2019 10:21 AM | Anonymous

    By Maureen A. Coyle, Ph.D. Student, The Graduate Center, CUNY

    One of the things I emphasize the most to my students is that our perceptions of our social world are influenced by our expectations. Thus, students should be mindful of how their background (e.g., family upbringing, previous education) and identities (e.g., ethnic identity, sexual orientation) shape their observations and responses. Students should also consider how their behaviors can influence how others respond to them. Sometimes our expectations lead us to act in such a way that our expectations become true. This is known as self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-fulfilling prophecies affect ourselves (like if I think I’m going to fail an exam and decide to not study, I will most likely fail that exam) and others (like if I think someone is rude, I may act abrasively to them which will lead that person to respond rudely, confirming my assumption).

    Self-fulfilling prophecy is often covered in introductory chapters of Social Psychology. However, I think that instructors across disciplines should also consider covering this concept in their early classes. This is because self-fulfilling prophecy can impact students’ motivation, engagement, and performance in whatever courses they’re in. Below I will discuss a role-playing activity I use to help students understand self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I present this to students as an “Expectations Activity” before defining self-fulfilling prophecy. I first ask for four volunteers who don’t mind wearing baseball caps. As students volunteer, I hand them a baseball cap. Each baseball cap has an index card pinned on the front side with a trait and another index card taped over it (this is so students are unaware of what trait they are labelled with). Once the students have the caps on their head, I remove the top index card taped down so that the rest of the volunteers and class can view the trait labels. The traits are smart, lazy, mean, and control freak.

    The volunteers are instructed to treat each other according to the traits, assuming the traits are the true characteristics of the students wearing them. I tell students that this activity is like an episode of the TV show The Office where the employees had labels of different races on their foreheads and had to treat each other according to the stereotypes about those races. The students are given five tasks to work on together in front of the class. They must reach consensus on the task before moving to the next one. I display the tasks one at a time on a PowerPoint slide, so they are unaware of what the next tasks are and can focus on the current one.

    The tasks are as follows:

    (1) Indicate 4 best reasons for being a Brooklyn College student

    (2) Decide on a new course to be offered at Brooklyn College

    (3) Settle if comprehensive exams should be required to graduate

    (4) Determine the #1 thing that must be changed at Brooklyn College

    (5) Line up in order from least to most likable

    I tell the volunteers that they cannot say the traits (or synonyms of the traits) in their interactions and can only respond to in ways they think are appropriate given the traits they’re labelled with. As they work together, the students typically turn to the ‘smart’ one and listen to whatever he/she says, which confirms that he/she is ‘smart.’ No one usually asks for the ‘lazy’ student’s opinion and this student usually speaks the least, which confirms his/her ‘laziness.’ The students are usually mean to the ‘mean’ one, which tends to make the ‘mean’ one respond in a mean way. Whatever the ‘control freak’ says is usually dismissed by the other students and he/she usually struggles to gain influence, which confirms that he/she is ‘controlling.’ After they finish the tasks, I ask them to guess their trait label. They often can figure out what trait they have based on the way the students treated them.

    Afterwards, I define self-fulfilling prophecy and identify instances where self-fulfilling prophecies occurred in the previous activity. I bring up how self-fulfilling prophecies can affect our experiences in group projects (this is especially important to acknowledge if group work is a component of your course) and ask students where else they see evidence of self-fulfilling prophecies (students usually bring up things like first dates and exams). I then give them a survey asking them how effective the activity was in demonstrating self-fulfilling prophecy and how much each person acted in accordance with the trait they were labelled with. This is not only an assessment tool but helps me in the following class on research methods when introducing correlations.

    In the following class, after defining positive correlation (when two variables covary in the same direction), I show students the correlation between how effective the activity was and how much students believed the volunteers acted in accordance with their label. Regardless of how effective students rated the activity, their effectiveness rating has a strong positive correlation with how much they believed the volunteers acted in accordance with their labels. Thus, this activity has a twofold benefit for teaching students social psychological concepts (self-fulfilling prophecy and positive correlation).

