Initial Publication Date: August 31, 2021

Practice Leading: Faculty as Leaders

Written by Jingjing Liu and Dr. Pamela Eddy, William & Mary

As open-door comprehensive higher education institutions, community colleges serve a very diverse student population, and provide access to higher education to 40% of all college students. Community college faculty play a significant role in influencing students' learning experiences and ultimate success. With a primary responsibility to teach students and improve students' learning outcomes, faculty members are a linchpin to student learning. Learning teaching strategies to support active learning, metacognition, and inclusive teaching become a means to improve student learning outcomes. Not only are community college faculty instructional leaders, they are leaders on campus (Eddy et al., 2018).

Top-level leaders who build shared leadership engage faculty in the decision-making process on campus. Co-leadership, team leadership, and distributed leadership are three common forms of shared leadership (Eddy & Kirby, 2020). Faculty can develop into midlevel leaders through first learning about elements of leadership and then having a chance to practice what they learn. Even without any formal training opportunities, faculty can develop their leadership skills by leading departments and programs, heading up committees, and by engaging in professional associations. Faculty as midlevel leaders play a pivotal role given their location in the organization. These leaders have access to senior leaders, other mid-level leaders, and entry level staff.

A great resource on examples of midlevel leadership in community colleges is the 2020 volume of The New Directions for Community Colleges focused on this topic (Garza Mitchell & Amey). For example, a chapter titled Lessons From the Field: Leading Institutional Change From the Middle reviewed the experiences of two faculty members leading change initiatives on their campuses. Since leading from the middle is challenging, these faculty members emphasized the need to build a champion team for leading change efforts. By providing faculty opportunities to actively engage in change initiatives at both the micro-and macro-levels, they can begin to see themselves as leaders on campus (Iverson et al., 2020).

With the prime focus of community college faculty on their teaching responsibilities, it is critical for campus leaders to determine ways to engage faculty in opportunities to learn more about leadership and to become involved in larger campus initiatives. Campus leaders can promote faculty engagement in shared leadership and provide opportunities for faculty to practice leadership in a variety of ways. For example, faculty members can lead teaching and learning workshops on campus and in the region to share their expertise.

A focus on leadership development was included in the SAGE 2YC project. In this program, the faculty participants were on teams that were charged with putting together an action plan to support a change project. These projects often started with first trying new teaching strategies in their own classes and then hosting workshops to share lessons learned with others. This process of learning something new, trying it out for themselves, reflecting on the outcomes, trying it out again, and then sharing with others provided the participants with multiple opportunities to put into practice change on campus.

Faculty without positional power can still wield important influence by leading in place (Iverson et al., 2020). Campus administrators can support the development of faculty leaders on campus by providing professional development (PD) sessions to expose faculty members to learning more about leadership and by providing opportunities for faculty members to practice their leadership on campus. Following are several recommendations for building PD sessions to support developing faculty leaders on campus.

First, helping faculty members understand what it means to think like an administrator provides an important step in learning about leadership. Supporting student success requires collaboration between faculty and administrators, yet possessing only a faculty mindset on teaching and research is not enough to meet the needs of diverse learners. Campus wide collaboration that leverages faculty knowledge with the expertise of support offices and other student success champions helps advance student outcomes better. Resources on leadership, such as Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership (Bolman & Deal, 2017) and Leading for Tomorrow: A Primer for Succeeding in Higher Education Leadership (Eddy & Kirby, 2020), provide accessible information for faculty on learning about leadership.

Secondly, developing strategies through PD on campus can engage faculty in leading among their peers and in initiatives on campus. A faculty learning community brings faculty members together in a group to address a common topic, which can help motivate faculty to become leaders. For example, the Guided Pathways initiative underway nationally aims to increase students' degree completion and retention, and a learning community to support this work can leverage reform work already underway on campus.

Thirdly, PD sessions focusing on how to utilize disaggregated data can inform work on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on campus. The analysis of student data including course-taking patterns, enrollment trends, and learning can be effective performance indicators for informing institutional decision-making. The skills of data analysis help faculty better assess the effectiveness of their teaching and students' learning. Building anequity-mindedness approach (Bensimon et al., 2016) invites faculty to reflect on their professional practices and leads them to promote DEI on campus.

Lastly, PD programming can use the FLEX Leadership Development Plan as an approach to develop faculty leadership. Eddy (2017) proposed a new FLEX Leadership Development Plan as a specialized grow-your-own (GYO) program. This program includes four key concepts: Facilitating, Learning, Experimenting, and eXploring. This model provides an approach for organizers of PD to build an internal network that helps faculty learn how to lead. Part of the plan provides faculty opportunities to test out leadership strategies in practice on campus. The chance to explore different aspects of work within the college provides faculty a means to determine and define their own approach to leadership.


Bensimon, E. M., Dowd, A. C., & Witham, K. (2016). Five principles for enacting equity by design.Diversity and Democracy19(1), 1-8.

Eddy, P. L. (2017, February 20). Rethinking how to develop leadership talent in community colleges. North Carolina State University Community College Leadership Blog. 

Eddy, P. L., Hao, Y., Markiewicz, C., & Iverson, E. (2018). Faculty change agents as adult learners: The power of situated learning. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 43(8), 539-555.

Eddy, P. L., & Kirby, E. (2020). Leading for tomorrow: A primer for succeeding in higher education leadership. Rutgers University Press.

Garza Mithcell, R. L., & Amey, M. J. (Eds.). (2020). Midlevel leadership. New Directions for Community Colleges. Wiley

Iverson, E. R., Bragg, D. D., & Eddy, P. L. (2020). How faculty change agents enact midlevel leadership in STEM. In R. L. Garza Mitchell & M. J. Amey (Eds.) Midlevel leaders. New Directions for Community Colleges, 67-79. Wiley.