At institutions across the country, the division between the “two sides of the house” can be an insurmountable barrier to student learning and overall institutional effectiveness. Effective partnerships between academic and student affairs can improve student learning and success, and student affairs professionals can motivate faculty involvement in student affairs initiatives with intentional choices to build mutual trust and respect.
In my work straddling the line between academic and student affairs, I find that I most effectively engage faculty when I focus on what matters to them: student learning. When we rolled out a new comprehensive academic monitoring system, for example, we focused on how the system would help students access the resources they need to meet course learning objectives.
Similarly, any initiative we discuss is always within the context of overall student success. When I first arrived at the institution, the institution was pushing hard on the idea of “retention” as it related to the student affairs initiatives. “Retention,” I carefully explained, is a term that resonates with the bean counters. “Retention” is about numbers and isn’t as meaningful to faculty, who care about whether or not students master course content, develop academic skills, become good critical thinkers, and learn to engage in the democratic discourse. “Retention” is but one measure of our collective effectiveness.
In addition to staying attuned to that which matters to faculty, student affairs professionals interested in engaging faculty in initiatives to support student success can take a few other specific measures to inspire functional partnerships.
Spend time learning, understanding, and discussing the academic mission of the college.
Our work in student affairs is often described as a complement to learning and development students undertake in the classroom. In order to complement that work, we must first understand it intimately and speak knowledgeably about how student affairs initiatives enhance the academic experience. Further, all of our initiatives should be explicitly linked to the academic mission and measured in accordance with the strategic priorities of the institution.
Offer before asking.
My lead question in almost any conversation with faculty is “how can I help?” before I ask for any support related to initiatives. I firmly believe that the initiatives we’re advancing meet the needs of our students and the faculty, and those initiatives are rooted in the answer to the question, “How can I help?” Faculty see the solutions to their problems reflected in the initiatives. Further, offering before asking promotes trust and builds relationships.
Of course, it’s important to listen to the answer to the “how can I help” question. I employ my best active listening techniques, ask questions for clarification, and summarize what I’ve heard. But in addition to listening to what is said, I am also attentive to subtexts; when someone asks a question, for example, I answer not only the question at hand but attempt to sort out the question beneath. I listen to broader institutional conversations and note where the gaps are. I actively pursue solutions for filling those gaps.
I am a big fan of sharing both successes and failures. Success helps us see what worked (improvements in course-based outcomes as the result of intentional academic monitoring, for example) and builds trust. I routinely share results with faculty, and if the results are not what we expected, I provide context for the data with a plan for improvement. Nothing is more frustrating than requests for faculty investment in initiatives that end up in a black hole.
The result of these efforts can be significant. At my own institution, we’ve seen an increase in partnerships between academic affairs and student affairs, and improvements in student achievement. We continue to build relationships with faculty, focusing on student learning outcomes and the ways in which we can support the academic mission of the college.
This post is part of our #comm_college series, which aims to explore experiences developing community college policies and processes that impact the recruitment, retention, and completion of community college students. What human interest stories do you have of community college student resilience, persistence, and success? What about a stories of transition, challenge, or transformation? A variety of SA pros working in student affairs at a community college will share their insights. For more information, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Melissa Boles on Academic Advising in a Community College Setting