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.

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