A discussion protocol for teaching communities of practice

A key feature of teaching communities of practice (CoP) is the sharing and receiving of feedback on current teaching challenges. Often times, this activity looks like one participant orally sharing a teaching challenge followed by an unstructured discussion where other participants respond to the challenge with advice for how to address it now and how to prevent it in the future. In my experience facilitating a teaching community of practice for Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), I have found that this activity can be challenging for participants for several reasons:

  • In a group of 10-15 participants, different people will process and be ready to respond to the teaching challenge at different speeds. Some participants may need to more information from the speaker to provide feedback, but don’t get a chance to gather it before other participants jump in with feedback. This results in the discussion being dominated by those that process information quickly or those that feel comfortable giving feedback without as much context.
  • Participants may be reluctant to share their own teaching challenges, because the flow of the conversation is unstructured and may drift away from their needs with respect to the teaching challenge. Additionally, some participants may refrain from sharing a challenge because they are not confident in their ability to pinpoint the challenge such that the other participants will be able to understand it and give suitable feedback.

I wanted to share the discussion protocol I developed to use in a teaching community of practice to address some of these issues. Feel free to use it or adapt it, and let me know how it goes!

Discussion protocol for “just-in-time” teaching feedback activity

Note on facilitation: Although I facilitate most of the teaching CoP meeting, I allow the speaker (i.e. the person presenting the challenge) to run this part of the meeting. As part of this role, they can decide whether they want people to raise their hands to speak, just start speaking when they have something to contribute, or some other system.

Speaker: Gives a brief (2-3 min) overview of challenge(s). Makes sure to mention:

  • Who is involved? (students, other instructors, others?)
  • What is the challenge and why does it feel challenging to you?
  • What teaching theme is at play (classroom climate, student preparation or misconceptions, group dynamics, assessment, feedback, instructor of record – TA relationship, etc.)
  • What can the group help you with? 

Listeners: Listen actively, and then:

  • Responses round 1: Ask clarifying questions. The group cannot give advice or feedback during this round. They can only ask questions to help them understand the speaker’s teaching challenge or what they need support with. (The point of this round of questions is three-fold. One, this helps folks who need more time to process the challenge to make sure they understand the situation, and have time to gather their thoughts. Two, it gives the speaker another opportunity to highlight the points that are important to them and what kind of support they need. Three, it helps the whole group fill out the details of the scenario to support the next part of the discussion).
  • Responses round 2: The listeners now have a chance to respond in keeping with the speaker’s “ask” (i.e. what they asked for support with). The facilitator and group members hold other group members accountable when they are offering feedback or advice that wasn’t requested by the main speaker.
Image of Think UDL podcast twitter banner. A photograph of podcast recording equipment with an inset of the Think UDL podcast logo

My ThinkUDL Podcast experience

As a learner, I have a strong preference for taking in information aurally, and thus listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks. I had been listening to the ThinkUDL Podcast hosted by Lillian Nave for several months when she asked me to come on the podcast to discuss my recent workshop at the Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education Conference at Goodwin College. I was honored to have this opportunity as a listener of the podcast and an admirer of the work Lillian does with her team to bring conversations about teaching and UDL to a wide audience. I especially appreciate that one of the goals of the podcast is to bring conversations and content from conferences to wider audiences, as there are many barriers to in-person attendance at conferences.

Knowing that my interview would be available to the public was slightly nerve-wracking, but Lillian did a lot to make the process fun and accessible. She let me know a few of the questions she would ask ahead of time so I could prepare notes, and also let me know that the recording would be edited and that I could “do-over” a sentence or thought if I needed to. I think those are important teaching principles too (clarity around expectations, and opportunities for students to correct mistakes).

During the podcast, Lillian and I discuss a model of instructor development that has been very important in my work as an educational developer –  in which teachers’ concerns progress from personal credibility, to content delivery, to facilitation of learning, and eventually back again to the beginning of the cycle in new teaching contexts. Please read my detailed post about this model of instructor development here.

Title: A model of instructor development. A flowchart with three stages connected by a circular arrow to indicate a cycle. The three stages are 1. Personal credibility and control, 2. Content delivery, and 3. Facilitation of learning

A model of instructor development – adapted from Richlin, L. (1995). Preparing the faculty of the future to teach. In W. A. Wright’s Teaching improvement practices: successful strategies for higher education Bolton, MA: Anker.

