What are Teaching Squares? – Monica Vesely

teaching squares imageThe beginning…

Teaching Squares is a concept created by Anne Wessely of St. Louis Community College. It started when Anne Wessely, chair of the accounting department at the Meramec campus in Kirkwood, was leading a committee looking into peer evaluation. By her recollection: “We were sitting around and we had the hedonists, the relationship builders, and the task-oriented people just as you usually do. The relationship builders were saying ‘we just meet to get together,’ and the task-oriented people were talking about peer evaluation and were thinking of a developing formal component for our evaluation system.” Out of this discussion emerged the Teaching Squares approach as a non-judgmental, evaluative process that fosters in-depth reflection about teaching in general and in context. The program builds community across disciplines and provides an opportunity for instructors to engage in discussions about teaching.

The description…

The Teaching Squares approach involves a self-reflective process about teaching gained through observation of one’s peers. It is not a peer evaluation exercise but rather a self-evaluation process which takes place in a confidential and mutually supportive environment. The aim of the Teaching Squares approach is to enhance teaching and learning through a structured process of classroom observation, reflection and discussion (leading to a plan for revitalization).

The mechanics…

A square is formed by four instructors who visit each other’s classes over the course of one term. Those being visited are encouraged to provide peer visitors with a copy of their course outline, to comment on why students are taking that particular course, and to share any material that would enhance the observation experience. The peer visitors are instructed to take notes during the classroom visit which would include such particulars as teaching methods, attitudes, classroom materials, and classroom management. The visits are preceded by an organizational meeting and followed by a debrief meeting where the participants share their experiences (the positive aspects of what they have learned and how they might improve their own teaching).

In conclusion…

By allowing instructors to be “learners” again in their colleagues’ classes, Teaching Squares opens up unique spaces for reflection and conversation about teaching. During their classroom visits, the Teaching Squares participants have the opportunity to experience a variety of contexts and challenges which leads to a greater appreciation of the quality of and commitment to good teaching already in existence on campus and, at the same time, it provides the catalyst for growth as participants gather ideas on different teaching approaches and consider how they could be used to improve one’s own teaching.



If you are interested in learning more about the Teaching Squares Program at the University of Waterloo, please contact Monica Vesely at mvesely@uwaterloo.ca

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Monica Vesely

Monica Vesely is an Instructional Developer with the Centre for Teaching Excellence where she conducts teaching observations, facilitates the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW), coordinates the Teaching Squares Program, and assists new faculty with their teaching professional development. In her focus on new faculty, she chairs the New Faculty Welcoming Committee, supports new faculty initiatives across campus, consults with new faculty to assist them with the preparation of individualized Learning About Teaching Plans (LATPs), facilitates workshops and builds community through various communications and social events. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Monica worked with the NSERC Chair in Water Treatment in Civil and Environmental Engineering, taught in the Department of Chemistry, and designed learning experiences with Waterloo's Professional Development Program (WatPD).

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