The 2019 Harper College Faculty Retreat, “Relevant and Responsive Teaching Across Disciplines” brought more than 140 attendees together on March 15-16 at the Q Center in St. Charles. This year’s retreat offered faculty an opportunity to examine the common elements and nuances of relevant and responsive teaching across disciplines.

On Friday, the program opened with a story from a Harper student, Jordan Delgado, who talked about his experiences of having gone from low expectations for himself to becoming fully engaged in his education along with a description of how he felt that every teacher he met at Harper has seemed “invested in his success,” particularly one of his English teachers, Anne Davidovich. Watch the video.

Next, faculty from each Area of Interest used storytelling to illustrate how they became the teachers they are today, how they make instruction relevant to students’ lives, and how they respond to students’ needs (see list of presenters). For example, Tony Butler (Fire Science) told a story about how his military experiences led him to a philosophy of shared ownership in the classroom. Tong Cheng (Biology) shared her experiences as an Asian student being perceived as “low maintenance” and being reluctant to ask questions, which has informed her practice in the classroom.

2019 Harper College Faculty Retreat Recap

Tong Cheng, Biology

That evening, faculty competed in team trivia in which eight teams each hosted a round of questions. A walk-on team, Jose’s Angels, took first place after a tie-breaker with “Universal Precautions.” Each team received assorted varieties of Signature Popcorn as their prizes.

2019 Harper College Faculty Retreat Recap

Team Trivia Winner: Jose’s Angels

Kris Piepenburg (English), Kathryn Powell (AED), and Robert Allare (History) led talent night and performed a variety of numbers interspersed with other acts including vocals by Raeghan Graessle (Physics) and a rap by Jim Vitullo (Humanities).

2019 Harper College Faculty Retreat Recap

Talent Night Band: Kathryn Powell, Robert Allare, and Kris Piepenburg

Saturday morning began with Duboi McCarty (Student Development) and Alina Pajtek, Kathleen Reynolds, and Lin Cui (ESL) helping us to better understand communication barriers common for historically underrepresented groups and English Language Learners.

The rest of the Saturday program was facilitated by Joan Middendorf, Lead Instructional Consultant and faculty member at Indiana University, who co-developed the Decoding the Disciplines pedagogical framework. Joan started by leading cross-disciplinary groups of faculty through the process of identifying student learning bottlenecks, or places where many students get stuck in their learning.

2019 Harper College Faculty Retreat Recap

Joan Middendorf, Decoding the Disciplines

Next, a decoding interview with Karen Dailey (Chemistrywas conducted to model the technique that is used to unpack the mental moves that experts make to solve problems in their fields. The decoding process is intended to illuminate implicit, or tacit knowledge that has become second nature to experts but may need to be made clearer for students. Decoding interviews were then held among the smaller cross-disciplinary groups of faculty. To conclude the day, faculty worked in Area of Interest teams to develop analogies that help students to uncover what expert thinking looks like. Each team completed a bottleneck lesson plan and gave a creative presentation on one step of the lesson.

2019 Harper College Faculty Retreat Recap

Bottleneck Lesson Plan: Engineering, Math, and Computer Science Area of Interest

View some of the bottleneck lessons and photos from the creative presentations.

One of the highlights from the creative presentations was performance by members of the Engineering, Math, and Computer Science Area of Interest. The bottleneck they identified for a precalculus course related to students understanding how a mathematical proof proves anything…and comprehending the steps they are making in the proof. Their skit demonstrated the way that experts see the path, not just the destination, when formulating a proof by induction.

2019 Harper College Faculty Retreat Recap

Bottleneck Lesson Presentation: Engineering, Math, and Computer Science Area of Interest

The Academy will further support faculty development efforts related to Decoding the Disciplines through the development of disciplinearea workshops to identify bottlenecks, conduct decoding interviews, and create bottleneck lessons. Staff support and funds for refreshments and materials are available to assist with workshop planning and facilitation. Additionally, copies of Joan Middendorf’s book, Overcoming Student Learning Bottlenecks, will be provided for workshop facilitators.  

To get started, complete a bottleneck lesson using the template provided in the Faculty Retreat Resources section below. Example bottleneck lessons along with Joan’s slides from Saturday are provided. Your bottleneck lessons and workshop proposal forms can be submitted to or Stephanie Whalen, Faculty Chair of the Academy for Teaching Excellence.

Faculty Retreat Resources:

Questions? Please contact the Academy at 847.925.6174,