Colouring Stages of Concern at STLHE

We were in what looked like an elementary or high school biology classroom. I looked up; the ceiling tiles were painted accordingly. My lips twitched into a smile, an eyebrow arched tile-ward: directly above me was a detailed painting of sperm en route to an egg at the tile’s centre.

felt pensThe Society for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education’s (STLHE) annual conference was housed this year in Duncan McArthur Hall at Queen’s University, which happens to be the home of the university’s Faculty of Education. Each of the sessions I attended over the course of my two-day stay in Kingston, Ontario, were in classrooms like the one described above. To some of my colleagues, the setting was familiar. They had attended teacher’s college in similar settings. For me, the colorful posters covering the walls, the diorama and terraria littering window sills and shelves, and the abundance of tools needed for making such visual displays all sat in quiet conversation with the thinking, learning, and reflection prompted in me by the excellent sessions I attended, and the thoughtful people I met.

One of those sessions was led by a team from Western University as part of a day organized by TAGSA (the Teaching Assistant and Graduate Student Advancement special interest group of STLHE). Natasha Patrito Hannon, Karyn Olsen, and Aisha Haque from Western’s Teaching Support Centre asked workshop participants to map their Teaching Assistant support programs according to a “stages of concern” model. This model, developed by Frances Fuller (1969) for assessing education students’ progress as they began thinking about themselves as teachers, has more recently been used to map and assess programs designed to support the development of teaching assistants—the workshop facilitators pointed to the work of Ferzi et al (2014) as one such example, but they also indicated how the model has been of use to their work at Western.

The model recognizes a range of concerns that educators experience when grappling with innovation, which the workshop facilitators were careful to define as any teaching method, skill, or concept that is new to the educator. According to Evans and Chauvin (1993), there are “clusters of concerns common to teachers at different stages of their careers, with beginning teachers operating at a stage of concern typified by self concerns, followed by concerns about management, and finally concerns about outcomes such as student learning, at the level of impact” (167-168).

In other words, the model suggests that when an educator encounters a change in, for example, teaching environment, she will first want to find more information about it, and will be concerned with how the change affects her. This is the “self” stage of concern. From here the model suggests she moves into the “task” stage, where she might consider things like time management. Finally, she moves into the “impact” stage, where she begins to consider how the new space is affecting students, how she might collaborate with other instructors around use of the space, and how to make that space even more optimal for student learning.

I watched with anticipation as the workshop facilitators passed out large sheets of paper and felt pens in a rainbow of colours; I itched to map a TA support program with those seductively-coloured pens to rival the painted mosaic of the biology classroom’s ceiling. But I had to ultimately sit back, and only minimally participate in that group project, because I was still thinking through how adoption of the model might affect me. I was still in the self-oriented stage of concern. I wanted to map what that looked like to me, but the discussion was moving forward, and my thoughts, questions, and concerns were filed away, out of sight.

What this moment brought home to me, and what the workshop facilitators touched on only 10 minutes later, was that among educational developers, and among those tasked with organizing and facilitating instructional development in their home departments or faculties, it is easy to become so focused on impact-level goals and concerns, that we forget that self- and task-level concerns require attention, too. The seemingly rudimentary or initial stages of learning or concern are not necessarily felt as rudimentary or initial by learners. Which is to say that the stages of concern model allowed me to recognize an oversight in my approach to TA support, and to teaching and learning more broadly: it allowed me to see the value of cognitive processes on both ends of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Works Cited

Evans, Lynn and Sheila Chauvin. “Faculty Developers as Change Facilitators: The Concerns-Based Adoption Model.” To Improve the Academy. Vol 12 (1993). Paper 278. Pp. 165-179.

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