Thank you for attending DTAR’s Managing Conflict Workshop!

Heidi Kennedy Conflict DTAR

Managing conflict in the classroom isn’t necessarily something that TAs learn in their course requirements, but it is a topic that pops up in all of our classrooms. From how to deal with students and cell phones to larger issues of heated arguments, we often learn about how to manage conflict by living it out. We learn what to do after the fact.

When DTAR put together the workshop, a major priority was connecting TAs to the information they would need in order to better understand their places in the university and what resources were available to help develop as teachers more capable of handling the conflicts in the classrooms in ways that were legal, ethical, and safe. For this reason, the workshop brought in the expertise of Heidi Kennedy, Director of Academic Program Management; DuJuan Smith, Assistant Dean of Students; and Thomandra Sam, Psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services.

Heidi Kennedy began the workshop with a brief Conflict Management Styles Quiz, a quiz that began with TA reflection on individual preferences for conflict management. After taking the quiz, participants scored their answers to determine whether there styles were Collaborating, Competing/Controlling, Avoiding, Harmonizing/Accommodating, or Compromising. Attached to each style were both the pros and cons. Kennedy stressed that it was important to know what our strengths were with managing conflict and when we might need to get help from others.

In addressing conflict types, Kennedy mentioned that she considers conflict on a scale of green, yellow, and red – much like a stoplight. Green conflicts are conflicts that allow for the time to solve them. Yellow conflicts include more pressure from an immediate concern. And red conflicts are urgent and need immediate attention. She offered that her experiences support that teachers tend to see more green conflicts in the classroom, with yellow and red being less seen.

Thomandra Sam followed with a presentation about helping students by re-thinking approaches to managing the classroom. She offered three pieces of advice for teachers, advice that she thinks helps prevent major conflicts from occurring. First we can give students a way to feel like they have control in a situation by engaging them in conversation. Second, we can offer ways to make the student feel valued, even when dealing with conflict. She encouraged participants to let students explain their perspectives and follow that with statements like, “This is what I heard you say.” The moment of summarizing can help bridge communication and avoid any hasty reactions from teachers. Third, she encouraged consistent behaviors. She said that students who think that there is favoritism are more likely to increase tensions in a classroom.

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She stressed that a lot of conflict can be avoided if teachers are reflective about their conflict styles as well as how they approach the classroom environment, and she hoped that her information gave the audience a tool kit of material to work from. She also directed the audience to a CAPS pamphlet titled “Helping Students of Concern.”

DuJuan Smith offered information geared toward what to do when a conflict has escalated, specifically in relation to the Dean of Students Office. He encouraged teachers to review the Student Handbook and use that as an active part of the classroom conversation about conflict management because the handbook does explain material related to disruption in the classroom. He introduced the audience to the process used by his office, noting that teachers can file incident reporting forms as well as email the office. He told the audience that it was important to document everything relating to conflict, and that we could email his office as a beginning step in documentation, especially if we didn’t want to fill out the forms that students can later read.

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As he closed he offered four pieces of advice for teachers: 1) document everything, 2) avoid conflict in front of other students, 3) be a role model for the behaviors we want to see in our students, and 4) set high expectations from the beginning.

To end the panel, Heidi Kennedy returned to emphasize the importance of what the other panelists had said and how it might help. She spoke to the need for forgiveness in the event that students crossed a line with us, that we needed to consider what we would do the next day. And she reminded people that they are allowed to ask for the time needed to make decisions, especially about complicated moments of conflict. At the close of the session, the three panelists reminded participants that they can come to specific campus offices for help.

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The workshop ended with small-group reflections on three conflict scenarios provided by Kennedy. During the group conversations, participants discussed solutions to the conflicts based on what the panelists had said. In scenario one, a student was upset and distracted in class, and this is the result of a recent break-up. In scenario two, a physical conflict erupted in another classroom. And in scenario three, a student had been not participating for the last two months, fixated on a particular online discussion board posting, and then left class one day, yelling negative comments. The small group discussions were lively as the members worked through what could be done in response as well as noting that scenario three was something that needed more immediate attention sooner.


Academic Affairs — Academic Program Management Contacts

Dean of Students — Main Page

Counseling and Psychological Services — Main Page

Participation in DTAR workshops is one requirement for the CTE Certificate of University Training for graduate teachers. For more information on the certificate, contact The last DTAR workshop for the semester (which focuses on developing the online teaching portfolio and does not count toward the certification) will be held on Friday 3 May 2013 at 12:30 p.m. in 212 Building #499 (where the Writing Center is).


