The Loneliness of the Master Teacher
In hospitals, we admire doctors who look on while another physician performs a complicated surgical procedure. In our courts, we witness lawyers working collaboratively to achieve a common outcome in a complex legal case. So it is interesting that within higher education our classrooms often remain foreign territory for colleagues to visit, and to watch, and to learn. Over the years, this isolation has devalued the magic of our master teachers who are not as likely to be able share their trade. The irony is that at the same time teaching is becoming more complex, we have witnessed a situation in which too often those in the classroom are feeling isolated and alone.
Exemplary teaching is non-trivial. Perhaps there is no other profession in which the apprenticeship process is quite so long or complex. Yet, today, we too often see environments in which our professors are isolated by the metaphorical moats that have been dug deep around our classrooms. We have built castles in which those inside are protected from perceived intruders at the gates; yet are alone in their sanctuary. The service of teaching has become an isolated journey where we do a disservice to our students and to our faculty by preventing the apprentice from learning this ancient craft from the master teacher.
Lowering the Drawbridge
Today, it is important that we begin to talk about lowering the drawbridge; to have more conversations that may lead to having more friendly visitors and mentors visit our classes. This of course can be difficult, as there are natural issues of trust and the understandable human condition of professional insecurity. Achieving this change will take time and effort. Yet the effort is a worthy one when we consider that the isolated nature of many teaching assignments has been the heavy anchor that prevents many from truly enjoying the privilege of the professoriate.
Although this isolated workplace has taken years to create, it is encouraging that we are beginning to observe change. In some colleges and universities, collaborative learning communities are beginning to emerge. In others, the practice of instructional rounds is taking place. Faculty learning from faculty is no different than lawyers supporting lawyers and surgeons observing surgeons. At Algonquin College, I am encouraged when I see faculty working together, professors who see the value in filling in the moats around their classes and who recognize the benefit of working more collaboratively.
More formally, Algonquin College has established a new Curriculum Implementation Services (CIS) team. CIS consists of a group of faculty who work out of Learning and Teaching Services (LTS) and who are committed to doing outreach work to support their teaching colleagues. It is through efforts like this that we will begin to rid ourselves of the isolation that too often is present in our teaching profession. Ultimately it is the students who will be the benefactors of improved professional practice and this alone is a good enough reason to begin the discussion.