Creating a Significant Learning Environment

There are four quotes from Albert Einstein that I absolutely adore:

  1. “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
  2. “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
  3. “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
  4. “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

Albert Einstein understood how learning really occurs and how traditional education can squash it. Einstein’s passionate curiosity is what kept his learning alive. I’ve heard these quotes before, but the meaning didn’t click for me until I read “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change”. The book describes how as educators, we need to make play, questioning, and imagination the foundation for a new culture of learning.

The book gives several examples of how gaming (play) cultivates imagination and connects people who can work together to learn and solve problems. The book argues that in a world where information is constantly changing, learning should be seen as an environment. One can combine online resources, the boundaries that define it, and the students, teachers, and information work together to shape each other in a meaningful way (Brown & Thomas, 2011).4_3

The authors discuss the pitfall of the twenty-first century’s teaching model: that some facts may hold true, but change is occurring rapidly, and we need to embrace it rather than fight it. “In a world of near-constant flux, play becomes a strategy for embracing change, rather than a way for growing out of it” (Brown & Thomas, 2011). In discussing the imminent and necessary new culture of learning, three key principles are presented: “(1) The old ways of learning are unable to keep up with our rapidly changing world. (2) New media forms are making peer-to-peer learning easier and more natural. (3) Peer-to-peer learning is amplified by emerging technologies that shape the collective nature of participation with those new media.” (Brown & Thomas, 2011).Gaming560


Some of the ideas I really want to bring to my classroom are:


  1. Teaching the students how to learn through constructing good questions
  2. Introducing more games in the classroom that reinforce the material and cultivate passion
  3. Encouraging peer-peer learning

In the chapter on “Inquiry”, it is explained that students learn best when they follow their passions. The problem is a lot of people don’t know what their passions are because they have never been encouraged to explore them. However, you can’t just tell students to follow their passions without constraints that allow them to act within certain boundaries. Brown and Thomas (2011) pose the idea, “What if, for example, questions were more important than answers?”. This is where Einstein’s passionate curiosity came into play. He never stopped asking questions. Each question would lead to another one. Students need to be taught to come up with good questions. We could play games in class where students are given a question, find answers to that question online, and then they have to construct new questions based on what they learned. That process would turn them into active learners instead of just passively listening to a teacher feeding them all the answers.

I’ve always noticed how much the students love playing games in class like Kahoot and Socrative, even though it’s based on the same old summative assessments. We spend a lot less time playing games than we do on lecture because “we have to get through the material”, but maybe they should be flip-flopped; we could spend more time playing and less time lecturing. As far as I know, there are no online games that are specific to dental hygiene. However, I could give them a treasure hunt to see how many intelligent questions and answers they can find on all types of websites- including message boards. There is a great website called HygieneTown that is rich with information on all kinds of hygiene topics; surely, the students will be able to find something they can be passionate about.cl2

HygieneTown can also help with peer-peer learning. In the message boards, they can interact with hygienists at all levels: new and seasoned. Another forum could be online discussions where the students post questions to each other and help each other understand information that isn’t clicking for them. I think a search for interesting information that they care about, followed by a discussion where they share what they found would be very interesting and educational.

My innovation plan revolves around the goal of collaboration between hygienists and other healthcare providers. I think it’s important for healthcare professionals to know how to search for information in a world where they can’t possibly always know all the answers. Learning how to ask the right questions and how to search for answers will allow them to function at a high level in this constantly changing environment in healthcare. Maybe they can keep the doctors and nurses on their toes!



Brown J. S. & Thomas, D. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the imagination for a  world of constant change. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 1456458884

Moncur, M. (2015). The Quotations Page. Retrieved from

In Defense of the Dental Hygiene Program at Concorde

sweet-toothI am a proud instructor at an accelerated dental hygiene program in San Antonio, Texas. I have worked here for almost two years, and have nothing but good things to say about our program director, faculty, clinic manager, and students. We work very hard to ensure the success of our students and it hurts when I hear accusations that suggest the contrary.

 I have to admit that when Concorde opened a dental hygiene program, I initially didn’t like the idea. I had preconceived notions that an accelerated program could not produce quality hygienists. I heard gossip from other hygienists in our city. The program did not receive a warm welcome from the hygiene community.

 However, my dream was to be a teacher. I had a Bachelor of Science degree, which was not enough to work at the university, but it was acceptable for teaching in an Associate degree program. With only two options in my city, I decided to take a look at Concorde. I was impressed.

 After applying for a position as an instructor, I was hired on part-time. Initially I worked as a clinic instructor and assisted the clinic teacher in instrumentation labs. What I saw was the exact opposite of my initial perceptions of the program.