Thanks for attending the DTAR “Writing” Workshop, 8 March 2013

Small Group Discussion_What is Writing

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We All Teach Writing” – so begins the DTAR instructional module on writing. The idea is that no matter our discipline, no matter the level of our students, we are brought together by the need to teach writing in our classrooms. So how do we teach it, even if we’re not English majors?

DTAR hoped to help answer that question with the 8 March TA workshop, a workshop focused on teaching writing. To work along with the “Teaching Writing in Your Classroom” instructional model, the workshop moderators focused on two overarching ideas: 1) learning to write and 2) writing to learn.

To begin the conversation about writing, small groups of TAs were asked to discuss what writing looks like in their specific disciplines, noting what forms it takes, how it’s taught, and how we talk about it. The small group discussions yielded two perspectives of the topics – with TAs discussing writing as both the teacher (in requiring writing assignments from students) and the student (in being required to write as graduate students).

As Sarah Fish, DTAR’s Graduate Assistant, wrote ideas on the board, the participants noted overlap between themselves and their students. We all stress about our writing assignments – though our stresses comes from different places; several audience members cited the pressure to create “publishable” writing, though our students may feel pressure to create writing that meets certain research formats. Members of the audience also commented that they are more likely to give their students clear guidelines for structure and content, but as graduate students, we often get instructions more along the lines of “write this assignment.”

To transition from what writing looks like in our disciplines to how we might better teach writing to our students, a panel of English PhD candidates – Allison Laubach Wright, Claire Anderson, and Sarah Fish – offered advice for incorporating the writing process (and thus learning to write) and writing as a thinking process (and thus writing to learn) into the classroom.

Wright began with what she referred to as a “textbook definition of process.” In this model, shown in the shape of a triangle, students often see the process as linear and explained through the ideas of Invention, Drafting, and Revision. Invention signals pre-writing work (i.e. brainstorming and outlining), drafting means writing out content, and revisions suggests that written material should be reviewed for content, style, and mechanics. She closed with noting that seeing the process as linear is problematic for students because writers tend to work more recursively, which is where Anderson stepped in.

Anderson began her presentation noting that the linear process – going from Invention to Drafting to Revision – doesn’t work for her, nor does it work for her students. “Despair is a big part of my process,” she told the audience, “and self loathing.” The textbook definition of process was a good starting point, but there are several ways we can disrupt that and help our students. To do this, Anderson offered three examples of “Re-Invention”:

  • Return to Diagrams – If we use diagrams to help students organize thoughts, then they should come back to those diagrams at a later time in the writing process to see if their ideas have changed.
  • Write Responses to Questions outside the Bounds of the Assignment – As brief activities related to the writing assignment, we can have students free-write to 1) “suggest evidence that would strengthen an author’s thesis,” 2) “write from an opposing point of view,” or 3) “consider how [the students] might perceive a piece of writing if it appeared in a different context.”
  • Reverse Outline – If students have already completed a draft, they can create a reverse outline in order to see what ideas actually make up their draft. This activity is a way to check for content and development of an idea.

Final presenter, Sarah Fish, emphasized the idea that writing can also help students with thinking through course material – whether it be a lecture, a textbook reading, or the requirements for a writing assignment. She acknowledged that any additional in-class writing could potentially take away from instructional time, so she offered five activities that she had modified or developed to get students writing while also thinking about course material:

  • 60 Second Mad Dash – Students have to write for a non-stop 60 seconds about upcoming lecture content.
  • Summary Haiki – Students write summaries of course content in haiku form.
  • De-Motivational Poster – Students create a summary of a topic with an image, and this activity works best if students are reading/discussing a topic that might need an infusion of humor.
  • Exit Slip – Students write a brief note about course content before leaving the class session.
  • Summary Tweet – Students summarize a lecture, reading, or idea for an assignment that is 160 characters or less.

To close the workshop, participants returned to their small groups to discuss what the panelists had mentioned and what could happen in the classroom. The audience was encouraged to consider how the material might have to be modified in order to fit the needs of the specific disciplines, and even more, how participants might need additional information to develop writing in their classrooms. Sarah Fish offered her email address to attendants, and Allison Laubach Wright encouraged everyone to make graduate writing appointments with her in Writing Center.