    This activity has a lot of flexibility in terms of appropriate trait labels and what activities to solve as a group. Occasionally students’ behaviors don’t match their traits. When this happens, I explain how our expectations are not always right and will not always lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. Regardless of how much self-fulfilling prophecies occur in the activity, I like to end with highlighting the importance of recognizing our own biases so that negative expectations don’t lead to negative outcomes for ourselves and for those that we are interacting with. If you use this activity or variations of it, please feel free to let me know how it goes at!

    Maureen A. Coyle is a PhD student in the Basic and Applied Social Psychology program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is also an adjunct instructor and lab manager of the Health, Emotion, and Relationships Team (HEART) Lab at Brooklyn College. Her research focus is the influence of media and technology on impression formation and relationship development. Maureen emphasizes the Writing to Learn strategy in her classroom and is completing Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) certification at Kingsborough Community College during the 2019-2020 academic year.

  • 29 Oct 2019 4:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jenel Cavazos, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma

    I first started teaching college courses at the age of 25. I was in my 2nd year of graduate school and had just finished my master’s degree, which was the requirement to be an “instructor of record” at my institution. I taught a summer class – Introduction to Personality – to a small and largely uninterested group of psychology students (including a few very large football players, but that’s another story). I vividly remember the advice that was given to me, a 5’2” female, before I began teaching. I was told I would have to work hard to make sure I was respected, and the way to do that was to distinguish myself from my students through attitude and dress. I shouldn’t be too friendly or too casual with the students or they would see me as “one of them” and I wouldn’t be respected. Along the same lines, I was told to always dress formally so that they would see me as the one who was in charge. I definitely got the message that authority was more about how you look than who you are.

    Now I’m not necessarily saying that this advice was incorrect because it works very well for some people (and women do generally have a harder time establishing authority in the classroom than men, which is a whole other topic). I will say that when I look back 15 years later, I realize I wasn’t the teacher I could have been in those first classes because I was overly concerned with making sure I had the “right” look and demeanor. We only have so much mental bandwidth, and mine was focused on living up to the image in my head of what a professor was “supposed” to look, sound, and act like. Through a lot of trial and error, I have learned that there are many other, much more effective ways to communicate authority in the classroom.

    I am thankful that in today’s world, dress seems to be less of a definitive marker of status than it was in the past. The students know who their professor is, and that person is in charge regardless of what they look like. With some unfortunate exceptions, most students afford their instructor some measure of authority just by virtue of being the instructor. So, if a suit or a dress makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t wear it. You won’t be as effective of a teacher if you are thinking more about your clothes than your class. Of course, I’m not suggesting that you wear sweats and a baggy t-shirt to teach – but as a general rule, students are going to respect you based on what you do, not what you wear.

    So if clothes don’t communicate authority, what does? The simple answer is confidence! Have you ever heard the phrase, “fake it ‘till you make it?” This is absolutely true of teaching, especially when it comes to your attitude when you’re first starting out. You may be nervous and unsure of yourself, and that’s completely understandable. But it’s your confidence in what you know and what you can do that communicates the most to the students. It tells them that you are in charge, and that you can be trusted. The best teachers aren’t those who know everything; the best teachers are the ones who aren’t afraid to make mistakes and admit what they don’t know. They are able to be human in front of their students and to learn alongside them. They don’t let their fear of imperfection get in the way of taking a risk and trying something new. If the students know you will always do your best for them, then the mistakes don’t matter – they trust you to fix them. So be confident in yourself and your abilities. You were put in your position for a reason, so go out there and make the most of it!

    Dr. Jenel Cavazos is an Associate Professor and Master Teacher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Oklahoma. As the Introductory Psychology Program Coordinator, she teaches an average of 1500 students per year, supervises sections of PSY1113 taught by graduate students, and conducts a graduate mentor program for teaching. Her emphasis areas include curriculum development, the implementation of technology in the classroom, and program assessment. Her research focuses on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Introductory Psychology. She has received several university teaching awards and was named a College of Teaching Excellence Faculty Fellow for 2017-18. 

