Professional Development as Rewiring the Institution for Adaptability

Here at the Center for Teaching and Learning, we have been socially networking the university in order to create a more adaptable institution, capable of rapid changes. By bridging the silos of academic departments and colleges, we thus far have facilitated not only the development of new ideas but also actual changes to the university’s organizational chart and processes. We’re becoming a stronger institution in the face of unprecedented technological, economic, and social changes.

In the spring, we will start bridging the gap between faculty and staff, and ideally, we’ll expand this framework to better connect the university’s employees with the surrounding community — the latter’s goal being to facilitate mutual sustainability and growth — and then with other TBR institutions to diversify the available problem-solving skills and overall knowledge and other resources.

But I had missed an additional component that’s structurally necessary for this vision.

Change-leadership scholar John P. Kotter (2014) suggests an additional component in the facilitation of rapid changes. Kotter argues for a dual organizational system, which our Center already facilitates minus a key ingredient. Counterbalancing the university’s hierarchical bureaucracy, a network of passionate people in Kotter’s ideal organization explores threats or opportunities and promotes rapid changes that the hierarchy otherwise cannot address in time. Here at Austin Peay, our Center’s cohort programs network people from across the organization who feel a sense of urgency and want to be change agents. But after they help communicate the change vision, if the administration cannot merely implement the change — as it could, for instance, in the relocation of our Career Services from Academic Affairs to Student Affairs — then the change initiative gets redirected to a taskforce within the very same bureaucratic organization. In other words, the bureaucracy recaptures it and deprives it of its momentum.

The solution? A facilitated (not chaired) guiding coalition.

Like a taskforce, the guiding coalition would further research what is already being done here and at peer institutions, what has been done here and at peer institutions, costs, available resources, … but it also would have design-school-esque facilitated discussions to “[identify] and [remove] barriers which slow or stop [this] strategically important activity” (Kotter, 2014, p. 32). That last part is what a taskforce cannot achieve.

This extra component to Kotter’s dual organizational system will enable us to oversee not only idea generation, but also, at least in certain instances, implementation. For a stronger Austin Peay. For a stronger community. For a stronger higher educational system.

Reference

Kotter, John P. (2014). Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

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Chair Leadership Development

We’re currently piloting a Chair Leadership Program with future, new, and relatively new academic chairs. Over the course of two semesters, participants meet twice a month for 3.5 hours, and then the program will funnel into a chair organization that will start in Spring 2015. Although both the program and organization sound like excessive burdens on precious time, the participants begged for these opportunities, and they repeatedly express their appreciation in both conversation and program assessments. The program and hopefully the organization benefit participants, contributors, and the institution enough for people to want to make that sacrifice.

Some program sessions improve campus efficiency, and not just by creating more knowledgeable chairs. After presenting on the university’s budget, the Director of Budgets worked closely with participants over multiple days, learned about the chairs’ needs, collaborated to streamline certain processes, and shared upcoming changes. Similarly, the University Attorney and her senior administrative assistant discussed the approval process for software agreements, learned about chairs’ concerns, and collaborated to streamline the process for everyone involved.

These interactions were not merely information sessions; the chairs, contributors, and institution truly benefited. As a result of these meetings, chair participants now receive monthly — or in one case, weekly — automated budget updates that help them determine when and from where to move money to prevent shortfalls, which will save the Director of Budgets from having to resolve problems on the back end. They also will acquire a PDF list of clauses that cannot appear in contracts, which chairs then can send to software and other service providers. Eliminating these clauses on the front end speeds up the approval process and reduces the Legal Office’s workload. They also make the chairs’ lives a lot easier.

All program sessions improve inter-divisional relations and mutual understanding. The Chief Human Resources Officer, Director of H.R., and Director of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action explained the hiring and firing process and participated in a Q&A that cleared potentially poisonous misconceptions. They also helped a chair develop action steps to resolve a specific problem.

As much as the participants appreciate these meetings with cross-campus representatives, they truly value the cohort-building opportunities to share freely, discuss and even laugh at their experiences, and collaboratively brainstorm solutions to their problems. They covet these experiences so much, the participants want to make these opportunities permanent, which is why we’re creating the funnel organization.

The Chair Leadership Program and its corresponding chair organization are part of our overall aim to improve cross-campus knowledge transfer, collaborations, and resource sharing. We’re building campus capacity for responding rapidly to external threats or opportunities, one program at a time.

Socially Integrating Faculty and Staff

I’m in the process of rethinking new-program development. Due to organizational changes and new initiatives that might impact my time, I have been asked not to roll out additional programs. However, I had designed a Women’s Leadership Program in response to multiple requests from both faculty and staff. Not only is there a need to support women’s leadership development, but the program can begin the process of socially integrating faculty and staff, which will improve cross-campus knowledge transfer, resource sharing, and collaborations. Social integrations will make a more adaptable campus, capable of rapid response in the face of external threats or opportunities.

