October 2nd, 2008

Making Use of Colleagues


I do a lot of presentations in August and September. Often my contributions are part of a larger set of activities that launch the new academic year. Frequently they include presentations during which faculty from that institution share instructional experiences, strategies, ideas, insights, and opinions. Once again this year, I have been impressed by the keen way faculty listen and learn from each other. Those in the sessions take notes, ask questions, and share their own experiences and ideas. Not only do faculty learn from each other, it’s obvious that they find these exchanges motivating and energizing. I also think there is a bit of relief that comes from knowing that students’ cell phones go off in other courses, that they miss deadlines, and offer lame excuses to other instructors.

What I observed has been confirmed by the research many times. Ask faculty how they acquire new information about teaching and learning and the most common answer is “from colleagues.” What’s unfortunate is how rarely we make time for these exchanges. Yes, as my hosts and hostesses often point out, attendance is good. Maybe 10, 20, even 30 colleagues show up at a very busy time of the year. But at most of these institutions, teaching faculty number in the hundreds. Many that could benefit from exchanges with colleagues do not show up.

But my point really isn’t about who is and isn’t attending workshops. Truth be told, I was never all that keen about attending workshop when I was teaching. The more salient point is how we don’t make time for good talk about teaching with colleagues, whether those exchanges occur with one colleague, several or a much larger group. We are so busy doing the work, it is hard to find time for talking about the work.

Teaching so benefits from a regular infusion of new ideas—whether it’s a new technique, an insight about why something happens way it does or why students respond as they do. Teaching also benefits when it is infused with new energy—that sense of purpose derived from knowing that efforts in the classroom matter and make a difference. A good 15-minute chat with a colleague can be such a shot in the arm. Like those flu shots we should all be getting this month, they are part of what will keep us healthy this academic year and unlike flu shots, they don’t hurt a bit.

—Maryellen Weimer