Bethany Fitzpatrick, Adjunct English Instructor, Northwest Arkansas Community College (AR)
Adjunct faculty can often feel adrift in the sea of academia. They may be recent graduates relatively new to the classroom, or veteran online teachers with rare visits to campus. With brief or limited time on campus, adjunct faculty can easily feel disconnected from their departments and college community, which can even discourage their teaching endeavors.
One way to encourage faculty professional growth and department engagement is through peer mentoring and peer partnering. Many colleges take this approach by having peers partner together for a peer review process. This is a great way for faculty to connect in small groups and to exchange ideas and materials. However, this process can also be challenging, as partners are often assigned at the last minute, leaving members frantic to accomplish yet another task in their already busy semester. To combat this issue and create a personally engaging process—rather than a rush to meet a deadline—assign peer groups and mentors at the start of a semester departmental meeting.
Another way to encourage faculty engagement is to pair new instructors with full-time faculty members. A semester or year of peer mentoring can help the newbie feel supported and better connected, especially knowing he or she has someone to answer questions and with whom to share ideas. The pair could agree to meet in person, talk on the phone, and/or communicate via e-mail.
For veteran teachers, the peer partnering program could be voluntary and goal-minded. Adjunct instructors are often asked to set teaching goals for their annual evaluations, and are frequently left to their own devices to achieve these goals. Why not partner or group instructors, adjunct or full-time, who have similar goals? That way they can support and encourage one another in their like-minded endeavors. Alternatively, partner those who are strong in a particular area with those who are seeking to improve. This would be very similar to the idea of the “Critical Friend Program,” per the Glossary of Educational Reform:
“In education, the term critical friend was introduced in 1994 by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, which began advocating a teacher-led approach to professional development called critical friends or professional learning communities—groups of educators who meet regularly, engage in structured professional discussions, and work collaboratively to improve their school or teaching skills.”
Thus, rather than leaving faculty to achieve their professional development goals in piecemeal, this small group approach can support their professional growth in a focused and supportive learning community.