Seeking New Perspective: Teaching Squares Offers Faculty Development

Automotive technology professor Tonia Haney solders a new wire for a fault switch to a Toyota Avalon at Clark College on Nov. 28, 2017. Automotive instructors create bugs and problems in the vehicles that students have to diagnose and fix. "The more practice you get, the better you get," said Haney. (Andy Bao/The Independent)

Colleges aren’t just about student growth, but faculty too, a goal Clark’s Teaching and Learning Center hopes to reach through programs like Teaching Squares.

Teaching Squares, a program utilized nationally among community colleges, was first created by Anne Wessely from St. Louis Community College. The program allows instructors to learn new teaching methods by collaborating with colleagues from other departments.

Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook said the program has been offered by Clark every term for over a decade, but its impact continues in Clark’s faculty today. Clark filled two new TLC positions in the last six months with plans of dedicating more time to strengthening instructors.

Teaching and Learning Center

TLC gained their first non-faculty director, Judith Hernandez Chapar, six months ago.

Chapar said she believes the TLC plays a unique role at Clark, acting as a “forefront of initiative” on campus by connecting people to resources and expanding their capacities to do a good job. She said this is done through strengthening the skills instructors already have and exposing them to other methods of instruction.

“I really see [Teaching Squares] as an opportunity for good teachers to become great teachers and for good staff members to become engaged,” Chapar said.

In her position, Chapar said she understands the many faculty responsibilities and wants to provide them with stronger support.

“For me, it was really important to be able to be the person in the background that’s helping our teachers and our staff shine,” Chapar said.

Facilitating faculty growth

Chapar said with the center’s creation it became evident Clark needed a program that allowed faculty the opportunity and assistance to grow in their areas of instruction. She said Teaching Squares acts as that opportunity.

Nichola Farron, hired this October as a new faculty development specialist, said she works “under [Chapar’s] wing,” gaining a better understanding of her responsibilities in the center. She will eventually help coordinate faculty development programs, like Teaching Squares, across campus.

“Education has a lot of requirements on faculty in terms of knowing their outcome and grading, and evaluation,” Farron said.

Teaching Squares restarts at the beginning of each quarter and faculty can submit applications to participate at the end of the quarter.

The program begins with participants meeting their assigned square, which consists of four faculty members from across campus.

“We get to break those silos [between different divisions] a little bit,” Chapar said. The center does this by selecting square participants from all different disciplines, allowing instructors to discover ways of teaching they may not have considered otherwise.

Participants complete three classroom visits throughout the term, one for each instructor in the square. While sitting in on their colleagues lectures and labs, they are asked to reflect on their own methods and search for new techniques to apply to their practices.

At the end of the quarter, the square comes together to discuss their results.

While Farron said she isn’t sure how many total squares have been conducted, she imagines it is “quite a number.”

Learning through observation

Auto-Tech professor Tonia Haney has been at Clark for seven years and participated in Teaching Squares last fall. “I’ve only done it once. I’ll probably do it again but it’ll take a few more years before I can commit to it,” she said.

According to Haney, the Professional Placement and Advancement Committee  helps faculty with their pay scales.

She participated in Teaching Squares after receiving an email faculty receives every quarter from TLC. “I did it rather selfishly … It helps for PPAC credits,” she said.

Instructors are given a raise once they acquire a certain amount of these credits. Cook said participation in programs like Teaching Squares, conferences and research, can contribute to earned credits.

“That’s why I didn’t anticipate getting a lot out of it,” Haney said. “I went into it with blinders on.” After completing Teaching Squares, Haney said she suggests new faculty participate for their first few years on campus.

While Haney was able to sit in on other classes during her process to become tenure, she said the instructors were chosen specifically to fit what she would be teaching. “I wish I would’ve done [Teaching Squares] earlier in my tenure,” she said.

Teaching in the auto shop has made meeting colleagues difficult, Haney said.

“What I got out of it more than anything else was just the chance to meet some folks I would never have any reason to cross paths with,” she said.

Being grouped with an economics instructor, Haney said she could see the relationship between the two industries but didn’t expect to share similarities in the way they teach.

Haney said even after their square, the two still exchange waves when they cross paths.

Farron said the program is beneficial for any faculty member, whether it be new instructors observing the practices of their seasoned colleagues or those colleagues getting the chance to adopt innovative methods newcomers tend to bring.

”[TLC doesn’t] assess them, they don’t assess each other. It’s just for the value of the observation,” Farron said.

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