What Theory of Deliberate Practice Tells Us about Faculty Development

Last month Charlie and I (Hal) celebrated ten years of being co-directors of the University’s Teaching & Learning Center (TLC). While I had been a co-director with someone else a few years earlier, it wasn’t until Charlie stepped down as chair of the Department of English & Theatre and moved over to the TLC, that we worked together as administrators.

In that decade the TLC grew from holding ten university-service-oriented roundtables per semester (including Fireside Chats by the president and provost), no professional learning communities (PLCs), and a modest faculty consultation/classroom observation into a combined unit with the Noel Studio.

Last year that combination served both faculty and students.

  • We started a Teaching & Learning Innovations Series on cutting-edge pedagogical workshops offering specific strategies.
  • We facilitated three PLCs each semester.
  • We offered some 6,000 student consultations and nearly 150 faculty consultations. We created faculty innovators, who visited each college and helped faculty both on a departmental and individual; basis.
  • We ran our third statewide Pedagogicon, a pedagogical conference with participation from three-quarters of our state-funded universities and several of its independent colleges.
  • We developed the Provost’s Professional Development Speaker Series, drawing 20% of the students and over half the faculty to metacognition sessions.
  • We ran Scholarship Week that showcased and promoted both student and faculty scholarship as well as student-faculty collaborations.
  • The three of us published three collaborative books, wrote a weekly blog for New Forums, and developed DEEP, an online professional development system.

About the only thing that didn’t grow was our TLC budget, which has remained constant for the decade.

Should we be surprised that hard work, discipline, and weekly brainstorming sessions paid off? Not really. In fact, anyone familiar with the research on the subject should have expected it. And we’re not talking about research in the field of faculty development.

Defining Deliberate Practice

When we were researching Achieving Excellence in Teaching (Stillwater: New Forums,2014), we re-ran into research on excellence by Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (1993). This trio concluded that in any field from playing basketball to playing in a rock band, excellence only came after practice: “Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of ten years” (p. 363). What was necessary was not just practice, but what they called deliberate practice, or consciously executing the appropriate skill points at a high level with the goal of constant improvement.

Put in coach-speak, practice doesn’t make perfect—perfect practice moves you toward the unattainable ideal of perfection.

How long did I tell you Charlie and I had been laboring in the field of faculty development? Ten years or the requisite 10,000 hours.

And despite their hard work, we got lucky. While the University never upped their maintenance and operations budget, the institution decided to create a Noel Studio for Academic Excellence, and they hired Rusty to be its director. Along the way, a very smart dean who was overseeing both programs found that while she couldn’t provide either the TLC or the Noel Studio with additional funding, she could merge the two units and ask the directors to figure out how to make the merger work.

Another Application of the Theory of Deliberate Practice

As we have mentioned in previous posts, when we decided to overhaul New Faculty Orientation from a spectacle of administrative talking heads to a focused introduction to the primary mission of the University, excellence in teaching, we once again used Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer’s 1993 theory.

For our fundamental and powerful concept, we created the poster that looks out over the Faculty Lounge—EXCELLENCE IN TEACHING IS JOB ONE. If we wanted to convince new faculty of the poster’s truth, then we had to redesign New Faculty Orientation. Day one became Pedagogy Day. Logically, excellence in teaching, assuming one is practicing deliberately (and not, for instance, offering all multiple choice tests and Sage on the Stage teaching), would take some 35 years if one were teaching a 4-4 load. How could we get the job done in less than the requisite 10,000 hours?

By 1) creating Pedagogy Day, and 2) offering constant help in the form of the items mentioned in the last half of paragraph three. And, hopefully, in the next few years our 10,000 hours of deliberate practice will allow us to come up with other ways to help teach teachers develop excellence before they retire.



author Hal BlythePh.D Hal Blythe writes literary criticism to mystery stories. In addition to the eleven books he’s published with New Forums, Hal has collaborated on four books on a variety of subjects, over 1000 pieces of fiction/nonfiction, and a host of television scripts and interactive mysteries performed by their repertory company. He is currently co-director of the Teaching and Learning Center for Eastern Kentucky University. Meet Hal Blythe.