For the most part, teachers at colleges and universities work in parallel, engaged with their students but not necessarily with one another. And yet, as we keep discovering at CNDLS, amazing things happen when you create spaces where faculty can come together to grow.
We see this again and again in our work in the Engelhard Project; this project was launched in 2005 with a student focus, aiming to infuse issues of student well-being throughout the curriculum at Georgetown University, but it’s also had the effect of fostering connections among faculty and staff along the way. This year we received a gift to enable us to extend the impact of the Engelhard Project in a number of ways. Among those expansions, in fall 2017 we launched a vibrant new Faculty Conversation Series that creates opportunities for faculty to deeply engage with each other around their teaching. For the first conversation theme for fall 2017, we partnered with Georgetown’s Office of Mission and Ministry to pilot a Teaching to Mission faculty conversation series.
This first semester, the series focused on what it means to teach at Georgetown, and the ways in which Georgetown’s Jesuit values and mission motivate and energize our work, making their way into our classrooms and affecting our relationships with students and colleagues. Eight professors gathered with four facilitators for informal dinners to discuss James Martin’s book The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything as well as a few supplemental readings, all selected to draw out connections between participants’ teaching and Ignatian values and practices.
The value of these conversations quickly became self-evident. As Diana Owen (Communication, Culture, and Technology) reflected, “It was affirming to hear others speak about the power of the Spiritual Exercises”—a formal Jesuit process of self-exploration and contemplation—“to influence their lives, and especially their approach to teaching….The discussion has me thinking of ways of reawakening the virtues of the Exercises in my teaching.”
As the semester went on, these conversations ranged beyond teaching practices and engaging with students to participants thinking more broadly and holistically about themselves and their relationship to our Catholic and Jesuit university. Biology professor Anne Rosenwald noted that the “conversations were open, frank, and loving, so I felt very supported to say things that don’t normally get revealed in an academic, professional setting.” And community developed in the room itself. In the words of Sociology professor Sarah Stiles, “What a joy to look around the table and see so many spirited conversations among interesting colleagues!”
Going forward, we’ll be launching more such spirited conversations. In addition to teaching to mission, we hope to bring groups together around other new topics, such as mentorship and inclusive pedagogy. The Engelhard Project will continue to build connections and foster community not only among students but among their teachers, too.