“A Group of People to Lean On and Learn From”: Graduate Teaching Assistant Experiences in a Pedagogy-Focused Community of Practice
By Joy Camarao and Cari Din
Our study is part of a larger, three-year SoTL reform project aimed at enriching teaching and learning in laboratory-based exercise physiology courses. We set out to understand how science graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) teaching the laboratory sections of the undergraduate-level exercise physiology course experience professional learning. We created a pedagogy-focused community of practice (CoP) and facilitated reflection on teaching with GTAs each week.
Weekly CoP discussions focused teaching reflection and generating practical solutions to challenges CoP members were experiencing. This process helped GTAs improve their teaching and confidence inside and outside the classroom. While taking the time to reflect elicited various emotions from GTAs, they told us experiencing psychological safety in the weekly CoP meetings was instrumental to feeling like they could talk about teaching challenges they were having. Psychological safety is present when all members of a group feel they will not be humiliated or embarrassed for speaking up and describing mistakes (Edmondson, 2019). The two CoP leaders who held positional power as faculty members played an integral role in creating a judgement-free environment for GTAs by being transparent about their own teaching challenges and continuous learning.
We are inspired and energized by the engagement and growth of the GTAs in our study. Implications for practice which emerge from our study and could be applied across disciplines where pedagogy-focused CoPs can be facilitated include: 1) put your money where your SoTL is by including time learning about and reflecting on teaching effectively in paid GTA hours; 2) model what you seek through creating and nurturing psychological safety in CoP meetings; and, 3) enjoy the process and laugh together to bring lightness and humour to meetings when possible!
Read the TLI article here.
Edmondson, Amy C. 2019. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. 1st ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc
Original photo: Tengyart. 2021. https://unsplash.com/photos/DoqtEEn8SOo.