Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at some of the challenges present when two or more faculty work in a team to develop and teach a course. It is from Chapter Four, Pedagogy That Builds Community by Jodi Levine Laufgraben and Daniel Tompkins in, Sustaining and Improving Learning Communities by Jody Levine Laufgraben, Nancy S. Shapiro and Associates. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741. [www.josseybass.com] Copyright ? 2004 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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THE CHALLENGES OF TEACHING WITH OTHERS
The pedagogical approaches described in this chapter may involve a different type of teaching for some faculty members. As described by Jean MacGregor (2000), in learning communities, teams of individuals need to sail a single vessel. "For a sustained period of time-a quarter or a semester or even a year-teaching teams commit themselves to a course or program with a common group of students. Sailing together requires teamwork, collaborative skills, and collective responsibility that are less familiar to those of us in the habit of sailing solo" (http://learningcommons.evergreen.edu/pdf/ spring2000b.pdf, p. 1).
Teaching in a learning community requires faculty members to change how they teach. "The first step in interdisciplinary collaboration, whether in teaching or research, is accepting the different practices and beliefs of others" (Cornwell and Stoddard, 2001, p. 162). Teaching is no longer an isolated activity but rather a community commitment. By design, learning communities promote transformations. In addition to transforming courses to programs and disciplinary perspectives to interdisciplinary contexts, good pedagogy in learning communities requires moving from teaching alone to teaching with others. Team teaching requires team building, collaborative skills, and collective responsibility.
Team Building and Teamwork
Faculty development activities should include discussion and activities that promote positive teamwork. The biggest challenge is time-finding time to bring already busy people together to function as a team. Sustaining teamwork is also a challenge. Commitments to the learning community are challenged when other realities set in. "Our individual units and home departments continuously reel us back in. our competitive and individualistic training has often not prepared us for the public nature and give-and-take of collaborative teaching" (MacGregor, 2000, p. 2). Some strategies for promoting teamwork across learning communities teaching teams include
* Clearly articulate expectations for the teaching team.
* Recognize and reward planning efforts (planning lunches for teachers, stipends for summer planning time, professional development funds for travel to conferences).
* Be flexible when scheduling team planning events (a one-shot deal workshop only works if all members of a team can be present). Set aside several dates and times for planning sessions and require teaching teams to participate as a group.
* Provide examples of successful teamwork in learning communities.
* Avoid (whenever possible) changes in teaching assignments once a team has formed and started its work.
* Suggest that teaching teams set meeting schedules well in advance, particularly days and times to meet once the semester begins.
* Create or suggest space where teaching teams can meet. Space that is away from individual offices or departments may allow for more focused, less interrupted team planning time.
In addition to teamwork, teaching in a learning community requires important social skills, including trust, mutual understanding, communication, and conflict management. Traditionally, teaching is a private activity; in learning communities, it is public. Individuals need to share information about their courses and teaching with others in their program or community. A supportive context for discussion teaching and providing feedback is important to collaboration. Each team member must take care and responsibility for building and respecting this context.
The success of the learning community depends on students' and teachers' experiences across the community and not just in one or the other course. From presemester planning to reinforcement of the curricular theme to assessing student learning, teaching in learning communities is a collective responsibility. At the program level, faculty development and teacher materials should outline the expectations for teaching teams; individual teaching teams should then reach consensus on shared responsibilities for community planning, assignments, class activities, assessment, and so on.
Faculty in learning communities share responsibility for becoming a teaching team. Problems arise when a teaching teams fails to gel. This may happen for a variety of reasons: varied levels of interest in the goals and expectations for learning communities, different teaching and learning styles, conflicting priorities, competing schedules. Level of commitment is another potential problem. After strong initial interst, one or some members of a teaching team may fail to carry their load or may stop attending planning meetings. Once the semester gets under way, faculty are busy with course management, department obligations, and off-campus commitments. "The best-laid plans?" becomes a reality, and the full potential for the learning community may not be realized. Program leadership plays an important role in helping teaching teams come together and stay on task. Schedule opportunities for all learning community faculty to come together to share successes and frustratio!
ns, be a facilitator to help teams stay focused and functioning, acknowledge up front that problems arise, and offer steps that other teaching teams took to move beyond barriers and function as a team.
Teachers in learning communities also have a collective responsibility to articulate the community or program theme. Do not assume that students are as aware of the curricular theme as you believe. Constant references to the theme will reinforce expectations for deeper learning and curricular integration. Communicate often with teaching partners. Share "hits" as well as "misses" in terms of instructional goals. Talk about student performance and ways to improve the community. Ask, How are we doing as a community of teachers? For faculty, regardless of the model of learning community, satisfaction with the learning communities teaching experience often depends on the shared responsibility for the curriculum, teaching, and learning. According to one experienced learning communities teacher: "For me, the satisfaction comes from the degree of integration and collaboration, no matter which of the two models I'm teaching in" (L. Dunlap, personal communication, September 20!
In addition to the interpersonal challenges, those teaching in learning communities may encounter structural barriers to forming and participating on teaching teams. Systems for calculating workloads, release time, and rewards may not recognize or properly value team teaching. Conflicts may arise between the goals for learning communities and department objectives or institutional priorities. A department may discourage junior faculty members from teaching in learning communities to allow professors on the tenure track time for research and scholarship. A college or university may consider teaching a one-credit seminar linked to a learning community as voluntary overload. However, when teachers come together to teach in learning communities and the program steadily expands across campus, there is a tremendous potential for change. Additional challenges, strategies, and benefits specific to teaching in the different models of learning communities are described in the next section.