Driving Faculty Excellence Through Learning and Development

Fall 2019
Missy Kline

Student success depends in large part on the competency of faculty, and human resources at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) is taking a deliberate approach to helping its faculty build their skills and knowledge.

As a two-year technical college offering more than 200 career‐focused degree, diploma, certificate and apprenticeship programs, NWTC largely recruits faculty from industry. While newly hired faculty members are subject matter experts in their respective fields, the majority have little to no teaching experience before coming to campus. Through education, application and coaching, the HR and learning organizations at NWTC are helping their faculty learn and develop the student-centered instructional practices needed to facilitate student success.

Faculty Progression Structure

Up until six years ago, NWTC faculty received training and development through the college’s Instructor Preparation Academy (IPA), which was run out of the HR division and led by faculty development consultants. In addition to formal training, new faculty met with faculty development consultants once a month for three years to provide opportunities for ongoing growth and development. The IPA was designed to transition new faculty from an industry career to an instructional career.

In 2013, HR and learning (curriculum development and instructional designers), working collaboratively with faculty, expanded the IPA to provide continuous training and development until instructors are fully transitioned and to assure continuous development thereafter. The model is known as the Faculty Progression Structure (FPS). Of the FPS, Lisa Maas, vice president for human resources at NWTC, says, “We wanted to build off the IPA because we knew that after that three-year period was over, there was still a need for learning. And we wanted to make sure there was consistency in the knowledge and expertise of all our faculty around subject matter expertise, instructional excellence and student success.”

A Three-Tiered Learning and Development Model

NWTC’s Faculty Progression Structure model consists of three levels, providing at least three years (oftentimes more, as it is recommended that each faculty member spend three years at each level) of guided development. With a minimum requirement of 40 hours of professional development per year, all 275 benefits-eligible faculty members are immersed in learning throughout the program. Performance measures are tied to the competencies at each level.

Level I: Building off the original Instructor Preparation Academy, Level I is designed to help new faculty assimilate to the college and to learn the ropes of teaching. Examples of Level I competencies include utilizing available technology for teaching and assessment; engaging in department and/or college-wide activities, committees and projects; being current in industry standards and maintaining required industry certifications if applicable; having an awareness of key student success metrics; and the ability to teach to different learning styles.

Required professional development topics for Level I instructors include teaching methods; assessment; diversity training; student success; data and evidence analysis; participating as a mentee; course design and evaluation best practices; culture training; and instruction in the college’s key learning systems technologies. After the performance metrics for Level I have been met, instructors then move on to Level II. (Faculty must progress to Level II by the start of their fourth year as an instructor).

Level II: Level II instructors are expected to be active in establishing business and industry relationships; develop and utilize successful student engagement strategies; assist in the development of part-time faculty; deliver instruction using evidence-based student success strategies; infuse current industry practices in instruction; and more.

Twenty of the required 40 hours of professional development for Level II instructors should be within their area of subject matter expertise because, as Maas says, “The further faculty get into teaching, the further away they become from their industry. However, in order to teach effectively, they need to stay up to speed on industry standards and best practices.” Development focuses on cultivating reflective instructors who are able to analyze their current instructional practices and then enhance with researched best practice. NWTC faculty are expected to master the Level II competencies and progress to Level III by the start of their seventh year as an instructor.

Level III: Level III instructors are expected to engage in industry-specific activities outside of their teaching responsibilities; develop cutting-edge curricula; mentor and coach peers; contribute to course and program data interpretation to help ensure continuous improvement in course success, program persistence and completion rates; maintain an assessment plan (at both the course and program level) using varied strategies to measure student achievement of course competencies and program outcomes; and more. Development continues to emphasize reflective, high impact instructional practices that promote student success.

We wanted to make sure there was consistency in the knowledge and expertise of all of our faculty around subject matter expertise, instructional excellence and student success.

Individual Development Plan

To help them stay on track with their learning goals, all NWTC faculty are required to create an individual development plan (IDP) and share it with their supervisors. The IDP and discussion around it replaces the college’s faculty performance review process. Based on the performance expectations and measures identified for their current Faculty Progression Structure level, instructors identify goals they want to achieve; action items, professional development and/or resources needed to help them meet those goals; and a timeline with which to work. Goals are developed in three areas: subject matter expertise, instructional excellence and student success. Instructors also have the opportunity to create goals around their career aspirations.

In order to make the IDP more meaningful and personal, there is also a “reflection” piece. Faculty are asked to reflect on and answer in writing several questions, including:

  • How are you learning about current trends in your industry and applying that skill/knowledge in your instruction?
  • How will you use what you are learning in your role as an instructor? How will you refine or change based on success or lack of success of the interventions? What enhancements have you made as a result of learner feedback?
  • How will you use what you are learning in your role as an instructor to improve your student outcomes?
  • What were your contributions and initiatives to your team and how did you support your team?
  • What are you most proud of in your teaching over the last two years?

New Endeavors in Supporting Faculty

This past spring, HR and learning opened the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) to help further support faculty. The TLC is staffed by employees from HR (faculty development consultants), learning (instructional designers) and faculty members. The TLC is a consultative body, “inspiring continuous professional development leading to improvement in curriculum design, delivery, technology application and assessment practices.”

Consultants and faculty collaborate together to provide a coaching experience which promotes life-long development, meeting the personalized needs of faculty. Instructors use the TLC for both planned and in-demand learning needs. The ability for faculty to drop in when problem solving situations arise is viewed as a strength of the center.

Through education, application and coaching, the HR and learning organizations at NWTC are helping faculty learn and develop the student-centered instructional practices needed to facilitate student success.

A Unique Partnership Between HR and Academia

Human resources driving faculty learning and development is not the norm at most higher ed institutions. The collaborative relationship between the academic side of the house and HR at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College was no doubt inspired by the implementation of an HR strategic business partner model, wherein HR partners are part of the leadership teams of the divisions they serve. “Our HR partners are involved in budget conversations, strategic planning, training and development and other high-level conversations in the divisions they serve,” says Mass. “This proverbial ‘seat at the table’ has enabled HR to contribute in a strategic way to the college’s number one goal – student success.”

About the author: Missy Kline is content manager for communications and marketing at CUPA-HR and managing editor of Higher Ed HR Magazine.