Foregrounding Student Strengths and Creative Bravery

Author: Kristen Trader

Published Date: 11/8/2021

Categories: Faculty and Staff Spotlights on Teaching

Professor Jenn Dobby
“Use Your Brain. Be Creative. Be Brave.”

This phrase appears in all of Jennifer Dobby’s syllabi and speaks to the core of her award-winning teaching. Across her courses, Professor Dobby creates learning environments that are comfortable enough for students to “speak bravely, act bravely, and learn about themselves bravely.” This year, Carroll University celebrates Professor Dobby’s teaching by honoring her with the 2021 Norman and Louise Allhiser Award for Teaching Excellence.
When Jenn Dobby teaches, she asks students to draw on their intellect, creativity, and self-knowledge to solve problems common in theater arts. One example is what she calls “Zero Math Story Problems” – an assignment for students in Intro to Arts Management that asks students to combine what they’re learning in class with their personal strengths in order to propose a solution to a given problem. This process encourages students to recognize their own strengths and voices as part of their learning, which is then part of how this assignment is evaluated.
Students go even further using their voices in Professor Dobby’s courses by leading discussions and class sessions. For instance, her theater history courses are taught through the lens of dramaturgy – a methodology in theater for understanding the history and context of a play. Students serve as dramaturges for one another by doing outside research, tying to what they’re learning in the course, and teaching these insights to their peers. Professor Dobby says that such work inspired many students to become Humanities Fellows or pursue teaching as their future careers. Thus Professor Dobby’s focus on empowering students shapes and influence  classrooms -- beyond her own --  in years to come.
Teaching Tips to Share
Professor Dobby recommends the following strategies that have proven valuable in her own teaching:
  • Establish a routine of engagement: Set up a routine for class sessions and designate at least one session per week to student-led work. Professor Dobby designates one day every week to student-led discussions, with activities for processing and applying knowledge covered on other days.
  • Create opportunities to fail: Build in chances for students to take risks, and give them a chance to fail and try again. Assign smaller, low-risk exercises early and follow up when students need a bit more support to learn from their failures.
  • Get students supporting each other: Students can serve as expert readers and coaches of each other’s work. For writing assignments, Professor Dobby has students collaborate with peers first on their outlines and then again on drafts before submitting a draft for her review.
Want to learn more? Jenn Dobby welcomes questions and conversation. Please reach out to her directly at
Panoramic View of campus