 The clinic at Concorde is beautiful. It is very modern and well-appointed. We have digital sensors and a digital panoramic machine; we are in the process of installing laptops in all 12 operatories so the students can record their notes in Dentrix more easily. Our clinic manager has high standards for infection control and is exceptional at ensuring that we maintain thorough records of timely spore testing and that our equipment is working properly.

 The curriculum is of the same quality as the program I graduated from in 2003. The students are engaged in the learning process, they’re smart and they work hard. The instructors create significant learning environments, ensuring that all learning styles are included in the instruction.

 In my classes, I am constantly thinking of new ways to engage the students. In Oral Histology, we have a lab where the students use microscopes to study different tissues. We use creative materials; last week I had the students sculpt the muscles of mastication out of clay and they attached them to the appropriate origins and insertions on a plastic skull. The students complete table clinics, write papers, collaborate on group projects, practice their skills in clinic, and provide service to the community. The fact is our students succeed. We have very good pass rates on both the National Board and CRDTS. It may be an accelerated program, but it’s very student-centered and we have a great team of educators, so it works.

 IMG_1838Most of our instructors have Master’s degrees or are in the process of obtaining them. I am working on my M.Ed. in Digital Leading and Learning; I plan on introducing more technology into the classroom to facilitate engagement and deeper learning. Concorde offers tuition reimbursement to encourage instructors to earn higher degrees. Actually, Concorde provides a lot of great benefits to its employees and I feel lucky to be a part of an organization where I truly feel valued.

So, to all the hygienists who have negative feelings about Concorde, I invite you to actually take a look at what we provide to our students. Recently, an article was published about another Concorde campus in California. The article contained multiple inaccuracies and sought to perpetuate the negative feelings that some hygienists have about accelerated programs. Don’t jump on the bandwagon without any personal experience. Most likely, if you have the same preconceived notions that I had, it’s because you haven’t seen our school or met the awesome students we serve.





Self-differentiated Leadership

Self-differentiated Leadership

Reading “A Failure of Nerve” made me realize that a lot of the concepts I believe in are the very things that allow anxiety and chaos to take hold. I love Friedman’s comparisons between single cells and how they self-differentiate to people in an organization, or even a nation. His analogies between the immune system as a leader vs.  a virus or cancer cell and a trouble-making co-worker are genius. He explains in the book his perception of America, despite its technological advances, as being more like Old World Europe than the Renaissance; this is due to a chronic anxiety that has infected our nation. He emphasizes the importance of focusing on responsibility instead of empathy and rewarding strength over weakness. There are several things I need to work on if I want to emerge as a self-differentiated leader.

Friedman explains that, “…the crucial issue of leadership in democratic societies may not be how much power they exercise but how well their presence is able to preserve that society’s integrity” (Friedman, 2007, pg. 17). He describes this presence as a sense of self that he elaborates on throughout the book. As a self-differentiated leader, I will need to stop putting so much emphasis on motivating others, and instead work on myself to cultivate a “presence”. This idea of focusing on the self is almost counter-intuitive to me because I’ve been raised to think of others first. My trade as a dental hygienist focuses on service to others, so it seems that he is saying to be selfish, a word with a very negative connotation. That is not what he means at all. In chapter five, he discusses the fallacies of “self”, breaking down the meaning and explaining it as actually conducive to togetherness.

In my journey to becoming a self-differentiated leader, I will need to address my preference for “peace over progress”. I tend to avoid conflict. I use empathy to try to connect with others, but this ideology is debunked with Friedman’s explanation of what happens when we empathize rather than cultivate responsibility. Empathy is a symptom of the herding force of a chronically anxious society. I like the analogy of the organ cells that start to empathize with the rogue cancer cell, “we were watching it swim all alone out there. It just seemed so lonely, and well- we just started to feel sorry for it.” (Friedman, 2007, pg. 151). This reminds me of the terrorism that has resulted after refugees have been allowed to enter European countries recently. I’m not saying that all refugees are trouble, but when we have empathy for trouble-makers, it can have disastrous consequences. Look at the recent attacks in France. If Friedman were alive today, he would probably nod his head and think, “I could have predicted this…”

A self-differentiated leader is able to manage his own anxiety. I cannot allow myself to get caught up in the emotional triangles that form at work. It can be tempting to join the group as they are complaining and venting about management or changes in the company. I can achieve a balance between individuality and togetherness by setting boundaries and not allowing others’ problems to influence how I feel.

I think the most difficult thing for me is the idea of being able to take stands at the risk of displeasing (Friedman, 2007, pg. 14). Avoiding conflict is woven into my nature and I will need to work hard to change that. I think it begins with a strong direction and having clarity in regards to goals and aspirations. The scary part is bracing for sabotage, but at least I know that it means I am on the right track!

