A Culture that Values Professional Development of Teaching and Learning 

Adrianna Kezar is a professor of higher education at the University of Southern California and co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education. She directs the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success and is an international expert on the changing faculty.

Three Steps to Culture Change 

Given that the mission of most colleges and universities is teaching and learning, one would assume a primary part of their culture would be professional development around teaching. But, teaching expertise has evolved to mean expertise in content – leaving pedagogy largely overlooked. Unless campus leaders and faculty developers recognize that the history of our campuses has backed a culture that is not conducive to pedagogical development, then the endeavor can feel like ramming up against a brick wall.   

Thus, changing this culture requires a few key steps: 1) Articulating the existing culture; 2) Challenging the existing culture; and 3) Helping people see they are not losing by moving to a new culture.  

Step One: Articulating the Existing Culture

Articulating the existing culture means making faculty aware that they equate good teaching to content knowledge. Most faculty have not thought about their views of teaching and whether they are well founded. They likely do not understand there is a vast research-base on pedagogy. They may know terms like “assessment service” or “active learning,” but they do not really have a clear picture about how pedagogical knowledge is key to strong teaching and necessary to pair with ongoing development of content knowledge. It is essential not to diminish the importance of content knowledge while counterbalancing the culture with pedagogical knowledge. Many colleges and departments experience backlash if they ignore, or even diminish, content knowledge.

Step Two: Challenging the Existing Culture

Leaders pointing out that content knowledge is important but not sufficient to be a good teacher gets you only so far. Challenging the existing culture can be accomplished by bringing in studies from a discipline-based education researcher who has identified how poor pedagogy leads to problems in student learning. While it is fine to provide information about what pedagogical training can offer – for example: clearer and better class goals; ways to get instant feedback and make adjustments; and active learning to engage student attention – the benefits of pedagogical practices may not be enough to convince a skeptic of the need to work on their teaching. But, demonstrating how poor pedagogy impacts student learning is powerful. As faculty see the value in pedagogical knowledge, they begin to adjust their value set and engage in considerations of ways to develop their pedagogical knowledge. 

Step Three: Seeing Change – Not Loss  

And last, culture change is facilitated when the adoption of new values does not mean losing or compromising other important values or identities. In society, teaching has always been characterized as a lesser skill that is not rewarded. Teaching is among the lowest paid professions in the United States and not considered as prestigious as research. 

Faculty focus on content knowledge because that is where there is value and prestige. Teaching has not had this same recognition. To create culture change, we need to examine our reward structures. If faculty who focus on teaching make less money than those who do research and focus on content knowledge, then it will be challenging to shift the culture. Our institutional rewards and structures define what is valued and what people will in turn value. We are all very rational in this respect. Therefore, culture change will remain extremely difficult unless we address the sense of loss faculty feel when they focus on teaching. How do we reward and elevate attention to pedagogy?

At the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, we offer tools for campus leaders to explore the ways to better support faculty off the tenure track, in particular. Our tools also explore ways to support and elevate faculty who focus on teaching and to ensure they have the supports to be successful as teachers. Our tools also provide assistance in culture change (see our self-assessment tool) aimed at elevating pedagogy and professional development that is critical across all campuses.