Meetings can be dull and sleep-inducing, or they can be engaging and provide great opportunities for learning. In my conversations with program chairs, I learned that some departments don’t have meetings during the semester. Some departments meet every two weeks throughout the academic year. One chair told me that, because of the way classes were scheduled, there was never a time during regular working hours for department members to meet. Basically, the way the schedule was organized created one gigantic barrier for instructor mutual learning. By reorganizing the entire teaching schedule of that faculty, the chair removed this barrier. It freed up one hour in which instructors in his program could meet.
In addition to removing barriers, chairs can create opportunities.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with Leanne Telford, chair of the personal fitness trainer program at NAIT. I asked her what opportunities exist in her program for instructor learning. She told me about the staff meetings in her program.
Instructors in the personal fitness trainer program meet bi-weekly for two hours. Their agenda always includes items where instructors can learn from one another. I will highlight three items.
The first item is Best practices in course delivery. Leanne explained how this came about:
In our meetings, we typically start with a positive update. At one meeting, one of the updates was, “I had the best class ever.” So someone asked: “What happened in the class?” And as we discussed that, we were like, you know what? …we should have a standing item where we share what has happened in the classroom. So it kind of organically happened. And now this is on our agenda. We usually spend 10 to 15 minutes on it. We don’t have to share: sometimes no one shares; sometimes everyone does. We can share experiences, and instructors can hear what worked for one instructor and maybe try it as well. It’s now a standing item. And it’s great. Unintentionally, it causes us to reflect on what experiences to share. We share what worked and what didn’t work. Instructors ask each other questions and give each other feedback.
I asked Leanne what a chair could do to motive instructors to share. She suggested:
First of all, a chair could lead by example and share positive and frustrating experiences. Explain how instructor learning might benefit students. Explain how such a conversation might help instructors to work towards organizational goals. Also, you could identify together what makes your program unique compared to similar programs at other institutions, and that learning together could help instructors to strengthen that uniqueness.
The second item is Student Updates.
Leanne: At every meeting, we discuss students with poor attendance or participation. By discussing students together, we can further identify students’ needs. It also helps us find out whether we need to call in additional supports from student services.
The third item is Committee membership.
Leanne: All our instructors serve on an institutional committee as part of their corporate citizenship. During this agenda item, instructors share new developments in their committee work. This way, we share information on what’s happening across the institute. It contributes to an understanding of how our work fits within the larger organization.