Traditionally community colleges have treated faculty development as a peripheral activity, something that needs to be done, but not a priority. Few community colleges have a coherent set of goals for faculty development and even fewer attempt to assess the effectiveness of their programs. Historically, community colleges have provided many of the same faculty development options universities offer their faculty. The problem, however, is that universities are concerned with developing researchers, not teachers. When community colleges attempted to design developmental activities for their unique mission, they often take a top-down approach imposing on faculty activities that administrators believe are in the best interest of faculty. Faculty, viewing themselves as professionals, often resented this paternalistic approach. In many cases, this leads administration to retreat to the safe harbor of the activities more acceptable to faculty, such as, support to attend conferences, sabbaticals, and so on. Having budgeted some funds for these traditional approaches, administrators may believe that they have done their part. However, few community colleges assess the impact of these activities. Those that have, find it hard to link the outcomes to improved learning on the part of students. It is clear that a new approach is needed.

Becoming a learning community

The movement toward learning centered instruction (O'Banion, 1997) has implications for faculty development. Just as we want our students to become self-directed learners, we should desire that our faculty become self-directed learners. To accomplish this goal, faculty developers should turn to adult learning theory (Lawler & King, 2000) , theories of reflective practice (Argyris, 1982; Senge, 1994) applied to education (Brookfield, 1995) and to transformative learning theory (Cranton, 1994; Cranton & King, 2003; Marczely, 1996) .

A common theme running through all these theories is that faculty as adult learners are pragmatic and self-directed learners. Adult learners tend to become motivated to learn when the see the relevance or usefulness of what they are learning. The American educational theorist John Dewey made this point clearly when he wrote: “There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process” (Dewey, 1956, p. 12) .


Dewey’s philosophy of progressive education influenced a theory of learning called constructivism. The basic premise of the constructivist theory of learning is that learners construct meaning based on their experiences. Constructivists believe that humans need to make sense, i. e. find meaning, from their experiences. We do this by attempting to associate new knowledge or experiences with what we think we know. From this process we make assumptions and form our worldview. When we encounter new experiences similar to previous ones, we use our previously formed assumptions to find meaning in these new experiences. As faculty, some of these assumptions become our values and beliefs about teaching and learning and the basis for our instructional choices and our classroom behaviors. These assumptions become so much a part of us that we rarely question them. Unless we critically reflect on our assumptions and behaviors, however, our world becomes closed and neither change nor real learning is possible.

According to the constructivist approach real learning is a transformative process that occurs through critical self-reflection about our deeply held assumptions. In this sense, critical self-reflection is a process of becoming aware of what we believe and why we believe it. Transformative learning occurs when we open our worldview to critically reflect on new experiences and adjust both our assumptions and our behavior—but transformative learning rarely happens by chance. Much of our behavior is based on assumptions that are so deeply a part of our personality that we are often unaware of them. Only when we are faced with a challenge, a crisis, a conflicting point of view, or a incongruous experience are we likely to critically reflect and try to reconcile our assumptions with those arising out of the new experience.

The goal of faculty development ought to be to encourage faculty to become self-reflective practitioners who develop the habit of routinely critically examining their assumptions about teaching and learning. However, certain conditions must prevail for this to be possible. First, faculty members need to feel safe in exposing their teaching practice to administrators and colleagues. Second, all involved need to acknowledge that change takes time. Third, we must acknowledge that lasting change cannot be imposed, that it is self-generated and must be intrinsically motivated. Fourth, we must recognize that the process of self-reflection is continuous and never ending. Fifth, and most importantly, we need to realize that while transformative learning begins in self-reflection, it requires a community to sustain it.

Collaboration among reflective practitioners

Although encouraging faculty members to become reflective practitioners is a necessary condition for individual growth, it is not sufficient. Faculty members (like most individuals) have a desire for affiliation with others who share their interests. While most of us identify with several overlapping groups, research has shown that professionals have the strongest attachment to their professional colleagues (Carnevale, 1985; Mott, 2000) . We care about what they think, we desire their respect, and value their advice.

In order to create lasting institutional change, faculty developers must respect this need for affiliation and forge programs that create interaction among professionals or what Taylor (1998) calls “communities of knowers that are also communities of learners”. Wenger (1999) has referred to these as “communities of practice”. Communities of practice are based on the principles of collaborative learning and emphasize the importance of the social interaction in the learning process. A basic assumption of both transformative theory and the practice of collaborative learning is that interaction with others exposes us to multiple perspectives, often challenging our basic assumptions and causing us to critically reflect on these beliefs.

When teachers come together in communities of practice, the synergy created greatly enhances their individual abilities to improve teaching and learning. It is truly a case of the whole being greater than the parts. “When adults teach and learn in one another's company, they find themselves engaged in a challenging, passionate, and creative activity” (Brookfield, 1986, p. 1) . When these communities are based on the reflective practice of purposefully examining our beliefs and assumptions regarding teaching, they become institutional advocates for the improvement of learning.