Documentation:CTLT Resources/Teaching Squares

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What are Teaching Squares?

Teaching squares are reciprocal classroom observations that foster self-reflection about one's teaching. A square is formed by four instructors who visit each other’s classes over one term. In teaching squares, members engage in a confidential, non-judgmental formative process that promotes the enhancement of teaching and student learning.

Benefits of Teaching Squares

The Teaching Squares approach aims to enhance teaching and learning through a structured process of classroom observation, self-reflection, and peer-based discussion (leading to a plan for revitalization).

At the end of the Teaching Square experience, participants will be able to:

  1. Share what they learned from watching their colleagues’ teaching.
  2. Determine any changes they may want to implement in their own teaching context (and affirm the practices they want to continue doing because these are working well).
  3. Reflect on the overall Teaching Square process.

Unlike peer review of teaching, the Teaching Squares is based on peer observation and does not necessarily involve peer-evaluation or require peer-feedback [1]. Instead, participants self-reflect on their own teaching practice based on their observation of others.

When the squares reflect diversity of disciplines, participants benefit from exposure to different teaching styles and techniques that may not commonly be used within their own discipline [2] . Alternatively, when the squares are organized within a department or discipline, participants may benefit from developing a strong sense of camaraderie with fellow colleagues and potentially shifting departmental culture to increase dialogues surrounding pedagogy and curricular issues to bolster ongoing engagement with teaching and learning professional development [3].

How do Teaching Squares Work?

The Process [4]

  1. The Initial Organizational Meeting
    • Establish guidelines and clarify expectations of behaviour
    • Articulate and share goals to create accountability throughout the process
    • Establish classroom visitation schedule
    • Exchange relevant teaching materials to provide context (e.g., syllabus)
  2. Classroom Observation
    • Observer will attend the class, either individually or as a group as discussed during the Initial Organizational Meeting, to take notes on their colleague's teaching
    • It may be helpful for the observer to choose a lens through which the observer focuses their attention (e.g., teaching methods, classroom management,student engagement, etc).
    • Brief notes of personal reflections during the classroom observation may help consolidate one's experience and learning.
  3. Post-Observation Debrief
    • Shortly after the classroom observation, all four faculty get together to share experiences and engage in self-referential reflection to identify tangible ways to improve one's own teaching

The Teaching Squares is a faculty development tool created by Anne Wessely from St. Louis Community College and is adapted widely by various colleges and universities.

References

  1. Tracy Rogers (2017) Peer Review of Teaching in Higher Education: A Literature Review Higher Education Development Centre, University of Otago
  2. Neil Haave (2014) Teaching Squares: A Teaching Development Tool, The Teaching Professor, 28.10.
  3. Mark Colgan & Matt DeLong (2015) A Teaching Polygon Makes Learning a Community Enterprise, PRIMUS, 25:1, 41-49
  4. Dave Berry (2008) Learning by Observing Our Peers, Collected Essays on Learning & Teaching, Society for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, 101-105