In 2011, Walden University implemented a coaching model as a means of targeted professional development for faculty with the goal of continuous improvement. It was designed to be facilitated through a peer relationship and it offer problem-focused, contextualized opportunities for faculty to collaborate, thus making the experience and outcome more meaningful. The Walden coaching model is individualized, confidential, non-evaluative, and voluntary. Since its inception, the Walden coaching model had been used regularly by faculty and remained essentially unchanged. In 2017, the University sought to capitalize on the success of the coaching program through an internal research study and a series of expansion projects. The purpose of these efforts was to determine the effectiveness of the program and identify opportunities for expansion. In 2018, research findings are being applied to the model to ensure access and improve services to faculty.
In 2011, Walden University’s Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) implemented a coaching program to augment the existing faculty development offerings which included webinars, self-paced modules, face-to-face group trainings, and structured courses. The intent of the coaching program was to fill a professional development need for problem-focused, solution-based, individualized faculty support. Three faculty development specialists employed by the CFE were selected to serve as faculty coaches. Situated as lateral colleagues with faculty, they represented a variety of experience and expertise in online instruction and demonstrated a proven track record of reliable and consistent instructional performance. In addition, they all had previous training and experience in various types of coaching to ensure a meaningful experience for the participant.
Coaching services are offered to individual faculty at the faculty member’s request. Topics and focus are identified by the faculty member and sessions are arranged at a mutually agreed upon time via telephone or video conference. Because the faculty development specialists are trained in different types of coaching, the flow of a session may differ slightly. However, a session will typically begin with the faculty member sharing her area of concern, including prior attempts at resolution. Through peer-support and empathy, the faculty development specialist listens, asks questions, and validates the faculty member’s concerns. She then works with the faculty member to self-reflect and formulate a plan for resolution which may include a shift to an instructional strategy recommended by the coach or further study on the part of the faculty member to gain skill or knowledge. In some cases, the resolution is affirmation that the faculty member is already engaged in effective instruction and that University policy supports her practice. Follow up sessions are scheduled as needed.
The current Walden coaching model is confidential and non-evaluative. It has not been an option for performance management or to remediate faculty deficiencies. Rather, it is offered as a support for faculty members to reflect on their own practice and engage in continuous improvement. However, as the needs of the faculty body at Walden have evolved, so has the need for additional coaching services. In 2017, the CFE engaged in an internal research study to gauge the effectiveness of faculty coaching (see the “Evidence of Effectiveness” section below for a complete description of findings) and to identify opportunities for expansion. Findings from the qualitative study indicated that coaching was an effective approach to provide information and instructional support to faculty. Interestingly, it was also found that coaching also offered faculty affirmation of current practices, an opportunity to build relationships within the University, and to create shared expectations for performance. These outcomes appeared, at times, to be of more importance than receiving answers to their instructional questions.
Because of the success of the of the program and research findings, additional opportunities for faculty coaching have been and continue to be considered. A lead coach has been identified to support additional, specialized coaches for targeted audiences including faculty feedback on student writing, post-doctoral graduate fellows, and doctoral mentoring faculty. To support these specific audiences, colleagues from across the University with experience, expertise, and an in-depth understanding of faculty needs are being recruited and trained to provide coaching services. In 2018, a group coaching model has been implemented to support first year faculty. Other supports include a coaching website for self-service information and a Faculty Coaching Connection segment to be included in the monthly CFE Newsletter.
As the coaching program continued to grow and evolve over a six year period, much of the evidence for effectiveness was anecdtoal. This evidence suggested that coaching is beneficial to particpants and that those who engage in coaching are more confident in their teaching. However, there was no empirical evidence to support this. In addition, much of the coaching literature focused on work with elementary and secondary teachers (for example, Stover, Kissel, Haag, & Schoniker, 2011; Carr, Holmes, & Flynn, 2017). Very little research regarding faculty coaching at the university level was available to guide the CFE’s work. To address this concern a basic qualitative study approach was used to to determine the faculty members’ perspectives on their participantion in the coaching process. Specifically, we sought to learn how the coaching process assists participants in their ability to provide high quality instruction to students through increased confidence and their ability to identify successful pedagogical strategies. Data was collected through four virtual focus groups which were conducted over a one month period of time. Each focus group lasted between forty and sixty minutes and included one to six participants for a total of sixteen participants. Two faculty development specialist coaches completed questionnaires outlining their processes and coaching structure. These data were used to triangulate findings.