My plan for increasing collaboration between hygienists and other healthcare providers is a change that will affect our entire department. I believe that nearly everyone will like the “big picture” idea, but will likely resist some of the changes necessary because it will mean extra work for them and they are already bombarded with a whirlwind or two. I will begin with clear goals, as stated in my “Why” assignment. My Influencer Strategy will help overcome emotional hurdles by using personal, social, and structural motivation. The second part is making tools available to give the instructors the ability to implement the changes. For some instructors, the idea of blended learning and iPad use will be foreign and scary to them. I want to emphasize that the technology is never the focus of the plan; it is a tool to achieve our goals. The 4DX Plan will help execute the steps to achieve our goal and keep it alive amidst the whirlwinds of work and daily life that always steal our immediate attention. I need to remember that the WIG will take on new forms as we collaborate as a team. The ideas need to be ours, not just mine. Otherwise, there will be no cadence of accountability and no progress.

Following are the links to my plan: the “Why”, my Influencer Strategy, and 4DX.


Friedman, E. H. (2007). A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix. Church Publishing, Inc. ISBN B009VHSBYK

Encouraging Interprofessional Collaboration

WHY:  We believe that by encouraging collaboration between hygienists and healthcare professionals we can close the gap between oral health and total health.

HOW: Teaching dental hygiene students to think critically, we will encourage collaboration with other healthcare specialists. We will give them a skillset necessary for intelligent communication: knowledge of common diseases and how they may have a reciprocal effect on oral health, verbal skills to communicate professionally with other members of the healthcare team, and digital skills to enhance communication and sharing of pertinent information.

WHAT: We teach the future oral health care specialists with a focus on total health that will significantly impact the healthcare industry and the people it serves.

The future of dental hygiene is bright- if we see the opportunities in front of us. Several studies are showing links between oral health and systemic health, yet most of the dental hygiene workforce remains in dental offices, separated from the rest of the healthcare system. Periodontal disease is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other inflammatory illnesses. We have known about these links for quite some time, yet the traditional role of hygienists has remained virtually unchanged since the early 20th century.

The western world is getting heavier and sicker. The healthcare system is becoming overwhelmed with costly diseases that are largely preventable. People lingering in hospitals and nursing homes remain largely unaware that their poor oral health could be contributing to their conditions. Doctors, nurses, and caregivers are burdened with the tasks of treating too many patients, with little time to spare. They usually understand the oral-systemic links, but have no training in oral care and oral disease prevention.

Hygienists are knowledgeable professionals, trained in preventive health. In addition to courses related to dentistry, we take courses in Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Nutrition, and Pharmacology. Why don’t we use this knowledge to its full capacity?

My goal as a dental hygiene instructor is to train our future hygienists to think more broadly. They need to be critical thinkers, putting their skills of disease prevention together with their knowledge of health promotion. With our traditional curriculum, this connection isn’t happening. Change needs to occur, and at the rate of disease our country is experiencing, it needs to occur now.

Our school can promote a curriculum that encourages deeper understanding of the material. By using a blended learning model, students can study the foundational knowledge at home while focusing on deeper learning in the classroom.

By participating in group activities and online discussions, they will learn the value of collaboration with others; this will help build the skills of working with other healthcare professionals. The digital skills they will obtain will also prepare them for the paperless offices and electronic claims and communications they will be expected to use.

We can lead the way by preparing our students for opportunities that may seem unimaginable at the moment. Let’s help our students make the connection between oral health and systemic health by showing them the possibilities. The future of dental hygiene is bright- can you see it?



Abiodun O. Arigbede, B. Osagbemiro Babatope, and M. Kolude Bamidele. (2012). Periodontitia and systemic diseases: A literature review. J Indian Soc Periodontol, vol 16. Retrieved from

Blaizot A1, Vergnes JN, Nuwwareh S, Amar J, Sixou M. (2009). Periodontal diseases and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis of observational studies. Int Dent J., vol 59. Retrieved from

Braun, P.A., Cusick, A. (2016). Collaboration Between Medical Providers and Dental Hygienists in Pediatric Health Care. J Evid Based Dent Pract, June Suppl:59-67. Retrieved from

Engebretson, S. and Kocher, T. (2013). Evidence that periodontal treatment improves diabetes outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Periodontology, vol 40. Retrieved from

Fried, J. (2013). Interprofessional Collaboration: If Not Now, When? Journal of Dental Hygiene, vol. 87. Retreived from

Hutsaya Tantipong, MD; Chantana Morkchareonpong, MD; Songyod Jaiyindee, MD; Visanu Thamlikitkul, MD. (2008). Randomized Controlled Trial and Meta-analysis of Oral Decontamination with 2% Chlorhexidine Solution for the Prevention of Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, vol 29. Retrieved from

Moore, T. (2015). Improve Outcomes with Interprofessional Collaboration. Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. Retrieved from

Strange, M. (n.d.). The need for interdisciplinary collaboration to ensure dental hygiene is present in hospitals. RDH. Retrieved from