Shared Spaces and Aspirations

Creating Meaningful Communities of Practice

The spring term has started at Faculty Guild, and we are excited to welcome our fellows. Similar to the buzz educators get when they meet their students for the first time, our facilitators and fellows feel the same way as they meet the other fellows in their Teaching Circle. Given that our method of professional development honors the value of reflective practice as a core tenet, I have been reflecting on how the make-up of Faculty Guild’s Teaching Circles are an important part of creating meaningful communities of practice.

What’s the Formula to Successful Teaching Circles?

In my role at Faculty Guild, I am often asked about the design of our Teaching Circles. Are they arranged by discipline? Faculty experience level? Institutional type? What goes into creating a Teaching Circle that will work well?

What we have learned is successful communities of practice don’t follow a set formula. While we do consider certain components, one differentiating and important part of our process is that we do not define where a person may fit into a circle simply looking at a few categorical variables. 

Complementary Aspirations Create Synergistic Circles

Faculty Guild fellows share more than their ongoing reflection around teaching. They share their aspiration—around both the craft of teaching and their philosophy of teaching. And, because our identity as educators cannot be neatly categorized within a simple statement like “Math faculty at a community college in the Southwest” or “English faculty at a four-year institution on the East Coast,” we spend a lot of time getting to know our fellows and their aspirations.

In doing so, we may learn about a mid-career faculty who is inspired by mentoring new faculty or about a new department chair who is challenged by balancing his shifting role as both academic leader and faculty member. These details allow us to craft Teaching Circles where we know there will be synergy that extends beyond a common love for thesis statements or quadratic equations. It’s a synergy that comes from relationship-building and finding support and motivation by interacting with others who have complementary aspirations. 

Space for Authentic Engagement

In many ways, the personalized approach we take in creating our Teaching Circles reflects our belief in professional development that honors faculty by situating their learning within their context, thereby creating an individualized experience. We don’t presume to know more than our fellows, but we do create space for engagement that allows our fellows to see their teaching in a new or deeper way. By supporting an emergent approach both in our curriculum and our community, we open the door for authentic conversation and growth that is relevant and valuable. This authenticity transcends into fellows’ teaching, and, while fellows’ goals and paths may vary, there is one common variable that is shared when we focus on teaching: students succeed.