June Forum: a space for educators to learn and grow

By BECCA AMEN

A group of undergraduate educators come together in Ripton, Vt. each June to discuss topics ranging from successful teaching practices to the necessity for experiential learning in a liberal arts curriculum. This event, called June Forum, has been hosted by Middlebury’s Center for Creativity, Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship for the past eight years. 

The three-day gathering takes place at the Bread Loaf campus, where participants join in structured discussions about “what works” while teaching social entrepreneurship and recreational activities. 

Attendance at June Forum varies from about 60 to 110 educators annually, and in total, 454 people have participated over the years — a figure that includes Middlebury faculty and staff members. Attendees have hailed from 33 states and five countries, and 98 distinct colleges and universities have been represented. 

“June Forum has become a meeting ground that has a national reputation for educators. We’ve had several people tell us that June Forum helped to shape their programs subsequently,” said Jonathan Isham, co-founder of the center and June Forum. “We’re proud to say that many folks in the liberal arts at the very least pay close attention to what we’re doing at Middlebury.”

Music Professor Damascus Kafumbe said that attending June Forum has helped him expand his teaching style to include more of an “engaged learning” approach. 

“The lessons have particularly been helpful in designing a performing arts and community engagement course that I will teach in Uganda every other summer,” he said.

Participants attend workshops and discuss topics such as educators’ values, inclusivity in the classroom and mindful learning. Outside of the formal learning environment, attendees exchange ideas among themselves. According to organizers, there is an emphasis on unstructured time, enabling faculty and staff to talk openly about various approaches in the area of social enterprise.

“There are a lot of different kinds of faculty and staff members who are working in a similar field but with varying aspects of infrastructure within their institutions,” said Charlotte X.C. Sullivan, a social entrepreneurship program associate at Middlebury. “There are a lot of shared values … but also a lot of challenges based on those differences, in terms of educating in the field of social impact.”

In their spare time, educators have the chance to decompress after the school year ends and grades are finalized. The attendees stay in Bread Loaf lodging, which lends itself to laidback conversations and unplanned collaboration.

“A lot of the most powerful or important outcomes of the forum have been in unstructured time, so in the times where you can sit down and have a conversation,” Sullivan said. 

The educators attend June Forum in part to improve their teaching methods, specifically in the field of social entrepreneurship.           

“We are helping people to prepare students to lead and address the world’s most challenging problems,” Isham said, referring to the Middlebury mission statement, which also guides June Forum. “We’re helping other educators to do what we think we do pretty well.”

 Isham notes that, for future June Forums, engagement of Middlebury faculty is a key objective. He also plans to stress the pedagogical applications of research at Middlebury in upcoming June Forums, with the hopes of appealing to Middlebury faculty. Professors would then have the opportunity to speak about the results of their research and how conducting research affects their teaching.

While the organizers have not finalized the 2020 June Forum theme, Isham suggested it would emphasize the idea of “walking alongside.” This alludes to the poetry of Robert Frost, who owned a cabin near the Bread Loaf campus and was involved with the writing program there.

“The best way to work with people and influence people and be influenced by them is to have that sense of alongsidedness,” Isham said. “We’re not trying to lead them on the path nor follow them. We want to use that as a metaphor for how social change works.”