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Reflective Practice: Teaching Squares

Overview

The Teaching Squares program provides faculty an opportunity to gain new insight into their teaching through a non-evaluative process of reciprocal classroom observation and self-reflection. The four faculty in each “teaching square” agree to visit each other’s classes over the course of a semester and then meet to discuss what they’ve learned from their observations.

By allowing faculty to be “learners” again in their colleagues’ classes, Teaching Squares can open up unique spaces for reflection and conversation about teaching.

What’s the Commitment?

Teaching Square members commit to attending an initial meeting early in the semester to discuss logistics and establish expectations with the others in their square, to visit the other square members’ classes at least once, and then to meet again for a follow-up meeting once all the observations are completed. Each member will also need to provide syllabi and other relevant information about the courses being visited.

Who Can Participate?

All COD faculty – full-time and part-time – are welcome to participate. Squares are most successful when they consist of faculty with various levels of experience from a range of disciplines.

How Is This A “Non-evaluative” Process?

Teaching Squares are meant to spur personal self-reflection rather than peer evaluation. Participants focus their conversations on what they’ve learned about their own teaching from the observation process and avoid direct commentary on their colleagues’ performance.
The goal is to encourage a respectful, safe, mutually-supportive experience for all involved. Participants are encouraged to approach the process in a spirit of appreciation – even celebration – of the work of their colleagues. The “Cornerstones” below elaborate on this goal.

Teaching Squares: The Cornerstones

The Cornerstones of Teaching Squares are those critical attitudes and behaviors that, when exhibited by all participants, contribute to creating a safe, mutually-supportive, energizing environment for sharing the joys and challenges of teaching.

Reciprocity & Shared Responsibility

Appreciation

Self-referential Reflections

Mutual Respect


Reciprocity and Shared Responsibility

Through the mutual exchange of visits with their Teaching Squares partners, participants assume the dual roles of the observer and the observed, teacher and student. They simultaneously experience and thus share the opportunities and risks of inviting others into their classrooms.

Teaching Squares participants jointly assume the tasks of arranging classroom visits and exchanging course information. By fully participating in the organization and administration of the Square they minimize the effort that must be expended by any single participant. Such self leadership maintains a climate of collegiality. This structure facilitates a team effort and a team result.

Self-Referential Reflection

The Square Share is an opportunity to report what you have learned from the observation experience. It is NOT an opportunity to improve a Square Partner’s teaching. By keeping your observations self-focused participants avoid any hint of evaluation or judgment that could contribute to a climate of defensiveness or suspicion.

Appreciation 

The Square Share reflection session is an opportunity to identify and celebrate the behaviors and practices that create a productive environment for learning. Expressing observations in a positive way offers a goal to be pursued and a source of energy for achieving that goal.

Mutual Respect 

Participants enter their Square Partners’ classroom with an attitude of empathy and respect for both the instructor and the students, recognizing that different methods and techniques are required in different disciplines and classroom situations.

 

Strategies

Your "Square Introductions" - Setting Expectations

The “square introduction” meeting is a time for your group to establish some guidelines for how you’d like your square experience to unfold. Most important to this discussion is clarifying group members’ expectations, so there are fewer surprises later on. The following questions are suggested as points you might want to clarify and can serve as a starting point for this discussion.

1. What are we hoping to gain from this experience?

This is the most important question to clarify today and should probably be returned to throughout your square experience. Being aware of your own and your colleagues’ goals can help you be a better square participant. You can use the following chart to record your own and your colleagues’ goals for the square:

2. What are our responsibilities to the group?

For the most part, your responsibilities to your square are few and straight-forward:

  • coordinate with the group to schedule class visits and the final reflection meeting
  • share relevant materials with the group to provide context for visits to your class
  • come to class visits prepared to observe
  • come to the final meeting prepared to share your self-reflections on your experiences

However, you might also want to clear up a few other questions:

  • How will we prepare for our final get-together?
  • Is it ok to just come prepared to talk, or should we type up our reflections to share?
  • Do we want someone to serve as our “square leader” (to send out a “nudge” email or two if the group is getting off track)?
  • How strict will we be in adhering to the “only self-reflection” spirit of the square?
  • Do we want to get feedback on any aspects of our teaching? How much of our final conversation will be devoted to such kind of feedback?
  • Do we want to appoint someone to take responsibility for keeping our final reflection conversation on track?

Your "Square Introduction" - Logistics

The “square introduction” meeting is a time for your group to establish some guidelines for how you’d like your square experience to unfold. The following questions are suggested as points you might want to clarify and can serve as a starting point for discussion.

1. When should I visit?

We encourage you to schedule all your visits now, since it’s easiest while everyone’s together. Feel free to use the handy chart below to keep track of your visiting schedule. One word of caution: Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that a class day that involves a lot of student-centered work (small group activities, etc.) is a day when you’re “not teaching” and so is not an interesting day to be observed. Many people sign up for Teaching Squares because of an interest in learning about alternatives to lecturing – and in observing how people get students involved – so don’t let a lack of traditional “teaching” (e.g. lecturing) on a particular day scare you off from inviting someone in to visit.

2. How long should I stay?

Class times can vary considerably. Observing an entire class session from start to finish typically offers the best (and least disruptive) experience for you, your Square Partner, and the students. If scheduling conflicts do not allow you to stay for an entire class, discuss with your Square Partner the least disruptive means of joining and leaving the class. Past participants have found that a visit of no less than 45 minutes is necessary to adequately sample the classroom experience.

3. What is my role when I visit: observer or class participant?

The urge to participate in class activities can be nearly irresistible. It is so easy to be swept up in the joy of being a student again and to forget that the purpose of the class visit is to observe your Square Partner’s work. Previous participants have found that they could best fulfill their Teaching Squares goals by restricting themselves to the role of observer. With your Square Partner’s consent you can always visit the class again as a participant!

4. What kind of context should I provide about my class?

Getting a sense of the “big picture” of a course can make it easier to make sense of what’s happening in a class and thus can lead to a more meaningful observation experience. We highly recommend exchanging syllabi with your square partners, as well as copies of relevant course assignments and texts. You might also consider filling your colleagues in on some of the following questions:

  • What are your main goals for this course?
  • What purpose does it serve in the major or the general curriculum?
  • Why do students take this course?
  • How would you characterize your students this semester? are they a typical group?
  • How often have you taught this course before?
  • What does a typical day look like for this course?
  • What are your goals for the day your colleague is coming to visit?
  • Are you trying anything new this semester?
5. (How) should I introduce you to students?

Most students are very curious about the presence of a visitor in the classroom. Past participants have liked to introduce the visiting professors and to explain the purpose for their visits and their roles (observer or participant) in the class session. They find that most students are very impressed to learn that their instructor is participating in a project to improve teaching and learning.

6. When should we meet up again?

Although the wrap-up “Square Share” is a month or two down the road, getting it scheduled now will up your odds that you find a mutually agreeable time.

Resources

College of DuPage Faculty Development Program, Teaching Squares Handbook https://cod.pressbooks.pub/teachingsquares/

Haave, Neil. "Teaching squares: A teaching development tool." Teaching Professor 28, no. 1 (2014).

Adapted from content from:

  • Stonehill College, Center for Teaching and Learning
  • Lane Community College, Faculty Professional Development
  • Jessica Tess-Navarro and Katie Jostock, Oakland University
  • Anne Wessely, St. Louis Community College
  • URL: https://library.cod.edu/c.php?g=1042754
  • Last Updated: Jan 22, 2021 12:06 PM
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