Recently, we’ve been looking at a number of aspects of adjunct instructors’ teaching experiences, including the challenges of the adjunct role. Of the instructors we surveyed, 40% mentioned that “poor connections to colleagues/institution” posed a challenge to their work. Today, we look at this aspect of their experience in greater depth, and share a few ideas that may help adjuncts at your college feel more connected to their colleagues and other professionals in the field.
Do adjuncts feel connected with colleagues and other professionals?
In any professional environment, connections with colleagues can be beneficial (not to mention enjoyable). The longer you work at a particular institution, the more likely you are to build connections, and even friendships, with your cohorts. This network can also provide you with a valuable human resource; if you know where to turn when you have questions related to your role, or if you’re able to draw from others’ banks of institutional knowledge, your network is clearly advantageous to your professional experience.
Given the often transitory nature of the adjunct role, it may stand to reason that it’s more difficult to build those types of collegial relationships. On the whole, do adjuncts report that their connections are weak, or are they satisfied with their ability to connect with colleagues and others who practice in their fields or disciplines?
A majority of the 171 adjunct instructors who responded to our survey do not experience strong connections to other instructors at their colleges: 49% rarely feel connected to fellow educators, and 8% never feel connected. That being said, those who do feel connected form a decent-size portion: 34% said that they’re connected “most of the time,” and 9% said that they always experience a connection to other instructors.
Interestingly, when we asked this audience about their connections with other professionals in their field or discipline, the percentages of their responses remained somewhat consistent. However, in this case, we saw a 50–50 split, with one half providing a positive response of “always” (12%) or “most of the time” (38%), and the other half indicating that they “rarely” (42%) or “never” (8%) feel connected to other professionals. In terms of these responses, it may make a difference whether or not they have jobs outside of the colleges where they teach (e.g., they hold a full-time job as a CPA, and teach accounting online or through evening courses).
If these instructors could build a stronger network, they may increase their confidence and work more effectively. This network could also ultimately strengthen their ability to provide students with a strong experience in their courses. Thus, adjuncts who are currently feeling a lack of connection would benefit from solutions that will help them build relationships. But what might work… and is there any possibility of your college providing these experiences to adjuncts (and, in fact, all instructors)?
What tools could help adjuncts build connections with colleagues?
As we reviewed adjuncts’ top responses to the question, “What kinds resources would help you feel more connected with your colleagues?,” we noticed three key sets of tools and activities that could facilitate connections among them and the other instructors on campus.
1. In-person meetings. The greatest number of our respondents would appreciate the opportunity to interact with fellow instructors in either social or more professional settings. Half of our respondents noted that “networking/social events” could help them build connections, and 47% said that “on-campus” meetings would be helpful.
How can you get adjuncts connected on campus? One way is simply to encourage adjunct faculty to participate in department meetings if and when this is feasible. If you already have these meetings open, actively ensure that adjuncts know they’re welcome to attend. You might also set up simple social events (such as a coffee hour) that encourage all instructors to connect at the start, or in the middle, of the term.
2. Contact lists and directories. Something as basic as a faculty and staff directory could prove essential to many adjuncts who are trying to find the answer to a question or better understand a particular aspect of their roles and responsibilities. Thus, the 37% of adjuncts who noted that “contact lists for other instructors” would agree: if you know how to reach out to colleagues, it makes life on the job so much simpler!
Does your college make it easy for individual instructors to find and reach out to other faculty and staff? Many colleges publish directories on their websites; if this is true of your school, make sure that your adjuncts know about the availability of these directories. If your college does not make this information public, consider creating a regularly updated instructor directory of phone numbers and/or e-mails, along with other useful details (e.g., which courses they teach); again, ensure that adjuncts have access to this list.
3. Online communities. Due to time restrictions, expense, or (in the case of many online faculty) distance, connecting in person may not always be feasible. In these situations, online tools can offer a virtual space for knowledge sharing, informal discussions, and formal conversations about department policies and procedures. A smaller, but still significant, percentage of adjuncts said that web-based communities (32%), online meetings (31%), and social media tools (20%) help them communicate with and get to know fellow instructors.
Would you like to create an online community for your faculty? Consider adding a discussion area or password-protected blog to your online faculty portal. You might also set up a members-only LinkedIn group, which would offer your faculty the ability to have discussions and share relevant links in a professional, but private, setting.
Connecting with others in related fields
For the most part, adjuncts said that these same tools would also help them connect with other professionals outside their particular colleges. However, in these situations, online resources (such as social media) figured slightly more prominently, and on-campus meetings were less desired; this makes sense, given that these online tools could help adjuncts form professional relationships across the country and world, rather than across just a single institution.
Tips for making connections
Are you an adjunct who’s hoping to create stronger connections with colleagues and other professionals in your field? Try some of these suggestions:
Attend events, workshops, and seminars scheduled by your department and school. Even if you’re busy, make it a priority to take part in as many meetings and workshops as you can. You’ll meet your colleagues and they’ll come to recognize your commitment to your role as an instructor on the campus. You’ll also become better informed about the issues, policies, procedures, and trends that concern others at the college. You might also consider attending cultural events on campus, to get a flavor for what community life is like outside of the classroom walls. If you can’t participate in events at the school, find out about the availability of webinars.
Reach out to colleagues. Make time to meet with fellow instructors. Don’t worry about being overly formal; head to a local spot for coffee or lunch, or have a “brown-bag session” in a meeting room on campus. The time you invest in meeting and getting to know your colleagues will help you feel more connected on campus.
Join the regional organizations associated with your field or profession. In addition to the large national or international associations, you should also investigate whether or not there’s a chapter or group based in your city, state, or region. Typically, these regional groups will have meetings, conferences, and institutes, where you can take part in sessions related to topics germane to your own location, while also meeting like-minded professionals who deal with many of the same issues you do. You can also participate in their courses, workshops, or seminars and earn continuing-education credits.
Stay informed. Read as much as you can about your discipline, as well as your campus and department. Follow their activity on social media, and add their blogs and websites to your RSS feed. Stay aware of the types of research published by the school’s. The more steps you take to be well-informed about the school and its academic activities, you’ll increase your chances of being (and being seen as) an engaged member of the school’s community.
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What are your recommendations for building connections with colleagues? If you’re an adjunct, how have you yourself built connections with colleagues? Share your ideas in the comments.