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3 Ways to Make Professional Development Meaningful for Faculty 

  • 5 Min Read

Get advice from higher education experts on how to professional development can make a lasting impact on instructors.


It’s getting toward the end of the night. The fire you’re sitting around—the one that’s been anchoring the group’s comradery and flow of conversation all evening—starts to dwindle. It’s time to decide: Should you put another log on to keep it going or smother it with a bucket of water, dashing away its smoldering embers? 

A similar question can be asked with respect to faculty who are feeling burned out: Are institutions searching for ways to rekindle faculty members’ flame for teaching or are they letting it fade?  

Reports of burnout are on the rise in higher education, and more and more faculty are leaving higher education altogether. They’re feeling overburdened, disconnected and under-supported. 

But you already know this. To evoke one of the trends we’ve predicted for 2023, it’s time to start acting on the data that’s been gathered over the past few years. 

It’s time to throw another log on the fire by supporting faculty with relevant, applicable professional development. 

In this blog post, we’ll tackle three steps institutions can take to provide meaningful professional development for higher education faculty based on findings from D2L’s Teaching Today: Reimagined webinar. These tactics include: 

  • Providing practical day-to-day professional development 
  • Making growth and learning meaningful 
  • Creating more time for faculty 

Teaching Today: Reimagined

Faculty burnout is a tale as old as time. It remains a challenge that sits at the core of many, if not all institutions; and one which was only further…

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1. Making Professional Development Practical 

One way to start incorporating more meaningful professional development is to look at teachings that are already happening among staff at your institution. 

During the webinar, panelist Angela Gunder, chief academic officer at the Online Learning Consortium, spoke about her past experiences in faculty professional development being viewed as a way to check a box instead of focusing on its true purpose. 

“Individual institutions were looking to have their instructors go through training where it was very much transactional,” said Gunder. “They were looking at, ‘Okay, if we want our faculty to have these particular competencies and skills, we’re just going to enroll them in workshops. Assuming that we pay for seats in the workshops, our faculty will gain that professional development.’” 

This would lead to faculty being provided with the opportunity to receive professional development without being able to put it to practical use. 

“Folks were like, ‘Yeah, this is a great gift that you’re giving us, but we can’t use it.’ It feels almost like it’s punitive in some ways,” Gunder explained. “The pandemic really sharpened that lens as we were looking at how time and resources became scarcer and our bandwidth to engage in new methodologies, processes [and] ideas was [limited] as well.” 

Gunder suggests that, rather than rely on external sources, you turn toward the strengths and competencies that exist within your institution. By leaning into the relationships and knowledge that faculty and instructional designers already have, you can create train-the-trainer-type experiences. 

This allows institutions to showcase their strengths while providing valuable professional development for faculty on a daily basis. 

2. Making Professional Development Meaningful 

In addition to creating atmospheres of ongoing professional development, institutions need to create experiences for growth that resonate with faculty. 

Crystal Mallner, associate dean of the Online College at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and another panelist at the Teaching Today: Reimagined webinar, shared her thoughts on finding ways to make faculty development more meaningful. 

“Historically, professional development was just checking a box, right? You’d go on the computer, attend a webinar, maybe answer a couple of questions,” said Mallner. “You’re not really given the chance to have any hands-on practical knowledge.” 

Faculty at her institution were having discipline or stress management issues in their classrooms that they didn’t feel equipped to handle. They knew something had to change.  

“[Faculty] went to the institution and requested that if you’re going to require us to do professional development, let’s actually find out what the faculty want first. Ask them directly, then find out how to get that professional development to them,” said Mallner. 

In response, the Online College at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College decided to give faculty dedicated time each month to pursue professional development that is most impactful for them.  

From personal experience, Gunder echoed her belief in the importance of making professional development more hands-on—which can make it more meaningful. 

“If you are in a transactional session where there’s no engagement or ability to apply learning, you are forcing people to do the work later,” said Gunder. “I think about every learning experience as being a place where I can model what can and should happen within the classroom.  

“If I’m conducting professional development, I should be thinking about the ways in which I can inspire and encourage my faculty to do some of the similar practices or even remix their practices and recontextualize them in the work they’re doing. That way they leave that experience being filled with excitement for what’s possible as opposed to feeling like they have one more chore to do or even feeling discouraged that they can’t do the things that are being offered.” 

3. Giving Faculty Time 

Providing meaningful professional development in higher education is only one piece of the puzzle. To truly have an impact, faculty need time to engage with and reflect on what they’re learning too. 

If faculty are already feeling burned out, piling more work on top of them can be a burden.  

“Faculty have a lot of interest in engaging but don’t have a lot of time. What we’ve heard resoundingly is folks are not looking for just slapping on a ton of synchronous professional development,” said Gunder. “What we’re doing right now in this webinar in this moment is very precious. This takes time out of all our lives to focus at the same moment. A lot of our faculty aren’t afforded that luxury. We’ve been thinking more and more about how we give our faculty autonomy and choice in terms of how we engage.” 

At the Online College at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, Mallner had similar realizations. Her institution also made the decision to give faculty dedicated time toward the professional development of their choosing—shutting down the entire campus once a month to give faculty the ability to truly focus on the learning that’s most meaningful for them. 

Using Professional Development to Support Faculty 

Ensuring professional development for instructors is practical and a good use of their time that can help make their growth more meaningful. 

To keep faculty happy and passionate about education, institutions need to nurture their development and respect their time. Giving faculty breathing room to focus on themselves and remember why they became instructors in the first place can go a long way to ensuring they remain passionate about teaching. 

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Table of Contents

  1. Making Professional Development Practical
  2. Making Professional Development Meaningful 
  3. Giving Faculty Time 
  4. Using Professional Development to Support Faculty