7-Habits of Highly Effective Adjunct Professors


The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Adjunct Professors was adapted from Richard E. Lyons, Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty, 2004. He created this inventory, based on Dr. Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), to offer adjunct faculty a set of successful teaching and course management strategies. This set of guidelines is useful for any faculty member who wants to be a more effective educator. (Retrieved from: http://www.albany.edu/teachingandlearning/tlr/adjunct_faculty/q13.shtml )

Students on campus in autumnHabit 1: Be Proactive

Proactively fostering relationships with your students from the very first class meeting not only increases the effect of your teaching but also enables you to anticipate and manage challenges that commonly occur later in the term.

To be proactive, adjunct professors should:

  • Anticipate challenges students are likely to face and plan for their solution.
  • Initiate a dialogue with as many students as possible  at the first class meeting. 
  • Gather sufficient information from students to meet their needs.
  • Orchestrate a rich initial class meeting that achieves multiple objectives.
  • Follow up promptly on student inquiries for information and on absenteeism.
  • Use e-mail to update students weekly on course developments.  

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Because an adjunct professor's teaching contract is typically open to renegotiation at the end of each term, it is critical that you provide learning opportunities that fit the needs of the particular group of students in each class that you are assigned.

To begin with the end in mind, adjunct professors should integrate the following tactics into their teaching:

  • Prior to beginning your course planning, obtain documents (e.g., course outlines, departmental syllabi) that specify the learning objectives for each course you are assigned.
  • Develop rich assignments that lead to students' achievement of these objectives and are likely to be perceived by students as relevant to their lives.
  • Develop a detailed, eye-appealing syllabus that clearly explains course objectives.
  • Develop examinations and other assessment tools before course material is addressed.
  • Clarify throughout the term the objectives communicated in the course syllabus.

Habit 3: Put First Things First a stack of folders and books

Staying organized and dividing weekly planning into two distinct steps—prompt evaluation and analysis of the previous class meeting and a separate planning session that looks ahead to the following meeting—will pay many dividends. Within the class meeting itself, effective professors focus on addressing the most critical concepts when students are physiologically receptive and regularly connecting activities and assignments to the course objectives.

To put first things first, the most successful adjunct professors will employ the following tactics:

  • Evaluate and compartmentalize the last class meeting.
  • Develop a detailed agenda for each class meeting that includes time parameters.
  • Address critical learning objectives early in the class meeting while students are most fresh and receptive.
  • Develop assignments and examinations that foster students' mastery of the most critical content of the course.
  • Dedicate the majority of class time to content on which students will be evaluated.
  • Provide an overview of the following class meeting that enables students to organize their thinking in advance of new instruction.
  • Communicate regularly with students through e-mail to provide reinforcement and clarification of upcoming course events.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

Although we have all likely seen an argument between a professor and student, we might ask whether any professor ever really "won" such an exchange. Using a "win/win" approach, where both the professor and the students can have a reasonable expectation of a “winning” outcome, will allow professors and students to achieve mutual success. Students who see the professor as a caring human being truly invested in their well-being will typically extend themselves to meet higher expectations, and also begin to internalize high standards for subsequent performance.

Sensitized professors who think "win/win" will regularly employ the following tactics:

  • Provide positive feedback to students in front of their peers.
  • Encourage flexibility on assignments to enhance students' mastery of course learning objectives.
  • Prepare students thoroughly for examinations, especially the first one in the course.
  • Foster students' performance by providing and reviewing the scoring rubric for each assignment as it is being made.
  • Provide prompt, individualized feedback on scored examinations and assignments.
  • Talk regularly with students, before and after class meetings and via e-mail between classes, about their progress toward their personal learning goals.

Professor assisting students with computersHabit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood     

It is important to work on understanding the perspectives of the students enrolle d in your courses. Effective professors have learned that they do not "teach a discipline" so much as they teach students, who have the potential to grow well beyond the multiple challenges they bring with them to the classroom. 

Seeking first to understand and then to be understood is facilitated by employing the following tactics:

  • Employ a student profile or information form to gather useful information on each student at the first class meeting. 
  • Update the form throughout the term to note key points that surface in student conferences and other critical events and have it handy when talking with the individual student.
  • View students' various characteristics, experiences, and attitudes as potential enriching factors to the classroom experience, for other students and you.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the popular culture and use vocabulary and examples to which your students can relate easily.
  • Solicit "informal" feedback from students throughout the term. 

Habit 6: Synergize

A professor who works toward synergy believes that a particular course should be more than the sum of its assignments, examination results, and classroom interactions, and thus thrives on the diversity that today's students offer. Each course section and class session should truly enrich the lives of students by giving them a foundation on which to build an understanding of subsequent academic work, life experiences, and personal insights. Achieving synergy in your teaching requires embracing Covey's first five habits to draw students in and make the course an individualized learning event, and then trusting students to develop the insights and courage to take their learning a step further.

To synergize, professors should employ the following tactics:

  • Promptly review student profiles closely to identify strengths of individual students.
  • During discussions, draw out students' experiences that relate to classroom topics.
  • Link course assignments and discussions to students' real-world lives.
  • Encourage students individually to contribute more of themselves to the class as a whole.
  • Employ small groups of students to focus on learning goals more effectively.
  • Orchestrate out-of-class study groups.
  • Actively build a classroom community that celebrates the unique nature of learning.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw building blocks displaying growth

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey relays a number of parables, including one about watching a man while he is sawing down a tree. The man admits to being at the task for more than five hours. When asked why he didn't stop to sharpen the saw, he exhaustedly exclaims, "I don't have time. I’m too busy sawing." Many adjunct professors become frustrated when their "tried and true" techniques fail with a particular group of students. Like the man sawing, many do not take the time to sharpen their tools. Citing the whimsical definition of insanity, they seem to expect a different result from doing things the same way they have done them a hundred times before.

In the last few years, research that employs technology to record brain functioning of humans while performing critical tasks has revealed some truly fascinating insights into how learning occurs. As professionals, we should invest the time to become familiar with at least some of this research and assess its ramifications on teaching and learning methodologies.

Adjunct professors who seek to continuously "sharpen the saw" might employ the following tactics:

  • Establish mentoring relationships with effective veteran instructors.
  • Mentor a novice adjunct professor, regularly discussing effective teaching strategies.
  • Annually extend beyond a single discipline to read a well-received book on teaching and learning practices.
  • Make use of on-campus workshops, discussion groups, and related resources, which are often sponsored by one of the growing number of teaching and learning centers.
  • Access on-line resources about teaching.