Working with Tough Faculty Members
Some faculty members can be difficult to work with. Faculty can be extremely confident, overworked, cantankerous, flaky, and outright rude. Although I have been fortunate to work with many amiable faculty members over the years, I have worked with some difficult faculty. Based on my own failures and successes working with these difficult faculty members, I have distilled the following tips and strategies:
- Acknowledge faculty control - Remember that in many higher education design situations, the faculty member has the final say on the design of his or her course. Be mindful of this fact and be sure to acknowledge it to the faculty member to help put him or her at ease.
- Show respect for expertise and experience - Faculty members often want respect for their expertise and their experiences as instructors. (Note that this applies even when the instructor actually doesn't do a great job as an instructor!) Be sure to show respect for the faculty member's expertise.
- Listen to the faculty member - The old adage states, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." In instructional design, listen closely to what your faculty member's goals are and how he or she proposes to reach those goals. I have found that most of the time, a faculty member has good goals and many good methods for reaching those goals, though sometimes sometimes the proposed methods are not sound. Still, it is vital that you listen and restate what those goals and methods are until you understand and the faculty member feels understood.
- Build on the faculty member's ideas - Whenever possible, build on the faculty member's ideas. Do what you can to align what you do with the instructor's fundamental pedagogical beliefs and strategies, as long as those strategies are sound. Do what you can to shape the strategy to align more closely with research-based best practices. The following sentences can be helpful:
- I like your idea to (insert faculty member's idea here), and one thing we have noticed is that when we do (insert a best practice related to the idea) it tends to work out better.
- I think your idea to (insert faculty member's idea here) can work really well, and the research shows that if we (insert a research-based principle or practice here), it can really help the students improve their learning.
- Offer to take some of the difficult workload - Faculty are busy, so do what you can to reduce their workload by taking some of the difficult or time-consuming tasks. This will make the working relationship more positive and will give you a greater ability to influence the quality the finished product.
So, the next time you work with a difficult faculty member, try out some of these tips. I have found them to be very helpful. Happy designing!