    Twitter: @jenelcavazos

  • 21 Oct 2019 5:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Suzanne Wood, Ph.D., University of Toronto

    When David Epstein introduces us to Judy Swanson, a professor of political philosophy, in Chapter 8 of Range, she was at a conference about overspecialization in the social sciences. Epstein notes that, to him, Dr. Swanson seemed quite specialized. Of the forty-four articles and books listed on her webpage, each one had “Aristotle” in the title. Dr. Swanson, however, viewed her academic career quite differently. She is not specialized enough. Why? She teaches undergraduates. When she teaches undergraduates, she needs to think and talk and learn about more than Aristotle. “There is this feeling of frustration…that I should be doing something more specialized” Swanson explains (p. 181).

    Range is not a book about pedagogy, psychology, or graduate students, so it may seem like a strange fit as an entry in the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Graduate Student Teaching Association blog. However, this book could be one of the most important works you read in your graduate studies.

    Academic Success Is for the Hedgehogs

    In the odyssey of graduate school, you are either excitedly embarking upon this voyage, in the murky depths of it, or struggling to just finish the thing, doggy paddling ashore with a leathery sunburned face and a deflated volleyball as your companion. You succeeded as an undergraduate. You overcame the hurdles to gaining admission into grad school. Even if your plans are now to leave academia, you have spent enough time within its hallowed walls to absorb its culture. Academia tells us that narrowing in on one topic is the path to success.

    And this is true. To be a successful academic today, you must be a hedgehog. Using terms coined by Philip Tetlock, a psychologist and political scientist, Epstein divides us into hedgehogs, or those who burrow deep into one field, and foxes, who wander about, learning a little about a lot (p. 221). Hedgehogs are absolutely necessary for the progression of knowledge. In psychology, we need the “methods person”, who is able to show us how to properly use our eye-tracker in conjunction with the heart rate monitor and analyze the resultant data. We need our cingulate cortex expert. Our norepinephrine aficionado. We would be nowhere without these specialists.

    However, there is a danger in filling our universities and research institutions with nothing but specialists. The current incentive structure of academia does not allow room for foxes, even if, as Epstein argues throughout Range, they may be better equipped for handling problems that necessitate creative or divergent thinking. Using examples from as far afield as the development of the Nintendo Game Boy, the success of the Girl Scouts organization, the creation of Van Gogh’s lily pad series, and on, Epstein explores the making of the minds behind some of the biggest innovations of our time. Their stories share a common thread: a seemingly bizarre and unpredictable path to success. Epstein argues, though, that these stories are not at all bizarre. In fact, the longer the delay until settling upon a path in life, the more varied the initial life experiences, the greater the chance of finding a person with a true capacity for creativity and innovation.

    In academics, the immediate success of a paper (typically determined by factors such as the prestige of the journal of publication, citations within the first year, etc.) can inform everything from hiring decisions to pay raises. Successful papers tend to be written by hedgehogs. If considering long-term impact of work, though, foxes seem to come out ahead:

    “A separate, international team analyzed more than a half million research articles, and classified a paper as ‘novel’ if it cited two other journals that had never before appeared together. Just one in ten papers made a new combination, and only one in twenty made multiple new combinations. The group tracked the impact of research papers over time. They saw that papers with new knowledge combinations were more likely to be published in less prestigious journals, and also much more likely to be ignored upon publication. They got off to a slow start in the world, but after three years, the papers with new knowledge combos surpassed the conventional papers, and began accumulating more citations from other scientists. Fifteen years after publication, studies that made multiple new knowledge combinations were way more likely to be in the top 1 percent of most-cited papers.

