Why COACHE Teams Should "Phone a Friend”: Garnering Greater Insights by Engaging COACHE’s Community of Practice

By Jeannie Kim

Corporate Desk PhoneThe results of the Collaborate on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey provide partners with insight into areas of strength at their institutions, as well as areas for improvement. In addition, through blind peer comparisons, COACHE partners can even see how their faculty satisfaction measures compare to other similar institutions.

But what happens when you want to dig beneath the data set, get access to the nuances of other institutions’ experiences, and learn more about how peers tackled similar challenge areas and made improvements? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just phone a friend who’s been through something similar—whether it be related to work/life balance for faculty, diversity, leadership or any other issue?

That’s exactly where COACHE’s community of practice comes in. The COACHE team can help you to connect with other COACHE partners who have had similar experiences so that you can tap into their learnings and best practices.

Why is COACHE’s community of practice so valuable?

  1. Sharing similar experiences in a supportive environment: The idea of sharing challenges your campus is facing can be daunting, but the others in COACHE’s community of practice have agreed to connect because they are interested in sharing their experiences and learnings to help others. As you connect with faculty from other campuses, you’ll also be building a support network for the future.
  2. Understanding context that brings data to life: Data delivered through COACHE’s Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey provides a vital framework to understand strengths and areas for improvement, but adding context and qualitative data to the conversation can offer an additional dimension of insight and understanding. This is especially true when partners are looking to not only understand what is happening on campus but how to move forward and create positive change.
  3. Tapping into others’ best practices and tools: Other institutions have likely faced a similar challenge to you. Tapping into the community of practice gives you the opportunity to learn what worked for others — and what didn’t. Many institutions in the COACHE community of practice are also generous in sharing the tools and resources that have helped them succeed, so that you don’t have to tackle everything from scratch.

Putting the network into practice at Iowa State University

Iowa State University has been a longtime partner of COACHE for over 15 years. They are exemplars of utilizing COACHE data and listening to the voice of their faculty, to implement key changes.

While their 2021 report results showed evidence of overall positive results for most of their benchmarks, they also saw that their faculty satisfaction for departmental collegiality had room for improvement. They reached out to COACHE to request support.

The COACHE team helped them to connect with peers or other similar institutions that had higher averages for departmental collegiality—or who had undergone a similar journey of improvement—supporting with outreach to other institutions to gauge interest, and brokering introductions where relevant. Here is what Dr. Tera Jordan the Assistant Provost for Faculty Development at Iowa State University had to say about the experience,

“Having carefully reviewed our COACHE data for both strengths and opportunities, and as a relationship scholar by training, I appreciated the opportunity to learn from leaders and colleagues at other universities about their institutional contexts and norms and ways to build community and bridge common barriers and challenges among faculty who work on de-centralized campuses.”

Dr. Caroline Hayes, professor, and Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University, agreed.

"It's hard to make changes in the abstract, so hearing practical approaches from our peers for improving collegiality has been really useful especially as we work to reconnect, post-pandemic. Multiple organizations we spoke with suggested ‘hold more in-person events with food!’ While there is no single approach to improving collegiality, every concrete approach we can learn from our peers is a big help.”

Just like Iowa State, many institutions have been connected with various campuses in their peer set to share insights and best practices. If you would like to explore opportunities to tap into COACHE’s community of practice reach out to the COACHE team to learn more at coache@gse.harvard.edu.

Check out part two in our community of practice blog series to learn more about Iowa State’s findings!