Educators are often naturally lifelong learners as they not only continue to learn about the topics they teach but also learn from their students and peers. And yet, higher education administrators are challenged with getting their professors to complete the required professional development (PD) every year. While time constraints are an obstacle faced by every educator choosing between grading assignments, taking an online course, or presenting at a conference, there are some ways to help motivate professors to keep professional development prioritized in their schedules.
Begin with an open conversation with each professor to help create an individualized professional development plan. This may be initially time-consuming for administrators and professors, but planning PD goals together will pay off year after year. The plan should identify the professor’s professional goals, existing knowledge, research interests, and even personal goals and interests. Traditionally, departments provide professors with a list of specific topics, training courses, publication opportunities, and conferences as acceptable professional development. Dictating what to learn is unlikely to promote enthusiasm and engagement. Instead, relying on a co-authored plan that fosters their curiosity, engages their interests, and fulfills needs will likely yield more success.
A quality that lifelong learners have is that of curiosity. They want to know more–not just about the topic they teach, but the world beyond their profession. By locking a writing professor to professional development that only pertains to teaching writing, her knowledge and teaching will become flat and unrealistically focused. Rather, in this example, professional development should align with a variety of topics that extend beyond just teaching writing, such as technology, science, culture, business, or politics, which will build critical thinking, cultural sensitivity, and social awareness skills. While co-authoring a PD plan with a professor, suggest that he or she go beyond the invisible boundaries between fields (e.g., writing and mathematics) to get a broader understanding of how fields may influence one another in practical ways. Fostering curiosity may even result in professional development being more fun than a chore for professors.
Professor interests may already be established as ongoing research efforts for publication or other recognition. These efforts should be recognized as professional development even if the interests are not directly tied to the professor’s current teaching schedule. Ultimately, the work done to compile and present their research will benefit students and university by way of recognized advancement in their field. Like curiosity described above, aligning professional development requirements with their interests will inherently result in engagement. Furthermore, if a professor has a personal interest, it can also be tied back to professional development goals. As an example, a mathematics professor with interest in photography may find that professional development related to this hobby will transfer over into her classroom by way of visually engaging presentations and examples (e.g., geometry seen through nature photographs).
The need for PD may be as practical as compliance training, such as educating professors about FERPA or department policies. Engaging professors in this type of required training can be accomplished by allowing them to complete the training on their schedule and in the comfort of their office or home by way of online courses. While the topic may not be arresting, the capacity of virtual learning allows the training to be completed on the learners’ own terms. A more complex need for PD, though, is the need for improving teaching techniques and classroom environments, which includes teaching online or in-person (or both). During the PD planning phase, try to help the professor recognize areas that would benefit from further development, such as teaching students with Autism or using technology in the classroom. Once the need is identified, find a PD option that suits the professor’s learning style, whether it is a one-day seminar, online course, or being mentored by a peer.
A unique plan created by both the professor and administrator is key for motivating completion of Professional Development. The planned outcome is to ultimately ignite curiosity and interest that promotes lifelong learning and results in knowledge that benefits not only students and the university, but also the professor.