Teaching Circles Background:
Teaching circles can be defined as informal meetings where small groups of faculty (3-10 faculty members) can share pedagogical ideas and current research in education to address the challenges and needs of their students (Powell & Harrington, 2011). Traditional meetings in higher education tend to be organized around the strategic needs of the college or university that are communicated to faculty through a small team of those who hold power such as deans, program coordinators, and chairpersons (Kanter 2000, 198). Teaching circles on the other hand are organized by faculty members themselves and are used for faculty to demonstrate leadership in education by sharing and their best practices with others. The benefits of small teaching circles versus the traditional large-scale meeting are as follows: a greater sense of community and belonging among faculty members (Ashton, 2011), sharing difficulties and challenges within a safe environment (Moore et al, 2010), and sharing innovative teaching practices (Smith, 2011). However, simply bringing a team of colleagues together does not ensure productive meetings that create more innovative practices in higher education (Koeslag-Krenun et. Al 2017). As many authors have demonstrated, collaborative learning is effective when encouraged and facilitated by an influential leader (Furco and Moely 2012; Kezar 2005; Roxa and Martensson 2009).
My Experience Leading a Teaching Circle
This week I led my first teaching circle at Centennial College on inclusion in our curriculum design. Our Office Administration program has a diverse population of students, and the majority of students are foreign students and some of my students are brand new to Canada. Our program has seen a rise in international students, but our curriculum design and practices have not changed much. Therefore, I wanted to challenge my colleagues to think of ways that we could be more inclusive in the planning stage of the curriculum, the instructional stage, and the assessment stage.
I stared the talk by mentioning the story about my sister Julie, and how a teacher who was following curriculum guidelines failed her in the basketball unit of physical education because she had a severe physical disability that wouldn’t allow her to do this. Instead of simply talking at my colleagues, I wanted to seek their advice an co-learn how we can make our curriculum more inclusive. To do this, I used a discussion tool from gosoapbox.com that is a live response system, where others can answer your questions from their cell phones and the answers will show up on the screen in real time.
To make this activity less intimidating and more collaborative, I had my colleagues join teams and have one person from the group submit a number of responses. When it came to the different parts of the curriculum and inclusion, here are some of the responses:
One of my colleagues was nice enough to provide feedback over LinkedIn and let me know what she thought of the teaching circle:
Ashton, J, (2012). Using Teaching Circles Amongst Online Adjunct Faculty. Journal of Instructional Research. 11-14
Furco, A., & Moeley, B. E. (2012). Using learning communities to build faculty support for pedagogical innovation: a multi-campus study. Journal of Higher Education. 83(1), 128-153.
Kanter, R.M. 2000. When a thousand flowers bloom: Structural, collective and social conditions for innovation in organizations. In Entrepreneurship: the social science view ed. R. Swedberg, 167-210. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Kezar, A. (2005). Redesigning for collaboration within higher education institutions: an exploration into the developmental process. Research in Higher Education, 46(7), 831-860.
Koeslag-Kreunen, M., Van der Klink, M., Van den Bossche, P., Gijselaers. W., (2018). Leadership for team learning: the case for university teacher teams. Journal of Higher Education. 75:191-207
Moore, S., Wallace, S., Schack, G., Thomas Shelley, S., Lewis, L., Wilson, L., Miller, S., D’Antoni, J., (2010) Inclusive Teaching Circles: Mechanisms for creating welcoming classrooms. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 10(1) 14-27.
Powell, M. & Harrington, J., (2011) Effective teaching circles: support for math anxious students. Nade Digest, 5(2), 25-32.
Development, 56, 286–291.
Roxa, T., & Martensson, K. (2009). Significant conversations and significant networks—exploring backstage of the teaching arena. Studies in Higher Education, 34(5), 547-559.
Smith, K. (2011). Cultivating innovative learning and teaching cultures: a question of garden design. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(4), 427-438.