Make Your New (Academic) Year’s Resolutions

Stephanie Fiore, Senior Director, Center for the Advancement of Teaching
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Happy new academic year, everyone, from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT)!

We often start a new calendar year in January with a list of resolutions. I was committed to making more time for myself. I’m sure you said you were going to exercise more, stay in closer contact with friends, or just not stress the small stuff. I know when I make those resolutions, I do so with the best of intentions, but I also know that even small changes require that I make them a priority, or I may not succeed in pulling them off.

Now that we are starting a new academic year, what are your resolutions, and how are you going to make them happen? Have you reflected on your professional practice and how you are going to continue to grow? Have you thought about changes to your teaching that you might want to implement? My resolution is to reach out to as many departments as I can this year to discuss with faculty how our wonderful staff at the newly renamed Center for the Advancement of Teaching can support them with their pedagogical and instructional technology needs.

My challenge to you is to consider making a commitment to incorporate new reflective practices into your teaching. In his landmark work on reflective teaching, Stephen Brookfield argues that we should reflect on our teaching practice using four lenses. Most of us already use two of these lenses. We look at ourselves through our students’ eyes when we read our SFFs, (although I suggest also checking in with your students throughout the semester to get feedback on your teaching). We may also use our own experiences as learners and as teachers (what Brookfield calls our autobiographies) to inform our practice.

But there are two lenses that we rarely use and that can add richness to our work, and here’s where a teaching center can help. The third lense is to look at our teaching through our colleagues’ eyes. That can be done through peer review of teaching, but it can also be done simply by discussing our teaching with other faculty, something we rarely have the opportunity to do. One of the greatest benefits to attending the teaching center’s seminars and workshops is the opportunity to talk to other faculty from across the university about what is happening in the classroom, online, in the studio, or in the lab.

The fourth lense that Brookfield cites is to look at our teaching against what the theoretical literature tells us about how people learn. There is a wealth of information out there. If you join us at our seminars, workshops and trainings, we’ll give you resources to explore, or you can join us and your colleagues to read and discuss a book on teaching. You can also peruse the many resources we have available for you online. Some good reading can get the ideas flowing and make us sit back and think about whether there might be alternative paths to helping our students be successful in our courses.

Join me in making a commitment for the new academic year. Choose one way of reflecting more deeply on your teaching and make that resolution stick! I think you’ll find that it enriches your work and helps your students to learn.   

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