I couldn’t let this program die  — or the others that this program might inspire.

So long as the Center for Teaching and Learning houses all such programs, a new administration can determine their future. Although I have problems imagining administrators who wouldn’t support building campus capacity for leadership, I recognize that I’ve served under an exceptionally forward-thinking administration.

As I searched for the program’s new home, an advocate of the Women’s Leadership Program suggested the faculty and staff senates collaboratively house it. Brilliant: Ask the faculty and staff senates to collaborate in housing a program that encourages the faculty and staff to collaborate. The senates’ outgoing and incoming presidents supported the idea, and we’ve packaged a program proposal to present in this week’s agendas. Even though the new organizational home is not a done deal, we’re making progress.

As I explained to the senate presidents, this new organizational home is a starting place for even more collaborative programs directly in the hands of faculty and staff, where only they can determine their futures. The whole point of professional development is to foster agency to strengthen the institution, and only collaboration empowers. It’s time we cultivate collaborative agency — directly in people’s own hands.

New Faculty Orientation for Faculty and Institutional Success

In redesigning the orientation program, I am struggling to envision from a new faculty’s perspective, how to decipher our university’s distinct student bodies, our students’ role models for successful attitudes and behaviors, their unique challenges on their time, their preconceptions of what it means to learn, their preconceptions for what it means to teach, their expectations for their courses and professors, their reasoning for choosing their majors, their thoughts and emotions when they no longer can progress in their majors, their potential for isolation from the campus and its opportunities, the factors that impact their opportunities when they graduate, …. and how the university operates as a system to improve the likelihood of student success.

Here are some of the campus-led program topics I’m imagining:

  • student demographics and their retention and graduation rates
  • teaching students with different at-risk characteristics
  • classroom management strategies for diverse student bodies
  • how to structurally prevent the likelihood of academic dishonesty
  • how to leverage the course-management system for student success
  • collecting course data for more effective changes
  • how to interpret student evaluations
  • student pathways, bottlenecks, and the system of student movement
  • the philosophic trajectory of academic advising: where we are heading
  • how and why the university connects with the community
  • RTP as a tool for student, faculty, and institutional success
  • campus as a collaborative community with a shared purpose: student success
  • emotional intelligence and conflict management with colleagues
  • retention to the second year and beyond

I’m also hoping to brand each year with, for instance, an “Incoming Class of 2014” T-shirt. Depending on the number of new faculty, perhaps we can provide them with individual teaching consultations.

We’re still early in the design process, and a lot of people will play a role in the program’s ultimate shape, but I truly believe we can orient new faculty to a systems-thinking paradigm that will help the institution stay proactive and innovative in fostering student success, while bolstering faculty retention and success.

Prof Dev and New Campus Initiatives

Campus-led professional-development programs with a team project can facilitate new campus initiatives.

On one side, if the president, provost, a faculty-senate committee, or others spearhead a new initiative, they can work with faculty developers to incorporate it into the appropriate programs. Addressing new initiatives in existing programs raises awareness, creates a venue for faculty to work through misconceptions or concerns, garners buy-in by enabling faculty to brainstorm nuances and implementation, and generates at least more informed faculty, if not champions for the cause.

On the other side, professional-development programs can lead to the participants’ devising their own initiatives. By meeting with stakeholders during the investigative process — whether that investigation is in service-learning, advising separated from course scheduling, or the organizational location of Career Services — participants raise stakeholder awareness, possibly build coalitions, and potentially inspire their own champions.

Campus-led, cohort-building professional development is a communication channel. It promotes the sense of campus community, improves organizational efficiency, and encourages adaptability. Most importantly, it empowers faculty.

Professional-Development Strategies

Certain relatively simple professional-development strategies can elevate quality. Here are three design strategies that many colleges and universities can assimilate into their professional development:

1. Professional Development, Not Training

“Training” suggests that specific knowledge or skills have become the goal, and that the goal is convergent. In other words, the word sends the message that there are right and wrong conceptions or practices that the faculty developers are pushing. In our sessions, knowledge and skills are merely tools, not objectives. Participants’ goals diverge. Our participants develop in different ways, because professional development is ultimately self-development.

2. Programs, Not Events

Faculty have a limited stake in one-time events. They can RSVP and still miss an event. But they have a greater stake in programs. For programs, faculty will undergo an application process that requires chairs’ signatures or recommendations. For programs, faculty will face a competitive selection process by a committee of colleagues or academic deans. The program becomes an award with ceremonies, not just an event with handouts. A competitive program has prestige that provides faculty with a stake in the opportunity.

