Pedagogical Stasis and The Threat of Faculty Development

For the past few months, I have been researching and writing about the physical and moral stasis of certain literary characters. Simultaneously, I have become more involved in my university’s Center for Teaching and Learning Enhancement* and am amazed at the lack of interest many of my colleagues display toward faculty development. There is, indeed, a problem with pedagogical stasis on my campus.

In my dissertation research, I’ve found that the stasis of the characters I’m studying (Penelope in Orchestra, Lucrece in The Rape of Lucrece, and Coriolanus in Coriolanus) is a voluntary or involuntary reaction to an unwanted external force that poses either a moral or physical threat. It is a defense mechanism. It is how the characters protect themselves from a particular type of trauma.

Working with these very different instances of stasis, I can’t help but consider how one may inform the other.

So what are my colleagues defending/protecting themselves from? What is it about the possibility of learning that creates pedagogical stasis? What could be so threatening, indeed traumatic, about faculty development that they feel the need to passively or even aggressively adopt a defensive/protective posture against it?

I recognize time, pride and laziness as causes for pedagogical stasis, but I wonder if it could be more than that. I wonder if faculty development is the Antinous to my colleagues’ Penelope (from Davies’ poem, not Homer). I wonder if it is the plebians to my colleagues’ Coriolanus? Could it be that my unmovable colleagues are exercising moral stasis? Can pedagogical stasis be, on some level, an issue of teaching/professional morality? If so, then the promise of improved and enhanced teaching could be perceived, in the case of my more defensively static colleagues, as a threat, indeed an assault, against the virtues and nobility that they perceive in their teaching philosophies and methods– virtues and nobility that may only be of service to their disciplines and not their students.**

*I was recently appointed Associate Director of my university’s QEP, an appointment that has created an academic and professional impasse. I’m a year away from completing my PhD in Renaissance Studies, yet I find my career and academic interests going in a very different direction. I should write about this.

**In no way am I implying that all teachers who refuse to participate in faculty development are ineffective teachers. Sometimes, the (defensive) pride and disinterest are justified. Nevertheless, teachers of all ability should have the desire to keep learning and improving, indeed should be ideal students.

7 thoughts on “Pedagogical Stasis and The Threat of Faculty Development

  1. I’ve witnessed this reaction to staff develpoment at the secondary level, and, in most cases, I’ve attributed it to the pride of the educators. Pride usually has some association with simple vanity, but I think that this sort of vocational pride runs deeper: the educators I’ve come into contact with seem to react as if their identity were being threatened, in the sense that they have become so attached to their vocational station that their being placed in the student chair instead of behind the podium is an affront to their sense of self, a perceived declaration of deficiency. If that were the case, then I could see how a reaction resulting in a form of “stasis” would be at least logical.

    • Jason, when I was teaching high school, I remember sitting in professional development meetings in utter shock at what awful students most of my fellow teachers made. Your association of pedagogical stasis with identity fortifies my alignment of it with the stasis I’m researching (and makes me want to explore it further). Identity, whether based on virtue (Penelope and Lucrece) or pride (Coriolanus), is at the heart of these characters’ defensive/protective and static postures, so, like them, stasis is a logical (and not just instinctive, as “defensive” and “protective” imply) reaction for teachers who perceive faculty development as “declaration of deficiency.”

      Thanks so much for getting the conversation started (hope it continues!).

  2. “The promise of improved and enhanced teaching could be perceived, in the case of my more defensively static colleagues, as a threat, indeed an assault, against the virtues and nobility that they perceive in their teaching philosophies and methods– virtues and nobility that may only be of service to their disciplines and not their students.**” <- BINGO!

    It is a misnomer that stability is present when pedagogy is studied simultaneously with subject matter. Stasis is a misnomer – it is precisely through pedagogy that will further deepen subject matter exploration. One does not stand to sacrifice the other.

    • Hi Molly,

      Please forgive this long delay in responding. I’ve been drowning in end-of-semester craziness! In response to your comment that “stasis” is a misnomer regarding pedagogy and subject matter (assuming that I’m not misinterpreting your comment): I’m using the term in the sense that it’s used in the literary research I use to frame the ideas in this post. In my research, stasis is a condition of defensive immobility rather than stability. So my intention is to illustrate the situation of faculty who, in my experience, display defensive immobility when “confronted” with the opportunity to learn effective pedagogy. Please let me know if I’ve misinterpreted your thoughts. Thank you for reading and commenting on this!

      • No need to apologize. The end of the semester can be chaotic, to say the least. And I appreciate the retrospective explanation of stasis, which I see myself. The “defensive immobility” reaction is interesting – I’ll have to think about that a bit. I have sensed resistance, but never connected it with defense (interesting!)

  3. I don’t think that I would have perceived resistance as a defense mechanism either if I hadn’t been researching this as a literary trope for my dissertation at the time I started working in faculty development. Having this as a context through which to interpret resistance to professional development opportunities allows me to respond to it with understanding. Although I don’t agree with the resistance, I can empathize with it and respond in a respectful and useful way.

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