Investing in faculty development puts students first

The Teachers Need Teachers Initiative

by Esther Namubiru

As I designed a lesson on Artificial Intelligence and Writing, an email popped onto my screen. It was my friend and colleague, Liz Paul, reminding me and everyone in our Composition program about that afternoon’s Teachers Need Teachers (TNT) session.Thank goodness! The AI and writing lesson was more elaborate than any discussion I had had on the subject. I was unsure about the clarity and coherence of the activities, whether there was too much emphasis on reflection over application, and whether my students might inadvertently misunderstand our class policy on AI. Liz’s TNT reminder was exactly what I needed.

At TNT, a program born out of an informal conversation among Composition faculty during a Fall 2018 all-faculty workshop, instructors exchange their expertise, resources, and feedback about teaching about/with writing. This is how they can then turn around and center the student by delivering robust peer-reviewed instruction. Currently facilitated by Composition faculty Amanda Leigh Bryan, Christina Grieco, Liz Paul, and Audrey Pettibon, the TNT workshops are not only a place for faculty’s professional development but also a space to build community. At these tri-semesterly meetings, one or two faculty share a lesson or activity as a resource for their peers to use in their classrooms. As Liz reflected, TNT “gives me opportunities to connect with my colleagues who understand better than anyone the ups and downs, challenges and victories of what we do. I also love to see the creativity and innovation of my colleagues in the resources they share.” 

That creativity was on display at the last TNT session I attended. A faculty member, Eric Auld, sang a song he wrote and recorded to help his students identify scholarly articles and understand the research process! TNT also hosts two Lightning Workshops each semester, which are opportunities for anyone who attends to briefly share and get feedback on something they’ve been working on. Christina Grieco described the Lightning Workshops as evidence of the collaborative culture in the Composition program. That culture is intentionally cultivated in the TNT design. One of the goals of TNT, said co-facilitator Amanda Leigh Bryan, is “creating a teaching community and culture where multiple knowledge bases are celebrated and where we can share best practices and encourage a supportive environment towards building better teaching instruction.” 

Building this culture and community requires consistency and time, yet TNT is a service project for everyone involved. Why then do the facilitators who are also busy faculty keep running TNT? I posed this question to Amanda, Christina, Liz, and Audrey who acknowledged how difficult it can be to attend and facilitate their TNT workshops in the midst of a busy semester. However, TNT is worth it because it draws attention to the professionalism, expertise and diversity of the Composition faculty body, Christina and Liz countered. And TNT accounts for part-time faculty too. Christina, who used to be an adjunct, explained that as a part-time instructor “it was difficult for [her] to connect with colleagues because there were not a lot of low-commitment opportunities for part-time faculty to be involved in the campus or department. TNT presented a space where anyone who taught in the Composition program -- adjunct, GTA, or full time faculty -- could be recognized as a professional with ideas and experience to share.” 

She also reminded me that the TNT program in Composition is rare in other departments. “My talented and hardworking colleagues take time out of their day to share ideas with others. We connect, we share, we give and get feedback -- that’s not something that exists in every department,” Christina said. Amanda Leigh Bryan and Audrey Pettibon added that it might be very hard to find a collegial space like TNT in other institutions. Relating a conversation she had with a colleague from another department, Audrey reported that, from her colleague’s perspective, “something akin to TNT would never be supported in the ‘proprietary knowledge’ climate/culture of [the colleague’s] department.”  

In the TNT Lightning Workshop Zoom session where three faculty were catching up, I reopened my lesson’s PPT ready to share screens with them. When I finished sharing the lesson, the faculty’s generous and gracious feedback began. “What is your main purpose for this lesson?” one faculty member asked, suggesting that she saw three purposes which might be overwhelming for the students and the duration of the lesson. “Consider breaking up the lesson into three consecutive lessons building on each other,” another colleague suggested while a third commented on how impressed she was by the lesson’s focus on student reflection. Taking notes, I felt increasingly calmer and confident about the lesson. Yes, lots of revisions were needed, but I knew where and how to implement them -- two things I didn’t have two hours earlier. As the TNT session wound down, Karen Foltz who was one of the faculty in attendance volunteered to share her AI-related lesson at the final TNT meeting of the semester which will be on April 12, 2024. I intend to participate. 

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Amanda Leigh Bryan, Christina Grieco, Liz Paul, and Audrey Pettiborn for their contributions to this article and their work with Teachers Need Teachers.