I’ve really appreciated the discussions that have taken place under my last two posts on Faculty Development. But I really want to address one comment about how “[m]ost teaching faculty members get along just fine [within their departments] without the whole apparatus of ‘faculty developers’ wasting their time.” I asked, and received no response, on what “just fine” really means. Because I have met a ton of faculty, both through my job, through social media, and through blogging, for whom this would be a very questionable statement.
In an ideal world, yes, your department should be a space to nurture junior faculty, for collaboration, for the sharing of ideas, and for fostering agency, etc, etc, etc. And to those of you who are in those kinds of departments or other academic unit, that’s wonderful. But don’t assume this is the case everywhere. And don’t assume that you don’t have anything to learn from professionals outside of your discipline, unit, or department.
The reality for many, however, is that “just fine” is defined by senior faculty, and junior faculty either feel or are explicitly told that they are to submit to whatever definition of “just fine” exists or risk not getting tenure. I have worked with a number of junior faculty and graduate students who are innovative and effective pedagogues who are forced to hide their approaches to teaching because the environment isn’t one of collegiality and fostering agency, but one of imposing a rigidly defined “just fine” structure. A Center like the one I work at can and should be an important advocate for those for whom their departments are not the ideal.
(And this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the discrimination that other kinds of non-conforming identities often face within their departments. Or the complete lack of regard shown to contingent faculty from their departments. Helping faculty create more open learning spaces in their classrooms can help them be more inclusive generally. We have a role in creating a more inclusive academy, but it is unfortunately limited.)
But to think that one can only learn from their disciplinary peers is also shortsighted. Perhaps it is my background in interdisciplinary subject areas (comparative literature, digital humanities, pedagogy) but I’ve learned as much from, and been inspired by, colleagues in different disciplines. “Just fine” can quickly stagnate, and the injection of new ideas, perspectives, and techniques, as well as challenging ourselves to adapt them to our particular situations. Some of the most fun we’ve had in workshops is connecting faculty from various disciplines to learn from each other.
Finally (but certainly not exhaustively), faculty developers can focus on staying on top of best practices, new tools, and pedagogical innovations, as well as developing systems and models to help faculty embrace them in pedagogically responsible and sustainable ways. I was particularly struck by this post that outlined a number of different initiatives because of the variety of approaches to creating change within the faculty and institution. Change that is often resisted because everything is seen as already being “just fine.”
What attracted me to faculty development was the collaborative spirit and nature of the work. And also because, ultimately, the work is about creating the best learning environments for our students. Being able to create lasting, meaningful change within the academy is a fantastic opportunity. Things aren’t “just fine,” not for a lot of people. And I want to be a part of making it better.
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