L. Morgan suggested Socrative as a free service to gather informal feedback from students.
C. Anderson provided her handout on disrupting a linear writing process.
S. Fish presented her information in Prezi form.

Participation in DTAR workshops is one requirement for the CTE Certificate of University Training for graduate teachers. For more information on the certificate, contact The last DTAR workshop for the semester, focusing on “Managing Conflict,” will be held on Thursday 11 April 2013 at 12:30 p.m. in 306 M.D. Anderson Library.

Thanks for attending the DTAR “Diversity” workshop, 2/14/13

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What might diversity mean for our classroom? How do we approach learning situations affected by diversity? How might we be most effectively sensitive to the needs of our diverse classrooms?
On 14 February, DTAR hosted the first TA workshop of the semester, exploring the topic of diversity at U of H. The DTAR workshop accorded participants, which included both TAs and TA supervisors, a chance to begin a discussion on teaching in diverse environments.  This was a discussion aimed at beginning a career-long conversation with other faculty, university services, and published research.

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Please consider attending our New Faculty Workshop, “The Art of Managing Graduate Students,” next Tuesday 12-1:30pm in 306 MDA

It’s not too late to attend the Workshop, “The Art of Managing Graduate Students,” on:

Tuesday, February 19, 2012
12:00 – 1:30 p.m.
in room 306, M. D. Anderson Library

Members of the Center for Teaching Excellence with its Division for TA Resources, led by CTE Director, David Mazella, and DTAR TA Coordinator Dr. Tamara Fish, will present strategies for developing successful graduate experiences that include setting expectations and gaining commitment, effective communication, inspiring and motivating through burn-out and crisis, and impacting future work ethics. This workshop is co-sponsored by Human Resources and the University Commission on Women.

Speakers at our roundtable will include:

Jim Zebroski (English)

Gordon Taylor (Engineering Technology)

Victor Gallardo (Engineering Technology)
You are welcome to bring your lunch with you.  Cookies and beverages will be provided.  Please R.S.V.P. to 713-743-9182.


DTAR Workshop on the Statement of Teaching Philosophy

The Division of TA Resources concluded the fall’s series of hands-on workshops for graduate student teachers with a faculty-paneled workshop on understanding and writing the statement of teaching philosophy on Thursday 6 December 2012 in the Faculty Senate offices. Graduate teachers from Hispanic Studies, English, Psychology, and the College of Technology came together to hear from faculty members who have have experience not only in writing the statement, but also in reviewing applications where the statement is an integral part of the hiring process. Dr. Tamara Fish, director of the Division of TA Resources moderated this panel.

Dr. Ann Christensen (English) explained that the statement should describe how the author has solved a problem or learned from a challenge and to reflect some knowledge of the place being applying to. Authors should also remember to include statements of outside classroom work, such as conferencing, mentoring, or tutoring; guest lectures; developing and exchanging teaching materials or relevant coursework; conference attendance in the field

Dr. Paul Butler, (Rhetoric and Composition), author of Out of Style: Reanimating Stylistic Study in Composition and Rhetoric, emphasized stylistic choices that made the statement not only more readable but more attractive to the hiring or award committees. Specifically, he emphasized the use of transitions, connecting teaching to scholarship, keeping the statement simple while using concrete examples, and some discussion of how one’s own learning has framed teaching.

Dr. Donna Pattison (Biology and Biochemistry) emphasized that the statement of teaching philosophy should be shared with colleagues and mentors, while understanding that the text should be revised frequently as one’s own understanding of one’s actual teaching philosophy changes over time.

Participants spent extensive time pre-writing actual statements in response to discussion prompts. These writing samples were shared in small group settings for discussion and critique. Participants left comments such as “This workshop was helpful for pre-statement brainstorming. I realize now that I would’ve missed so much of my own beliefs and practices had I been unable to share and exchange ideas with others.” Another participants remarked, “Thank you — helpful, concrete tips as well as more general reflection on teaching/learning. I needed a minute out of the semester to think about these things and I especially appreciate cross-discipline discussion.”

Participation in DTAR workshops is one requirement for the CTE Certificate of University Training for graduate teachers. For more information on the certificate, contact The next DTAR workshop will be held on Thursday 14 February 2013 at 12:30 p.m. in 306 M.D. Anderson Library

The Four Cornerstones of Teaching

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In my first semester as a teaching assistant in the English Department at the University of Houston, I took a course for beginning teachers which asked me to reflect frequently on teaching and learning. That class gave me the chance to begin my teaching career by examining the assumptions I hold about how learning happens and what good teaching looks like. By acknowledging my assumptions, I could look more closely at both my own teaching practice and the wide body of literature on teaching and thoughtfully implement good teaching strategies for my students and myself.