Lillian and I discussed the idea that even experienced instructors cycle back to “stage 1” when they start teaching in a new environment, be it a different physical classroom space, a course they haven’t taught before, or even just a new semester with a unique group of students.  Thus, this model focuses on the present experience of instructors and the unique situational factors they may be facing at a given moment, and less on their “seniority” or “career stage.” A TA who has been teaching the same discussion for several years may be exploring student-centered learning approaches in stage 3, while an associate professor teaching a survey course for the first time may be focused on classroom management techniques in stage 1.

The UDL approach acknowledges and celebrates learner variability, and provides multiple ways to engage in any given learning experience. This model of instructor development helps me think about the variety of faculty learners who might be in a workshop or course that I facilitate, and helps me design different activities and engagement strategies for participants at different stages of the cycle. I also use this model as a metacognitive exercise for participants, asking them to identify where they see themselves in the cycle that day. This activity both normalizes the dynamic and cyclical nature of teaching development, and helps participants focus their learning for their current state of mind and teaching context.

Check out the rest of the ThinkUDL podcast episodes on the podcast webpage. I especially recommend the episode on “decolonizing the music curriculum” with Prof. Andrew Dell’Antonio.

 

 

A model of instructor development

Early on in my training as an educational developer, a mentor introduced me to a simple yet profound model of instructor development, based on one developed by Laurie Richlin (1995). I want to thank my mentor and colleagues at the UC Davis Center for Educational Effectiveness for introducing me to this framework.

This model breaks instructor development into three stages.

Title: A model of instructor development. A flowchart with three stages connected by a circular arrow to indicate a cycle. The three stages are 1. Personal credibility and control, 2. Content delivery, and 3. Facilitation of learning

A model of instructor development – adapted from Richlin, L. (1995). Preparing the faculty of the future to teach. In W. A. Wright’s Teaching improvement practices: successful strategies for higher education Bolton, MA: Anker.

Stage 1 – Personal Credibility and Control: At an early stage in an instructor’s development, they may be primarily concerned with establishing their authority and credibility in the classroom, wondering “will the students like me and find me to be engaging?” or “am I qualified to teach this topic?” Developing skills in classroom management, answering student questions, and effectively communication with students may be goals for instructors at this stage.

Stage 2 – Content Delivery: Instructors at this intermediate stage are focused on effective delivery of content, and may be concerned with their presentation style, efficiency in preparing for their classes, and effectively using technology. These instructors may be comfortable in the classroom, but still developing their skills in assessing student learning.

Stage 3 – Facilitation of Learning: Instructors at the most advanced stage of the cycle are transitioning from an instructor-centered to a student-centered perspective, and tend to be focused on understanding their students’ needs and how to collect evidence of student learning in the classroom. They may also be thinking about how students will build upon the knowledge and skills they learn in future courses or learning experiences.

So why is this model presented as a cycle? Once an instructor moves through the three stages in a given teaching and learning context, changes to the classroom environment, the course content, or the instructor’s personal situation may bring them back to another part of the development cycle. For example, Teresa, an experienced instructor who is teaching a survey course for the first time may have reached stage 3 after several years of a seminar course in her field of research, but is now overwhelmed by the large class size (an accompanying diversity of learning needs and interests) for her new class. She may place herself in stage 1 as she gets the hang of the new context (and new content!) for this course. Thus, this model focuses on the present experience of instructors and the unique situational factors they may be facing at a given moment, and less on their “seniority” or “career stage.” Roy, a TA who has been teaching the same discussion for several years may be exploring student-centered learning approaches in stage 3, while Teresa, the instructor from our previous example who is an associate professor, may be focusing on classroom management at stage 1.

This model of instructor development helps me think about the variety of faculty learners who might be in a workshop or course that I facilitate, and helps me design different activities and engagement strategies for participants at different stages of the cycle. I also use this model as a metacognitive exercise for participants, asking them to identify where they see themselves in the cycle that day. This activity both normalizes the dynamic and cyclical nature of teaching development, and helps participants focus their learning for their current state of mind and teaching context.

 

References:

Richlin, L. (1995). Preparing the faculty of the future to teach. In W. A. Wright’s Teaching improvement practices: successful strategies for higher education Bolton, MA: Anker.