Every Learner Everywhere
Achieving the Dream

How This College Implemented a Community of Practice to Advance Faculty Development

A profile of how 32 Kingsborough Community College faculty came together and implemented a community of practice, the lessons learned, and advice for peer institutions. The formal framework they use brings emerging issues in teaching and learning into the open.

Kingsborough Community College (KCC) in Brooklyn, part of the City University of New York (CUNY), serves a diverse community. As part of its mission, the college strives for equity and seeks to provide each student with the appropriate resources and supports to foster success.

After the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with more experience offering both in-person and online courses, KCC began to identify gaps in living up to its mission. In early 2021, the Provost convened a group of faculty members to work on bridging those gaps, and in 2022 KCC joined a new professional development initiative with Achieving the Dream (ATD) that led to building and sustaining a faculty community of practice to explore implementing equity-minded teaching practices.

Joining a one-year program

ATD, in partnership with the University of California Race and Equity Center, offers the Racial Equity Leadership Academy (RELA) to “help equip college leaders with the tools they need to address and dismantle systemic structures that have long served as barriers for racially minoritized students.”

RELA brought together 10 schools to participate in an intensive one-year program, including Kingsborough. It seemed a perfect fit, KCC President Claudia V. Schrader said at the time. “We serve a very diverse student body, and now more than ever, we need an intentional plan to close racial equity gaps and advance the success of students of color.”

Ryan McKinney, Professor of Theater Arts and Director of the Kingsborough Center for Teaching & Learning (KCTL), says many colleagues have been eager to examine their teaching practices through an equity lens. McKinney, along with Loretta Brancaccio-Taras, Director of the Kingsborough Center for e-Learning (KCEL), spearheaded the intensive project.

A dedicated framework for a community of practice

The heart of the work at KCC was implementing many of the principles and tools outlined in Communities of Practice in Higher Education: A Playbook for Centering Equity, Digital Learning, and Continuous Improvement authored by ATD, the Association of Public & Land-grant Colleges, the Online Learning Consortium, and Every Learner Everywhere.

Choosing a community of practice wasn’t necessarily a big leap for the KCC faculty. McKinney points out that they already existed at Kingsborough, although in less-structured formats.

“KCTL and KCEL both have what many faculty developers refer to as faculty learning communities,” he says. “We never had a systematic, dedicated, organized seminar dedicated to equity-minded teaching practices. So this specific model was a new framework for us.”

Bringing issues to the surface

Susan Adams, Associate Director of Teaching and Learning at ATD and co-author of the Communities of Practice In Higher Education Playbook, refers to the community of practice being developed at KCC as a container for emerging issues in teaching and learning. “It allows faculty the opportunity to get together with peers, coaches, and facilitators to uncover challenges in the classrooms and to achieve an equity-focused environment,” she explains.

The first seminar, held in March 2023, brought together 32 Kingsborough faculty for an intensive program. While there were planned activities, Adams explains there was also ample opportunity for open discussion.

“We helped facilitate that, but we let the faculty uncover what they might be challenged by,” she explains. “The result has been extraordinary to see. They felt they had the agency and safety to admit where they needed to make significant changes, even if it meant not moving the needle as much as they had hoped. To do that within a supportive container of peers was really exciting to see.”

ATD presented 25 to 30 minutes of new content during each of seven initial sessions, allowing for plenty of peer-to-peer collaboration, and ended with a follow-up seminar in the fall. Participating faculty went into breakout rooms where they developed specific strategies. Following each session, they would integrate the concept into an action plan. Continuous improvement occurred through iteration of new content, feedback from peers, and practice.

Equitizing the syllabus

For example, the participating faculty were encouraged to equitize their syllabi using the Syllabus Review Guide for Equity-Minded Practice from the USC Rossier School of Education. In one activity, they selected one of the guiding principles in that tool and changed an element of their syllabus to match that principle.

According to McKinney, faculty participants reported that their students appreciated a syllabus with a different voice than they might be used to in other classrooms. “They felt welcomed into the course in a different way,” he explains. “They felt there was increased clarity and less mystery about the course itself, the expectations, and the assignments.”

Faculty participants also said many students felt they could see a path in the course because of the revised document, they felt connected to a faculty member, and the language in the syllabus encouraged a sense of community.

The syllabus outlined flexible submission guidelines and even grading policies to which they could contribute. “A tenet of the equitizing syllabus framework is to become a partner to your students,” says Adams, “so the result was to allow students to both contribute to the content of the course and make connections to their learning goals and cultural backgrounds.”

Challenges toward implementation

Time is the biggest challenge to any change. However, McKinney says, the faculty participated because they recognized the importance of improving student success.

Adams agrees that KCC faculty embraced the process: “In the beginning, there was some trepidation. People felt they didn’t have the time or that the students just needed to figure it out. But I saw a strong transformation.”

Adams explains that some faculty went a step further and implemented culturally responsive teaching practices. “Because we were with the community in the spring and then got to come back in the fall and meet again, it was great to see the impact,” she says.

“It was satisfying for our team to see the KCC faculty really did implement and identify change. Now they can continue with this work because they have become ‘change agents’ and can share their success across campus.”

Advice for implementation

McKinney believes the diversity of their 32 participating faculty was a key to success. “We benefited from having faculty from almost every academic department across the college and various disciplines,” he says.

“We also had a variety of faculty ranks, from part-time faculty to full professors. That brought a richness of experiences and perspectives that opened the conversation.”

Finally, McKinney says it’s important for participants to work on a future course, so they are not worrying about grading or posting lectures for that course during the seminars. “Put all that on hold for a second and give yourself the gift of time to think about your teaching practice,” he suggests.

“As a center director, I strive to give my community the gift of time because we’re always looking for the time to stop, reflect, learn, and then to grow at what we do.”

Moving forward

Now that the initial program through ATD is complete, McKinney plans to meet soon with the community to find ways to sustain it.

“We will plan some low-commitment, high-impact workshops that are an hour here or there throughout the spring semester,” McKinney explains. “Each one will focus on a single concept introduced by the ATD team — for example, welcoming statements in the syllabi and how you can create community through those.”

McKinney is grateful for the framework provided by ATD but says the ultimate success is because of the KCC faculty. “If we don’t have faculty who apply, we can’t do this work,” he says. “We had a robust application process and received a wide range from across the college. They took it seriously. We succeeded because of their dedication to the craft and the art of teaching. That’s pretty cool.”

Download the Communities of Practice in Higher Education Playbook