Educator Spotlight: John Bleakney

John Bleakney
Associate Teaching Professor, Co-op, College of Engineering

Can you describe your role at Northeastern?
I am an Associate Teaching Professor with the College of Engineering Co-op department. I work with engineering graduate students and engineering management students specifically. My role is a three-pronged approach. I teach a class on career management for engineers where I teach students how to search for jobs, I advise students in their co-op search, and I find co-op opportunities and match the best students for their jobs.

Has CATLR helped you in your work?
I’ve been teaching off and on for over 15 years but I have never been formally taught how to teach. At previous positions people sat in on my classes, but I’ve never been evaluated. I wanted to improve my teaching so I give students the best opportunities. That’s why I use CATLR a lot to learn how to improve my teaching. I actually had Mary [English], an Associate Director at CATLR, come to my class to monitor me and make some suggestions, which was very helpful.

You are also a Service-Learning Fellow. Can you describe your experience?
I’m part of the Service-Learning Fellows Program co-facilitated by CATLR and the Service-Learning program, and we’re trying to find ways to bring service-learning into the classroom. A lot of the students that I’ve worked with had some volunteering opportunities, or volunteer work from home. The students quickly learned it’s a little bit more different than expected. It used to be more like, what can we do to support the partner or the local community?

Now it’s more of a partnership with the community–it’s about asking what we as service-learning fellows can do, what can we understand, and how can we teach our students the impact that they have. We want to partner with these organizations and create a win-win situation.

Could you talk about creating a safe and open classroom climate?
The idea is that you can make mistakes and this is the time to make mistakes and share ideas, and what is said in the classroom doesn’t really leave the classroom. We don’t make fun of anybody. We don’t tease. In my classroom, we’re trying to share knowledge. I can learn just as much from them as they can learn from me. I don’t believe in a hierarchy. For example, if I got a doctorate, you don’t have to call me Dr. Bleakney. I’m still John. I think that goes a long way, too.

If you’re in a classroom, you start the class on time, you end the class on time, you try to have fun, you try to make things lighter and tell jokes. The idea is to create that safe environment. That’s why we’re here to learn. I want people to still be able to come to me, calling me John instead of Mr. Bleakney or Professor. I think that lessens the hierarchy. Every class I smile, shake their hands, and say, “Hello, welcome to the class. I appreciate you coming to my class. Thank you for coming.”

What does it mean to be both an educator and a learner?
I’ve learned to choose my language carefully and I use words differently when I teach in class. The idea of a teacher and student implies a hierarchy. I approach it more like partners because I can learn just as much from my students as they can learn from me.

I went to CATLR because I always wanted to improve myself. Teaching is about sharing your knowledge. I think a lot of students are afraid to go to instructors because they think they’re way up there–when that’s not true. Our students themselves have a lot to offer. The instructor can learn so much from the students as well.