Colleges across the Achieving the Dream (ATD) Network have committed to engaging in bold, holistic, and sustainable institutional change across multiple priorities and areas of focus. Their efforts to build capacity in teaching and learning reflect the importance of several key institutional capacities, including leadership and vision, advancing equity in student learning, engagement and communication, and leveraging data and technology to support student success.
ATD’s Institutional Capacity Framework and Assessment Tool (ICAT) outlines seven essential institutional capacities required to create a student-focused culture that promotes student success. One focuses specifically on teaching and learning and the commitment to engaging full-time and adjunct faculty in examinations of pedagogy through high-impact professional learning, and a central role for faculty as change agents within the institution. Building capacity in this area is crucial because, as ATD President Dr. Karen A. Stout recently asserted, “Focusing on teaching and learning is still not central to the field’s overall theory of change. We still have much more to do to build a deep focus on pedagogy and to support our colleges in building a culture of teaching and learning excellence.”
The ATD Teaching and Learning Toolkit, published in fall 2020, is designed to meet this need. Building on evidence-based research, our staff and coaches’ experiences working with ATD Network colleges across the country, and the best new thinking in the field, the Toolkit presents four Cornerstones for Building a Culture of Teaching and Learning Excellence. This model grows out of our Institutional Capacity Framework, understanding that true institutional transformation requires cross-functional effort that transcends multiple capacity areas.
ATD’s four cornerstones of teaching and learning excellence:
1. Full-time and adjunct faculty use evidence-based instructional practices to foster student learning. Research into learning and teaching highlights an array of pedagogically rich strategies that, when done well, enhance learning and success, particularly for students who are from minoritized backgrounds, who are first-generation, and who are impacted by poverty. To close the equity gap, faculty leaders must adapt these strategies to local contexts and guide implementation at scale by both full- and part-time faculty.
2. Collaborative partnerships link faculty and student affairs professionals in shared efforts to cultivate learning and support student success. Student success initiatives have done powerful work, spurring structural reforms and strengthening holistic student supports that benefit students — and strengthening faculty pedagogical innovation. To advance this work and support the students who need it the most, educators from both academic affairs and student affairs must be engaged as valued partners in campus-wide student success efforts.
3. Educators join students as active learners in an accessible, empowering, personalized, and supportive academic community. Building a culture of teaching and learning excellence asks faculty and staff to examine their practice, test new evidence-based approaches, and see themselves as learner/teachers. Inquiry and reflective practice are crucial to ongoing professional learning processes. Engaging students as partners in this effort ensures broader, more meaningful, and more equitable change.
4. The institution embraces professional learning for continuous improvement, realigning related expectations in hiring, evaluation, and promotion. Colleges must support faculty and staff engagement in professional learning with policies, practices, and resources. This is vital to improving outcomes and closing the equity gap. Strategic support for professional learning is essential to meaningful and enduring institutional improvement.
These Cornerstones of Excellence fit together to outline the parameters of a culture of teaching and learning excellence. They offer our colleges a vision to strive for, a pathway to greater equity and student success. Their broad nature suggests that realizing this vision will involve changes in structure, behavior, and attitudes.
This brief report shares updates from our Teaching and Learning team’s work in the field during the 2021–22 year, informed by ATD’s Institutional Capacity Framework and these four Cornerstones of Excellence. The highlights that follow represent the deep, dedicated work of many faculty, staff, and college leaders across the country to advance equity in student success through capacity-building in teaching and learning.