Module Overview

Section 1: Background

Section 2:
Design Elements

Section 3: Additional Considerations

Section 4: Facilitating the Experience

Section 5:


Module Conclusion

About the Author

Design Elements

There are a few vital design elements which must be considered when conducting a Master Teacher Seminar. These design elements will be identified and discussed briefly.

Selecting the Facility
The facility should be fairly isolated so that there is a minimum of distraction. I recall one event that was held at a hotel in Orlando where Disneyworld competed for the participants' time. Our event in Texas is at a guest ranch (Lazy Hills Guest Ranch) where we have the entire facility to ourselves and it is scheduled at a time before the tourist season. All cabins have front porches, some of them large enough for breakout sessions. The ranch has only one TV set, in the living room of the ranch house, and one pay phone next to the ranch house. Most places on the ranch have poor cell phone reception. It is in a valley and most participants who are compelled to call must go to the next ridge. The temporary isolation from the outside world allows participants to focus on the business at hand.

This location also supports many other learning opportunities. Over the years we have had participants lead us in fossil hunts, bird watching tours, fly fishing, Texas Two Step dancing, kneading and baking in the ranch kitchen, and many other extracurricular activities. These spur of the moment learning events embody the joy of sharing teaching and learning. The right MTS facility will afford and enhance these kinds of opportunities and the seminar staff should take advantage of them.  

Related to the facility selection is the food! Meals should be satisfying (good food) and served family style. The dining room fills with conversation, usually about students, teaching, and learning. I recall one participant in the Garrison Master Teacher Seminar in Portland who recounted that Garrison always had the dining room open, and 24 hours a day there was an ice cream freezer full of vanilla ice cream. He could go there any time of the day for a serving. The participant was remembering this 20 years later.

At the ranch, the meals are announced by the ranch house bell and by the third day of the seminar participants are lined up waiting for the bell, just as if they had been trained and conditioned by Pavlov. The staff has prescribed that the noon meal be a light one, usually soup and sandwich because the group needs to be awake for the afternoon sessions.

Early in the event the staff lays out the ground rules or expectations. The ground rules are, in this writer's mind, required by the Garrison template. In the Texas MTS, we follow them to the letter. The most important of these rules are:
  • No Griping—the seminar is a positive experience. It is not a place to vent bad things about administrators, students, unions, board members, etc. It is not a place to play "poor me."
  • We play hard and work hard. Participants are expected to work on teaching and learning issues even while they are doing recreational activities. Participants are charged with seeking out resources for their own interests and needs throughout the seminar. There are lots of good conversations in the hot tub by the pool.
  • Take responsibility for learning.  Be active, assertive, and curious.
  • Be punctual for meetings. Don't come late to the seminar and don't leave early. When the participants and staff set the schedule, everyone is expected to be on time.

No Consultants
Roger Garrison believed that if you got a group of interested community college teachers off by themselves they could make lots of progress on their own. There is validity to the idea that community college teachers do not value being "talked at" by experts--particularly if those teachers did not invite the experts to address them or if the experts are not  teachers themselves.

No Set Schedule
It is difficult to promote the Master Teacher Seminar when someone who is interested in going asks, "What happens on the second day?"  The only honest response can be that we don't know the exact topic, but it will be about teaching. The schedule is developed on the spot by the participants and facilitated by the staff. It has never failed to produce session topics, break-out sessions, demonstrations, and inquiries that were meaningful and substantive because they were selected and prioritized by the participants.

Family Stays Home
We have violated this design element a few times because participants insisted. It never works. The family members distract from the participants' time and attention to the rest of the seminar, especially during social (i.e. work) sessions. Also, in a few cases we have over-booked the facility and housed participants "off campus". This never worked either.

"Rigidly Unstructured"
I heard first from Marvin Longshore, the lead facilitator for the Great Teaching Roundup for most of its years (1981-2003), about the design of the seminar being "Rigidly Unstructured." I have no idea whether he created this term or whether it came from somewhere else. The motto means that while the ground rules are indispensable, the design of the Master Teacher Seminar is flexible—limited only by the creativity and hard work of the participants and the staff. Given creativity and hard work, the seminar has the ability to take one to some exciting new vistas.

"Less is More"
Attributed to David Gotshall is the heuristic for the Great Teacher Seminar design: Less is More. This may mean that seminars should follow the simple design elements above only and not elaborate or clutter them with any other "noise." Then the result will be more—more powerful and meaningful. 

As you read through this module, take time now to review the design elements required by the Roger Garrison template of the Master Teacher Seminar.  Be able to identify the ground rules. What does it mean that the seminar design is "rigidly unstructured?"  Finally, what could David Gottshall's phrase "less is more" mean as it relates to the design?