The project aims to develop a cohort of faculty with expertise in peer observation of teaching who can provide more teaching-related professional development opportunities to faculty than what is currently offered by the centers of teaching and learning (CTLs) on individual campuses.
Our program will enable our CTLs to send trained instructional coaches from the Teaching Fellows cohorts to faculty classrooms, department meetings, and other events, mitigating the need for faculty to come to CTL directors and reducing the burden on already overextended center directors. Moreover, having Teaching Fellows at multiple campuses will make it easier to match faculty in need with faculty from their own or from an adjacent discipline, reducing the anxiety that some faculty feel when working with someone who may not understand the unique challenges of their teaching context.
Faculty at our institutions prize excellent teaching. One way that our institutions support the development and review of high-quality teaching is through peer observation. However, we aren’t always intentional in developing faculty to be effective peer observers.
We propose creating a cohort of trained peer observers who can bring pedagogical professional development directly to our colleagues by creating an inter-ACM Teaching Fellows Program.
Our goals are: 1) to develop a cohort of faculty from a variety of disciplines and pedagogical approaches with expertise in peer observation of teaching, and 2) engage these faculty members in providing more versatile teaching-related professional development opportunities. Teaching Fellows from all participating institutions will train together at an in-person summer workshop. They will subsequently participate in a one-year learning community through which they will reflect on effective practices in peer instructional coaching, offer mutual support, and generate programming for their home or partner institutions.
Teaching Fellows will offer classroom observations, review course materials, and mentor colleagues at their own institution and other ACM institutions. This program has the potential to reduce isolation that some faculty members at our institutions experience because they are the “only” in their subfield or the “only” on their campus trying a particular pedagogical approach. For example, a St. Olaf statistics professor using innovative grading for equity approaches might work with a St. Olaf music professor who is considering a similar pedagogical approach or a Luther statistics professor who wants to discuss a particular teaching conundrum with another statistics professor.
To assemble a cohort of Teaching Fellows with complementary strengths as well as potential for growth, we will solicit applications from faculty in a variety of disciplines, at different career stages, and with diverse levels of prior experience with teacher professional development.
We will bring the Teaching Fellows together on one of our campuses in late June for a two-day, intensive training experience. The training will include: 1) discussion of readings on best practices in peer observation; 2) practice observation of both live and video teaching demonstrations; 3) development and compilation of materials for use by the cohort and others, including rubrics and guidelines for conducting constructive observations and pre-/post-observation interviews. We also plan to invite a national expert on peer observation to present to and work with participants.
After the start of the 2022-23 academic year, the Teaching Fellows program directors will coordinate peer observation assignments within and between institutions. Teaching Fellows will each conduct/lead at least four peer observations/teaching workshops throughout the year.
Employing a nested learning community model, Teaching Fellows will support each others’ efforts on their home campus and across campuses. Program directors will meet periodically with each other, with individual cohorts (once per term), and with the entire Teaching Fellows cohort (once in the fall and once in the spring).
After the program’s completion, we will distribute the resources developed by facilitators and Fellows across ACM institutions and beyond.
We plan to present our project’s outcomes at the annual meeting of the Professional and Organizational Development Network (POD), potentially in November 2023. We will also make our training workshop materials available to other CTL directors at ACM schools and across the country through the POD listserv. We could offer an ACM workshop based on the training materials from the summer workshop along with presentations by some of the Teaching Fellows and/or those who were observed. Finally, if deemed of interest, we could present to ACM deans about ways to strengthen peer observation at our institutions.
Resources & Materials
Building on preliminary work by Melissa Eblen-Zayas, we will develop shareable workshop materials which will include readings, rubrics, guiding questions, sample teaching videos, scenarios, and other resources designed to develop the Teaching Fellows’ skills at observing teaching, engaging the person being observed in productive conversation, and offering well-calibrated advice as needed. The workshop materials will also be available to other colleagues on our campuses who want to improve their practice of classroom observation.
After the training, the Teaching Fellows will meet three times during the 2022-23 academic year in a Learning Community to continue to deepen the conversation and to identify gaps in their training and areas where they need more support from the project team. Finally, the project team will develop a survey to evaluate the first year’s outcomes for both the Teaching Fellows and for the colleagues whom the Fellows observed.
Further outcomes include presentations at our campus’s new faculty orientations and CTLs to engage the larger community in discussion about the need for better training and faculty development around the peer observation of teaching. Ultimately we hope this work will result in healthier cultures of peer observation at our institutions.
Outcomes and Significance
Our institutions take immense pride in the excellence of our teachers and excellent teaching depends in part on formative peer observation. But like good teaching, good observation involves training, reflection, and practice. Pooling our time and resources will not only streamline the institutional costs for each of our campuses, it will also help to magnify the effectiveness of the train-the-trainer model. One well-trained faculty fellow will be poised to serve the needs of three campus communities, significantly expanding the services that each of our individual centers can provide.
The train-the-trainer model has built-in scalability that has potentially profound implications for the larger ACM and other liberal arts colleges. If the 2022-2023 pilot year shows promise, it will provide an important proof-of-concept that could assist in subsequent internally-funded, or grant-funded peer observation training to serve the full ACM, including those colleges without dedicated Centers for Teaching and Learning.