Conclusions drawn from this study confirmed much of the anecdotal evidence regarding the usefulness of coaching. It demonstrated that coaching may be an appropriate service for individuals who need individualized support and desired continous improvement – particularly as remote faculty. While most faculty participants agreed that coaching answered their instructional questions, it also became clear that rather than provide new strategies or skills, coaching often affirmed that what the faculty member was already doing was appropriate and effective. Faculty members also expressed that their participation in coaching led to inreased confidence, feelings of belonging in the University, and a better understanding of institution acumen.
The primary audience for CFE services, including coaching, is faculty. Faculty development specialists in the CFE embrace this role, understanding that students spend the majority of their academic career interacting with faculty and the relationships developed through those interactions have a direct impact on student success (Mundy, Kupczynski, Ellis, & Salgado, 2012). While student learning related to any one faculty development program is difficult to ascertain, internal research conducted in 2017 provided insight into the effectiveness of the faculty coaching experience. Findings suggest that faculty have specific teaching challenges that lead to their seeking coaching. All but one participant indicated that their teaching support needs were meet and all felt affirmation that their current teaching practices were effective. Based on faculty outcomes, the CFE is confident that this service leads to improved student outcomes as faculty members who have the most developed pedagogical skills and are immersed in the needs of the students are best situated support students’ learning (Cook-Sather, 2011; Hyers, Syphan, Cochran, & Brown, 2012).
SCALE (COST EFFECTIVENESS AND COMMITMENT)
As a non-revenue generating department, the CFE staff understands the importance of low-cost, high impact services. While the total cost of the coaching program is difficult to ascertain, human resources within the CFE have been consistently dedicated to the program since 2011. With the expansion of the program, part-time, contributing faculty who desire a broader role within the University have been called upon to provide coaching services aligned with their expertise and experience. These individuals are compensated based on the instructional daily rate for services and training. A line item budget for contributing faculty consultation is included in the CFE annual budget based on program growth and expected usage. Online and self-service resources have been made available at a lower cost. However, the one-on-one personal support is considered the most critical component of the program. To ensure continued access for faculty members, follow-up internal research will be conducted to identify the most needed areas of focus and to ensure that resources are dedicated to the highest faculty needs.
Intangible cost effectiveness also exists for both faculty and students. Faculty who self-identify as needing the services are more likely to be satisfied in their work, feel engaged with the Institution, and experience meaningful relationships with their students (Mundy, Kupczynski, Ellis, & Salgado, 2012). Faculty who have a positive experience, are more likely to be retained. In addition, faculty members who have the most developed pedagogical skills and are immersed in the needs of the students are best situated support students’ learning (Cook-Sather, 2011; Hyers, Syphan, Cochran, & Brown, 2012).
Coaching is available to any faculty member on any pedagogical or instructional topic of interest to them. There is no prerequisite interventions or limits on the number of sessions in which a faculty member can participate. Coaching is voluntary and is not used for performance management or remediation. This provides greater access to faculty who seek continuous improvement and greater engagement with students and the Institution. Coaching is widely advertised through CFE communications including email announcements and a monthly newsletter. Coaching is also socialized through program leadership and during other professional development offerings. Coaching opportunities for targeted audiences includes directed emails to those who meet the identified demographics and through support individuals such as New Faculty Orientation instructors, Fellowship mentors, and doctoral supervisors.
