Our Development as Teachers – Plan It, Do It

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August 2013 Idea

By Gerry Hess, Gonzaga University School of Law

As summer moves along, way too quickly, and the academic year approaches, the time is right for us to think about our professional aspirations for the year. How will we serve the profession, the community, the school? What scholarship do we hope to produce? What goals do we have for our students – the knowledge, skills, and values we hope they take away from each of our courses? Those questions get to the heart of our role as legal academics.

If we are serious about continuing to grow as teachers, we should ask another set of questions as well. What will we do to:

  • Deepen our knowledge of teaching and learning principles?
  • Articulate and refine our teaching philosophy?
  • Heighten our level of confidence in our teaching?
  • Increase our enthusiasm and passion for teaching?
  • Make appropriate changes in our teaching practices?

To turn our best intentions into reality, commit to engaging in several teaching development activities throughout the year. The menu of teaching development activities is extensive.

  1. Explore the vast literature about law teaching and learning. Read books, articles, newsletters, and blogs about law teaching and learning. View videos and websites devoted to legal pedagogy. The resources and links on the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning website provide an entrée to the literature.
  2. Systematically record our reflections on our teaching by making notes after each class or keeping a teaching journal.
  3. Gather feedback from students throughout the course about their learning and the teaching techniques that are most and least effective for them.
  4. Carefully review student evaluations after the course, identifying themes that run through the evaluations, including our strengths, weaknesses, and suggestions for change.
  5. Collaborate with colleagues to improve one-another’s teaching. Opportunities include informal conversations about teaching, regularly scheduled brown bag lunches devoted to teaching and learning, viewing each other’s classes to provide feedback, and viewing videos of one another’s classes.
  6. Contribute to the literature on teaching and learning by writing an article, essay, or blog post.
  7. Attend national or regional conferences on pedagogy or attend teaching workshops at our own institutions. Better yet, present a session on teaching at a conference or workshop.

There is no magic in this partial list of teaching development activities. No law teacher would do all of these activities in a year. Some of these activities will never be a good fit for some teachers. The key is for us to identify activities that will help us to grow as teachers, plan to incorporate them in our professional lives, and then to follow through.

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