Building a Teaching Community
Sometimes teaching can seem like a paradoxical “alone together” moment: We’re in a room with maybe hundreds of students, but there’s only one of “us.” Much of the behind-the-scenes work of teaching also tends to be done in isolation: writing syllabi, selecting course materials, planning activities, writing feedback, grading.
Working alone on our teaching is not only lonely, it can also be more time consuming and less effective. If we’re not drawing on ideas, models, and support from colleagues, we’re creating everything from scratch and working without much feedback.
For so many reasons, teaching is better in community. It’s more fun, for one thing. It’s more inspiring. You get more feedback and varied perspectives. You learn that colleagues, even in very different disciplines, often have similar goals and face similar challenges.
Whether in the same department, different departments, or different institutions, colleagues can develop professionally together: working on revising a course together; attending workshops or panel discussions together; reading and discussing discipline-based education research; having informal, brown bag lunches to talk about teaching; going to teaching conferences; or even doing SoTL projects together and co-authoring papers.
Colleagues can be a great source of feedback, too. Many departments encourage colleagues to do classroom observations, where one person visits another’s class for a day and then writes an evaluation based on what they saw, but that’s just one way that colleagues can provide one another with feedback (and it has its limitations!). Maryellen Weimer suggests a variety of activities beyond the typical classroom observation: exchanging syllabi; exchanging student evaluations and discussing the feedback; jointly implementing something new; doing focus groups with one another’s students; or visiting one another’s classrooms, and instead of critiquing, looking for new approaches and ideas to adopt.
Having more conversations and community around teaching can be good for our morale, too. Especially amidst the stress and difficulty of teaching during the pandemic, it’s nice to talk with someone who really understands the challenges and can offer empathy, validation, and perspective.
So if you don’t yet have a teaching community, or if you have one that you’d like to strengthen, enliven, or expand, you might try one of the strategies we mentioned here, like starting a teaching-related brown bag lunch in your department or program, or you can check out Beckie Supiano’s “How to Find Your Teaching Buddies” for other ideas.
We consider community-building to be central to the role of a teaching center, too. CAT’s reading groups, workshops, and other events can be a great way to meet and connect with faculty from across the university. We thought it might be fun to host something less formal and more social as well, so we hope you’ll join us at our first CAT happy hour. You don’t even have to talk about teaching to attend. We’ve reserved the patio (which has a fire pit, so we can be outdoors regardless of temperature) at Lucilla, at 1241 E. Lafayette Street, on Thursday, November 18, from 5:00-TBD. Drinks and snacks will be available for purchase, but you can come just for the company. We look forward to seeing you!
Navigating Hot Moments in the Classroom
Wednesday, Nov. 10th | 12:00–1:30 p.m. on Zoom | Sign Up to Attend
Lee Warren describes hot moments in the classroom as those times “when people’s feelings—often conflictual—rise to a point that threatens teaching and learning. They can occur during the discussion of issues people feel deeply about, or as a result of classroom dynamics in any field.” Though some of us feel confident navigating classroom conversations that can get heated, others may dread these moments, fear saying the wrong thing, freeze up, or even change what they teach in an effort to avoid them. Since hot moments can happen in any class, it helps to be prepared. That way, you already have a plan in mind when emotions rise and it’s harder to think clearly. In this workshop, participants will discuss navigating hot moments and share strategies for maintaining a good classroom climate despite moments of conflict, including by turning hot moments into learning opportunities.