Can PD Rhyme with Faculty?
I began to wonder why it was that I, like the teachers I was now teaching, had been considered very successful in the classroom when I, again like them, was totally ignorant of what I now was promulgating as knowledge essential to successful teaching.
In my experience, it is generally very hard to convince faculty there is much value in professional development (PD).
Mmm... Scratch that. Instead: It is hard to convince them there is much value in PD organized by the institution... In fact, sometimes I probably feel something highly similar to those teaching the mandatory courses not clearly related to the students' program. Not always a fun place to be.
To be fair though, most faculty read (serious) books, share with colleagues and take advantage of the small allotment available to support their own PD initiatives. Also, the classroom challenges them every day, and they have to adapt to it. To paraphrase St-Exupéry: the classroom teaches them because it resists them. And yet, for most, there is still no real point in institutional PD.
In the last few years where I took a stab at professional development, we had a good keynote in the morning and a choice of workshops in the afternoon, all wrapped in food, with a wine-and-cheese-and-service-awards at the end of the day. People appreciated the efforts and enjoyed the activities, which made us feel good about spending so much time and money. When we scratched a little deeper though, we realized that very few faculty were truly changed by the experience. They learned of a few things; had a nice day, a nice meal, some nice conversations with colleagues (all good things), but it didn't modify their teaching. It didn't amount to any lasting changes. They were more like Feel Good activities.
When we ask faculty for feedback about PD activities, we get a sense of what is not working. I would like to share a few key points that often surfaced:
- Too general;
- Too specific;
- Does not apply to what I teach;
- Wrong level (college vs high school, for example);
- The keynote did not know enough about the institution;
- The keynote did not connect with faculty;
- Food was bad;
- Speeches were too long;
- Academic management was absent.
Some of the issues highlighted are easily fixed. For example, we are putting together a Quick Info sheet for keynotes. That will give them some important background information on how we are similar and different than what they know. Speeches can be shortened, but that requires "a conversation". Food is easy too, but it's extremely costly (food costs often eat half our PD budget).
Other issues are related to preparing faculty for the PD experience: in particular for transfer:
Many of the examples happen to come from the K-12 arena but nonetheless apply to your situations as well. I would encourage you, therefore, to resist a common nasty, little habit. If I should make reference to a fifth grade teacher's example, try not to be snooty about it. It is harder than you think to resist the feeling, and harder still to develop the almost anthropological mindset that enables one to find insight into one's own teaching from very different places in the system.
Toward Assessment Worthy of the Liberal Arts: The Truth May Make You Free,
but the Test May Keep You Imprisoned
I love that quote! Probably because I was often the guilty one...
So, as we have seen, it's easy to be busy, yet fail at faculty PD, and it is even easier to blame faculty for it and their resistance-to-change, but it does not help much. This is well described in Peter Cole's paper, provocatively titled: Professional Development: A great way to avoid change. He identifies some of the pitfalls of professional development and, refreshingly, goes beyond mere criticism, and offers good suggestions. Put together with our own experience, they have led us to adapt and move towards the following guidelines for institutional PD:
- Spend less on institutional PD days;
- Start with your faculty: most of them have developed immense expertise and can share it with colleagues;
- Work more with groups sharing interests and concerns, less with individuals;
- Help groups of faculty identify and solve their issues instead of presenting them with solutions or worse, the latest education fad;
- Spend your money to answer these teams' needs and to support the implementation of modifications;
- Stop telling faculty about education-things, but have them try education-things (how many passive presentations on active learning have you suffered?);
- Have teams work with internal or external experts over an extended period of time (avoid one-shot PD);
- Prepare your speaker and prepare your faculty to increase transfer;
- Have management attend (for a bit at least) and say a few words;
- Tie it to expectations regarding quality teaching;
- Build a link to faculty evaluation and goal-setting.
As you can see, we are somewhat moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, and so far, these changes bear fruits and are gaining momentum.
Dear reader, any thoughts on PD? Better yet, any thoughts on how to make PD rhyme with faculty?