Equally if not more importantly, sessions build on each other to facilitate not merely knowledge acquisition or even assimilation, but also cohort development for improved campus community, cross-campus knowledge transfers, and interdepartmental collaborations. Programs — not events — build campus capacity.

3. Diverse Participants, Diverse Contributors, Diverse Locations

Selection committees need guidance because they’re choosing participants not merely on individual merit or qualifications, but rather for programmatic success. Whereas diversifying ranks within the same department can silence junior faculty, diversifying departments and academic colleges can liberate them. Diverse ranks, disciplines, academic colleges, and other participant characteristics expand a program’s knowledge and skill base for improved cohort creativity. Faculty developers have an obligation to work closely with selection committees.

Meanwhile, diversifying campus contributors expands campus awareness, erodes departmental or even divisional barriers, and improves the sense of campus community. Off-campus contributors can infuse the campus with new insights. Whereas a consistent contributor can tire participants, diverse program contributors rejuvenate them.

So too can diverse locations. Merely changing the scenery can change participants’ mindsets.

These three relatively simple professional-development strategies can significantly elevate quality. They encourage buy-in. Most importantly, they promote a culture of improvement and collaboration for a greater return on everyone’s investment.

Faculty-Development Design Philosophy

Philosophically, I design collaborative opportunities that can lead to innovations for student and community success. During my first week at Austin Peay, our provost introduced me to that mindset. As Dr. Denley explained, people in isolation have trouble escaping their preconceptions and, therefore, make only revisions, not innovations. Course redesigns, one of Dr. Denley’s areas of expertise and the topic of our conversation that day, encourage faculty to come together and work beyond their individual perceptions. Since that day, I have read book after book about creating innovative climates, and they all repeat that same wisdom: only diverse perspectives in collaboration create innovations.

I use that philosophy in class. I use that philosophy in professional development.

But you can’t just throw diverse people together and expect celestial trumpets. People need to feel comfortable with each other. They need to become active members of a diverse community.

Our programs facilitate that sense of community through participant immersion. The Faculty Leadership Program (FLP), for instance, meets all day each Tuesday for fourteen weeks; that detail by itself forces a sense of community on participants. In all of our programs, we limit participation to fewer than ten people, another detail that encourages a sense of community. Additionally, we utilize ceremony and other symbolic features to distinguish the cohort. Once the sense of community takes hold, we assign a team project that further unifies participants.

That project is also where the celestial trumpets might sound — providing the participants have developed enough knowledge on the front end and that the project arises organically.

Our programs foster a sense of not only cohort community, but also campus community through the information-gathering phase. Generally, after every hour or so, I change guest speakers or initiate a reflection activity. In a three-hour-per-week program, for example, we would meet with either two speakers each day or only one followed by group reflection. Because we encourage discussions over presentations, our guest speakers build a rapport with the participants that breaks down campus barriers and facilitates future interactions. The FLP even goes so far as to include a Shadow Day, in which each participant shadows a different campus leader generally outside his or her purview, preferably from a different division than Academic Affairs. We’re trying to build campus capacity for collaborations, as well as facilitate cross-campus knowledge transfer for rapid response in the face of threats or opportunities.

Diverse campus participants + diverse campus contributors = campus integration.

Once they develop significant knowledge and sense of community, the cohort devises a project. After many iterations, I now charge the participants with as few specifics as possible. In the past, I’ve charged the participants with solving very specific problems. This semester, I’ve charged the FLP participants only with investigating a personal frustration that negatively impacts student success and that is a high-priority for the institution to resolve. If the participants have predominantly external motivations to complete the project, the cohort might not take ownership of it. Only if the cohort takes ownership of it will they continue to work on it after the program ends.

We’re at the point now that I’m working on expanding program access to not merely faculty, but also staff. As a university, we’ve done an excellent job of breaking down departmental and collegiate divisions between faculty, and now we’re at a stage when we can begin the process of socially integrating faculty and staff.

We’re also not too far away from opening our programs to participants from neighboring community colleges or universities. The expanded reach will create revenue streams that can subsidize our programs. It also will create deeper channels that can ferry students, workers, knowledge, funding, and other resources back and forth for mutual sustainability, growth, and community development.

That’s what I mean by, “I design collaborative opportunities that can lead to innovations for student and community success.” I can’t stress enough how rewarding this journey has been, and I attribute a large portion of that sense to this philosophy. It has shaped my interactions with faculty, staff, students, and the greater community. And it’s starting to shape my interactions with the greater community of higher ed.