As an instructor of health and public policy, I aim to deepen students’ knowledge of pertinent policies and help them examine the research, decision making, and historical contexts from which those policies arise. My experiences with learners at different stages of their educational journeys—from undergraduate undeclared majors to seasoned healthcare professionals returning to school—have shaped my teaching philosophy and honed my skills as an instructor.
Through my experiences, I have developed three core teaching principles, which guide my student interactions. First, I promote dialectical thinking to motivate students to examine policy issues from multiple perspectives and question their own assumptions. Second, I highlight connections between theoretical course concepts and real-world interventions, thus bridging academic research and policy implementation. Third, I cultivate an inclusive learning environment that respects different types of learners.
Encourage dialectical thinking
Not all students are public policy majors, but all enter the classroom with assumptions and opinions based on how they have experienced and read about rules, regulations, and laws in the real-world. Helping students understand their own attitudes and gaps in knowledge is a key element to critically examining current policies and thinking about policy improvements. To do this, I encourage students to practice dialectical thinking, the ability to view policy issues from multiple perspectives. By also evaluating students based on their dialectical thinking skills, I maintain equity in grading students who come to the course with different levels of background knowledge. The student with little prior knowledge of health policies or behavioral economics can still perform well in the course by understanding how to argue for different perspectives. For example, in the undergraduate course Intro to the U.S. Healthcare System, students write essays arguing for or against policies, such as Medicaid expansion. As a TA, I push students to consider how a critic would respond to their arguments and how they would try to rebut that critic’s counterarguments. By the end of the course, students who master dialectical thinking have strengthened their understanding of both current controversial policies as well as difficulties enacting policies that affect real stakeholders and have significant trade-offs.
Connect concepts to the real world
Key to encouraging students to care about course concepts is applying these concepts to reality. My goal is to convince students that what may seem theoretical and abstract in the classroom can have concrete consequences when applied in real-world interventions. One way to convince students is by challenging them to consider how classroom concepts show up in their own lives. For example, in the undergraduate course Behavioral Economics and Public Policy, I led a discussion asking students to apply behavioral economics concepts covered in class to problems they saw with irrational behavior among Duke students. Students enjoyed coming up with examples, such as leveraging social norms to encourage more flu shots and using loss-framed messages to discourage wasteful use of Duke food points.
As the Policy Team Lead for an interdisciplinary, project-based class for undergraduates, I taught students to apply health equity frameworks and mixed research methods to assessments of advocacy-group interventions in Durham. I also instruct students on how to write policy memos, with key takeaways about clarity and persuasion that they can transfer to other disciplines and future careers. Additionally, as part of a team tasked with revamping the undergraduate core course, Introduction to Policy Analysis, I led the health policy curriculum development subteam in creating course material, such as memo assignments about sugar-sweetened beverages and vaccines, to help students engage in public policy methods and debates.
Cultivate inclusive learning
Students learn best in environments that are inclusive, comfortable, and respectful of their ideas and opinions. Yet, the ideal inclusive environment may look different for different types of learners. In the classroom, I start lectures with a reflection activity, during which students take a few minutes to jot down their thoughts to open-ended questions relevant to the day’s lecture. By allowing students to articulate their thoughts on paper, the ensuing class discussion invites more student engagement, especially from those who are less comfortable with conventional ad lib question and answer. Additionally, I encourage participation through not only large class discussion but also break-out-group activities, which provide more intimate engagement for reserved learners.
Although it is difficult to tailor an entire class session to the needs of individual learners, I can offer different learning environments to students outside of the classroom. Thus, I offer office hours two ways. Open office hours allow for collaborative learning and create space for idea generation among peers. These office hours often cater to more extroverted students who are not afraid to bounce their ideas off their peers and receive feedback publicly. In these office hours, I play the role of a guide; I ask students to respond to each other's questions and arguments and only jump in to provide clarifications. Students arguing for opposing sides of an issue benefit from hearing each other’s arguments, and these collaborative office hours have led students to set up peer-editing groups to provide each other with additional feedback. In contrast, individual office hours provide space for learners who require more structured guidance, such as additional help with understanding class content; as well as for learners who are more reserved about conveying their ideas in front of their peers. By offering assistance to students outside of the classroom in different formats, I can help students in the way they comfortably learn, thus maximizing learning outcomes.
Finally, teaching is not confined to the classroom. It is critical to show students that I care about them as individuals, not just students, and to encourage them to prioritize their physical and mental health over the demands of the classroom. This means learning all their names and pronouns and checking that I am pronouncing their names correctly. This also means reviewing the attendance, grade trajectories, and extension requests of each student to recognize dips in performance and whether those dips are indicators of uncommunicated struggles in or out of the classroom. My supportive teaching philosophy also extends to mentoring. As a mentor in the Duke student-athlete mentoring program, I meet weekly with a student-athlete to not only guide them through their day-to-day coursework, but also help them step back and think about their course preferences, their sleep schedule, and their short- and long-term goals both in academics and beyond. This means that before diving into the course material at every meeting, we take time to answer questions about our weekends, trade stories about our successes and challenges of the past week, and share something we’re looking forward to in the week ahead.
My goal as a teacher is to improve learning outcomes, to spark intrinsic motivation to learn, and to support students through a time of immense change and growth. Skilled and dedicated teachers make an enormous impact on student academic success and well-being. Thus, I am committed to improving as an instructor by taking classes in the Certificate in College Teaching program, by asking peers to observe and honestly critique my teaching, and by earnestly reviewing and adapting to student feedback. I am excited and prepared to teach future undergraduate- and graduate-level students in courses such as U.S. Health Policy, Policy Analysis, Behavioral Economics and Health Policy/Public Policy, Consumer Behavior, Behavioral Decision Theory, Behavioral Research Methods, Regression Analysis, and related subjects.
Teaching Assistant, Introduction to the U.S. Healthcare System, Undergraduate (Spring 2022)
Instructor: Nathan Boucher
Approx. 35 students
Teaching Assistant, Health Sector Management Bootcamp, Graduate (Summer 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022)
Instructors: Peter Ubel and David Ridley
Approx. 90 students
Teaching Assistant, Introduction to the U.S. Healthcare System, Undergraduate (Spring 2021)
Instructor: Peter Ubel
Approx. 35 students
Teaching Assistant, Social Policy, Graduate (Fall 2020)
Instructor: Carolyn Barnes
Approx. 20 students
Teaching Assistant, Behavioral Economics and Public Policy, Undergraduate (Fall 2019)
Instructor: Peter Ubel
Approx. 25 students