Professional Development: Come One, Come All

October
2014
Dolores Davison, Area B Representative, Professional Development Committee Chair
Arnita Porter, West Los Angeles College, Professional Development Committee

Recent months have seen a burst of activity on the faculty professional development front.  From the Chancellor’s Office Report on the California Community Colleges Student Success Initiative Professional Development Committee Recommendations in September 2013 to the launching of the Academic Senate for California Community College’s first Professional Development College module on leadership in June 2014 to the passage of AB 2558 (Williams, 2014), professional development is a hot topic at all levels.  While these discussions, plans, and opportunities have actively included full time faculty, administrators, and staff, comparatively scant attention has been paid to the needs of part time faculty.

Questions have been raised about the need to include part time faculty in professional development plans at all levels.  When funding was scarce, some may have argued that the needs of full time faculty had to be weighed against those of part time faculty as well as the needs of staff and administrators.  Additional arguments exist: part time faculty may be difficult to include because they are often teaching at multiple colleges and their schedules are complicated, they do not understand the culture of their colleges and therefore would not be able to engage in the activities to the same degree as full time faculty, they are teaching online and would not be able to attend activities campus, or they are simply not interested in professional development. Occasionally, one may even hear comments implying that part time faculty are not equal to full time faculty and therefore are not entitled to the same types of activities and opportunities in which full time faculty participate. However, as more funding for professional development and opportunities for activities are becoming available, strong arguments can and should be made for including part time faculty in professional development on all California community college campuses.

First, part time faculty can bring a wide range of experiences and contributions to professional development activities at their colleges.  Part time faculty are often relatively recent alumni of graduate programs, and as such they may bring informed and recent pedagogy to the discussion.  They may also bring a variety of experiences to the discussion that more seasoned faculty may not be aware of in terms of pedagogical training and methodologies.  Because many part time faculty teach at a variety of institutions, including not only community colleges but four year institutions as well, they bring with them experiences that tenured or tenure track faculty at the community colleges might not have had the opportunity to be exposed to.  More information about institutions students might be transferring to and the pedagogies or methodologies used there can only benefit full time faculty in preparing our students. 

Additionally, part time faculty are often working in their disciplines and can bring that information to both their students and their fellow faculty.  This situation is especially common in career technical education (CTE) fields, where the experiences and expertise that part time faculty bring to the classroom might provide far greater understanding to students and faculty than simply reading a textbook.  Demonstrating abilities in CTE fields, whether it is nursing or automobile technology, can provide professional development to faculty in those fields who might not have the experiences that so many part time faculty do.

Part time faculty are also involved in teaching a wide range of classes, including many parts of sequences and classes which would not be available to our students otherwise.  As such, colleges should ensure that all faculty working with their students are well trained, regardless of their employment status.  Students in all three major areas of the community colleges’ focus—basic skills, career technical education, and transfer—benefit from having the most well trained faculty possible.  Faculty professional development training in terms of classroom skills and techniques, pedagogy, and technical skills benefits all faculty and students and ensures that the best trained faculty are those in the classrooms.

Providing professional development opportunities to part time faculty has an additional benefit in that it may assist them in their search for permanent full time employment.  Many community college part time faculty actively seek full time employment in the California Community College System.  Involvement in faculty professional development, as well as other campus activities, can only strengthen the candidacy of a part time faculty member.  Part time faculty who are involved in professional development will be able to bring those skills to the classroom when they become full time, which helps to inform and improve teaching and learning.  In addition, colleges that choose to hire part time faculty who have been actively engaged in professional development will benefit from the information and skills that they are able to bring to the campus.  Ultimately, engaged part time faculty are likely to transition to engaged full time faculty, which will benefit both the college and the students. 

Finally, inviting and encouraging part time faculty to participate in professional development activities engages those faculty and includes them in the community of scholars at the college.  Giving part time faculty a sense of belonging to the institution can benefit both the college and the faculty members.  Research by organizations such as the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (http://www.ccsse.org/) indicates that students who feel as if they are part of the community are more likely to persist and to have favorable opinions of the college they are attending.  The same principle applies to part time faculty members.  Engaged part time faculty are more likely to become involved in campus activities, both on a college and a department level. 

Because so many part time faculty members teach at multiple campuses, they may not always be available to attend professional development activities that stretch over an entire day or more than one day; for this reason, colleges interested in developing the best trained faculty possible might consider scheduling events in a variety of different time slots and of different durations.  In addition, administrators can be encouraged to provide substitutes for part time faculty who wish to engage in faculty professional development activities on their campuses when those activities conflict with their scheduled classes.   More participation from part time faculty can only benefit California’s colleges, students, and full time faculty members.

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