So, you are still struggling to find a community of teaching practice. Now what? In this post I’ll offer some ideas about what to do and in next week’s post I’ll suggest what departmental leaders—chairs or heads—might do to create such a community.
If you followed my advice from last week, you might have found a few individuals who seem to care about pedagogy and using the scholarship of teaching and learning in their classes. First, a few suggestions about how not to communicate with these colleagues:
-Don’t say “No one seems interested in pedagogy and teaching on this campus, except me. But I’m hoping I could persuade you to start caring about your teaching. Want to get together?” I don’t think most of us would say that, but I have seen someone come pretty close to it once. What you don’t want to seem is elitist or a better teacher just wanting to show up everyone else.
-Don’t badmouth your institution. What do I mean? Don’t start off your email with: “I can’t believe this place doesn’t have a Teaching and Learning Center—what is wrong with it?” Your goal is to find faculty who care about teaching. Those faculty may or may not agree with administrative funding decisions. Focus on what you want—finding people who want to talk about teaching—and only that.
-Don’t assume that they don’t care about their students. I think it’s better to assume that every faculty member does care about the success of their students. But people could well be overwhelmed with their teaching load, their advising load, work/life balance, health issues, family life, life on the road as an adjunct, their research, politics in the US right now, sleep deprivation, and so on. Also remember you are likely unaware of most of the ways they are helping students (because few of us know about how we help students because we don’t share our ideas), and you don’t want to alienate an ally. So be kind when you craft your message to colleagues.
If so, it’s time to see if you can pull them together. I’d suggest sending a group email (with addresses public) like this:
“[Sentence or two to introduce yourself.] Want to get together to share ideas about teaching? Let’s find a time when many of us can get together at (insert name of a good place for relaxing conversations on or near campus). I know we’re all busy, but I hope that you can join us for exchanging ideas about teaching. I look forward to seeing you.”
If your school’s email system allows you to add a poll about meeting dates (either via a 3rd party software like Doodle or an internal option), then I suggest you try that. Nothing can annoy individuals more than a protracted email back and forth between several people who are trying to find an acceptable time to meet. One more suggestion: be sure that the times which you suggest parallel your institution’s class schedule. You’ll likely get fewer people to come if your meet-up if it crosses two different class periods. I’d recommend sending one additional email invitation and then a reminder email only to those who said they are coming.
Another idea to consider is to see if your institution has a listserv for faculty and staff where you might post a similar message. These are usually moderated, so expect that it might take up to 24 hours to get posted and build that time into your dissemination schedule. Don’t forget that many staff teach/adjunct for their own institution and care about student success.
You might want to invite all individuals in your department/academic unit. Since they are your “closest neighbors” by inviting all of them, it will be less likely to be perceived as you “picked” only some colleagues and not others. A flyer or a more personalized version of the email would be fine to put in their campus mailbox.
Don’t worry if there are only a few individuals who come to your first meet up. Small isn’t bad—just don’t assume that others who couldn’t make it don’t care about teaching. There’s research, service commitments (committee meetings, etc.), and so many other reasons why a faculty member might not be able to make one specific date.
Keep trying…and remember, as I said last week, there are also online colleagues who would welcome conversations about pedagogy. Write to me—I’d love to start a conversation!
Next week I’ll offer some advice for department heads/chairs about how they can build a community of teaching practice in their academic unit. Till then, add a comment about how you have reached out to your institutional colleagues to start teaching conversations.
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