For this issue, our featured co-teaching team is CIRTL Postdoc Pathway Fellow Dr. Angie Greenman from the Department of Physiology and her co-teaching mentor Dr. John Kanady, also from the Department of Physiology. We met up with them at the Catalyst Café to hear about their co-teaching experience in Physiology 380: Fundamentals of Physiology.
What attracted you to the program?
Angie: I was looking for teaching experiences where I could explore my own teaching methods and how that fits into my broader goals as a teacher. Previously, I had been a teaching assistant and found it extremely important to establishing a groundwork of teaching skills, but I was lacking in the ability to try new methods or have freedom to teach certain content. Co-teaching with John has allowed me the freedom to try new activities, questions, content, but also while being supported by an experienced teacher – a perfect balance!
John: I was very fortunate to have a colleague of mine, Cindy Rankin, suggest that Angie reach out to me about the CIRTL program. Otherwise, I would not have known! After Angie sent me a message, I looked at the program information, met with Angie, and got stoked about the whole thing. Colleague-colleague word of mouth was the ticket for me.
Also, after reading through the overall goals of the CIRTL program, it reminded me of my own experiences trying to get more opportunities to teach in graduate school and in my own post-doc days. The chance to have a course that I taught serve as a venue to work with another person interested and passionate about teaching pretty much sold itself.
What did you enjoy about the experience?
Angie: I loved getting to know our students. John stressed from the beginning the importance of learning everyone’s name and I think that led to building trust and community quickly in our classroom. I get so excited when a student I know to be shy decides to share their ideas with the whole class, it means we are doing something right! Additionally, John and I have gotten into the habit of chatting casually about teaching pedagogy and research after class. It is nice to have a space to brainstorm ideas or get a second opinion on something that has been on our mind.
John: So much to bring up, but I’ll try to limit myself a bit.
From the get-go, I enjoyed the efforts I saw by the program to build community between CIRTL mentors and mentees. It seemed like a lot of thought was put into facilitating activities and experiences meant to enable us to set clear expectations from the start.
I also loved being able to see how Angie approached teaching physiology. She had a lot of ambitious ideas for teaching and facilitating learning, and it was fun to see how those ideas panned out in terms of execution and adaptation. I reflected on my own teaching approaches and was inspired by the approaches that Angie came up with. I ended up adapting and creating many new activities to teach because of this wonderful experience co-teaching with Angie.
One of my favorite things that I enjoyed about the experience was seeing the rapport that Angie developed with the students in our class. I’m a big believer in the importance of classroom community to the teaching and learning experience, and Angie fostered such a positive and welcoming learning environment. It was terrific to see how the students responded and respected her as a role model.
Finally, I always looked forward to chatting with Angie about teaching at our weekly meetings and after our class. We ended up chatting about plenty of ideas to expand on and tuck away for later in terms of teaching… and educational research!
Did anything surprise you?
Angie: I was surprised at how much time I could spend trying to answer what seemed like a simple question. Our students were really engaged and asked many intriguing questions, so I wanted to respect that passion for learning by researching their queries more. The challenge became to know when to stop, as teaching definitely took-up more space than I had planned for at times throughout this semester. I hope as I gain more experiences teaching that I will inherently build on that knowledge and answer more of the students’ questions without sacrificing my research time.
John: I think the thing that was most surprising to me was how much background in the science education literature that Angie brought to the table. Reflecting back on my early days in teaching, I wasn’t in tune with very much (if any) of the literature on teaching and learning. I hadn’t yet come around to the idea of seeing the classroom as a potential laboratory to generate data and approach teaching/learning with the skill set of a scientist. The fact that Angie already approached teaching from that lens was the biggest, pleasant surprise for me. She has inspired me to dedicate more time to the teaching/learning literature and plan my own studies.
What advice would you give other co-teaching teams?
Angie: Meet well before the semester begins to start to discuss ground rules. Who will teach what content? Who will grade that cumulative project? How will you deal with conflict? Starting with clear expectations helped strengthen our co-teaching team. Also, be willing to try something new (even if you have some doubts), it really was the best way we both learned this semester. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around, but exploring with different teaching methods helped us learn new things about our students and, often, their misconceptions.
John: If you can, really make sure you reflect and carefully work through those first steps/surveys that prompt you to establish the expectations for the mentor/mentee co-teaching experience. They are so valuable. It was a key factor to how smoothly the co-teaching experience went for me.
I’d also advise mentors for co-teaching teams to try to embrace the idea (as much as you can) that your mentee is approaching their teaching with full autonomy over the content and approach of their section of the course. Truly make the course both of yours. It can be scary to let go of that sole control (especially if you’ve honed the course with years of iteration), but I think the possibilities for growth of both parties is better for it.