By Ann M. Pearson
Continuous improvement is an important aspect of the work we do at San Jacinto College around student success. In fact, it’s one of our annual priorities. We deliberately make time to keep up with trends in higher education, best practices in classroom management, and innovative strategies to improve student engagement. Faculty professional development is big business and many fine commercial groups and professional organizations provide forums for faculty to gather at conferences, seminars, and workshops. These events are excellent resources, but in between these, faculty need opportunities to get together and discuss ideas. This work is most effective when the professional development is faculty initiated or designed. Martha Robertson, the quietly dynamic Director of our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) creates opportunities for faculty to come together to discuss classroom patterns, trends, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgment, reprisal, or ridicule. Knowing that faculty mold the future in large sweeping gestures like dedicating their lives to long hours and difficult tasks, and in small ways like stopping to calm anxious students before exams, we understand that they are the ones that should take center stage for professional development.
One such faculty professional development series was a group who recently met to explore the trend of flipping the classroom—bringing in resources such as videos and other interactive online tools for students to complete outside of class to free the class time for more in-depth study of and practice with the material while the instructor is immediately available for assistance. What was intended to be a three-part informational series spread out upon faculty request over two semesters with numerous faculty contributing examples and resources for how they flipped their own classrooms or individual lessons and how they managed the process. The group found articles to share and discuss and formulated plans to continue the discussion online after the face-to-face sessions ended.
Another excellent role model and friend, Dr. Julie Groesch, coordinates Composition Cross Talk for English faculty to read writing/composition theory articles and to discuss topics such as grading rubrics and effective writing prompts, as well as to just have a place to get together with kindred spirits to voice concerns and share triumphs. Keeping up with one’s discipline doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor.
Why this work is so crucial to our students’ success is that faculty working together have to be the ones to figure out not how to eliminate all problems for our students, but how to deal with the challenges so these potential road blocks don’t overwhelm and defeat our students. These are not gripe sessions or the proverbial whine-and-cheese parties. As important as occasional venting may be, those largely unproductive events can quickly lead groups to become discouraged thinking about the daunting tasks faculty take on. Very rarely do faculty attend professional development sessions without leaving frighteningly tall stacks of student papers to be assessed, exams to be scored, or discipline-specific journal articles to read on their desks. They have plenty of other work to do, but these dedicated professionals understand that they must work with other faculty to make the changes that will help our students. This commitment is time-consuming and constant, albeit rewarding. The oft quoted wisdom of Margaret Mead seems tailor-made for faculty: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Conferences and guest speakers make decided impacts on our colleges and how we promote the work we do every day. Augmenting that with ongoing faculty-driven professional development is a recipe for student success.