A Conversation with Haleh Azimi and Elsbeth Mantler, Part 2

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The following interview with Haleh Azimi and Elsbeth Mantler, Co-directors of the Community College of Baltimore County’s Accelerated Learning Program, focuses on professional development for faculty teaching corequisite composition and was conducted via email in December of 2021. This is the second of four parts.

David Starkey: Why is faculty professional development so important for corequisite composition instructors in particular?

Elsbeth Mantler: In general, a lot of community college practitioners do not take classes in their own schooling that teach them anything about teaching. For example, a lot of English professors we have met with have backgrounds in literature or creative writing. Then, we add on the unique course structure of ALP. Many new faculty have never heard of the program, and have not received any formal training in education. I personally did not take a single education class in my past (not yet, at least!).

DS: So, the lessons you’ve learned about teaching have mostly been on the job?

EM: Yes, and through reading, researching, and learning from my colleagues. I really think it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on in the field. While I don’t have the formal education, Haleh and I make sure that we stay connected with research and best practices within the field. I have been attending the national Conference on Acceleration in Developmental Education (CADE) for over a decade. This conference provides an opportunity for colleagues doing this work together to present on important work in the field, and much of what’s presented includes tangible practical tools for the classroom.

We also always keep up to date with other professional organizations such as the Conference on College Composition and Communications (CCCC), the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA), and the Community College Research Center (CCRC). We do ongoing research on Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning (CRTL), belonging, and Integrated Reading & Writing (IRW), pandemic teaching, among many other topics.

Oftentimes, when Haleh and I are conducting new faculty trainings, this is the first-time faculty are even learning about ALP, teaching College Composition or teaching Integrated Reading and Writing. These foundational professional opportunities help faculty prepare to meet student needs. Long-term, ongoing, and consistent professional development is needed to help sustain the unique structure of this program. Our longitudinal data validates ongoing successes with pass and retention rates. Much of this success is because of relevant and consistent professional development opportunities for ALP faculty at all levels.

Haleh Azimi: If we are asking faculty to support the students so deeply, we need to support the faculty with ample opportunities for professional development.

DS: In your minds, what constitutes a successful faculty development activity? Could you give me an example of a single activity, then discuss how it might connect with areas of professional growth that you hope to foster?

EM: We offer a series of workshops that occur once a month, but what makes this series sustainable is that we choose the topics based on organic needs and conversations that arise among our colleagues. For example, at the beginning of Covid, all of our face-to-face classes turned into remote synchronous classes overnight. This was a modality that had never been offered with ALP at CCBC. Some faculty struggled with how to translate what they would do in person into this new modality. We stepped in and identified a need for professional development in this new arena.

HA: Yes, everything Elsbeth just talked about regarding our various modalities and professional development is so important. The general approach to teaching ALP online is the same as teaching in-person. The online course should use backward design so that the Academic Literacy course is supporting everything done in Composition I. Low-stakes, scaffolded assignments should be present in both courses, and prompt and thoughtful feedback from the faculty member is imperative. Any way that you can encourage community in the online classroom is essential. This could mean discussion boards where everyone posts a video of themselves or synchronous drop-in office hours, or, even guest speakers to connect students to college resources. Elsbeth and I are by no means experts in all of the areas where we provide professional development. We serve as facilitators and identify others within areas that are the experts. So, as Elsbeth points out, when we transitioned to a new modality because of Covid, we helped develop PD to support ALP faculty.