Collaborative Teaching Retreat at Graylyn Invigorates Faculty

Posted on: August 26, 2011

Advanced-career faculty with a desire for innovative teaching took part this summer in a retreat at Graylyn sponsored by the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC), a Wake Forest resource designed to help faculty meet the challenges of teaching in and across the disciplines and Schools.

The idea for the retreat came when Catherine Ross, Director of the Wake Forest TLC, felt compelled to create a regional, sustainable network for faculty development, specifically targeting tenure-track faculty who have been teaching at least ten years. These seasoned faculty members “need support too, but a different kind,” Ross explained, “because they’re the ones who set the culture for a department.”

The Graylyn Retreat has received high praise from the classroom veterans in attendance. Twenty-nine faculty members, along with four TLC Directors, traveled from several institutions across the Carolinas to spend four days collaborating, reflecting, and re-energizing. Each day, they did Tai Chi, ate meals together, attended workshops and book discussions of their choosing, and finally retired to their rooms for some calming alone time.

However, when asked to identify the most significant feature of the retreat, faculty members overwhelmingly cited the assigned “Working Groups” of 7-8 people, which brought together professors from all different schools and fields of expertise. The smaller group setting allowed the faculty members to dive deep into lively conversations about the process of learning, to open up about personal successes and failures in the classroom, and to offer meaningful input for each person’s unique situation.

The groups were a source of encouragement in more ways than one. After 15 years of teaching several Spanish courses in the Romance Languages Department, Teresagraylyn Sanhueza was on the fence about whether or not she would offer her service learning class again. While she readily admits she has never had a “problem” in the classroom, she was eager for ideas to improve the service learning component. She found her Working Group to be particularly valuable for its ability to affirm her work while simultaneously pointing her to resources that would help her improve. “I realize now that I’m doing a very good job, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do better,” said Sanhueza. “Our main job is to teach and to teach well, because we are forming people, and that’s a big responsibility.”

The process of “forming” students was a topic that John Friedenberg, Director of Theatre and a professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance for 23 years, was eager to discuss. He participated in a discussion group focused on How Learning Works, by Steven Ambrose, a book which “changes your understanding of you, not what you’re doing, but the context in which you’re trying to do it.” The insight into the barriers that prevent learning from happening prompted him to reconsider how a professor can strategically work around them to facilitate learning. “You can’t give someone understanding,” said Friedenburg, “[learning is] a group problem meant for the class to solve.” He has since experimented with several innovative ways to give the class ownership of their learning and engage every student, such as inviting students to create the syllabus.

Motivating students to “make an investment” in their own learning was one of the most invigorating topics for Debbie Newsome, who applied to the retreat to stave off stagnancy in her career of 13 years as an Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling. “I always want to be moving forward, to match the current generation of students,” she commented. Between the lessons learned in the “Just-in-Time Teaching” workshop and the goal brainstorming that took place in her Working Group, Newsome has been able to realize her “untapped potential” as a professor who is capable of engaging students in fresh ways. “[The retreat] really invigorated my thinking,” said Newsome, “I’m very grateful for the experience, it has made all the difference in the world.”

graylynThe next Graylyn Retreat is scheduled for June 4-7, 2012. For more information about the retreat, register to attend the panel “Lessons Learned at the Graylyn Teaching Retreat” on Tuesday, November 8th at 3:30 pm in Reynolda 301. In the meantime, the TLC will be offering workshops, book groups, and the widely acclaimed walk-and-talk session, “Pedometers and Pedagogy.” A full schedule for the semester can be found at http://www.wfu.edu/tlc/

 

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