Thursday, February 28, 2013

Teaching Series: Professional Development

Part IV: Professional Development

Professional Development in Teaching for Graduate Students
Tawnya Ravy

How can we learn to be better teachers? No matter how long you have been teaching, there is always something new to learn. Taking time to explore your teaching methods and develop your techniques is challenging and time-consuming, but also a great idea. I have not been teaching long. I started out in the fall of 2009, but ever since then I have challenged myself to engage with a variety of learning and professional development communities. Teaching is my passion, but it is not enough for me to just love it. I want to cultivate it. In this post I am going to explore some of the ways that I have workshopped my teaching methods and course materials, and hopefully provide you with a useful roadmap to similar opportunities.
 Since I teach mainly literature classes, I set out to tackle a common problem that many literature faculty have: how to balance the teaching of literature with the teaching of writing in the classroom. Luckily, GWU has a WID (Writing in the Discipline) program which shapes the instruction of writing throughout the school.

On the WID webpage you can see an example UW (the required University Writing class for all undergraduates) syllabus and helpful guides for students and faculty. Also of use for faculty, whether you are teaching a designated WID class or not, is the WID Board which is a valuable collection of writing-instruction materials. You can find materials on everything from peer review to assignment design, research and citation to writing pedagogy. WID also offers a number of useful workshops for the various faculty teaching WID classes. Starting this year WID has offered a year-long workshop for non-WID-funded student teachers which explores pedagogy, syllabus and course design, and includes a workshop component. I am currently enrolled in this workshop, and it has been a great experience. While some participants are still unsure about how exactly to achieve that writing/content balance, I find that I can now appreciate the immense importance of WID in the larger learning objectives. If you are interested in applying for this workshop, look out for information emails in August.

In recent years EGSA has tried to become a valuable teaching resource and professional development tool for our graduate student teachers. As a member of the EGSA board, I wanted to create a forum and resource list for student teachers because such a platform of information would have been very helpful when I started teaching my own classes. Last year, EGSA organized a Teaching Seminar consisting of three major areas: composition, pedagogy, and technology. Take a moment to see the generative advice, ideas, and resources that we collected from that event: EGSA Teaching Seminar Part 1 – Teaching Composition, Part 2.1 – Issues in Pedagogy, 2.2, 2.3, Part 3 - Technology. Also, check out last year’s EGSATeaching Resource List not only for the pedagogy-related links, but also course content resources like MERLOTand The Chronicle of Higher Education. I would like this list to also include: Hybrid Pedagogy – A digital journal of Teaching and Technology. I am always looking to add to this list, so please contribute! What are your teaching resources? Please feel free to share your favorite websites and archives in our comment section or shoot an email to

Last summer, I also became aware of a valuable teaching resource and professional development organization right here at GWU. The Teaching and Learning Collaborative is a faculty-driven center for teaching excellence where you can find a wide variety of teaching resources, sign up for workshops and seminars on pedagogy, and even request a consultation with a TLC instructional designer who can help you with your course materials. Their resources tab covers classroom assessment, preparing students for class, and a teaching assessment tool. This past Fall they organized a day-long conference focusing on Pedagogy which was open to the community. They are also responsible for organizing two wonderful professional development communities: the Future Faculty Program and the FLC for Junior Faculty. Both of these groups require you to apply for the sessions each semester, and the FFP is limited to GW PhD Students who are teaching. In these groups you will cover professional development techniques like presentation skills, how to teach hybrid/online courses, and course design. Last semester, I participated in the FFP which was intensive with once-a-week sessions, reading assignments, and a lot of group work. I found the experience immensely helpful in shedding light on my teaching practices including everything from the verbs I used in learning objectives to my lecture style and my course design. A bonus activity was learning how to write an effective teaching statement. This program is experimental, but if they offer it again, I highly recommend it. Both the FFP and the FLC for Junior Faculty are great opportunities to workshop your teaching methods, and gain some expertise. Good for you, your students, and your resume!

Currently I teach in two different higher education institutions, so I am offered a wide variety of professional development workshops. Outside of GWU, I have taken Blackboard courses on Blackboard competency, hybrid classroom instruction, and I am currently taking two small courses on collaboration in an online class and creating community for online courses. My recommendation is to make sure you are taking advantage of the technology workshops offered by your institution. Even if you will never teach an online class or only use Blackboard sparingly, it is a smart move to have training in these areas – not only for the benefit of your teaching, but also for your resume. Has a new version of Blackboard come out over the summer? Are you dying to use new software or technology in your class, but don’t know how? The Instructional Technology Lab at GWU is a great place to start. The ITL is there to assist you in learning to incorporate new technology into your teaching. They offer workshops on Blackboard, PowerPoint, and Elluminate Live, but more importantly, they are there to help you figure out the tech side of your teaching goals.

Finally, I am going to close by saying that the most important factor in professional development in teaching is your own initiative. This semester I set out to improve my instruction in specific time periods for a survey course that I teach regularly, and some of my colleagues have kindly agreed to let me observe a couple classes so that I can see their approaches to the same material. My previous experience with class observations was great and extremely useful, so I am confident that I will come away from this semester inspired with new ideas. I realize that with everything else tugging at our time (course work, dissertation, publications, conferences – not to mention a personal life?) that spending a significant amount of time on professional development opportunities like this can seem daunting, especially if your teaching days are a few years off. But let me say that I have found the time spent on these activities rewarding and motivating; not to mention incredibly beneficial for my future job prospects. Consider taking some time, even a small amount, to cultivate that passion you have for teaching. And please share your experiences with our community – some of the best ideas I’ve ever used in my own classes came from informal conversations with colleagues.

Tawnya Ravy is currently a PhD student at GWU in the English Department. She is the current EGSA President. Feel free to contact her for advice, comments, or to share resources at


  1. Thanks for writing this wonderful post on your self-guided training, Tawnya. I learned a lot and you provide some really valuable resources. You're an excellent model for the profession. Your use of the guiding principle of "cultivation" is not only an urge for college instructors to be mindful of growth in and outside of the classroom, but it reminds me of Miltonic self-cultivation and even bell hooks's argument that the best teachers are those who are self-actualized individuals. Cheers, EWP.

    1. Thanks Elizabeth! I love talking teacher with you!