For me, one of the most difficult parts of this process was understanding the ways that I — who chose to devote my life to reading, writing, and learning — was different from my students — who took First Year Writing because of a requirement, not because they enjoyed writing. It is easy  for those of us who have succeeded in college to forget that not all of our students have the same goals, learning styles, and drives that we do (especially when we don’t take the time to acknowledge these factors for ourselves), and when a student’s primary goal is to finish a degree and get a job, her attitude towards learning and motivation is different than for someone like me. By understanding that difference, I am better able to relate to my students, and better able to meet their needs, learning strengths, and individual motivations.

Examining the assumptions we hold about teaching and learning is the beginning of a reflective teaching practice, which I have come to think of as the most important part of teaching. Too often, teachers — especially new teachers — don’t take the time to examine these assumptions and so don’t have  framework for this kind of reflection. This leads to unreflective teaching, and the kind of teacher who may not even realize the problems in his classroom. But doing what has worked for other people and even following “best practices” will only really work when we pause and reflect on how our teaching works for us, with our specific students, in our classrooms/departments, in the various institutional and cultural contexts of our university.

In Rethinking Teaching in Higher Education (2004), Saroyan and Amundsen define these factors — teacher, students, subject, and contexts — as the four commonplaces of teaching. They agree that our assumptions about each of these areas affect everything about our teaching and our students’ learning, and only by examining our assumptions about these four commonplaces can we begin to improve our teaching by moving beyond what we know (or what we think we know), and finding out what works. As we think about the four cornerstones of teaching, it is important to remember that teaching is about more than covering a subject area — it is about covering a subject area so that students learn. While our subject matter certainly impacts our teaching, we have to think about the classroom as a complex intersection of these four commonplaces and reflect frequently on what is working.

Even better than improving teaching by reflecting on these commonplaces, though, is starting new teachers on a path of reflective practice. It was with this goal that the Division of TA Resources hosted its third annual TA orientation. On Thursday, August 23, a group of 150 new teachers from 10 departments gathered for a CTE-sponsored orientation for new TAs at the University of Houston. The new teachers listened to a brief presentation from CTE Director Dr. Dave Mazella and the CTE Division of TA Resources Coordinator Dr. Tamara Fish about Saroyan and Amundsen before discussing their assumptions about the four common places of teaching. Instead of sharing their ideas verbally, the new TAs created a small gallery of observations and thoughtful ideas about the four common places of teaching, and came away from the event with important reflective questions to ask themselves through their teaching careers.

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In considering themselves as teachers, TAs noted that we should “Think about [our] ‘teaching persona’ and how that fits into [our] teaching experience.” Another group suggested that we should remember the kinds of “student-centered” learning experiences student we enjoyed as undergraduates and do our best to create those experiences for our students.

When thinking of their students, TAs know we need to remember that “Cultural Differences may affect how students interpret information. We should be sensitive to this.” Another group noted that the diversity at UH also means that our students will have “different levels of interest, ability, self-discipline, language, etc.” We should remember the differences between ourselves and our students, but also remember the differences between our students — we can help create an environment where students can learn a lot just by interacting with other students with different backgrounds.

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When thinking of their subject matter, TAs noted that it is important to help students understand their course by modeling good thinking and learning, and to set clear expectations in all classroom activities. Another group noted that no matter the subject, “Active engagement and discussion will promote retention of course content.”

About the context of the university of Houston, which certainly includes the diversity noted above, one group reminded us to take into account the parking situation and potential weather and traffic issues specific to our university and our city.

And one group gave us some especially good advice, especially on the first day of classes:

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What are your assumptions about the four cornerstones of teaching? How do those assumptions play out in the classroom?

DTAR Fall orientation, 8-23-12

We had over 150 students and supervisors in attendance yesterday in the Farish Kiva.  Allison Laubach Wright will be providing us with a summary and discussion post soon, but I wanted to thank once again Dr. Tamara Fish, our new TA Coordinator, Bruce Martin, Allison Wright, and members of the UH Rhetoric, Composition, and Pedagogy Colloquium for making this such a successful event, as well as the Provost’s office for their support.