From the Director: Celebrating Teaching at Denison!
Earlier this month I participated in a celebration of teaching at Denison. Colleagues opened their classroom doors onto worlds of 19th-century American radicalism, Rogerian therapy, and Canadian short stories. I had an amazing week!
This “Open Doors” event, which spanned over two days and involved nearly 70 participants, was made possible through the creativity and energy of Teaching Matters! (John Davis, May Mei, and Chris Westover) and in particular the exemplary leadership of Laura Russell and the mad organizational skills of Aleksa Kaups, Project Assistant for the CfLT.
When Laura first broached the possibility of doing “Open Doors” (she took inspiration from a similar initiative held at Vanderbilt University), I will confess: I was skeptical. The sheer logistics seemed daunting and, more importantly, the ethos at the core of what she was proposing—that faculty would genuinely want to see one another teach, without the vestiges of formal summative or formative assessments serving to prod us—seemed woefully idealistic. I am grateful that nevertheless she persisted.
What resulted was remarkable: Over two dozen colleagues opened their classroom spaces for visitors. To ensure classrooms weren’t overwhelmed, Laura prudently held the number of visitors to a given class to two. Sign-up sheets circulated in the magic of google forms and colleagues self-selected to determine which class(es) they wanted to observe (recognizing that space was limited). All told: nearly 50 people made time in their busy schedules to watch colleagues hold classes on such things as social and political philosophy, population and community ecology, and film aesthetics and analysis, to name just three.
Early feedback on the initiative has repeated a familiar chorus: People loved it! For many of us, the chance to “be a student again” was both energizing and inspiring. For others, the opportunity to informally observe colleagues carry out their crafts as teachers, and the chance to borrow a useful tool, trick, or tip, proved an ever-useful “take-away.”
But perhaps what was most important was this: In opening our classroom doors we were reminded about what we love in common: Teaching and learning matter profoundly at Denison, and colleagues are working across the campus to create opportunities for students to learn, reflect, risk, and grow. These opportunities are inflected by ideas we care deeply about, and to which we have devoted our working, waking lives. The result: We were blessed to remember that this work we do matters so very much.
My profound gratitude once more to Laura, Aleksa, and the entire Teaching Matters! Team, as well as to everyone who participated in some form or fashion in the “open doors” initiative. Colleagues already have begun to ask, “Can we do this again?” I’ll only say: Watch for upcoming announcements.
Continued best wishes for the fall semester and may the Fall Study Break provide you with what you need as part of your continued commitments to teaching excellence and our students’ learning.