A Conversation with Haleh Azimi and Elsbeth Mantler, Part 4

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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 fourth of four parts.

David Starkey: What are some of the biggest differences between the faculty development you do at CCBC and the development you do for external audiences?

Haleh Azimi: Whether we are addressing faculty development for CCBC or external audiences, we always conduct some sort of needs assessment to collect information about what is needed. Who is participating in the session? Where do they see a gap or a need for information or a conversation? This applies to external colleges that may be brand new to acceleration or internal, specific workshops, such as the remote synchronous workshop mentioned earlier. We always try to ground our workshops in data and research, while also providing practical and tangible examples for practitioners to use.

DS: And what do you teach that practitioners really seem to love?

HA: It’s really exciting to work with external practitioners when we are sharing our ready-to-use thematic units, which are essentially our fully developed teaching materials. These materials include all scaffolded activities, including readings, writing prompts, and any alternative activities. Sharing this with other practitioners helps them conceptualize the way we approach our students through our curriculum. In our program, we are fortunate enough to have a bank of ready-to-use culturally relevant thematic teaching units for faculty to use. This is especially helpful for adjunct faculty who may not have the time to create a brand new curriculum every semester.

DS: I imagine that you’re also working with multiple stakeholders when you’re doing professional development.

HA: We typically host faculty and those in student development, such as advisors and the registrar. Deans and others in senior-level leadership positions, such as provosts, also attend external consultations. We think it is important that all stakeholders have a working knowledge of the program—especially when they are new to institutionalizing ALP.

DS: If you had unlimited resources, what would your ideal faculty professional development program for ALP look like?

Elsbeth Mantler: What would be really cool is if we had an opportunity to provide a true learning community for faculty involved with ALP so that we could dig deep, be collaborative, and share ideas. Teaching can be isolating, especially during the pandemic. There is also a lot of emotional stress that can come with working so closely with students especially since we really emphasize addressing non-cognitive needs.

In my courses, especially since the pandemic, I always start classes with a brief and informal check-in with my students. For example, prior to finals week, I’ll say something like, “Hi, everyone! This could be a stressful time as you prepare for exams in your other classes. Is there anything that is causing you to not be able to do your schoolwork? You can share openly or grab me privately if you would like….” I say things like this and frontload these sorts of comments at the start of each class to build community with my students. They share their comments with their classmates, and I create an environment where students know they can come to me for support. I also work to build in student voices during these informal check-ins. My students have a wealth of knowledge and experiences. The peer-to-peer input is often more useful than what I can offer to them. I want students to know that they can connect with me and with each other. Sometimes students share very difficult issues with me, such as homelessness, food insecurity, and mental health struggles.

DS: Students’ struggles can also weigh heavily on their instructors.

EM: Faculty really need each other to share the burden of issues like these sometimes. Building a strong community that meets often would help faculty feel connected.

HA: Elsbeth and I also would love to see an increase in monetary support for ALP adjunct faculty involvement with PD sessions. ALP is truly a unique program. The configuration and concentrated effort to meet students’ non-cognitive needs are areas that require significant professional development, and we want to support adjunct faculty for their time and commitment. We both started as adjunct faculty working multiple jobs. We understand how thinly stretched people are, so allocating a significant amount of resources toward adjunct faculty involvement in PD is something we both find important.  

DS: Wow, I learned a lot! Thanks to both of you for taking time out of your extremely busy schedules to talk with me.

HA: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share!

EM: I've enjoyed the conversation! Thanks.