There are two words that often cause faculty to become disgruntled: professional development. The concept of professional development is not the sole issue; the disdain comes from the lack of purpose and the ineffectiveness. Professional development should be an enriching and meaningful experience for adults. As a PD facilitator, I try to do what the concept implies; that is, to develop faculty professionally because the experience should empower, encourage, and engage all learners. From my professional experiences in both K-12 and higher education, I have found the secret sauce to effective professional development is ENGAGEMENT.
Professional development can be defined as structured professional learning that results in changes in teaching practices and improvements (Learning Policy Institute, 2017). Faculty professional development is any type of continuing education effort for educators. It is a way educators can improve their skills and increase student outcomes. When faculty have access to continuous learning opportunities, they become more equipped to meet the needs of students. In addition, professional development promotes a growth mindset, and faculty become active participants in their own learning.
When developing and presenting professional development, there are ten components of ENGAGEMENT that I address:
Explain the why by using student data.
Why are we here? This is the question that faculty ask themselves silently, or among their colleagues. I find the question to be valid, therefore, start with a clear objective and focus. The purpose of attending any professional development is for the students we serve. A commanding transition is to lead with students and the data that affects their success. Faculty find value in the use of powerful statistics; however, make sure to highlight both successful benchmark data in concert with student data in need of improvement. This approach acknowledges success because so often we dismiss the hard work and commitment of faculty. Always keep in mind that behind all student data, there is a human reflection, and every percentage represents a person, therefore, make the data personal. Only then will participants find the value of being present because lack of engagement is just as fatal for teachers as it is for their students.
Navigate using technology and present information visually.
In all faculty professional development settings, there will be multiple styles of learners. During professional development, always consider three learning styles and implement the appropriate strategies.
- Visual: This adult learner listens best by seeing, visualizing, drawing, and diagraming. “I must see it to learn it.”
- Auditory: This adult learner learns best by listening and talking to others. “I must hear and talk about it to learn it.”
- Kinesthetic: This adult learns by doing, through movement, and by using a hands-on approach and acting it out. “I learn by doing and practice.”
All learning styles are important and need to be acknowledged, but I have found when information is presented visually, both faculty attention spans increase and interests tend to peak participation. For those reasons, please make sure that slide decks are more image-based than text-based.
Give opportunities to reflect.
Reflective practice is a process that facilitates teaching, learning, and understanding, and it plays a central role in teachers’ professional development. When faculty carry out a systematic inquiry into themselves, they understand themselves, their practices, and their students. A key rationale for reflective practice is that experience alone does not necessarily lead to learning; deliberate reflection on experience is essential. By making reflective practice a component of professional development, you create an environment that centers on the learner. Therefore, allow faculty to self-question, write in a learning journal, and practice shared planning. The process of reflection is a cycle that needs to be repeated:
- Self-assess the effect of your teaching
- Consider new ways of teaching to improve the quality of learning
- Try these ideas in practice
- Repeat the process
Reflective practice is learning through and from experience while gaining new insights into self-practice (Finely, 2008). It is also a basic part of teaching and learning and aims to make you more aware of your own professional knowledge.
Ask thought-provoking questions.
Communication is not complete until there is both understanding and feedback. Asking faculty thought-provoking questions will help them to achieve a better understanding of any subject matter in discourse. These questions can elicit more engagement, critical thinking, and collective inquiry among colleagues. The dialogue that’s generated from thought-provoking questions is both a search for best practices for helping students learn at high levels and an honest assessment of the current reality regarding teaching practices and student learning. Always remember, learning begins with a question.
Give hands-on opportunities to practice while learning.
Repeatedly, provide faculty with hands-on learning and learning-by-doing opportunities during professional development. Bates & Morgan (2018) explain that incorporating hands-on experiences into professional development can make learning a more meaningful experience. For example, if you would like faculty to integrate a new website or app into practice, use it with them during the PD so they have time to explore. A hands-on activity is an instructional technique that allows participants to learn by doing, and during this activity, faculty are directly involved in their own learning. Studies have shown that participants who are given the chance to practice what they have learned retain 75% of the information presented. Professional development participants participating in a hands-on learning environment are highly engaged and motivated. This type of activity also promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills because participants become more self-reliant as they work through the activity.
Explore activities that require collaboration.
