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Jody Ralph, Jess Dixon, Julie Smit, Clayton Smith, Carlin Miller Professors Jody Ralph, Jess Dixon, Julie Smit, Clayton Smith, and Carlin Miller are among the faculty members who benefited from a retreat for those in mid-career.

UWindsor leads the way with a mid-career faculty teaching retreat

According to an article in the Chronicles of Higher Education, associate professors are some of the unhappiest people in academia: “They are significantly less satisfied with their work than either assistant or full professors, according to the data, which were collected… from 13,510 professors at 69 colleges and universities by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, at Harvard University.”

To be proactive and address the growing concerns reported in the literature of midcareer faculty feeling underappreciated and dissatisfied, Dave Andrews and Judy Bornais, two midcareer faculty and teaching leadership chairs at the University of Windsor, organized and facilitated a two-day mid-career teaching retreat off campus in June 2018.

The retreat — by mid-career faculty, for mid-career faculty — is innovative and has led to other institutions across the country looking to adopt the approach.

Sessions at the retreat focused on challenges faced by mid-career faculty as they relate to their teaching roles, as well as strategies for addressing these challenges. Faculty also discussed the importance of caring for their health and wellness, and continuing to develop, learn and grown in pedagogy throughout our careers.

The organizers hope that this development will not only benefit faculty as educators, but help to improve the culture of teaching and learning on campus by enhancing the learning experience for students. An invited expert facilitated sessions focused on factors that motivate students to learn, and how the ways students organize their knowledge affect their learning.

The retreat, funded by Andrews’ and Bornais’ teaching leadership chair monies, was supported by the Office of the Provost. Participants representing many different programs from across campus, many of whom had not met before, have continued to stay in touch and reconnected recently.

“It was eye-opening to read the literature on mid-career colleagues who felt overwhelmed and stretched,” said Bornais. “Seeing our colleagues’ resilience and desire to reflect, re-engage and connect with each other as they continue to explore how to be most effective in the classroom, and to grow and develop personally and professionally, made the retreat worthwhile.

“We are fortunate to work at an institution that cares about its students and is also willing to support faculty.”

Andrews said they have been approached by several other Canadian institutions interested in adopting this model.

“There is a genuine interest in higher education to engage the mid-career group of faculty, the largest cohort in most institutions,” he said. “The retreat offered its participants an experience that satisfied the learning needs of academics and the social needs that we all have as engaged people.”

Bornais and Andrews hope to present this venture at a national teaching and learning conference in the spring.