Professional Faculty Development: The Necessary Fourth Leg

The well-known three-legged stool of academic life—teaching, research, and service—has been assumed to cover the main responsibilities of faculty in academic communities. But is there a missing leg that would add strength and stability to the stool? I propose there is. It’s professional faculty development, and I would also propose that faculty committed to teaching should be its most articulate advocates.

Here’s a list of the reasons why professional development plays a critical role in the ongoing growth of teachers. Professional development does support all aspects of academic careers, but understanding its importance to teaching is my emphasis here.

  • Professional development promotes faculty responsibility for continuous, career-long growth based upon not only the trial and error of experience, but also theory, research, and professional collaboration with colleagues.
  • The understanding of instructional concepts and teaching processes can be expanded and deepened via professional development.
  • Good teaching is not just a “you have it or you don’t” skill, nor is it an automatic companion of terminal, disciplinary degrees. It is an action, process, and way of thinking and as such it constitutes serious, complex intellectual work. It requires regular reflection and exposure to new ideas and information that are inherently a part of good professional development activities.
  • Professional faculty development connects faculty across disciplines and career stages, serving to create a pedagogical community within the college or university.
  • Professional development is not remedial or something only for those having problems, but should be an integral part of every faculty member’s efforts to become more effective in the classroom.
  • Although professional development has often been viewed as supplementary within the academy, it actually plays a central role in faculty motivation and vitality across their careers.
  • Without professional development opportunities, faculty are often isolated and unaware of beneficial, innovative pedagogical approaches.
  • “One who dares to teach must never cease to learn” (Dana): Professional development provides opportunities for faculty to learn about learning, about teaching, about students, and about themselves.
  • Professional development should not be an optional or occasional activity. Regular participation in professional development activities should be an expectation for all teachers.
  • Professional development is the conscience of the professional academic. It makes teachers aware of what they do, asks them why, and challenges them to continually do it better.
  • Professional development strengthens the affective, intellectual, and social aspects of academic life. It improves the academic experience at institutions for teachers and students.

During these times of very tight budgets, activities central to the success of teachers may be targeted for cuts. Professional development opportunities should not fall into that category, and those committed to teaching should be prepared with a set of reasons why.

Dr. Alan Altany is the director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Scholarship at Georgia Southern University.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, 25.6 (2011): 5.