I decided to wait a few days to write a reflection of last week’s CAST Innovation Week. If I had written it at the end of last week, it likely would have included words and phrases such as “disappointing”, “a major disappointment”, “an embarrassment”, “an exercise in futility”, “hearing President Laackman acknowledge us at the SotC was like twisting the knife”, but I didn’t write any of these phrases, so let’s ignore them and move on.
Distance often leads to some perspective. Gitte and I have chatted, and will continue to chat, about what can be done to improve CAST Innovation Week in the future (yes, it will happen again.). For now, I have just a few reflections, though I’m sure Gitte will chime in with some of hers since she attended more of it that I did due to my own schedule conflicts.
1. The timing was a bit off. While we were good about soliciting volunteers, we set the deadline too late and as a result were unable to promote the actual events of the week until right before the week.
2. The timing was a bit off. With many of us going through the tenure and post-tenure processes, last week seemed to be the time for many class visitation and pre-last minute preparations. (In fact, I missed most of Thursday’s events because I was observing two of my colleagues).
3. Was the timing off? Maybe it had nothing to do with timing. Maybe it had to do with something much bigger. I was reading an article on classroom science assessment by Jim Minstrell and the following passage struck me. He writes with respect to developing formative assessment in his classroom before it was widely accepted as “good” teaching.
The second point—that I “owned” the process—is probably the more important. If I had simply read “the steps” in some articles (as you are now), I would probably have been skeptical about its success and I am not sure I would have been motivated to develop the skills and classroom culture necessary to reap the positive effects. What I was doing in the classroom was not something I had seen at a workshop or been told by researchers that I should do. Instead, I discovered a process over time that worked for me through my own professional inquiry—motivated by my own curiosity about my students’ learning and a sincere wish to improve my craft. Seeing positive results from those efforts over time with my own students is what kept me going.
So why don’t people come to “CASTivities”. In particular, why did we have nearly less attendees last week than at our regular Tuesday meetings?
3a) We all care about our teaching but perhaps don’t feel the need to share with others nor do we feel that attending a session will lead to a great change in our teaching (since perhaps we don’t think we need a big change). This is me. I’m co-coordinator of CAST, yet I often feel this way. Funny enough, when I do push myself to attend, I always get something out of it. So maybe this thinking is flawed.
3b) It’s awkward. Awkward can be very funny in movies and sitcoms (and real life situations I suppose), but attending or leading a session in which no one shows up is downright demoralizing. Perhaps everyone assumed that no one would be at the sessions. This is also a valid concern and I share this as well. So in the future maybe CAST, now with a definite footprint at HWC and beyond, will offer less programming to build a fan base. Innovation Week may have been too much to take in all at once. It may have appeared desperate and that’s something that we want to avoid. CAST shouldn’t have to feel like it’s trying to persuade you to attend. You should want to attend based upon the quality of our offerings and your desire to share with others.
4. We’re busy. This is one excuse that I could not fully appreciate until recently, but I still have trouble with it. I think the biggest disappointment for Gitte and I was that no one showed up in the morning for coffee or cookies or a quick conversation. I know people use 1046 (the CASTle) at various times, yet Gitte and I found ourselves alone together each morning. We would have loved just a quick hello from folks. I got to catch up on work instead. Back to the main point, I can understand busy. I thought I did before, but then my wife and I had our first child and childcare came into play. Every hour I spend at HW outside of my usual hours costs me money and more importantly quality time with my son. So I can understand busy. But, 10 minutes to spare? I don’t know.
If we take the items above, I think they are part of a larger “issue”. I actually think it starts in departments. (Let’s see if I can get myself into trouble here.) I think we need a slight paradigm shift with respect to our campus academic culture. I think we need to see Professional development (PD) as something that is not onerous, but important. When I hear the term “PD” or am considering attending, I typically ask myself the questions, “Is this really necessary?” and “Am I really going to get anything out of this?” Do I need to be developed? I do that on my own (refer back to the quote above). Yet, maybe this starts in departments. How often do you “talk shop” with your colleagues in your department? How much of your department meeting is spent discussing actual teaching and learning? Which quantity is greater: the amount of time spent griping about students with your peers or the amount of time discussing how you teach and how they learn (not not learn)?
I feel like I’m channeling my old officemate here so I better wrap it up.
So I find myself a month or so away from exiting as CAST (co)-coordinator. I can’t believe it’s been nearly three years. I’m hoping that the effort I put in over those three years leads to the continued efforts of CAST. I’m really hopeful for the future of CAST. I’ve been really impressed with the past two FDW’s and our Tuesday’s this semester. I hope that those who are able to attend agree that the meetings are not your typical committee meeting. They’re part PD (in a good way), part sharing, part meet and greet and really a lot of productive fun. I feel that CAST has accomplished a lot and is chipping away at creating a culture of collaboration and learning from ourselves and one another. We’ll have elections in the next few week. I see great things ahead with our new (or perhaps old) co-coordinators. CAST is a wholly faculty driven entity. We were the innovators with respect to PD. We will continue to do so as long as we continue to have investment from all of you. We’re thinking of ways to get more people involved virtually. Keep an eye out. Thanks for making it this far.