By Laurel Willingham-McLain
Director of Faculty Development and Teaching Excellence at Duquesne’s Center for Teaching Excellence
I love this time of year – when we are privileged to welcome dozens of new faculty and TAs to our campus. I take this responsibility very seriously because it’s important to set the right tone from the beginning. So, it takes a lot of work. But in return, I receive joy and energy from the new colleagues I meet.
Every year I think, “wow, this is an amazing group of people.” Marathon runners, kayakers, singers, dancers, quilters, gardeners, chefs, bakers, parents and partners… and teachers and researchers. And that’s just this year! At faculty orientation, I listened for themes. I noticed shared academic interests in adolescents among some faculty, and research on mobility and community in others. How good it was to watch people listen to one another and make connections their first day together – across the disciplines.
At the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), we have come to focus on community building. I learned from my mentor, Dorothy Frayer, to focus on people. To encourage them and congratulate them. To take time for a walk or a cup of tea. And in the last five years or so, we at CTE have intentionally shifted our central focus away from teaching technique to teacher identity. When faculty ask us how to lead better discussions and engage students in active learning, for example, we spend time getting to know them. We ask about their interests and concerns, their successes and obstacles, their teaching contexts and aspirations, and out of that conversation emerge strategies for getting better at teaching.
One thing I’m confident of is that the best teachers are avid learners. That’s an identity we all need to share. In fact, when I consider Duquesne’s teacher-scholar model, the primary pursuit that teachers and researchers have in common is deep learning. Brew and Boud (1995) point out that teaching and research require rather different skills, but they share the importance of learning. At the heart of both endeavors is an exploration of existing knowledge and the desire to go beyond it. Both involve the human act of making meaning, of making sense of phenomena in the world (pp. 267-268).
I see energetic learning – in both teaching and research spheres – occurring within community at Duquesne. At CTE we witness motivation and productivity among informal peer-mentors, creative teaching award teams, research partners, workshop panelists, and even committee members (!) – who inspire one another to learn and make that learning public to their students and peers. Who guide students in engaging deeply in their learning, and in turn, sharing their learning beyond the classroom.
Brew, A., & Boud, D. (1995). Teaching and research: Establishing the vital link with learning. Higher Education, 29 (3), 261-273.