4+1 Interview: Bonni Stachowiak

Welcome to another 4+1 interview. This time, we're talking with Bonni Stachowiak, director of the Institute for Faculty Development at Vanguard University of Southern California and host of the popular and influential Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast. Bonni is someone in higher education who leads by example, and with the human element always at the forefront. I've been on her podcast a couple of times and I am really honored to return the favor now.

What got you started with the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast? What gave you the idea for doing the podcast, and what was it like getting the podcast up and running?

My husband Dave had been running his Coaching for Leaders podcast for three years by that point. There really weren’t podcasts that focused exclusively on teaching in the context of higher education at that point, except a couple that also addressed other audiences like parents and students. Some of the big higher education news organizations had podcasts that talked about policy, but I was interested in conversations about teaching.

I had no idea what I was doing at first.

Except that I could go off of some of what had worked for Dave with Coaching for Leaders. One big boost in the beginning came from people who accepted invitations to be on a podcast that they hadn’t ever heard of before.

The early guests were also generous about recommending other people to be on the show. I had no idea what was in store and am eternally grateful for the transformation it has provided me.


What are some things you've learned about teaching and learning from your interactions with the guests on TiHE that really stand out to you?

While much has changed about the podcast over the years, one thing that has remained constant is that the start of each show, I talk about the show being a space to explore the art and science of facilitating learning.

What continues to stand out to me is just how much teaching is both an art and a science.

I enjoy those people who have helped me dive deeper into the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Yet, it is also invigorating to get to talk to someone who is playfully experimenting in their teaching and reveling in what Amy Collier (and Jen Ross) refer to as not yet-ness.

When Amy was a guest on episode #070, she stressed:


When you embrace not yet-ness, you are creating space for things to continue to evolve. – Amy Collier

Each student and every class community is different. We can build up a repertoire of approaches that have been demonstrated to improve learning (such as retrieval practice). This is a practice worth pursuing. Yet sometimes we will be playing the role of artist and creating something unique to a particular set of circumstances, without having the assurances that it is going to work.

Are there any funny or embarrassing "outtake" moments from TiHE that you can share?

The most memorable one comes from my conversation with Ken Bain. What the Best College Teachers Do was the first book I ever read about teaching in the context of higher education. I was incredibly nervous to speak with him.

At the end of the conversation, he was mentioning that he wished he could have said more. I joked that through the “magic” of podcasting, we could make that happen. Before I had a chance to press record, again, he started sharing the specifics about what he would like to add.

Fortunately, I type pretty quickly. I captured the bullet points of what he wanted to add and started to prepare to hit the record button, again. One big topic he wanted to do had to do with Eric Mazur, who had won The Minerva Prize for excellence in teaching.

I was unfamiliar with Mazur and also with the Minerva Prize.

Thus, when I pressed record and confidently resumed my inquiry, I started by asking him about the Manure Prize. I said it three times before Ken gently let me know that it was actually called the Minerva Prize. Autocorrect had changed Minerva to Manure and as I looked back over my notes, I didn’t know any different.

I could have just left that part of the interview out, entirely, when doing the edits. However, it was so illustrative of what I have always wanted to model about teaching with the podcast. I left it in and instead, eventually created the Manure Award to recognize people who have been vulnerable enough to experiment in their teaching and have experienced those inevitable failures that result from those endeavors.

If you could have any one person, living or deceased, on the podcast to interview about teaching and learning, who would it be and why?

Because the necessity for vulnerability is so central to what I believe about teaching, I would treasure the opportunity to speak with Brené Brown on the podcast. I just finished reading her latest book, Dare to Lead, and consider it to be essential reading for people who want to maximize the potential of people on a team.

BONUS +1: What question should I have asked you in this interview?

I mentioned earlier that I had wanted to start a podcast about teaching, yet I also have decided to include a focus on productivity. Some people might wonder why I considered it important to include that topic in some of the episodes, in addition to talking about teaching.

Robert, you wrote so powerfully conducting your trimesterly review after getting the news about your heart health issues. As we corresponded about me guest posting during your time of healing after the surgery, you said your friends were going to think you were nuts for spending time being sure stuff keeps getting posted.

When we regularly reflect on what is most important to us and have systems in place to continually be moving forward toward those aims, I truly believe we have more peace in our lives. It is a regular practice of aligning our sense of purpose with how we invest our time, energy, and attention.

If you enjoyed this interview, check out these other ones from the past:

  • Josh Eyler on what he learned about teaching while writing a book on teaching and learning.
  • Andrew Kim on the role of space and design in education.
  • Lorena Barba on Jupyter notebooks and open science.
  • T.J. Hitchman on inquiry-based learning.
  • Linda Nilson on specifications grading and grading in general.
Robert Talbert

Robert Talbert

Mathematics professor who writes and speaks about math, research and practice on teaching and learning, technology, productivity, and higher education.