Local academic senates are tasked to make recommendations for faculty professional development policies and activities at their colleges. Such policies may include consideration of how faculty professional development (PD) is defined, how much is required, when, where, and how it will be offered, whether faculty will be compensated, who will be responsible for selecting and planning particular activities and assessing their efficacy, and how funds are allocated for PD activities. Because many of these policies overlap with union interests, such as professional development requirements and compensation, local PD policy recommendations are often made in collaboration with faculty union colleagues.
To ensure faculty primacy, local senates can provide leadership in each of the following areas:
- Defining “faculty professional development”
- Strategic planning
- Strategic budgeting
- Fostering engagement
- Closing the loop
Given the broad latitude afforded local senates, many potentially effective approaches exist for determining the details of each of these areas.
DEFINING “FACULTY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT”
If one talks to five individual faculty members, one will likely hear five different definitions of professional development. If a college does not already have a definition or has not revisited it for some time, the local academic senate could lead discussion about the definition and senate values around PD. This process not only helps to clarify what does or does not count for meeting contractual obligations, but, more importantly, it can result in thoughtful dialogue around the importance of faculty PD and foster a college culture where investment in PD is respected and valued. In addition, recurring senate-sponsored opportunities for faculty to share what they have learned at events they have attended can help to foster the desired culture. This practice can be especially helpful for sharing knowledge and increasing impact when the cost of off-campus events may limit faculty attendance.
Academic senates partner with administrators and staff in the creation of college-wide plans such as the strategic master plan and the student equity plan, and they are often involved in program review for systematic evaluation and planning at the program level. These processes often surface faculty professional development areas needed for successful implementation of the plans. Colleges can subsequently use these identified needs to lead formation, adoption, and implementation of a systematic PD plan. Until such a collegewide plan is adopted, academic senates can consult collegially to recommend processes to select and implement specific professional development activities based on needs identified in their colleges’ other strategic plans.
In both situations, an especially effective strategy is for planning to aim at creating systematic, interconnected PD activities rather than individual one-offs that may be quickly forgotten. For example, if the college has an overarching plan to eliminate achievement disparities, the local senate can provide visioning to provide explicitly interconnected PD opportunities around equitable pedagogical practices over time.
The state allows colleges to use their unrestricted or restricted general fund allocations for staff development. Senates should have little difficulty in reviewing their colleges’ budgets to see how much they have allocated for PD. Because “processes for institutional planning and budget development” is another 10+1 area, senates are entitled to engage with administrators about budgeting processes and how the college determines the PD allocations from the general fund, especially in an environment where those resources are often significantly limited. Other categorical funding sources may exist that allow monies to be used for staff PD, such as the Student Equity and Achievement Plan or Guided Pathways, and senates can engage in discussion of allocating portions of those funds for faculty PD as well. Once an overarching PD budget is in place, senates can provide leadership around specific prioritization of those funds, such as connecting them back to the campus PD plan or an alternative PD activity prioritization process.
The current reality is that many California community colleges have only limited resources available for PD. With this fact in mind, local senates are encouraged to work closely with their legislative liaisons to engage in state advocacy activities to ensure ongoing funding is available for professional development. Many initiatives, currently including AB 705 (Irwin, 2017), Guided Pathways, and the Faculty Diversity and Strong Workforce initiatives, require a substantial faculty development investment to yield results. The 2013 Chancellor’s Office Professional Development Committee Report asserts the importance to creating a “continuum of professional development opportunities for all faculty, staff and administrators to be better prepared to respond to the evolving student needs and measures of student success” with appropriate resources. Advocacy for larger state budget allocations for professional development must be an ongoing effort at the local level.
Fortunately, some attractive low-cost or free options are available for faculty to participate in professional learning. For example, the Chancellor’s Office provides access to professional learning options through the Vision Resource Center, and many of these options provide PD support specifically for current statewide initiatives such as Guided Pathways or AB 705. Moreover, colleges also have the option to fully integrate the Vision Resource Center at their local level so that all employees receive a Vision Resource Center account, see a customized landing page with local content, and may create local learning communities. Many free or lowcost courses are available through @ONE in partnership with OEI. Finally, the ASCCC frequently offers webbased learning opportunities, especially related to current system wide initiatives. Visit asccc.org for more information on upcoming events and webinars.
The best laid professional development plans fall short if faculty do not ultimately engage in the activities when they are offered. Senates can help by fostering a culture that signals PD is of high priority and professional value.
Practices that can evince these values include making PD relatively easy for faculty to participate in, such as by offering activities at convenient times and locations. Senates can also encourage the college to provide a designated space and time for people who have participated in PD events or are returning from a professional development leave to share what they have learned with colleagues. Colleges should avoid creating the expectation that faculty who have attended a workshop should then present the workshop to their college peers; rather, inviting colleagues to share newly-acquired expertise without pressure can be a powerful way to foster a culture where faculty learning is valued. For example, Foothill College has a series called, “Thursday Thoughts on Equity Professional Development” where faculty and staff who participated in an equity related professional development opportunity share out their takeaways with colleagues who were not able to attend. Colleges could also designate an annual event at which faculty returning from professional development leave share their experiences with interested colleagues. These practices can ameliorate the concern that resources spent on PD only help a small number of faculty.
Another effective practice is compensating faculty for their efforts; this practice sends the strong signal that PD is valued. At the most basic level, it helps to provide faculty with allowances to fund their attendance at conferences. An even stronger message is conveyed when colleges actually pay faculty for their time, especially part time faculty who may have no contractual incentive to participate. Local senates can remove some potential logistical barriers by advocating for the use of flex days rather than requiring faculty to attend PD on their own time.
Last but not least, one should never underestimate the value of providing refreshments. Supplied judiciously and in accordance with local board policy, refreshments not only a signal that the college is investing in professional development, but, because learning is a social activity, providing food often creates effective spaces for faculty learning. Unrestricted general fund or categorical allowances may in some select cases be used, and one should always double check with the college budgeteer.
CLOSING THE LOOP
Perhaps the most effective way to foster a culture where PD is valued by both faculty and administration is to demonstrate its impact. Academic senates have a tremendous opportunity to provide leadership in this area by recommending processes and indicators to assess the impact of professional development events and long-term PD plans with the ultimate goal of demonstrating that investments of time and financial resources have benefited students. Useful indicators should include both quantitative and qualitative data such as whether the faculty made pedagogical or curricular changes based on their participation and whether those changes resulted in the desired outcomes—at least one of which is certain to be increases in student success. Based on these data, colleges can recommend modifications to PD planning as needed.
By attending to the above areas, local senates are positioned to lead efforts to make professional development a rewarding experience for faculty and ultimately beneficial for students.