    “To recap: work that builds bridges between disparate pieces of knowledge is less likely to be funded, less likely to appear in famous journals, more likely to be ignored upon publication, and then more likely in the long run to be a smash hit in the library of human knowledge.” (p. 281-2)

    Looking ahead in your career, if you want to make an impact outside of the realm of the handful of researchers in your specialization, you are better off being a fox. You just may not be a successful academic.

    Teach Like a Fox

    A few years back, colleagues and I discussed the content of each of the departmental core courses. We wanted our students to neither miss major concepts, nor learn the same less important concept three times over. A colleague of mine, concerned with academic freedom, did not want this type of curriculum in place. “Well, we should each just teach what we know.” On the surface, this makes great sense. In academia, the best teaching gig is a seminar in which you get to discuss original journal articles directly related to your own research. This is great for you; your students learn volumes from your expertise – everyone wins. Teach what you know.

    Now, before students enter this seminar, they need to learn some basic principles. Someone has to teach that. My dissertation was not about every aspect of behavioral neuroscience, but I can certainly teach basic behavioral neuroscientific findings that fall outside of the amygdala and hippocampus. Moreover, if all I taught was what I already knew, I would be missing out on the layers of cortex and the underlying nuclei that went unexplored in my niche graduate school and postdoctoral research. Even though my research has addressed addiction, without teaching a first-year seminar, I may remain ignorant of the history of drug laws and the strong relationship between systemic racism and today’s American drug policies. Teaching gave me the excuse to explore these topics, which fall outside of my specific research questions. What a privilege and a treat to be able to spend my time learning fascinating new domains of work (N.B.: I may not feel this way at 1:00 am when I’m still making Keynote slides about the different motor system pathways for lecture later today, but I stand by my previous statement). I’m not saying to send a psychologist in to teach how to program in LISP (a reference to a class I took as an undergraduate that used what was, even back then, a completely outdated computer language, but whose core, logical structure I have referred to time and again when learning new coding languages), but I am saying we can actively work against the silos of overspecialization, in part, through our teaching. When considering content to teach, do not fear being foxy.

    Range in Academia

    Let’s return to Dr. Swanson, the political philosophy professor. Reflecting upon her frustration with teaching undergraduates about topics outside of Aristotle, Epstein surmises that “[a]cademic departments no longer merely fracture naturally into subspecialties, they elevate narrowness as an ideal.” How does Epstein view this phenomenon? “That is counterproductive” (p.181).

    Have you ever wondered if there is a different way of doing things in academia, outside of what has “always” been done? Or whether what is currently being reinforced as the “best” model of an academic really is the best? Or why we have enormous mounds of research being produced, with very few paradigm-shifting findings? Range, a book neither about pedagogy nor academia, may be our spark for forging a new framework.


    Epstein, D. (2019). Range: Why Generalists Triumph in Specialized World. New York: Riverhead Books.

    Dr. Suzanne Wood is an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream in University of Toronto’s Psychology department. She teaches courses focused on the brain, psychopharmacology and learning. She works with undergraduate researchers on projects ranging from study drug use to resiliency and anxiety at university. She had a circuitous path leading to academia, and would like to think those skills and experiences picked up along the way continue to inform her teaching today.

  • 10 Oct 2019 2:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Kristina Howansky, Ph.D., St. Mary's College of Maryland

    It’s Fall 2013. I am in my first semester as a Social Psychology PhD student. I stand in front of my class of 50 almost-as-anxious-as-I-am Psychological Statistics undergraduate students. They stare at me; I stare at them. My heart races. I ask myself, “Who the heck gave me the authority to do this?!”

    Being a graduate student teacher (GST) can be one of the most difficult and most rewarding experiences in graduate school. As I reflect back on my time as a GST, there are a few key pieces of advice I wish I could have told myself that first day in my statistics course. 

    You’re not an expert at everything and that’s a good thing.

