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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Summer 2009
Vol. 36 No. 2

“Engaging the Institution:”
Mentoring Future Faculty, Big Questions of Vocation, and the Reality of Assessment

Maureen A. Maloney

In 2007 The Graduate Theological Union received two separate grants, one from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion and the other from the New-York-based Teagle Foundation, to help fund what was called the “Preparing Future Faculty Project.”  The purpose of the project was to address the question of future faculty preparation from two different, but closely related directions, each underlined by a commitment to exploring teaching as vocation.  First, the project called upon experienced faculty to mentor GTU doctoral students as future faculty with an approach to teaching that integrates questions of value and meaning that strengthen liberal education.  This aspect of the project was largely a research project tested through classroom practice.  The second strand focused on doctoral students as they developed classroom teaching skills.  Students participated in intensives, engaged in collegial conversation on teaching and learning through regular discussion groups, and pursued opportunities for supervised teaching practice with experienced faculty Mentors.  This aspect of the program was largely an experiential project grounded in pedagogical research.  Through the course of the project, participating doctoral students developed critical elements for a teaching portfolio including a course proposal, pedagogical philosophy statement, syllabus, assignment examples, and course evaluations.  They also had the opportunity through several meetings as well as the project blog site to present their developing understanding of what project participants came to refer to as “BQ Learning and Teaching,” that is, education centered on “big questions” of meaning and value.

Twelve faculty Mentors were selected by the presidents of the nine seminaries in the consortium, from their own faculty and from faculty with the GTU’s Center for Jewish Studies, and from two outside institutions, the University of California, Berkeley and JFK University.  These Mentors then engaged in a rigorous process to review over 40 applications and select twelve doctoral student Fellows.  The selection of both groups represented a broad range of scholarly areas as well as mirrored the demographic diversity that characterizes the GTU.  Fellows and Mentors reflected twelve different GTU areas of study and were evenly split male and female; 25% of the Mentors were faculty of color while 41% of the Fellows were students of color.
As a cohort group, the doctoral Fellows attended two Learning and Teaching Academies (LTA), one in August 2007 and one in January 2008.  Here they were introduced to content related to course design and delivery, educational technology, assessment strategies, and they had the opportunity to practice classroom presentations.  The introduction and progression of skills in the Academies were fairly straight-forward and uncontroversial.  Fellows appreciated the modular design where faculty and administrators from GTU and other local colleges and universities served as session leaders, each on a discrete topic chosen by the project team and the prospective session leaders.

In the initial LTA, Fellows crafted “vocational reflections,” that is, vocational autobiographies of a sort meant to contribute to extended reflection on the vocation of the “teaching scholar” and its pedagogical and other implications.  In addition to this, Fellows developed a draft course proposal that, in most cases, served as the basis for the courses they would eventually develop with their faculty Mentors and teach under their supervision.

In the second LTA, the focus shifted, from the presentation of content to the Fellows to the presentation of content by the Fellows, each of whom delivered an extensive “pedagogical colloquium,” following models developed by Lee Shulman.1  The Fellows’ colloquia provided them with the opportunity to present their pedagogical philosophy, illustrate how this philosophy allows them to undertake “BQ Learning and Teaching,” and demonstrate their approach to classroom teaching to a mixed audience of doctoral peers, masters level students from GTU seminaries, and faculty beyond their Mentors, all of whom provided extensive feedback to the Fellows.

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