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IMPACT Plus - Leadership’s Role in Creating Faculty Ownership of Professional Development

By Behnaz Rouhani posted 04-12-2021 09:52:35


As colleges and universities have shifted more resources toward faculty professional development to demonstrate their commitment to student learning outcomes, the field of professional development faces the question of how to motivate and engage faculty. Much of the research in this area indicates that professional development initiatives should focus on developing a culture of faculty learning (Condon, Iverson, Manduca, Rutz, & Willett, 2016) and better equip them for additional administrative responsibilities.

Faculty gain a greater sense of loyalty and put forth greater effort to increase their effectiveness when they are part of the information process. Mankins (2021), a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, recently posted these comments related to ownership: “If your company’s employees don’t have a sense of ownership and engagement, all the other steps won’t make much difference. By the same token, if you can increase the average level of engagement in your organization, you will likely see the productivity of your entire workforce increase.”

Now, the question is: how can we maintain long-term faculty ownership? If we want higher levels of faculty ownership, we must engage them and with great rigor. This will help all of us generate pioneering solutions to ongoing challenges. Leadership plays an important role in faculty professional growth. While teachers and other staff members may be individually motivated to participate in professional learning, leadership practices can create a culture that shapes collaboration among professionals within the context of education (Grosemans, Boon, Verclairen, Dochy, Kyndt, 2015; Leithwood, Harris and Hopkins, 2008). Messages of support, empowerment, and trust are key to both faculty and leaders owning their areas of responsibility. The essential elements that need to be present when working to create a community of owners are continuity and commitment. Austin and Harkins (2008a) found that leadership was instrumental in creating a shared vision by celebrating and recognizing employee learning efforts. Employees who feel safe and valued by leadership are more likely to contribute to decision-making and embrace opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the school (Austin and Harkins, 2008a).

To keep pace with today’s educational demands, leaders and faculty need to move away from traditional structures that often keep them isolated in their quest for professional development. To continuously focus on important goals and results to achieve high-performance success takes thoughtful collective effort over time. As suggested by Trach (2017), shared leadership is the best practice in effective learning organizations. When faculty take ownership of their learning path and professional development, they design their learning process including what, how, and when to learn as well as pursue available professional development beyond their institution.

Trach (2017) goes on to say that the education leader’s role in increasing faculty ownership of professional development starts by creating shared leadership with faculty. Shared leadership is a key component of any professional learning community. Having faculty involved in professional development not only creates team thinking but also provides an environment for the best thinkers to contemplate the difficult issues of education. It turns the isolated “I” into the inspired “we.” The task of the professional development leader is to make the professional learning community emerge as a shared school undertaking. The old idea of one-person leadership leaves out the great talents of faculty and does not have sustainability if a leader leaves. More than two decades ago, Barth (1990) encouraged education leaders to put aside their perceived role as the authority and “knower”, and to become learners alongside the teachers and students. As such, this type of leader is the “Lead Learner” (Barth, 2001). Learning together creates a community that is enthusiastic about learning and discovering what works well. Developing the professional capacity in any school requires collaborative leadership and joint professional effort. Such ongoing investment in the professional development of faculty and leaders provides sustainable school improvement. In addition to this joint responsibility to professional development, educators are responsible for their learning. The individual and the school community of learners need to take action to keep themselves professionally current to effectively meet the needs of the ever-changing diverse student population. This means that, as a school learning community, we are responsible for guiding our learning as collaborative colleagues.

Leadership in professional development requires a wider understanding, ownership, and continual shared focus on the critical issues that need to be addressed. Without shared leadership, professional development plans tend to be disjointed and/or erratic with little focus or direction.  Leaders must fully understand the impact they have on the organization and individuals and how their roles can lead to organizational culture changes that create a learning community in which faculty take ownership of their professional development. Leaders practice shared leadership in various ways. Shared leaders demonstrate actions that become the hallmark of their style. As alluded by Trach (2017), they honor professional independence, individual creativity, and passion-filled learning opportunities; seek to make the most of professional strengths through building relationships among colleagues by matching up unique abilities and talents with interests and passions, encourage innovation and share successes as well as failures; practice giving and receiving constructive feedback; trust professional decision making when it has been accomplished in informed and thoughtful ways; serve as support within the group rather than a spokesperson; invite colleagues to share their professional opinions and feedback.

Shared leadership as argued by Trach (2017) “is much deeper than a one-off delegation; it is about being perceptive and engaging in constant analytical thinking- matching up ideas, skills, and passions among diverse people in various layers of roles”. When organizations adopt the ownership message and create a culture of openness, then we will experience a shift in the degree of engagement and ownership in the professional development by the faculty.




Austin, M. S., Harkins, D. A. (2008a) Assessing change: Can organizational learning “work” for schools? The Learning Organization 15(2), 105–125.

Barth, R. (1990). Improving schools from within. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Barth, R. (2001). Teacher leader. Phi Delta Kappan, Vol.82, Issue(6).

Condon, W., Iverson, E. R., Manduca, C. A., & Willett, G. (2016). Faculty development and student learning: Assessing the connections. Indiana University Press.

Grosemans, I., Boon, A., Verclairen, C., Dochy, F., Kyndt, E. (2015) Informal learning of primary school teachers: Considering the role of teaching experience and school culture. Teaching and Teacher Education, 47, 151–161.

Leithwood, K., Harris, A., Hopkins, D. (2008) Seven strong claims about successful school leadership. School Leadership & Management 28(1), 27–42.

Mankins, M. (2021. April). Ownership & Accountability: The key to more effective results. Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness.

Trach, S. (2017, August 11). Shared leadership as a catalyst of change. Corwin Connect.