Faculty Play Dates

Don’t get me wronPreschoolers-enjoy-play-structure-2012g, there’s a lot of learning and work occurring in Faculty Learning Communities. But, like preschool play groups, FLCs also provide a safe and structured environment focused on a shared interest, for learning, interaction, and enjoyment among peers. The value of intermingling with like-minded colleagues may seem superfluous. Why would faculty, safe and snug in their departmental silos, need structured encounters for exchanging ideas and enjoying camaraderie?  Surely happenstance at the departmental water-cooler, coffee maker, or hallway serves this purpose, right?

Maybe not. I first learned about the dysfunctional-family dynamic fostered by the tenure system in some academic departments when I was a grad student selecting a committee. I couldn’t ask Dr. X to serve with Dr. Y because they didn’t speak to one another. Today, I see the strain of maintaining “perfection” on the faces of faculty members, especially the pre-tenured. They must be “outstanding in either teaching or research” and “of high quality” in the other area.  And when we’re discussing workshop topics for CTE events, I frequently suggest that presenters share something that didn’t work and how they overcame a classroom disaster—I don’t recall anyone volunteering. We may encourage our students to take risks, but our internal culture is commonly risk-adverse.

CTE launched two Faculty Learning Communities last fall, in part to provide a safe haven for professional growth and vulnerability. I’ve had no doubt about the valuable contributions that each of these FLCs is making to pedagogy at SMU. But I wondered about the personal-enrichment experiences of the FLC participants. Here are some responses from the FLC on writing:

I thoroughly enjoy finding out about common concerns—and creative ways to address those issues—with faculty across campus. . . . I look forward to going each time we meet! –Paige Ware

It has been one of the best experiences I have had at SMU! . . . It might be luck that our group was perfect for me – there was a lot of knowledge about a subject I knew little about! –José Lage

I think my biggest response so far is how can our disciplines be so different yet we struggle with so many of the same issues with respect to students and writing assignments. –Sheri Kunovich

I’m happy to share that one of my favorite takeaways from the FLC has been to learn how my colleagues are using technology to facilitate writing/editing assignments at the individual and group level. –Sandy Duhé

From the technology FLC:

I found out who is knowledgeable on campus about how these technologies work, if I should become brave enough to use some of them. This is helpful because I will know who to ask. –Lynne Stokes

. . . being on the committee was a spur for me to follow up on doing some tech-based things I had considered but not carried out. – Mark Kerins

Of course I get some good ideas for my courses from the FLC, but I think the most valuable thing I gain from the FLC experience is meeting with other faculty on campus and learning from them how they handle different classroom situations, address new challenges, and their experiences with different learning/teaching techniques.  It really is enjoyable to discuss teaching (using technology or otherwise) with a group of faculty who are passionate and engaged. –Paul Krueger

We’ve had a meeting or two where we basically threw out the agenda because we got started on a different technology-related topic.  So it’s been spontaneous at times.  Also, it’s just been good to touch base with faculty and staff across the various schools to see how they’re using technology in their particular fields.  This type of interaction has really given me some new ideas I want to try out. I think our group members actually like each other.  To me, it’s really been a positive experience. –David Son

I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with and learn from faculty I might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. It is exciting to talk about how we can do our work better! –Barbara Morganfield


About Barbara Whitehead

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