Organizing Fellows into groups is a challenge! Each Fellow has a distinct schedule, and many of the Fellows’ schedules change completely each quarter. Facilitators also need to be mindful of their own capacities and limitations while creating a manageable meeting schedule.
We group Fellows into multiple cohorts that each meet at a regular time (e.g. Tuesday from 10-12) eight times during the academic year. Fellows may switch to a different cohort at the start of a new quarter, if they choose.
Each cohort meets three times in the fall, three times in the winter, and twice in the spring.
Our principles and practices for scheduling and assigning cohorts include:
Organize for diversity.
Create cohorts that are diverse both in disciplinary specialties and institutional representation. This discourages cliques from forming, and from people “talking shop” during cohort meetings. It encourages people to explore beyond their familiar ways of thinking and acting, and to meet people they wouldn’t likely encounter otherwise.
Allow Fellows to express their meeting time preferences (ideally ranked), but conveners should make the final decision on cohort assignments.
Connect those with shared interests.
Encourage Fellows who share very close interests, or work in the same department, to connect and discuss their related work outside of cohort meetings. Facilitators can provide email introductions to people with related interests, as needed.
Arrange cohorts of 8-10 people.
Assume that 1-2 will miss each meeting (on average), so you’ll really have 6-9 there most of the time. Much bigger and it is hard to hear all the voices and for people to get to know each other. Much smaller and it doesn’t feel like enough variety of perspectives (and if several people don’t come then it feels really small and sad).
Scheduling and Assigning Cohorts
The first year of Community Engagement Fellows we asked participants to tell us their availability for the whole school year, and then created a cohort meeting schedule to accommodate everyone. This was a poor choice because (1) many Fellows didn’t know their schedule beyond fall quarter, (2) it was time-consuming to deal with all that information, and (3) it led to the creation of too many groups. In the second year, we created a cohort meeting schedule and asked participants which would work for them. This saved everyone a lot of time and hassle.
The first year we organized Fellows into groups of 6. This proved to be too small. One meeting on a snowy winter day had only one Fellow attend! Assume some people won’t show up to a given meeting, and that there will be some attrition overall during the year. In the second year, we made the groups 8-10 people.
The fall of the first year of Community Engagement Fellows we started with 11 cohorts, including two that met in the evening. Two days included three cohort meetings. This was exhausting for Travis, the lone facilitator, and didn’t leave adequate time to keep up with other elements of work and family life. When winter quarter arrived, we consolidated to 9 cohorts. In the second year, we eliminated evening cohort meetings altogether and had just 8 cohorts.
Avoid early mornings and late afternoons.
People are more likely to show up late and flustered for early meetings, and to be tired for late afternoon meetings. Aim for cohort meetings mostly between 10-4. Also, avoid Friday afternoons.
Avoid the beginning and end of term.
Those of us working in higher ed often feel unsettled and more stressed at the beginning and end of each quarter or semester. Schedule cohort meetings to begin around the third week of the term, and end before finals week.
Celebrate at the year’s end.
Wrap up cohort meetings well before the end of the academic year, and turn the convening team’s efforts toward celebrating, acknowledging efforts, and recruiting Fellows for the coming year.
Take a breath between meetings.
Schedule at least one hour of downtime between cohort meetings for the facilitators to rest and regroup. A 90-minute or 2-hour break is better. Consider commute time if meetings are in different locations, and don’t forget to eat!
Share facilitation as needed.
It’s unwise for one person to facilitate more than two Fellows meetings in a day. Either share lead facilitation, or don’t schedule more than two meetings a day.
Allow Fellows to join a different cohort meeting on a given week if they are unable to meet with their scheduled cohort. They will get to meet a new group of people, which is great.
Organizing cohorts on the dry erase board