Beeta Ansari

Beeta is Ashoka U’s Exchange Director, the world’s largest global convening for social entrepreneurship education.

Faculty Hero: Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz

Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz, and Adjunct Lecturer at New Mexico Highlands University, shares her ideas inspiring an exchange of best practices in higher education by creating a safe open space in the classroom for future teachers.

Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz is featured as a part of Ashoka U’s new blog series, “Faculty Hero,” that tells stories of outstanding faculty members, leading changemaking initiatives at their colleges and universities around the world. Check back for a story of a new Faculty Hero on the Ashoka U Blog!
1) Describe the changemaking class, program, or project do you lead. How is it distinctive in higher education?
Over the past two years I have restructured the graduate level courses which I have taught as a result of my own research experiences on successful strategies of community based instruction. I began focusing on building a classroom that would encourage the collection and sharing of the stories of teachers who labor in marginalized learner communities. My goal was to facilitate a peer exchange of best practices for teachers, in a simple, engaging, easy to understand, and authentic manner.

2) Did you face any challenges/obstacles along the way? If so, how did you overcome them?
My biggest teaching challenge has also been my biggest potential advantage – I have been in a continuous process of learning and understanding how to facilitate this practice of teaching through stories, as I go. It means the class is responsive to the needs expressed and realizations made, right in the moment, which is extremely exciting to facilitate and witness. That said, I never can predict what aspects of the class will resonate the most with students, because each class goes through the process in completely unique ways.

Ultimately, what I have experienced as a wise path to overcoming anxiety and obstacles is this: by inviting students into the process of teaching, I am inviting them equally, if not more so, into the process of learning.

3) How does being on a college campus amplify or affect your work (in a way that might be different if you worked elsewhere)?
I consider my higher education classrooms to be a safe space in the field of education where teachers can gather together for mutual support, encouragement, and peer mentorship. This, I am told by my students, is not a common occurrence, as there are few opportunities for teachers working in different schools, districts, and regions to gather together consistently to reflect, analyze, grow and expand their teaching practices.

While it is not impossible to create these kinds of learning and community building experiences outside of university campuses, it goes without saying that higher education is a natural place to turn to when people desire to learn.

4) Tell us about a result that you’re most proud of (including social impact and/or impact on students).
Ironically, I am most proud of my students’ increased pride in teaching as a result of the classroom experiences and learning we have created, together. I consistently hear from former students who share the results of our class time, as a moment in their career where they were re-inspired with their teaching practices. I cannot help but believe these positive changes help foster transformation within each teacher’s classroom, thereby having a ripple effect to and through their students.

5) What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other faculty or staff thinking about getting involved in social innovation?
Cultivating flexibility has been one of my biggest learnings, and I view the classroom as a laboratory where we have an opportunity to experiment and try on new ways of seeing, doing, and being as teachers. Social innovation in the field of education is therefore reliant on teachers being flexible in their methods, and adaptable to their population of learners in their strategies.

The real trick, though, is having their new meaningful work supported by their respective administrations, and reflected in new education policy.

6) How do you see your work evolving and growing in the future?
I anticipate expanding my work through increased experiences in community-based organizational settings, and also expanding my practice as an emerging researcher. My goal is to deepen my understanding of how we view and understand successful outcomes in education, as well as how communities generate innovative change and impact.

More information about Mi’Jan will be featured on social media this week, so make sure to like Ashoka U on Twitter and Facebook! Check out Ashoka U’s blog each week to see new stories of phenomenal faculty heroes making a difference in their institutions and the world.