Fostering independent thinkers

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“I am going to try to create a positive classroom environment where you have a voice and you feel comfortable as a learner,” Katherine Zinsser tells students on the first day of class. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

 

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

 

The classroom relationship between preschool educators and their students is one of Katherine Zinsser’s many research interests.

She identifies effective social and emotional teaching practices and classroom environments that promote teacher and child well-being.

“I walk into my college- and graduate-level classes and have in my head what it is to be a great preschool teacher, and map that onto what it takes to be a great higher education instructor,” says Zinsser, assistant professor of psychology.

“It comes down to relationships and being a trusting, respectful person.”

That means creating a college classroom where expectations are clear and students are encouraged to engage in discussion, she says.

“I am going to respect you as an individual and an independent thinker. I am going to try to create a positive classroom environment where you have a voice and you feel comfortable as a learner,” Zinsser tells her students on the first day of class.

Her developmental psychology course, which focuses on how individuals’ behaviors and mental processes change over a lifespan, is “inherently interesting to students.”

“We talk about issues around identity formation and the transition from adolescence to adulthood, how workplace climates impact life satisfaction,” she says.

“They are poised and hungry for information about what is it going to be to be an adult.”

Zinsser, who came to UIC in 2013, is grateful for the different perspectives and backgrounds her students bring to the classroom, particularly in discussions.

“I couldn’t ask for a richer database,” she says.

“The students in my classes have had practically every experience under the sun and that means there will always be a great example for their classmates to learn from.”