On Juggling Faculty Roles

On Juggling Within Faculty Roles

Faculty members in a college are skilled jugglers.  There are a lot of different types of juggling that everyone participates in.  There is a work-life balance for finding a happy medium between your life on and off-campus. There is a work-life balance for finding a happy medium between your fun activities and the expected responsibilities of being an adult. (yeah adulting!)

And there is the juggling that is the sole domain of being a faculty member.  That is the juggling of teaching, research, and service. Finding the optimum state of balance isn’t for the faculty member alone; the college itself establishes the terms of the juggling act. 

Juggle with 5 balls“Juggle with 5 balls” by Alexandre Dulaunoy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Ball 1: The role of “teacher” has changed over the years, even in the relatively short span of the last 20 years. I arbitrarily chose 20 because that is the span of my own experience.  Faculty members, while still content experts as required by our degrees and certifications, are no longer the “sage on the stage”. We as faculty revitalize ourselves with a better understanding of pedagogy and andragogy,  constantly self-reflection on appropriate teaching strategies focused on our student’s learning. We facilitate student’s learning as we enable students to develop the skills and abilities that help them master content and skillsets needed for their future.  We encourage them to develop beyond the rote materials, inspiring creative and critical thinking as we help students move beyond the ‘cog in the machine’ thinking to expanding conceptual knowledge and honing their inquiry skills. We empower students for learning that extends well beyond the classroom and well beyond the course content. At GCC, I have noticed that this focused dedication in teaching by so many faculty is creating a well-rounded campus learning environment with contributions from every department.  I have enjoyed being a part of the experience as faculty go through workshops and programs that help them “Reimagine Teaching and Learning”, myself included, and find it inspiring how student-focused the teaching role is in this community. I have placed “Ball 1” at the front because teaching is central to all that we do.

Ball 2: The role of research in a faculty experience is dependent on the college, the academic field, and even the department.  Faculty members are often expected to contribute to the shared knowledge base, usually to an audience of disciplinary colleagues world-wide.  Research-oriented faculty bring a sense of prestige as they bring in internal and external funding to explore empirical studies and theoretical examinations. One of the more interesting elements that I have found recently is how much of the research faculty at GCC are doing in an applied manner.  Rather than hitting straight journal publications, rather than centering on the theoretical implications, the research that I have been seeing is not only applied but centered on teaching and learning. The findings are discussed at conferences and in presentations where more peer feedback is actively sought after and ideas are expanded upon in a more dynamic and active approach to research endeavors.  This is an amazing “ball” to watch in the community college setting. This isn’t the domain of the “dry and stuffy”, though that certainly has its place. It is an involved process that moves, grows, develops, and actively encompasses the education process in a way I don’t think is even possible in a traditional setting. It is fast, with dynamic being the only truly applicable word I can think of. While there are continued contributions to the knowledge base, what I am seeing is so much more.  

Here is a challenge to you, dear reader.  How many of these active research elements do you see in your department? Is research being used to expand the knowledge base or do you, like me, see a more active and involved process that contributes to shared knowledge as well as influencing daily decisions in teaching and learning?  How do you research?

 Ball 3: The role of service is complicated. Service happens on committees and boards, it happens in advising, it happens with tutoring, it happens with clubs, it can move beyond the campus location with outreach community programs, connections with local business and community stakeholders, and responsiveness to local needs. Some institutions care more about research and teaching and can even discourage service commitments, others recognize the service role as a demonstration of the institutional commitment to the community. This is one of my favorite aspects of being a part of a community college. The service commitment is fully and completely the community aspect of community college. Participation in service happens both on campus and within the community at large. 

Central to all of the service engagements that happen here are the students.  Any committees or boards are thinking or planning around our specific student population.  Advising and tutoring are all about the students. Club activities are primarily a way to empower students and help connect their outside interests with their academic interests. Even when connecting outside groups like the United Way or Food Banks, the service efforts made are expected to address our student’s needs.  Unlike at the university setting where this ‘ball’ can be pushed aside for the twins of research and teaching, the community college recognizes that focus on the students leads to service as a full aspect of the balanced “balls”. 

Recognizing that these three roles are in a very real sense a juggling act, conceptually and practically, can help faculty understand the necessary overlap and integration needed of each role.  What I love about the community college system is how “in-balance” these three roles seem to be. I came across an article in my reading that demonstrated severe gender and ethnicity bias in academia when these roles are not in balance, when one role is seen as more important than the others.  While the research is dated and is university-centric, the idea is clear that viewing all three roles as a balanced approach makes for a more meaningful experience.

To me, that meaningful experience is key.  When the faculty roles are in balance, it makes the whole system work. It means that I can feel comfortable with all the other roles I have to play. In my case, I can spend time in the roles of mother, daughter, granddaughter, student, and friend as well as the very necessary role of just being me. Me reading, me relaxing, me getting a sunburn while tending my roses  (never underestimate the importance of sunscreen), me watching my British murders (yeah Agatha Raisen & Vera).

And with someone with my personality type, this is when life is simply wonderful.

This week’s Genial.ly is an interactive image with mouse hovering elements. If the embed code isn’t working, you can view it here

Selected Reference

Park, S. (1996). Research, Teaching, and Service: Why Shouldn’t Women’s Work Count? The Journal of Higher Education, 67(1), 46-84. doi:10.2307/2943903


One thought on “On Juggling Faculty Roles”

  1. Great post, Christine! It’s definitely a juggling act. I agree with you that the GCC culture strives to help everyone keep their balls in the air!


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