At times, teaching can be seen as a solitary profession because so much time is spent working with students and not colleagues. Unfortunately, this is quite prevalent in higher education. Collaboration opportunities during professional development add a new dynamic to the learning experience because faculty can share ideas, strategies, and experiences. At present, I am facilitating faculty professional development at my institution which includes a collaborative professional development model; our institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Comprehensive Professional Development Plan includes books studies and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). By working collaboratively, faculty can create communities that positively change the culture and instructional delivery. PLCs are an example of collaborative professional development which can be a source of efficacy and result in systemic improvement within an institution. Throughout faculty professional development experiences, provide time for faculty to collaborate and talk with each other and provide collaborative documents, slide decks, and platforms to promote a collective problem-solving approach.
Make it about teaching and learning.
The most impactful professional development centers around teaching and learning. The teaching and learning process can be defined as the transformation process of knowledge from the teacher to the students. This is when the faculty identifies and establishes learning objectives and implements teaching and learning strategies. Faculty professional development should revolve around two sets of principles to make teaching and learning more effective and to create conditions to support student learning.
- Effective teaching involves acquiring relevant knowledge about students and using that knowledge to inform our course design.
- Effective teaching involves aligning the three major components of instruction: learning objectives, assessments, and instructional activities.
- Effective teaching involves prioritizing the knowledge and skills we choose to focus on.
- Effective teaching involves progressively refining our courses based on reflection and feedback.
- Effective teaching involves recognizing and overcoming our expert blind spots.
- How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
- Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they learn.
- To develop mastery, students acquire skills, practice integrating them, and know how to apply what they have learned.
- Goal-directed practice coupled with specific targets and feedback enhances the quality of student learning.
Professional development should focus on the following teaching and learning principles to ensure that faculty become well-informed. When faculty learn more about teaching, they teach better, which in turn improves student learning.
Evaluate practices learned.
Professional development and adult learning should be evaluated in higher education. Is the learning having an ongoing, meaningful impact? Did it make a difference? In order to answer these questions, Gusky (2002) points our attention to key indicators:
- What will be measured?
- How will the data be collected?
- How can the results of the data lead to continuous improvement?
Evaluation of professional learning is necessary to ensure coherence and impact. Also, Gusky (2000) explains “Professional learning is both a dynamic and intentional process that should be guided by accurate and detailed information. Therefore, it is imperative to evaluate the impact of faculty professional development using these five critical levels to collect data (Gusky, 2013).
- Level 1: Participants’ reactions
- Level 2: Participants’ learning
- Level 3: Organization support and change
- Level 4: Participants’ use of new knowledge and skills
- Level 5: Student learning outcomes
An evaluation of professional learning should collect and analyze data that addresses questions at each of the five levels. The utmost goal of professional development is CHANGE.
Narrow the focus and make it ongoing.
Meaningful and authentic professional development has a clear outcome and starts with a clear objective and focus. Every institution has a myriad of needs, and it’s tempting to want to fix everything at once. Our institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) required that we identify the urgency of need and prioritize the work because this approach is key to making lasting change. To guide the QEP development process, we had to look at the overall mission and strategic goals of the institution. For example, student retention is our overarching goal; therefore, our QEP’s Comprehensive Professional Development Plan reflects our student learning, and success goals and outcomes. When the professional development learning outcomes are laser-focused, it creates continuity and structure.
Treat everyone with respect.
All professional development participants deserve to be respected. Most faculty bring their own backgrounds, experience levels, and learning needs. Consider this in the planning, or design of their professional development learning. While many educators need professional development to thrive in their profession, they all have different needs and strengths, requiring different forms and content in professional development. Allowing faculty to have choices in their professional development increases their level of engagement. As a way of showing respect towards faculty, our institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan Professional Development calendar was published in advance to faculty and staff, and all PD dates and times were collaboratively agreed upon. However, the ultimate sign of respect that you can show to faculty is to START professional development sessions on time and END them on time.
In closing, well-designed and implemented professional development should be considered an essential component of a comprehensive system to enhance teaching and learning. There are many challenges to conducting an effective faculty professional development session: time, money, engagement, and effectiveness. While there are challenges, institutions should not stop creating opportunities for faculty to deepen their understanding. By not doing so, it communicates that the institution does not want to invest in the quality of teaching and puts more stress on faculty to develop their skills alone. At Miles College, from May 2022 – June 2023, faculty and academic advisors would have participated in 118 hours of professional development for our institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan.
Dr. Dimple J. Martin is the director of the Quality Enhancement Plan at Miles College. Martin is a former early childhood education lecturer at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, a former assistant professor of early childhood education, and a faculty professional development coordinator at Miles College. She also has 18 years of administrative K-5 literacy leadership.
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