Lisa Dembouski: I’m a Gustie and This is How I Teach Posted on September 22nd, 2015 by

LD 2015 headshotLisa Dembouski

Assistant Professor in Education

What classes do you regularly teach? I teach people who are learning to be teachers.

Toward that goal, my courses include EDU 268:Orientation to the Teaching Profession (J-Term class), EDU 350: Reading in the Content Areas: Multiple Literacies in 21st Century Classrooms, EDU 389: Inclusive Classrooms, and I supervise student teachers (which is awesome because it means I’m still in schools and get to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there. This translates to more effectiveness on my part in classrooms here on campus…or so I hope).

What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

Know, listen to, and include your students. While you may be the content expert, they are still the “consumers” of your product, and their voice matters (in all ways).

Tell us about your favorite topic or course to teach.

Oh, I love them all, and for different reasons. Probably the one I feel most confident in is Inclusive Classrooms, primarily because I know and have lived that topic from multiple perspectives. Creating, supporting, and enlarging inclusive communities (on small, medium, and even large scales) is a favorite theme for me and my work overall.

Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

I — and my students, according to their feedback — enjoy a variety of activities. On a daily level, our favorites include “Quiet Writes,” “Community Announcements,” and even a very simple thing like writing the day’s agenda on the white board (people like to know the plan). On larger, more whole-class/semester-long levels we’ve enjoyed student-led presentations on key course themes (the students study and teach them, instead of me doing it all). Another popular one has been App Slams (teaching the rest of us about various apps teachers can use in classrooms with the goal of trying to make your App look the coolest). I also personally enjoy an end-of-semester assignment where students have to explain their trajectory and describe their growth in knowledge, skills, and understanding on the course themes; students often are very surprised to discover how much they have learned and how far they have come in a single semester and that “a-ha” discovery is a joy to witness!

What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?LD headshot 2015

I like teaching to be dynamic, interactive, inclusive, student-driven, flexible, Universal Design-minded, and open-ended. I have to admit this is not always a crowd favorite, particularly for people who prefer to learn in more sequential ways. So I try to adapt, and try to be concrete or more sequential at least some of the time, but I’d rather allow for my students to use their creativity, synthesize course material, and then consider how they will apply what they’re learning. I also care a great deal about the practicality of my content, meaning, how can teacher candidates use content from my courses in their own work. My love for the practice-based focus of teacher education is why I love working at a liberal arts college; there’s theory in there, yes, and there’s also attention on what to do with that theory.

Tell us something that you’ve learned about yourself from teaching.

This might sound weird, but I’ve learned that the more I let go, the less I try to manage/control, the better things go overall. That said, and as I mentioned above, that’s not always a crowd favorite. There are some students who do prefer me to be the clear classroom leader, to be more content- and lecture-based, etc. I just think there’s already so much knowledge and talent in the room that I can’t be the only one worth listening to. In this way I am always seeking balance.

Three words that best describe your teaching style.

Interactive, student-driven, adaptive (I’m constantly making changes as students and situations warrant, often while “on my feet” as class is happening!).

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

Stay current, listen, build relationships, care, love (the) work.

Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

Back when I was still teaching in high school I expressed frustration with one of my students who, though smart and capable, had adopted a helplessness about the class content that I neither understood nor had the tolerance for (that day). So I said something sharp and kind of snarky. I don’t remember the details of the situation nor what I said exactly, but I do — very clearly — remember the way her face changed when I said it. Suddenly I knew I had messed up. Horribly. It also happened right at the end of the hour so the bell rang and the students left before I had time to fix it. I felt terrible (and I did cry). So I wrote her a note to apologize and ask her forgiveness, looked up her schedule and took it to her in her next class, then publicly apologized to her in front of everyone else the next day in class. Thankfully, she accepted my apology (we’re even friends on Facebook now), but I still remember that incident vividly and haven’t quite forgiven myself for my sharp tongue. I do try to think and speak much more carefully now, though. Teachers have so much power, we must be very cautious and wield it gently.

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

That as outgoing, energetic, comfortable-appearing, and personable I present in the classroom, I am very much an introvert and feel awkward in most social settings.

What are you currently reading for pleasure?

Marilynn Robinson’s Gilead books (Gilead, Home, and Lila).

Who would you like to fill out this survey next?

Oh, so many! Valerie Walker, Amy Vizenor, Michele Koomen, Alisa Rosenthal, Yurie Hong, Thia Cooper, Kate Knutson, Sara Ruble, Kyle Chambers, Deb Pitton, Dan Moos, Katrina Imison-Mazy, Sidonia Alenuma, Patty Reeder, Pam Kittleson … to name a few … 🙂

The How I Teach series asks Gustavus faculty members to share their thoughts on assignments, course activities, and teaching in general. Most Tuesdays a new Gustavus faculty member will be featured. If you have someone you want to see featured, let us know. Also, we’d love it if you’d answer the questions yourself and send those along with a few pictures to


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