Teaching Squares

Join a Virtual Teaching Square for Fall 2021!

What do other faculty actually do in their courses? How are they adapting to new opportunities, engaging their students, providing feedback, managing their time, and supporting long-term learning? If you joined a Teaching Square, you could find out!

Stearns Center Teaching Squares are a kind of professional "pot-luck dinner": a quick way to build your teaching network and learn strategies that will support your teaching. Teaching Squares are private, cross-disciplinary, collaborative, supportive groups of faculty who use a guided structure to share and discuss a few of their approaches, assignments, and activities. Teaching Squares are not designed for formal evaluation of teaching, but instead support faculty in exploration and conversation.

For Fall 2021, we will match interested faculty with a Square of colleagues from across the university (usually four people, but sometimes a little larger or smaller) and guide you through a quick four-part approach in September & October:

  • Each Square meets in late September for introductions and planning
  • Each member of the Square shares some element of a course they're currently teaching, according to the Square's plan
  • Each member provides reflective feedback to the others
  • The whole Square meets for a conversation about what they've learned and how they can support one another further

All members of the Mason community who are teaching at least one course during the term (i.e., faculty, graduate student instructors, administrators & staff with teaching assignments) are welcome to participate.

See additional information below. To indicate your interest for Fall 2021, please complete our two-minute form by Friday, September 3, 2021.


How Will I Benefit from Teaching Square Participation?

As you participate, you can gain

  • New ideas to steal, by seeing what other faculty are doing in their own classes this semester
  • Connection and affirmation of your own experience, by understanding how other faculty at Mason, even those teaching in very different fields or modalities, have similar challenges and goals to yours
  • Community support, by meeting and building networks with faculty from across disciplines
  • Insight into your own approaches, by having “another pair of eyes”—a fresh perspective—on some part of your course to provide some feedback on issues that are important to you

Remember that a Teaching Square is a formative, private conversation: this is not an evaluation of your teaching, but a chance to build some community and conversation about teaching. Stearns Center will not require a report on your Square’s work, or review any materials you share or post. However, you may find that your Teaching Square colleagues can continue to provide feedback and support even after the Square has completed its work. 

What Does a Teaching Square Share?

A Teaching Square is built on reciprocal, focused, reflective participation: Each member contributes from their own teaching, each member provides informal feedback to all the Square members, and each member reflects on how their experiences and observations can improve their own teaching practices.

In a traditional semester, members of a Teaching Square are often encouraged to visit and observe a face-to-face class meeting by each of the other members -- or to view a week or module of each other's asynchronous online courses -- but as you can see from the list below, Squares can also focus on other exchanges. For Fall 2021, Stearns Center recommends Option 2 as a reasonable introductory focus for a first-time Teaching Square:

  1. Exchange a class observation: Each member “visits” 2-3 other members’ “class” for one “session”: In a face-to-face course, this can be an in-person (or video-streaming) option; in a synchronous web-cast course, this is a Zoom/Collaborate observation; in an asynchronous course, this could be a review of a week’s worth of Blackboard information and activities. Members may all visit the same session or different sessions.
  2. Exchange a class assignment or project description: RECOMMENDED OPTION. Each member provides written (or other) documents associated with a paper, project, presentation, exam, lab, or other significant assignment. Members might share a document that includes background information, learning outcomes, directions to students, and/or any rubric or grading guide. All members review all materials provided.
  3. Exchange a class activity description: Each member provides written (or other) documentation of a class activity, discussion prompt, collaborative problem, case study, debate, peer review, breakout group task, or other "in-class" event. Members might share a document that includes background information, learning outcomes, directions to students, any tools or guides, any technology tips, and/or any evaluation guide. All members review all materials provided.
  4. Exchange/investigate a specific teaching approach: All members agree on a question or a kind of teaching they're interested in (e.g., flipped pedagogy, Zoom breakout rooms, critical reading, collaborative projects), and identify key questions they’re interested in. Each member can either provide an example from their own teaching or can do some preliminary research to provide a resource related to the topic: Scholarly or public article, video guide, discipline-specific example. All members review all materials provided.

What Might a Teaching Square Schedule Look Like?

For best results, Teaching Squares should complete their main interactions in about four weeks -- this allows enough time for review and reflection, while keeping up momentum so that key insights can be recalled and even applied to one's current courses.

  1. Week 1: 30-minute Introductory meeting. The group meets to organize, at least once in real time, for introductions and initial decisions about what they will share (this event is better not left to email or chat):
    1. Members exchange information about their own current challenges and goals in teaching, and share what they hope to gain from Teaching Square participation
    2. Members identify a convener to help the group stay on track, a focus, a preliminary schedule, and a system for exchanging information
    3. Members affirm that the Teaching Square goal is primarily to identify and learn new ideas from one another, in order to improve their own teaching and to share with others, rather than to critique flaws or recommend changes to one another
  2. Week 2: Identify access paths.  Each member invites the others to observe/view teaching events/materials, shares contact information and/or posts materials as needed
  3. Week 3: Observation/Review. Each member observes the course or reviews the agreed-on teaching events/materials of each other member's work, and provides a brief written reflection focusing on questions, connections, and takeaways (more than analysis or judgments). Depending on the group's focus, this process may require 2-4 hours to complete.
  4. Week 4: 60-minute Share & Reflect meeting. The group meets to discuss what all members saw and what they learned, in at least one real-time meeting, and complete their own final reflective note.

How Does Stearns Center Support Teaching Squares?

What Stearns Center does:

  1. Organize the initial Teaching Square: Based on your survey responses and/or your participation in an informational meeting, Stearns Center assembles squares, contacts all the members, and confirms intent to participate by the start of the month.
  2. Provide guidelines: Brief guides will help your square see options for how to kick off its discussions, choose its focus, provide reflective feedback, and draw to a close.
  3. Provide schedule reminders and answer logistical questions: Short weekly emails will help you keep up your group's momentum, and we're available to help with the logistics of getting started and adapting to participants' needs.

We ask that each Teaching Square choose a convener who can help coordinate the group from the inside.