In general, satisfaction with faculty development programs across higher education is high, particularly in voluntary programs. Faculty reports typically center on positive changes in attitudes, increased knowledge/skills, and improved behavior following participation in a faculty development opportunity (Steinert, 2017). According to Walden’s Office of Institutional Research and Advancement (OIRA) annual faculty satisfaction survey, in 2015, 61.6% of faculty reported using services of the Center for Faculty Excellence. Of those, 92.7% reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the services they received. As faculty data specific to the coaching model had not been previous collected, faculty participants in the 2017 research study were interviewed regarding their experiences. In general, the faculty participants indicated that coaching affirmed their current instructional practices resulting in higher confidence. They also reported gaining new insight into successful teaching practices and were able to identify new strategies to incorporate. Moreover, as remote faculty, Walden University faculty members can feel isolated. They can have difficulty forming relationships and understanding institutional acumen (Lewis & Ewing, 2016). Faculty participants in the 2017 study identified these two issues as secondary reasons for seeking coaching and that the experience met their needs in this area.
Student satisfaction as a result of a faculty development intervention is difficult to determine. According to the Walden Student Satisfaction survey for 2016, 79.1% of students were satisfied with their Walden professors and 77.1% felt that their faculty professors cared about them. This is important as the multiple regression model used for student satisfaction found five statistically significant predictive variables (R2 =.575), with student perceptions of their instructor being most signficant. The CFE embrace the notion that faculty members who are able to self-reflect on their instructions practices and are concerned with the student success are better able to facilitate positive learning outcomes for students (Cook-Sather, 2011; Hyers, Syphan, Cochran, & Brown, 2012). Through anecdotal evidence and internal research, it is assumed that those faculty who seek coaching are likely those faculty for whom students are most satisfied. Methods to empircally determine this are being considered.
No special equipment is needed for this practice as it relies on human resources. Coaching sessions for remote faculty take place via telephone or any video conferencing system such as Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.
The most significant cost associated with this practice is staff time to support the coaching process and/or provide coaching services. Because coaching is voluntary and self-directed, large numbers of faculty do not necessarily participate. However, those that self-identify as needing the services are more likely to be satisfied in their work, feel engaged with the Institution, and experience meaningful relationships with their students (Mundy, Kupczynski, Ellis, & Salgado, 2012). Faculty who have a positive experience, are more likely to be retained, also reducing cost associated with recruitment, selection, and training. Additional costs may be associated with training if internal staff not already trained in coaching are not available. At Walden University, the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences will be implementing a post-graduate certificate in coaching. The CFE is collaborating with the College to avail new coaches to that resource.
• Walden’s coaching model relies on positive interactions, focused on success. Through their research in applied behavioral science, Payne and Dozier (2013) suggested that in these situations, the outcomes tend to be more beneficial to the participant.
• Benefits of coaching to the faculty member include increased morale, high-quality peer-interactions, and exposure to effective pedagogical practices (Huston & Weaver, 2008).
• Because coaching at Walden University is individualized and initiated by the faculty member it is aligned with internal and psychological motivation of individual faculty members, which results in higher quality outcomes (Cox, 2012).
• Faculty require access to professional development opportunities that provide timely and relevant support for instructional concerns (Bonura, Bissell, & Liljegren, 2012). Walden’s coaching model provides individualized support for the faculty members’ self-identified needs. Coaching sessions are typically scheduled within one week of the initial request.
• Investing in professional development such as coaching, which is specifically designed to address the learning challenges of the remote faculty member, faciliates building both individual and collective capacities. It also provides opportunities to cultivate relationships and share knowlegdge regardless of distance and how employees are dispersed (Lewis & Ewing, 2016).
• Self-reflection and peer feedback strategies used in Walden’s coaching model are effective techniques for continuous instructional improvement (Garcia, James, Bischof, & Baroffio, 2017).
• In general, satisfaction with faculty development programs across higher education is high, particularly in voluntary programs. Faculty reports typically center on positive changes in attitudes, increased knowledge/skills, and improved behavior following participation in a faculty development opportunity (Steinert, 2017).
• Coaching faciliates the development of collaborative partnership and relationships. This provides for more positive learning environments and higher satisfaction with outcomes on the part of participants (Passmore & Rehman; 2012).
• Coaching allows the faculty member to address individual goals and have a voice in their own learning through reflection and feedback—practices which are all critical to change (Stover, Kissel, Haag, & Schoniker, 2011).
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