by Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center
Like many of you, I spent some of my time this semester preparing a workshop for a conference. This was the primary professional conference for faculty developers from all over North America. It’s one of those conferences where you are surrounded by hundreds of colleagues and yet you never have to explain “what you actually do” because we all do similar work. I’ve been in this line of work for around four years, and I still have to explain what I do to my family. While I was at this conference, I got to experience something that I read about in my time preparing. I was incorporating some work on collective identity into my workshop when this phrase I read became burned into my brain: “If college teachers define themselves only as content or skill experts within some narrowly restricted domain, they effectively cut themselves off from some broader identity as change agents.” The idea of having a broader identity as change agents stuck with me, and that’s what I got to experience at this conference.
As I was reflecting on my conference experience a week or so after, I had the realization that the main difference between the first year at a conference and the second year at the same conference is that you begin to recognize names and faces. People also begin to recognize you. That may not sound like much, but it’s the core of that shared identity as change agents. There’s a certain empowerment that comes from learning that others are thinking and caring about the same things you think and care about. It’s also pretty encouraging when someone from across the country recognizes you from the previous year and goes out of their way to say hello. Being connected to a community that has some shared values is strangely motivating. I realized that it’s not just me, alone in my office, wrestling with how to help faculty and students have more meaningful learning experiences. It’s not just the Reinert Center staff working together to support the community here at SLU. But that I’m part of an international group of people who are collaborating and working together to highlight all things teaching and learning far beyond the walls of our individual universities. And realizing that I am part of a larger community of change agents has refreshed my desire to serve my community in more and deeper ways. So, it was a pretty good conference, to say the least.
This is the part where I usually try to offer some practical advice to make what I write about action-oriented. I’ll be honest, I’m struggling a bit with this one. I didn’t take many “practical” steps to get to my community revelation. I didn’t plan my route, or really even go searching for a professional community. But what I did have was a supportive department that modeled shared values and that encouraged me to attend different conferences in hopes of finding a community I felt like I could join. So I think that’s the most practical advice I can offer. Model and share your values with those around you, whether they be research on string theory physics, helping students navigate their field and practicum experiences, or the scholarship of teaching and learning. As you look to find your community of change agents, be sure to bring others along with you as they search for theirs.