Reflecting on why I teach the way I do

— Naomi Bell O’Neil

Naomi Bell O'Neil

Naomi Bell O’Neil

Growing up on a farm, the world was my classroom. I literally spent my days exploring in the fields and woods, creating all sorts of imaginations that filled my head with dreams and goals. My dad was the intellectual who, at every opportunity, explained theories of nature to me and instilled in me the love of learning. My mom taught me that everyone is worthy of my respect, and that to take the perspective of another is imperative and precious. From these roots, my love of teaching was conceived and has grown to a dialogic exchange with my students where we translate knowledge into practice. I want my students to know that learning is a rewarding and gratifying lifelong adventure.

I consider my approach to teaching to be student-centered, so I attempt to consider the other’s perspective as much as possible. Therefore, my goal is to learn as much as it is to share. I accomplish this by truly listening to my students and by getting to know them as individuals. I thrive on the energy and excitement that students bring to the class that, in turn, brings passion to my teaching.

What a privilege I have to share knowledge with my students and develop innovative skills to do so. My discipline — communication — offers multiple occasions to teach students experientially. Initially, I provide an activity to stimulate their thinking and to facilitate consideration of a concept from various perspectives. Then, as various points of view are expressed, I provide the theory on which students can build their understanding. From one class to the next, students are presented with concepts, are given an opportunity to interact and discuss those concepts, and encouraged to share their insights with one another.

Bell's students working on PA CARES

Bell’s students working on PA CARES for Kids.

Much of my teaching is very experiential. For example, one group of students traveled to Brookville to see the Western PA CARES for Kids facility and interview the executive director. CARES gives support to abused children during their experience with the court system. My students conducted primary and secondary research, set objectives for the promotional campaign in collaboration with the executive director, created advertising and public relations tactics, and planned two fundraising events. These students carried out one event that semester and planned another for the following summer — a 5-K Run/Walk at Cook Forest. At the conclusion of the semester, these students pitched their ideas to the CARES executive director with a PowerPoint presentation, and passed on their actual advertising and public relations pieces to her (as well as the funds raised).

My philosophy of teaching is two-fold and based in the values that my parents taught me. First, from my dad’s encouragement of life-long curiosity, my style of teaching encourages academic rigor of critical thinking and excellence in writing. I want my students to gain the knowledge and skills that will prepare them to be outstanding contributors to public relations and advertising fields. Second, from my mom’s value of others, I respect my students and hope that my influence will carry over into their own commitment to serve society and bring new vigor to the communication professions.

Naomi Bell O’Neil is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication. She particularly enjoys engaging students in understanding ethical approaches to persuasive promotion, the creative aspects of advertising in the 21st century, and insights for students’ future career directions. She prides herself in providing service-learning experiences for students in as many courses as possible. She has recently returned to the area, where she enjoys her three daughters, sons-in-law, and six beautiful grandchildren.

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