Education for the educator
For higher education to excel, we must create our way forward. And if the COVID-19 pandemic has shown nothing else, it has revealed to us that we have the ability to be nimble in the delivery of online education, student support services and flexible work schedules.
Being nimble and thriving, however, are different things. The education of the educator starts now. Higher education leaders should consider these three actions to drive a collective capacity to thrive.
- Action one: Evaluate what is holding you back from sustaining nimbleness for students. In many cases, what is happening now is probably what should have been happening already. Perhaps, sustaining swift decision-making requires you to stop overthinking and take action. Stop compiling reasons for why new measures will not work. Rather, shift that attitude to: How can we make this work? Most important, stop thinking outside of the box and eliminate entirely that figurative box. Remember our job is to distribute equitable access to education.
- Action two: Push reset (twice) on what quality means to your organization. In one of our dozen daily Zoom gatherings, a respected dean reminded us of how important quality and continued investment in our “new” processes will become. These include remote student support and learning services, quality faculty training, stakeholder engagement, and our own personal investment in what we do. Quality matters in what you do and in how it is applied.
You must create your own way, one that best aligns with your environment and community, and not play the endless game of catch-up with every other college.
- Action three: Carefully realign expectations. Consider what students may expect now versus what you assume they expect. Don’t be the one who says, “I can’t wait for everything to go back to the way it was.” Instead, be the one who reminds the team that our ability to serve students at broader levels is indeed possible—and we now know our own limits are being redefined. What’s more, student expectations about our abilities and our expectations about theirs are in flux. Face-to-face education is a cornerstone of our fine brick-and-mortar institutions. But like anything, expectations—especially when access to learning becomes more agile—will continue to require careful monitoring. You must create your own way, one that best aligns with your environment and community, and not play the endless game of catch-up with every other college.
Students need us, whether our delivery mode for higher education comes in the form of a community college, technical college, university or private college. Each serves a unique niche with distinctive values, strategies and mindsets. Regardless of your current state of affairs, rethink the way you can continue to serve that mission and vision. Think purposefully about how it will look and feel to your next generation of students. Whatever your idea is, when you know it rings true and holds promise, grant it entrance. Take action.
Our work is in fact equity work. It is about ensuring that our community and individual stakeholders have an opportunity to build a better future. The reality is that exactly how we continue to advance this delivery of an equitable future must never become a one-size-fits-mostly-all model. Our technology use and increased risk tolerance must become normal organizational behavior.
Invest in your processes and methods. Make tough decisions that you have been putting off. At times, this will require you stop overthinking and take action.
Keep up the good work, and keep away from your box. Better yet, toss it and refresh your thinking regularly. We should not need a global crisis to nudge us.
Ken Trzaska has served as president at Seward County Community College in Liberal, Kansas, since August 2015.
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