What is a Teaching Circle and Why Should I Join?

  • Pat Hutchings, in her book Making Teaching Community Property, defines a teaching circle as “a small group of faculty who make a commitment to work together over a period of at least a semester to address questions and concerns about the particulars of their teaching and their students’ learning.”   

    In practice, “work together” can mean a variety of things, and groups have organized themselves in different ways to accomplish their goals. Some meet every two weeks, some less frequently; some combine socializing with working, some even reconstitute themselves year after year with new goals and plans. It’s easier, in some ways, to work alone. So, why go to all this effort to work with others? 

    Why should I join? 

    We are often isolated in our classrooms, and visits from our peers are rare and usually connected to assessment and evaluation. Our frustrations and successes may be shared informally and briefly, even with colleagues in our department. There is little opportunity for long-term discussion, reflection, or the accomplishment of a shared goal or goals. Because of the demands of our work, we may often interact with those outside our department only on university committees. 

    Friendships, a growing sense of community, a heightened sense of possibilities, and a renewed energy for teaching are some of the intangible outcomes of participation in a teaching circle, while better syllabi, clearer assignments, new ways of assessing learning and teaching, grants for special projects, and greater depth of knowledge about a particular aspect of technology are all possible tangible outcomes, depending upon the group’s goals.

    The outcomes—both knowledge and more concrete products—of teaching circles can lead to scholarly publications and presentations at conferences. 

    These Are Not Committees or Social Groups

    Committees are working groups that focus on efficiency and getting business done. Teaching Circles are more like development teams. They spend a great deal of their time shaping their purpose, defining their goals, and exploring how individuals might best contribute to the group gestalt. They are safe places for learning, exploration, change, and accomplishment at various levels. Effective Teaching Circle meetings are marked by creative discourses on problems of and solutions for difficulties in teaching. So don’t try to solve all your problems in one semester but attempt to accomplish at least one thing, no matter how modest.