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The TRB Retrospective Workshop: a retrospective on the retrospective

Many thanks to Morgan Rosenberg, a mediator and facilitator who teaches at Loyola School of Law and serves as a DEI liaison at Loyola University. Morgan facilitated one of the working groups in the inaugural TRB Retrospective Workshop in June, 2021 and shares her impressions and takeaways from the event here. 

On June 24, 2021, Alyson Carrel, Dennis Kennedy, and Cat Moon designed and hosted an inaugural virtual TRB (thorn,rose, bud) retrospective workshop aimed at helping to improve and innovate thelegal education space through collaboration between an intentionally curated group of people including, legal administrators, legal educators, students, as well as educational and educationtechnology experts. 

In preparation for the workshop day, participants were asked to individually reflect on their experiences from this past pandemic year and to identify new educational practices to continue using [rose], other educational practices to discard [thorn], and still other practices that might bedeveloping in response to experiences of the pandemic year [bud]. Participants created videos of their personal reflections which were made available to all workshop participants.  

The workshop day itself was thoughtfully designed to provide all participants with opportunities to brainstorm, connect, and listen to the unique individual perspectives and experiences of colleagues. Participants in this inaugural iteration came from a wide variety roles and educational and organizational settings. Many different law schools participated including, Northwestern, Michigan State University, Vanderbilt University, City University of New York, Loyola University Chicago, Washington and Lee, Emory, Fordham, North Carolina Central University, University of Michigan, University of Hong Kong, University of Missouri, The Ohio State University, University of Tennessee, York University, Villanova, Miami, Sabanci University, University of Calgary, UCSP, Harvard, University of Detroit Mercy, and Indiana University Bloomington. Additionally, other educational experts from Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), Hotshots, as well as international legal and innovation education scholars working in the law school environment all offered unique experiences, expertise, and technological tools and experience to the conversation.   

Two highly accomplished scholars and committed educators provided inspirational andinformed perspectives during the plenary session. Hari Osofsky, former dean of Penn State Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs and Distinguished Professor of Law, professor of international affairs and professor of geography and the new Dean of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, and the Myra and James Bradwell Professor first addressed the participants about the unique opportunities and challenges of the past year and an inspirational message about the future of legal education as it responded to the challenges of the pandemic, racial injustice, and a highly contentiouselection.  

During a later plenary session, Meera Deo, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School, Director of LSSSE, and William H Neukom Chair at the American Bar Foundation and author of the recent publication, Unequal Profession: Race and Gender in Legal Academia  (Stanford University Press, 2021), shared narratives and insights on the experience of women of color in the field of legal academia. Deo’s scholarship and presentation provided example after example of how institutional policies and practices flowing from a higher education system steeped in embedded systemic racism, unfairly challenge, exhaust and demotivate otherwise committed, passionate scholars. 

Deo's many examples and their attendant emotions motivated and mobilized workshop participants to delve further into their efforts to innovate and improve outdated educational frameworks and to challenge assumptions about the educational experience for faculty and students.  

In addition to organizing the workshop, planning the event, and providing a virtual platform for collaboration, the Retrospective hosts modeled their innovative and inclusive framework for participant learning and engagement when they incorporated  a wide range of technological tools into the workshop. Organizers planned, shared, and used technology, online collaborative platforms, and other innovative teaching practices in a carefully considered, intentional workshop design. The workshop had both asynchronous and synchronous components, used individual reflective exercises (incorporating best practices in their methodology), small group facilitated brainstorming sessions, and large group presentation and discussion. 

Additionally, the organizers demonstrated inclusive classroom participation methods when they used both live vocal participation and the chat function on zoom. They encouraged participant use, learning and experimentation with technology through the use of a jam board for facilitator notes, as well as kinesthetic awareness and support of different learning and expression styles when they incorporated a "Six in 6" Canvas exercise diagrams, which could be completed online or on paper and permitted illustrative or diagrammatic representations of participant ideas.  

TRB Retrospective Six in 6 Canvas

After two small group brainstorming sessions, participants worked to create a group idea statement that could be turned into a business plan. Ideas were broken into small action steps via a storyboard canvas to help working groups move their innovative ideas forward in a logical fashion. Again, the organizers demonstrated the power of technology, inclusivity, and innovation when they used online collaboration to cross large physical distances between participants in addition to time zones, and institutional affiliations and roles between participants.  The planning and outputs of the workshop were shared through a wiki page to centralize event information and to link participants to one another before, during, and after the workshop.  

As an adjunct professor, I’m not used to many people in the legal academic setting asking what I think about how we can improve legal education. The experience of being included, acknowledged, listened to and even approved of, was a particularly sweet and fulfilling one. Many terrific ideas filled the break out rooms and large group discussions, including reciprocal educator mentoring, re-orientation, exciting technological opportunities for collaboration across institutions, asynchronous learning and development opportunities, and dynamic new partnerships glinted with a thousand different iterations for every suggestion. 

I can’t speak for others, but the words of new colleagues and friends’ videos and hearing them speak at the workshop filled my heart with tenderness and nostalgia . A nostalgia for the excitement I recall experiencing while looking forward to my first year of law school. In addition to nostalgia, I felt a new sense of hope and a feeling of true connection with others. I was inspired to feel the palpable shared desire to see legal education rise to theoccasion of new challenges with the same passion for service, love for humankind, and intellectual rigor that make me proud, even in the most troubling of times, to be a lawyer, an educator, an American, and a member of the human race. We’re truly in this together. 

And, the icing on the cake? Well, a proper retrospective wouldn’t be complete with its own reflective retrospective by participants as the organizers plan for their next workshop iteration! Again, the organizers modeled dedication and faith in the power of inclusive, innovative collaboration to achieve their own mission, “…to #MakeLegalEdBetter through intentional retrospection and a commitment tolearn from our experiences and experiments and iterate going forward.”