From the Director: September 2013

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Dr. Ann Johnson, Faculty Development
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Among the many notable remarks Dr. Sullivan shared with faculty at Convocation, I was especially interested in this summary of results from her recent survey of the UST community: "Hands down, the number one thing I hear and read is your pride in our academic and educational excellence. Faculty, staff and students uniformly agree the world-class quality of our faculty and the learning experiences you provide are our greatest strength. You are described as 'committed', 'dedicated', 'engaged', 'talented', 'caring', and 'passionate'. Students speak gratefully about your accessibility and the personal relationships they develop with you." This perception of our faculty is well-earned, and over the summer I got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how and why these accolades apply.

This summer, our faculty-led seminar on Mindfulness Meditation in Teaching served to enhance faculty attention to students and bring a mindful approach to both course design and everyday classroom interactions. Leaders Bill Brendel and Vanessa Cornett-Murtada led faculty through guided meditation experiences as well as exercises aimed at applying mindfulness principles to what we do in the classroom.

Mindfulness, of course, is the art of sustained attention, and as philosopher Simone Weil observed, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  Students notice when their instructors attend closely; in today’s rapidly-moving, technology-infused learning environment, just pausing to pay attention is a real gift. It was inspiring to me to see so many faculty dedicated to enhancing both their personal and professional development in ways that will benefit students and enhance learning. Participants described the seminar as “transformative” and “a thoughtful, provocative learning experience.” See participant Carol Bruess’s recent Newsroom blog on her experience in the seminar in our “Found Wisdom” section.

In our other summer seminar, faculty engaged their creative and problem-solving energies to mindful re-design of an existing course to create a “blended” alternative: a course that combines face-to-face classroom time with effective, online activities outside the classroom. By paying attention to learning goals, participants designed new experiences to strengthen student engagement with course materials and with each other both inside and outside the four walls of the classroom. I was impressed with the spirit of innovation and especially with the joyful sharing of tips and strategies among seminar participants. Our consultant Jason Rhode set the tone early with his reminder that effective use of technology attends to both the learner’s needs and the learning goals. Faculty implementing their new courses this Fall talked of mindfully monitoring effectiveness of the re-design – these are dedicated professionals and I was inspired.

The six adjectives Dr. Sullivan selected from her survey findings to describe faculty perfectly match my observations during our summer seminars: UST faculty are indeed committed, dedicated, engaged, talented, caring, and passionate.  In addition to these two seminars, faculty signed up for three other summer workshops on campus designed to promote scholarly and student writing. In all, more than a quarter of our faculty chose to spend significant time on campus this summer in workshops and seminars to develop professional skills and enhance growth as teacher/scholars.  That commitment to excellence is notable, and I’m glad Dr. Sullivan chose to start the year by calling attention to it.

We have many plans for workshops and programs to address your professional development needs this year. Please note upcoming opportunities described in this issue of Synergia; we’re kicking off a year-long series on enhancing scholarly productivity with popular expert Tara Gray in October, and we’ll soon be announcing our 2013-14 Faculty Learning Community groups.

Finally – we’ve moved! Please drop by and visit us in our new quarters: Third Floor Aquinas Hall, rooms 323, 325 and 327. I look forward to seeing you and working with you during this new academic year.

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