Five Recommendations for Engagement from South Suburban College Adjunct FacultySubmitted by the South Suburban College Adjunct Faculty with Natalie Page, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at South Suburban College and Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair, English & Interdisciplinary Studies

Some of the best faculty development simply brings faculty together to share and synthesize ideas about how to enhance teaching and learning. During a January professional development session on Engagement Strategies for Equity based on Gloria Ladson-Billings’ work on culturally relevant teaching, the adjunct faculty from South Suburban College discussed effective methods for engaging and supporting their students. The adjunct faculty participants explored the common conceptions and shared visions of culturally relevant educators, and examined a multitude of ways these notions manifest themselves in teaching dispositions and strategies. The SSC adjunct faculty had many recommendations to share which centered on five major themes.

  1. Be explicit about the skills needed as well as the value of these competencies in the workplace.
    • Faculty who seek to cultivate leadership capacity will develop students’ soft skills such as verbal and written communication, including electronic messages, so that students can appropriately advocate for themselves and convey their ideas. This may include creating detailed guides such as an email template to model the standards of professional communication in the field or discipline and, to increase buy-in, explaining the potential consequences of unprofessional correspondence. As one participant noted, “If we don’t, they will write how they text.” We’ve all received those emails.
  2. Share your passion for helping students develop themselves, their lives, and their skills.
    • Inspire students to engage in the work of being a college student by sharing stories, including your own, that demonstrate that taking pride and ownership in one’s efforts leads to growth and achievement. Your enthusiasm about your students’ lives helps them to realize that their dreams are tangible, and move through the process a SSC adjunct describes to his students as “expectation, preparation, and manifestation.” Many students need support to develop a sense of pride in themselves so that they can transfer that to their work. If you don’t believe in their potential, why should they?
  3. Allow students to master some aspect of the discipline to increase self-efficacy.
    • Students will improve their confidence after developing the knowledge and skills to engage in reciprocal teaching and learning with their peers. In successfully “doing” part of the discipline, students realize they can become an expert in some facet of the discipline, which they may have been unsure of before. When students “learn by teaching,” they develop the sense that they could master additional content and skills through a similar process. After all, as the expression goes, the first step forward is the start of a journey…or something like that.
  4. Discuss the why behind anything and everything students want to know about.
    • The quest to understand does not necessarily fade when students get past the incessant questioning phase that is characteristic of a three-year-old. If their desire for deep learning is snuffed-out by their teachers along the way in the interest of time, they are often disengaged and uninspired. In order to get through the content, teachers are tempted to discourage deep discussions about the context and meaning behind the material; however, going beyond the surface will engage students’ interests and help them better understand and remember the big ideas. Why not encourage students to “ask a lot of why” questions throughout the course. Go deep or go home!
  5. Use humor to cultivate a sense of comfort, community, and joy in the classroom.
    • Human beings need social flow in order to continue to generate interest and enthusiasm in their work. In most any field, a workplace culture leverages some type of humor to create a sense of comradery and enjoyment. Creating a comfortable environment and sense of community will make students more likely to want to attend class and more inclined to get authentically involved in the class activities. If you don’t think you’re funny, you can always bring in relevant memes, cartoons, or video clips—whether the students laugh or groan, they are paying attention and you’ve given them something to comment on together. The class who laughs together stays together?

In just a short application session, the adjunct faculty at SSC shared and discussed some effective strategies that they recommend for engaging and supporting students, and all of them connected to decades of research on culturally relevant and responsive teaching. I have no doubt that the session could have gone on for much longer as there was no shortage of ideas. Of course, a substantial breakfast with some unstructured time to socialize beforehand may have helped get the energy going.