Teaching Squares

rubik's cube

What is the Teaching Squares experience?

The Teaching Squares experience partners a faculty member (any rank) with three other faculty members in a peer-to-peer class observation process. CoLab staff will facilitate your journey through the experience in order to help you reflect on, improve, and expand your own teaching practices through observing the teaching of your colleagues. This is a fully non-evaluative process, and the results of your participation are not shared in any way with your supervisors; Teaching Squares is not part of the promotion & tenure process (though you may choose to mention your experience in your materials if you wish), and no information from your experience will be shared with administrators or hiring committees. This process is designed to be low-stress, collegial, supportive, and energizing. The full experience takes 8.5 hours over the course of one Fall or Spring semester. You may sign up as a team of four, or individually (in which case the CoLab will create a team for you). A CoLab Student Affiliate will also be part of your experience, offering a student’s perspective that you may find helpful as well.

What will I get out of the Teaching Squares experience?

Teaching Squares initiatives facilitate the sharing of successful and innovative teaching methods and ideas, and contribute to fostering a campus culture of ongoing reflection and improvement in teaching practice. By the end of the teaching squares experience you should be able to:

  • observe, analyze, reflect on, and gain new insights into teaching and learning
  • increase your understanding and appreciation of the work of colleagues
  • gather ideas for developing your teaching and learning philosophy and ‘repertoire’
  • formulate a plan for trying out new approaches

Why might I want to be involved in a Teaching Squares initiative?

Postsecondary teaching is typically experienced as a private endeavour that takes place behind closed doors and before the eyes of students exclusively. This privatization of teaching can create an environment of isolation for individual instructors; it also inhibits the potential for the rich dialogue and learning that can arise in conversations about teaching and learning with colleagues. In a Teaching Squares scenario, isolation is interrupted as individuals observe their colleagues in action and subsequently reflect on and discuss their learning as part of a community of teachers.

Teaching Squares initiatives also contribute to raising the profile and status of teaching more broadly in university contexts, where research is often situated as the privileged academic activity. Shulman argues that teaching needs to be treated more like research – as public, community property – in order for it to be seen as scholarly activity. Gathering together to watch, analyze, critically discuss, review, and reflect on teaching in the context of a Teaching Square makes the complex and rigorous work of teaching and learning visible and communally relevant.

Participating in a Teaching Square can vitalize and energize your individual teaching practices and ideas. Your involvement can also contribute to more broadly positioning teaching as scholarly, social activity involving not only individual instructors and their students, but larger communities of colleagues (within and beyond disciplinary contexts).

In contrast to traditional peer observation initiatives, Teaching Squares approaches involve reflecting on what can be learned about one’s own teaching by observing colleagues. Rather than evaluating others, the Teaching Squares emphasis is on self-evaluation and reflection. Critical reflection has come to be recognized as an important tool for transforming and enhancing teaching practice; reflective teaching entails coming to “see how we think and work through different lenses” (Stephen Brookfield). By allowing individuals to be ‘learners’ again in their colleagues’ classes, Teaching Squares can provide unique lenses through which  to reflect on and talk about teaching and learning. There is also growing appreciation that reflective practice is itself, a skill to be developed and nurtured. The Teaching Squares experience aims to support and enhance both observation and critical reflection skills through offering numerous tools and templates to guide participants in these processes.

How do I participate?

Do you teach a course or courses at Plymouth State and want to be part of a Teaching Square? Email the CoLab at psu-open@plymouth.edu to express your interest, and let us know if you have a 4-person team ready to go or if you would like us to assemble a team for you. We will get back to you with next steps!

The CoLab’s Teaching Squares process is adapted from Berenson, C. “Teaching Squares: Observe and Reflect On Teaching and Learning.” Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Guide Series, Calgary, AB: Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary, June 2017. http://www.ucalgary.ca/taylorinstitute/guides