Leadership and communication are not skills you can learn simply by listening to a lecture.

“You retain information best when you’re able to put it into practice,” said Sobia Hussaini, MHA, an assistant professor in the Department of PA Studies. That’s why she wanted to make sure her lecture on “Developing Your Brand” engaged her students.

Hussaini has always been confident in the material. She has delivered the lecture for four years, and she focused on leadership and communication while studying to get her Masters in Health Administration.

But to make lectures and lessons better and more effective, nothing beats getting constructive feedback from a colleague. That is the foundation of the Teaching Effectiveness Program within the Wake Forest PA program.

The Wake Forest PA Program's Teaching Effectiveness Program was created to provide professional development for early-career facultyThe Teaching Effectiveness Program was created to provide professional development for early-career faculty, according to Sonia Crandall, PhD, professor and director of research and scholarship in PA Studies. “Our faculty are well-trained as clinicians,” she said. “This program allows our faculty to mentor their colleagues and help them become better teachers.”

Through the program, each faculty member has an opportunity to be evaluated every two years. The faculty member is paired with a mentor, and the two meet to discuss the teacher’s goals, targeted areas for improvement and what he or she hopes to gain from the evaluation.

Then, the mentor sits in on a class or lecture to observe and provides constructive feedback the teacher can choose to incorporate in future lectures or lessons.

Hussaini’s mentor was Pat Ober, MD, a professor within the School of Medicine and the PA program medical director. “It was intimidating at first,” she remembered, saying that Dr. Ober quickly put her at ease. “He’s a seasoned teacher. But he was very open and candid, making it clear that this experience could be anything I wanted.”

She met with Dr. Ober prior to her lecture, explaining to him that she wanted to learn how to improve student engagement during her lecture. Afterwards, Dr. Ober offered his insights and feedback.

As with all teacher-mentor evaluations initiated through the Teaching Effectiveness program, the feedback Hussaini received was for her eyes only.

“It’s purely for personal and professional development,” Crandall stated about the program. “It’s not for formal performance reviews. That’s an important aspect of the program that makes our faculty feel supported.”

Hussaini echoed that sentiment, stating that the evaluation helped her to be a better teacher. “It’s all about finding ways to continually improve,” she said. “All the documentation is confidential.”

That’s something that Hussaini appreciates, as she hones her abilities as a teacher. Though she’s knowledgeable in communication and leadership skills, and is intentional about making her lecture engaging, it’s difficult for her to know how well students are responding to her message.

“As teachers, we don’t get much feedback,” she continued, saying that the student surveys they receive, while helpful, don’t tell the full story. “It’s typically not very qualitative. There are few insights about how we can improve.”

Getting feedback from experienced faculty, she added, provides that qualitative layer she needs.

Though the Teaching Effectiveness program was initially created to allow experienced faculty to mentor their younger colleagues, it quickly evolved to benefit the entire faculty. Every teacher, regardless of experience, has an opportunity to be evaluated and to sit in the evaluator’s seat.

Sometimes, that results in younger faculty evaluating their older peers, as it did for Hussaini.

“I was asked to evaluate Robert Wooten,” she said, remembering her experience serving as a mentor to her more seasoned colleague. 

By offering her own unique perspective, Hussaini was able to do for Wooten what Dr. Ober did for her. “It doesn’t matter who’s serving as the evaluator. I was able to push him and help him achieve what he wanted.”

The program has been so successful, in fact, that other programs within the School of Medicine have taken notice. “This isn’t happening in other places across the school,” said Crandall. “We’ve been able to showcase it and share our experiences.” PA Studies was invited to present the program at the Education Grand Rounds series in December. Leaders from across the School of Medicine, residents and medical learners were in attendance. 

The main goal of the program, of course, is to help improve teaching. In that area, Hussaini believes the program is meeting its goals.

“It’s not always a standard practice to adapt your approach from year to year. But the student body changes every year,” she concluded. “This has forced me to look at my lectures through a more critical lens and keep refining them.”

Crandall said she believes the PA Studies faculty are some of the best teachers around, but there is always room for improvement.

“We can improve everything we do.”