Cecelia Lie-Spahn on Gaining Fresh Perspective from a Teaching Observation
The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) offers teaching observations with trained consultants who can provide individualized feedback on teaching, following evidence-based principles for effective learning and teaching and inclusive engagement. Cecelia Lie-Spahn, Associate Director of the First-Year Writing Program at Barnard College participated in a teaching observation in the Fall of 2018. We asked her to reflect on the experience and consider how the feedback she received might inform her future teaching.
Associate Director, First-Year Writing Program
Term Associate, English Department
Why did you request a Teaching Observation from the CTL?
To have an “outsider” perspective on my teaching. While I can reflect on my teaching as much as I want, I can never see myself from the outside. I felt that having a trained observer was the best way to see my class with fresh eyes.
What was the most valuable or helpful part of the experience?
I think part of me expected the CTL consultant to confirm that my worst teaching fears were true. Instead, what I got was an incredibly methodical, nonjudgmental accounting of my classroom — my consultant counted how many times each student spoke, how many times I spoke, how long each activity took, etc. Working from this kind of data allowed me to see what was really happening in my class, as opposed to what was NOT happening in my class. It was validating to see that my worst fears were not in fact true, while also giving me crystal clear things to improve that I would never have been able to see without my consultant’s help.
How did participating in the Teaching Observation help you reflect on your teaching?
The whole process is like a constant reflection. The questionnaires and conversations and just the act of having a new person in your class for this purpose is in and of itself an act of reflection.
What did you take away from the Teaching Observation?
That I need to do these way more often! I want to change the whole culture of teaching observations. Typically, you only get observed when you are being evaluated every few years, which isn’t really conducive to meaningful, sustained self-reflection. Having ongoing, non-evaluative conversations about my teaching feels essential to my work; it’s these conversations that make me a better teacher and a better scholar-activist.
Did you implement what you learned in the Teaching Observation in your own instruction?
Yes — my consultant recommended that I be more explicit about the goals for each class. This was such a small, simple, but truly revelatory suggestion that has really transformed my class prep. In pushing myself to name the goal for my students at the start of every single class, I have had to name the goal for myself — to put clear language to why we’re doing what we’re doing, even when (or maybe especially when) it might seem obvious to me.
Are you a faculty member or instructor looking for formative feedback on your teaching? Request a teaching observation today! Stay tuned to our mailing list to learn about more upcoming opportunities for faculty and instructors.