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Build a Campus Culture of Teaching Excellence

A new survey finds that the most satisfied teachers work at colleges where teaching is central — and well rewarded

October 1, 2014
chalkboard that says unhappy with "un" crossed out

Short of waving the magic wand that would reduce teaching load — a step that most institutions can’t feasibly take — how can colleges make teaching a satisfying, positive aspect of the faculty experience, rather than a burdensome and unrewarding obligation?

They can begin by taking steps to make teaching a central and publicly celebrated part of their mission and their campus culture, according to a white paper published by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

As part of its “Benchmark Best Practices” series, COACHE surveyed faculty at its member institutions — more than 200 colleges and universities across the United States — about their satisfaction with the amount of time they spent on teaching, the number and level of courses they teach, and how the teaching workload is distributed, among other questions.

COACHE found that institutions with the greatest concentration of happy teachers were those that clearly communicated expectations for teaching from the earliest moments of a faculty member’s affiliation. They consistently supported faculty in their pedagogical development, and they rewarded them for excellence.

For institutions seeking to improve the teaching climate on their own campuses  and to bolster the effectiveness of their teachers — the report offers the following recommendations:

  • Recruit faculty who identify as strong teachers. Hire faculty with the explicit aim that they will become outstanding teachers.
  • Take steps to ensure that faculty perceive that expectations for teaching are manageable and just. Support them in striking the balance between expectations and available time.
  • Allow for autonomy in course selection, planning, and content, so that faculty interests can be fully engaged. 
  • Support faculty in improving their classroom skills by providing ongoing development opportunities.
  • Celebrate the primacy of teaching. Effective institutions offer significant grants for pedagogical development and innovation, and they hold well-publicized ceremonies to honor superb teaching, often enhancing the prestige of these ceremonies with a meaningful award.

In addition to offering general advice, the white paper cites specific examples from the College of the Holy Cross, Hamilton College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Kenyon College, Middlebury College, Stonehill College, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“At COACHE, we challenge academic leaders to seek inspiration and support beyond their ‘near peers,’” says Kiernan Mathews, director and principal investigator of COACHE. “So research universities are learning — and applying — from their liberal arts college partners in our project.”

Read the full COACHE benchmark report on teaching, with examples of successful initiatives by member institutions.

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