Teaching Squares

Teaching SquaresObserving colleagues’ teaching can be an enlightening and motivating experience.  Join a Teaching Square to get ideas and discuss teaching with colleagues.

The registration deadline to join a Teaching Square for Fall 2020 is September 30.

Join a Teaching Square

A Teaching Square is an opportunity to engage in non-evaluative observation of peers’ teaching, self-reflection, and dialogue about teaching practices.  A Teaching Square consists of four faculty members from different disciplines who agree to do the following:

  • observe the teaching of each Square Partner* (three observations total)
  • reflect on the class observation experiences as they relate to your own teaching practices
  • share your reflections and insights with your Square Partners

Teaching Squares involve peer observation rather than peer review or peer evaluation.  They promote self-reflection on one’s own teaching practices instead of making judgments about peers’ teaching; thus discussion focuses on what you’ve learned about your own teaching rather than direct commentary on peers’ performance.

Teaching Squares are a faculty development tool created by Anne Wessely at St. Louis Community College.  They have been been adapted for use widely at colleges and universities.

*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all observations will be of online (synchronous or asynchronous) classes and be conducted virtually. To ensure the safety of our students and faculty, Teaching Square observations will not be done in face-to-face courses in Fall 2020.

You will be matched with three colleagues from different disciplines who will be your Square Partners. The timeline for the Teaching Square is below:

All Squares Kick-Off Meeting – Early October

  • All Teaching Square participants attend a meeting to learn more about the process, meet your Square partners, schedule the Square teaching observations, and set guidelines/expectations.

Teaching Observations – Mid-October through Mid-November

  • Each Square Partner shares information and teaching materials relevant to the course (e.g., course description, syllabus) and specific class session(s) that will be observed (e.g., learning objectives, explanation of planned activities, handouts).
  • Each Square Partner observes the agreed upon class sessions with a focus on what you can learn from your peers (3 observations total).
  • Record your observations and engage in self-reflection on your own teaching. Analyze your observations and consider what you’ve learned about your own teaching.  Prepare to share your reflections with your Square Partners.

Square Share – Late November

  • Gather with your Square Partners (virtually for Fall 2020) to share your personal, positive observations and the insights you’ve gained into your own teaching.

Teaching can sometimes feel like an isolating activity, and faculty often comment that they don’t have time or opportunities to discuss their teaching with each other.

Participating in a Teaching Square offers a unique opportunity to engage in a teaching observation (as both the observer and the observee) free from judgment or evaluation, and engage in discussions about teaching with colleagues. Because you’ll be partnered with colleagues outside your discipline, it’s also a great opportunity to learn about teaching approaches and techniques that may not be commonly used in your discipline.

As the result of participating in a Teaching Square, you will:

  • observe, analyze, and reflect on and gain new insights into teaching and learning
  • increase your understanding and appreciation of the work of colleagues
  • experience a learning experience from the student perspective
  • gather ideas for enhancing your own teaching based on your observations and reflections, and the shared reflections of your Square Partners.

All faculty/instructors who are currently teaching at least one course are eligible to participate.

 

There are four generally agreed upon cornerstones of effective Teaching Squares, as indicated below.  The explanation of each principle below is borrowed from the Stetson University Teaching Squares Guidelines.

  • Reciprocity & Shared Responsibility – Through mutual exchange of visits with Square partners, participants assume roles as both observer and observed, teacher and student. They simultaneously share the risks and rewards of inviting colleagues into their classrooms. Participants jointly assume the tasks of arranging visits and sharing information, thus minimizing the effort for any single participant and fostering a spirit of collegiality.
  • Self-Referential Reflection – The final group discussion is an opportunity to share what you have learned. It is NOT an opportunity to improve anyone else’s teaching. By keeping the observations focused on oneself, participants avoid any hint of evaluation or judgment that could contribute to a climate of defensiveness or suspicion.
  • Appreciation – The final group meeting is an opportunity to identify and affirm the behaviors and practices that enhance student learning across disciplines. It thus provides a way of articulating goals for all participants to pursue, in a supportive and collaborative way.
  • Mutual Respect – Participants agree to enter colleagues’ classrooms with an attitude of respect for both the instructor and the student, recognizing that various methods and techniques work for different people, in different disciplines, and in specific classroom situations. Participants demonstrate respect by not making evaluative comments to others within—or outside—the Square.

Berenson, C. Teaching Squares: Observe and Reflect On Teaching and Learning. Calgary, AB: Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary, June 2017.

Durham College & University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Teaching Squares Handbook

Haave, N. (2014). Teaching Squares: A Teaching Development Tool. The Teaching Professor, 28(10).

Stetson University. Teaching Squares: Guidelines for Participants. Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence.