The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Part-time Faculty

May 14, 2016

by Mandy McGrew
Educational Specialist for Scholarly Teaching and Part-Time Instructor of American Studies
Kennesaw State University

Adapted from Richard Lyons in Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty

As part-time faculty members we can feel pulled in a million different directions by students, administration, family, friends, and full-time work obligations. Getting control over all of the various aspects of our lives can seem difficult, if not impossible. We want to be the best teachers we can be, but how can we do that in the most effective way possible? Stephen Covey wrote the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in 1989 and since then it has help millions take control over their lives and to dictate the path they take, rather than drifting along without goals or direction. If you are looking to focus your work as a part-timer and feel more in control of your classes and your career, here are some ways we can apply Covey’s seven habits to do just that.  

Habit 1: Be Proactive

To be proactive, you must initiate interactions and plan ahead. If you wait for something to happen and then decide on your response, you are being reactive. If you anticipate what might happen and plan accordingly, you are being proactive. Think about your career as a part-time instructor. How might you be proactive?

  • Develop relationships with your students early in the semester; don’t wait for problems to arise. Reduce anonymity by learning students’ names using name tents or an attendance roster that has photographs. Knowing your students enhances the climate of the classroom and also reduces the likelihood that students will commit academic dishonesty.
  • Check in with students if something seems wrong; don’t wait for them to come to you. If something changes in a students’ behavior or if they are suddenly serially absent, approach the student or reach out to them in a positive, concerned way. Sometimes students are struggling in their personal or academic lives, but they don’t feel comfortable approaching us with their problems. Recognizing that they are struggling and letting them know that you are there to help them succeed can have a positive impact.


Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Beginning with the end in mind means that you have to know where you want to end up before you set out on your journey. For teaching, that means we have to know what we want our students to take from our classes before we begin planning how we are going to implement the course and assess our student’s learning. 

  • Plan for alignment in your courses. Be sure to state clear learning objectives or outcomes in your syllabus. Design assessments that measure whether or not students have mastered these objectives. Determine what specific readings, viewings, and activities students will engage in that will help them learn what you will be assessing.
  • Create a great syllabus with a detailed calendar that provides students a roadmap of what to expect over the course of the semester. Let students see how you have structured the course and why so that they don’t feel awash in readings and assignments that have been chosen at random and are not connected to an end goal.


Habit 3: Put First Things First

 What are “first things”? We often think of them as the things that must be done first, like taking role or sharing announcements at the beginning of class. Really “first things” are the most important things to us in life—the things that should come first. What are the most important things to you in your life? Do you spend the majority of your time focusing on those things? The same principle applies to our classes—what do you think are the most important things about your class? What will students take with them after the semester is over? Or break it down even smaller than that—what are the most important things for your students to learn this unit, this module, this week, or this class? Once you know what is most important, structure your class, module, etc. around those most important things and spend the most time on them.

  • You are important! Take time for yourself to prepare mentally before you teach a class, however you feel energizes you and prepares you for the day. Listen to music, meditate, take a walk . . . do what you need to do to shift gears from your full-time job, your family, your everyday life to your role as a teacher.
  • Plan your classes so that you are spending the majority of the time working on the topics that are the most important. Focus on the learning objectives you want students to master and the assessments they must pass to show that mastery has occurred.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

Education is not a zero sum game—we don’t lose [our jobs] when the students win [do well in our course] and we don’t win [feel good about our teaching] when the students lose [fail or complain about our teaching]. In order for deep learning to occur, we should all be benefiting together. When our students are well prepared for their assessments, they leave our courses feeling supported and like they have achieved something—a win for them and a win for us (and for the university). How can we create a Win/Win situation in our classes?

  • Make it clear to students that you want and expect them to be successful in your course, and then give them clear tools that help them do so. Strive for creating a collaborative environment in your classroom, not one in which you are winning and the students are losing or vice versa.
  • Provide rubrics for each assignment. Rubrics let students know exactly what you want, how you want them to accomplish it, and why. Good rubrics help students succeed, but if the first rubric you create isn’t great, keep trying—sometimes it takes trial and error for you to understand exactly what it is you want your students to know and to determine how you will assess it.


Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood 

Sometimes we as instructors, think we have all of the answers and that our students just need to listen and learn. But if we are not communicating in a way that they understand, we are exerting effort for nothing. What we are trying to teach our students might not look the same from their perspective—or they might not be able to see it at all . . . yet. It’s our job to turn a lack of connection into an opportunity for learning, rather than lamenting “kids these days.” 

  • View students’ personal experiences as opportunities for enriching the class—is there a way you can use student anecdotes as examples? To develop a point you are making? As a problem the entire class can help to solve? If you can better understand where your students are coming from and why they think the way that they do, you will be better equipped to teach them in a meaningful way. 
  • Solicit informal feedback before the midpoint of the semester. Ask students how they think the course is going. See if there are common issues or suggestions that you can implement that will help your students learn and make your experience in class better. One way is to do a STOP-START-CONTINUE (you can read more about this process here.

Habit 6: Synergize

Synergy occurs when “an interaction or situation . . . attains more than the sum of its individual parts.” (Lyons, 2004, p. 22) Synergizing means utilizing everyone’s strengths to get to a better place than you were at when you began. When you create synergy in your classroom, students leave not only knowing the course material, but knowing how to apply the skills that they’ve learned in your class to succeed in other courses. Their lives are enriched beyond the new knowledge they have acquired.

  • Actively try to build a community within your classes. Use small groups to increase engagement and create opportunities for relationships to develop. After you have gotten to know your students strengths, try grouping them together in ways that allows for synergy within groups.
  • Link the course material to the real world and to students’ lives. When students see the relevance of course material, they are more likely to retain the information and apply it to their daily lives.


Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

When you think about what it means to sharpen the saw, think about keeping your tools in their best shape so that you can work with them at their most effective. As teachers, our minds are the tools that we must keep sharp. Regardless of whether you’ve been teaching for a long time or are in your first semester as a part-time faculty member, learning more about teaching and learning is crucial to being your best teaching self.

  • Mentoring relationships allow you to share your experiences with someone who has been there, done that, and knows the kinds of challenges that might arise. When teaching challenges arise, having a mentor you can go to who listens and provides support can help you see that you are not alone and there are many ways of conquering your issues. Especially if you are new to teaching, you should seek out mentors—either other part-time faculty or full-time faculty. Be proactive and think Win/Win! Both you and your mentor will benefit from this relationship.
  • Attending faculty development opportunities or reading books and articles on the subject of teaching and learning can help you discover new ways of teaching certain concepts or solving problems you are facing in the classroom. At KSU, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning is here to help you sharpen your teaching saw—click here to see what workshops, book clubs, and other events are coming up at CETL:

CETL Events