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

Facilitating the Experience

Size of the Group
Dr. Cindra Smith's paper contains some observations on the optimal size of a Master Teacher Seminar. She mentions an upper limit of 90 participants. At the Great Teaching Roundup, the facility sets this limit for us, but our maximum in any year was 45 participants. Our staff, however, never felt good about this large a number. We feel that about 35 people, not counting the staff, is ideal. Everyone wears name tags from the first day of arrival. There is an arrival day reception under the canopy at the pool that afternoon and people trickle in at different times. I have never felt good about having a group so large that I could not learn first names. That number is about 35. There is general agreement on this. On the other hand, a group with as few as 15 participants is not sufficiently diverse in academic disciplines, programs, teaching styles, etc. to produce a rich exchange of ideas. 

Size of the Staff
There are other numbers that are important to the staff. Group dynamics say that the maximum size of an effective group is 9-12. We employ our seminar staff at the ratio of 1 staff member to 7 or 8 participants. So, if we have an enrollment of 35, we will have five staff members. We always employ an intern (only one) who, having been trained, can return the following year as staff. We provide the staff with room and meals at the site and a stipend. 

Skills of the Staff
The ideal staff member should have a strong foundation in interpersonal skills (observing, listening, proposing, etc.) and in group dynamics—the skills of managing an effective work group (centering, gate-keeping, asking, proposing, summarizing, sharing, etc.). The staff should meet every day, usually at the end of the day, to discuss problems, fine-tune the schedule, share breakout group assignments, and any other issue that improves the experience of the participants. Are we bringing out the best resources within the group? Does any participant have problems that we have heard about, but are not surfacing? Are any exciting, substantive ideas that we have heard that are being lost—ideas that need further development, more focus? All of this work must be done with honesty, sensitivity, and candor. The staff has a responsibility to shape and guide the seminar; it is a role whereby the staff takes the needs of the participants and matches these needs with resources within the group. This is a very big job. The very best seminars that we have had are the ones in which I enjoyed learning and left with a quiet and satisfying exhaustion. Good staff members are curious, bright learners who model the behavior sought from all of the group.

Other Staff Factors
Finally, in the Great Teaching Roundup, we have tried to have a balance of community college teachers from both academic and technical programs, emphasizing the comprehensive nature of the community college. To that extent, we try to have both academic and technical talents on the staff. Though back on their home campuses there is usually a segregation of technical and academic programs, invariably at the GTR they realize that they share many of the same students and that they have much more to gain from cooperation and collaboration than from isolation. I recall John Dean, an English teacher from Lee College (Baytown, Texas) who asked, "Are we supposed to teach students how to make a living, or are we supposed to teach them how to live?" A clever participant answered,"Yes."

It is difficult to have a staff reflect all of the important criteria (like academic/technical disciplines) because we only have five staff members. Over the years at the GTR, however, a source of pride has been an approximate 50-50% of academic and technical faculty participants. This makes for some interesting and valuable discussion related to appropriate goals, values, learning activities, and other areas. Other factors for consideration when selecting staff are their gender, ethnicity, and age, although I am not sure how to prioritize these.


Think for a minute, if you were going to conduct a master teacher seminar—

  • What would be the size of you group?
  • What kind of staff members would you need?
  • What important skills would they posses? What would be your view of the importance of the staff?
  • What is their primary role?

The module now turns to some really basic yet important factors--some logistics that make the seminar run smoothly.