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If you’ve listened to this podcast before, or if you follow its associated journal, you know that connecting with students ranks among our most important values, right up there with my personal soapbox of really listening to them. This episode follows that same trend, but through some unusual avenues.

I reached out to a fellow podcast creator, the exceptionally prolific Bonni Stachowiak. I wanted to talk with her about building community, because she’s done an amazing job developing a connected group of people out of the listening audience for her show, Teaching in Higher Ed. I also wanted to get her thoughts on vulnerability, based on something she said on Twitter a while back: “Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable gives us room to fail but then nudge those failures in a forward direction toward greater learning.” Bonni taps into the notion of classroom failure in a wonderful way because teachers are only truly vulnerable if there is that risk of failure, and when a lot of teachers talk about being vulnerable in the classroom they aren’t actually risking anything. Sam Hamilton discusses this dilemma at length in a 2016 Hybrid Pedagogyarticle called “Risk Taking is a Form of Playing it Safe” that you should totally go read (after listening to this episode!). For her part, Bonni says it’s actually our studentswho are putting themselves on the line, and they have a genuine and well-founded fear that by risking too much they are going to irreversibly fail.

But as Bonni and I discussed community-building and vulnerability and failure, the importance of connecting with students quickly emerged as thedriving force compelling us toward better teaching practices. We recognized that we have to connect with students if we want to work meaningfully with them. We have to connect students with our course content if we want it to resonate in their lives. And we have to connect students with their own inner compass if we want them to develop into morally responsible human beings. As we discussed these perspectives on classroom dynamics, the act of asking questions kept coming up as the only appropriate solution to each problem.

In his most famous work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire discusses his concept of problem-posing education. Instead of teaching students to seek correct answers for problems we present to them, Freire says we need to help students identify their own questions and find the problems in life and in society that will compel them to learn, grow, and develop their critical consciousness. Problem posing stands as the centerpiece of Freire’s approach to education. And while Bonni and I don’t talk explicitly about this method, we do discover that asking the right questions — from teachers and students alike — can make all the difference in helping us connect with one another and our courses. What set out to be a discussion about community and vulnerability became an argument in favor of asking good questions at every opportunity, even (or especially) when our instincts urge us to do otherwise.

Music in this episode by Lee Rosevere, licensed under Creative Commons:

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