    What if I tell my students incorrect information?! What if a student asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to?! My biggest anxiety as a GST centered around appearing incompetent. I believed that if my students thought I wasn’t knowledgeable about everything under the umbrella of the course topic I would lose their respect. Ironically, what I most feared that first day in my statistics course has developed into one of my favorite experiences in the classroom.

    You don’t know the answer to a student’s question? GOOD! As a classroom leader and role-model, not knowing the answer provides opportunities for both you and your students to learn. When you don’t know the answer, you have the chance to model a growth mindset for your students. You can highlight that no one knows everything and that everyone—yes even us! —has the ability to learn and change. You can model this by responding with excitement to questions you don’t know the answer to. Getting stumped by a student question also provides the chance for you to highlight that psychological science is ongoing. You can use this as an opportunity to teach students how to conduct a preliminary literature search. Still don’t have the answer? Even better! Now you can empower students to get involved in research and answer it themselves.

    At the end of the day we might be niche experts in our content areas but students themselves have diverse backgrounds and life experiences that can enrich classroom discussion. This is why…

    …you can learn as much from your students as they can learn from you.

    During a classroom discussion about sexism and gender stereotypes in my Social Psychology course, an older male student raised his hand and emphatically stated, “well if thinking men shouldn’t cry is sexist, then I’m sexist!” My gut reaction was anger. I wanted to immediately disparage this student for proudly identifying as a sexist. I am so glad I didn’t.

    Instead, I asked him to tell me more. He explained that as a father of young sons, he sees how the boys in his sons’ classes are bullied when they emote. As a working professional, he saw the way the men in his workplace were expected to behave. He wanted to prepare his sons for the harsh expectations that society has for men. From his perspective, it was more important to protect his children by teaching them to conform to gender expectancies than it was for him to tear down gender norms.

    I’m not a parent. I have never really worked in a business environment. I’m not a man. I never had the opportunity to consider sexism from these perspectives. Because I listened, I (and his fellow students!) were given the opportunity to look at a complex issue from a perspective we hadn’t before. This led to an extraordinarily rich and multifaceted class discussion about parenting and gender roles.

    As educators, we should encourage our students to recognize they will be more knowledgeable than we are on some topics and empower them to contribute their unique voices to classroom discussion. There are, of course, many important things to consider (e.g., not expecting minority students to be responsible for teaching their classmates about minority experiences, recognizing the importance of encouraging students to support their arguments with facts and not opinions) — but that’s a different blog post. At the end of the day, we should remain open to learning from our students.


    Who I am in the classroom today is vastly different than who I was just a few years ago. When I first started teaching, I thought I needed to be tough. Like, really tough. Absolutely no late work accepted, NO EXCEPTIONS! If your absence for an exam is unexcused, you’re not making up that exam, NO EXCEPTIONS! If you miss class, I will not send you the slides, NO EXCEPTIONS! In my mind, the more rigid my course policies and the more strongly I held onto them, the more students would prioritize the work in my course and respect me. I thought that my course should be their main focus and felt insulted when it wasn’t. I was wrong.

    As undergraduate students ourselves, did we not prioritize some classes above others? To quote the philosopher Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation, “never half-a** two things. Whole-a** one thing.” We should recognize that sometimes, our students can’t “whole-a**” our courses. Students are often trying to balance work, families, and heavy course loads. We need to recognize that sometimes, your class is not the most important thing in their life and that’s okay.

    We can be strict about setting course policies, but should build flexibility into the policies themselves. For example, accepting late work with a penalty. Having one make-up day in the semester that any missed work or exams can be made up without a grade cut. There are numerous opportunities to incorporate compassion into our syllabi.

    Over time, I’ve learned that flexibility and empathy do not equal weakness. If you treat your students as full human beings deserving of respect and compassion, they will reciprocate. 

    Dr. Kristina Howansky is an assistant professor of psychology at St. Mary's College of Maryland where she teaches courses in Statistics, Research Methods, and Social Psychology. When she's not grading homework, she enjoys spending time outside with her adorable but terribly behaved dog, Bowser. 

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