Professional development is not one-size-fits all, and it is important to tailor it to faculty and student needs, said Assistant Vice President for Academic Administration Yojanna Cuenca-Carlino.

“Faculty members play an important role in students’ learning journeys,” said Cuenca-Carlino, who oversees the work of the GROWTH Change Team. “Providing faculty with opportunities to engage with their peers in conversations to support student success can lead to collaborative innovation.” Appointed by the Office of the Provost, GROWTH Change Team members collaborate with administrators to develop college-specific professional development programming.

“Creating our own professional development plan allows us to focus on the specific needs of our college and our students. It allows faculty and staff to feel a sense of ownership of the workshops, the implementation of changes, and the outcomes,” said Dr. Tina Williams, who began to work with the GROWTH Change Team as a member of the College of Business.

Logo for The Framework for Inclusive Teaching Excellence with the words The Science of Learning, The Impact of Course Design, Evidence-based Pedagogy, Classroom Climate and Culture, Feedback and Assessment Loop, Data-informed ReflectionAll plans now follow FITE, or the Framework for Inclusive Teaching Excellence, which is a set of guidelines based on culturally responsive practices. The dimensions of FITE are the result of a year-long, campus-wide effort to create evidence-based professional development specifically tailored to Illinois State faculty.

“It is the needs of instructors that guide professional development, and the FITE framework allows us to organize those needs into a cohesive plan of action,” said Julie-Ann McFann of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT). Tapped by the Provost to be part of the GROWTH team, McFann works as a mentor for the College of Business (COB) administrators. “What excites me the most about FITE is that now instructors—and college leaders—can look at the framework and create their own professional development plan that meets their needs.  FITE is a powerful tool in helping colleges and instructors become reflective practitioners regarding their teaching.”

Focused dimensions
The framework includes six dimensions: Science of Learning, Impact of Course Design, Evidence-Based Pedagogy, Classroom Climate and Culture, Feedback and Assessment Loop, and Data-informed Reflection. Find out more about FITE dimensions.

The College of Business team chose to focus on data-informed reflection. “That dimension aligns with the COB staff and faculty’s appreciation of scientific discovery,” said Williams. Workshops for COB this fall have included sessions titled “The Survey Says: What the Data Reveals & Why We Should Care” and “Two Birds, One Stone: How to Use Teaching to Create Research Outcomes.” The next workshop, on November 13, will be “Increasing Student Engagement by Enhancing Classroom Culture & Climate.”

The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) chose to focus on the dimension of Classroom Climate and Culture. “Data demonstrated that in a college as diverse as CAS, this would be a focus that would benefit each school and department,” said Director of the CTLT Jennifer Friberg, who works as a GROWTH mentor for CAS, which houses 16 departments schools and a number of university-wide centers.

Working to incorporate FITE into professional development, CAS is promoting the expansion of Professor of Psychology Dr. J. Scott Jordan’s Extending Empathy Project. The speaker series that includes talks from faculty, such as Dr. Byron Craig speaking on “What does empathy look like in the times of historical reckoning?” is scheduled to be broadcast nationally this fall to the more than 200 colleges and universities in the American Democracy Project.

“The Extending Empathy Project started out as a way to express agency in the face of people feeling helpless,” said Jordan of kicking off the project in 2018. “It’s gone beyond a discussion of ethics and looks to help reframe discussions about racism and other issues in terms of infrastructures of suffering.”

FITE forward
Along with the Extending Empathy Project and other initiatives, CAS is working to bring the FITE plan beyond faculty training. Clinical Director Heidi Verticchio, who also serves as the graduate advisor for the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, sought to provide opportunities to CAS advisors as well.

“Advisors have the opportunity to interact one-on-one with students, which means conversations that include how issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion impact students’ professional and personal lives,” said Verticchio.

Collaborations between CAS and Enrollment Management and Academic Services (EMAS) enabled CAS advisors to attend a training this fall with EMAS advisors, with another slated for spring. “Advising is more than knowing a catalog of classes,” said Verticchio. “It is a form of teaching, of connecting students with their potential.”

Empowering collaboration
Collaborative work is key to finding innovative ways to offer professional development through the lens of FITE. “Working with Dr. Byron Craig, Dr. Nate Carpenter, and Dr. Steven Hunt of the School of Communication has allowed us to find new avenues for projects,” said Jordan. Creating cross-campus ventures using the lens of FITE empowers colleges to build cohesive professional development. “FITE gives the whole university a common language around our priorities for teaching and learning,” said Friberg. “It can be applied at the course, department/school, college, or institutional level. It’s data-based and reflects the needs and priorities of our instructors and students.”

Though colleges and units may choose which dimensions of FITE to make an initial priority, they all point professional development in the direction of overcoming barriers. “We understand that we all have biases, admitting that those biases influence our teaching practices and student interactions is difficult,” said Williams. “Approaching these issues using data-informed reflection was the most logical choice because it is a fundamental part of our jobs.”