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Reflective Teaching Communities

Teaching is a central component of a faculty member’s job—and yet it’s one many instructors perform alone, without the presence of our colleagues. This Fall 2024, the CTL is launching a new program designed to support teaching as a cooperative project: Reflective Teaching Communities (RTCs). RTCs emphasize peer support, collaboration, and reflection, not evaluation. Participants are grouped with faculty who have similar teaching interests from a wide variety of disciplines. Over the fall semester, they visit three peers’ class sessions and observe their teaching—not to pass judgment on their skills, but rather to discover new ideas and insights for their own teaching.

Reflective Teaching Communities are a form of appreciative inquiry, a strengths-based approach to leadership that is highly valued in both higher education and the private sector. Appreciative inquiry builds on its participants’ skills and successes to enhance their potential. In an RTC, this process unfolds in a peer mentoring—also called horizontal mentoring—format. Research has shown that horizontal mentoring is a highly effective approach to building excellence and community in higher education, especially for underrepresented groups (Martin et al 2018, Pilot et al 2023, Searby 2016). The RTC peer mentoring structure also builds interdisciplinary relationships, as faculty members from across the university, regardless of discipline, appointment type, and rank, may work together.

Our Reflective Teaching Communities are inspired by a now internationally acclaimed method that was first pioneered locally: Teaching Squares, an invention of Anne Wesseley at St. Louis Community College. Teaching Squares aims to give faculty members a peek into each other’s classrooms, making teaching less lonely and giving instructors a fresh source of collaborative energy. This evidence-based mode of peer mentoring and observation has been adopted at many universities.

In Reflective Teaching Communities at UMSL, we hope to cultivate that energy by giving faculty a space to share ideas, celebrate their success, and set new goals. RTCs are not teacher training; they’re an opportunity to gather together and appreciate the amazing work we already do. Participating faculty will be grouped in cohorts of three or four according to their primary class format: introduction and general education courses, writing-intensive and project-heavy courses, lab-lecture-recitation combination courses, discussion-focused courses, and graduate courses. These smaller cohorts will allow faculty to focus on the strategies and approaches that most impact their own teaching needs.

Their inquiry will be guided by the CTL in several ways: through an initial orientation meeting, detailed observation forms that encourage them to reflect on their own teaching, regular meetings with facilitator Ana Quiring, a final debrief session, and a reflection document that will be uploaded to MyVita. This document gives faculty a concrete record of their participation and their commitment to teaching effectiveness, something they can use in future promotion files.

2024-2025 RTC Pilot Schedule

March 13 Registration for RTCs open
April 4 In-person information session (Lucas 589)
April 8 Virtual information session (Zoom)
April 12 Applications are due
June 1 Cohorts announced
August 26-30* Large group orientation meeting
September 2 - November 15 Peer class visits as coordinated by the participants
November 18-22* Each cohort meets independently to discuss their reflections
January 31: Submission of Reflection on Teaching Development document to MyVita (optional: to CTL for pilot study)
February 3-14* Large group meeting to debrief and provide feedback

* One meeting will be scheduled during this period, depending on participant availability.


Ana Quiring
Learning Innovation Specialist
(314) 516-5978