This week:

  • I share one teaching-center director’s observations on how faculty development is evolving.
  • I tell you about two coming virtual events.
  • I pass along some recent articles on teaching you may have missed.

Not Another Workshop!

As the director of a teaching center, JT Torres knows he’s offering something that professors badly need. The problem is, they’re working so much, they don’t have time to think about working better.

On top of all the universal challenges of pandemic teaching, layoffs at Quinnipiac University, where Torres has directed the teaching center for less than a year, have led to heavier teaching loads for the remaining faculty members.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Torres, who is also an assistant teaching professor in English and interdisciplinary studies, wrote to me in an email. “Faculty are spread thin, so how much thinner can we spread them with more trainings?”

His answer: Focus less on offering traditional workshops and more on listening and building connections.

That’s meant doing more consultations with professors than he’d initially expected, Torres said in an interview. Torres, whose background is in social science, takes an ethnographic approach: “Let me come learn about your classroom context.”

There is more than one way to be a good teacher. Sure, Torres wants to see professors move in certain directions that support inclusive teaching. But starting with empathy and building relationships with professors, Torres has found, mean a suggestion he might float, like more-relaxed attendance policies, will probably land better.

Professors have been asked to do more with less in a climate where education has been devalued, Torres said. What they need more than expert advice on how to improve is camaraderie. With the help of four faculty members who are his friends, Torres — who’s a teaching-center staff of one — is running communities of practice, in which professors can talk through teaching challenges with their peers. The feedback he’s gotten, Torres said, is that participating professors feel validated.

When he teaches writing, Torres tries to provide affirmation in all of his feedback to students, to notice and thank them for something they have accomplished, even if a paper still needs a lot of work. Professors, he thinks, aren’t really all that different.

“People just want to be heard,” Torres said. “And they just want to know that what they’re doing — and what they’re attempting to do, even if it needs work — at least matters to some degree.”

My conversation with Torres made me wonder how faculty development might shift in this transitional time, when campus operations might be turning toward normal, but many students and professors are not quite themselves. If you lead or help run a teaching center, have you shifted your focus? If you take advantage of your campus teaching center, what kinds of programs seem helpful these days — and which don’t? Let me know, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, and your example may appear in a future newsletter.

Mark Your Calendars

Beth and I will be hosting two virtual events this month:

  • On March 25, we will hold the next installment of our Talking About Teaching roundtable discussion. This time, we’ll focus on the hot topics of assessment and grades. You can sign up — and watch recordings of our first two sessions — here.
  • On March 28, we will host an event on active learning. We’ll hold two panel discussions, one on recent new research about the discrepancy between how students learn and how they think they learn; the other on how colleges can support professors who want to try — and sustain — active-learning practices. Sign up here.

ICYMI

  • Leonard Cassuto discusses Jonathan Zimmerman’s The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America in his latest column for The Chronicle.
  • Josh Eyler sounds the alarm about the mental-health consequences of focusing on grades in this essay for Inside Higher Ed.
  • The use of early-alert systems was increasing even before the pandemic, but colleges can do more to make the most of this technology — and ensure it’s helping students, not harming them — according to a new white paper from EAB, whose Navigate student-success system includes such alerts.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

—Beckie

Learn more about our Teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, at the Teaching newsletter archive page.