10 Reasons to Work at the BSE

Yesterday as I was reading a book about managing generations in the workplace, I came across an anecdote about Google which featured the Top Ten Reasons to Work at Google. Because my Spring class will focus on personnel issues, I’m going to include an assignment where everyone will have the opportunity to create a similar top ten list for the school/college/university where they work.

This started me thinking about the top ten reasons to work at the Benerd School of Education. We’re just completing a search for our new department chair and in retrospect, it would have been fun to share this with the candidates. At the very least, I’ll be able to share it with the person we select as well as our Dean and colleagues in my department.

So … in no particular order, here are my top ten:

1. Our work is valued. Our work as teachers and scholars is the heart of the BSE. We receive a lot of support to pursue both.

2. There are opportunities to pursue myriad professional interests. Our research agenda is self-directed. No one tells us what to research, only that we need to be active, engaged scholars. What we study, how we study it, and when we study it are all left up to us.

3. We model reflective practice. Some time ago the faculty agreed that engaging in reflective practice was not only one of our core values but also modeled the kind of behavior we hope to instill in students. My recent experience with my third-year pre-tenure review provided the opportunity for me to engage in self-reflection about the ways I teach, learn, and conduct research — and to connect with a community of others who were similarly committed to reflecting on these topics for my benefit. How many organizations engage in collective reflection designed to support the development of each individual as well as the entire group?

4. We truly want the best for our students. Do we always agree on what is best? No, but that is part of the beauty of the BSE. We’re all different. We define what’s best for students in different ways and we talk about those different definitions. Faculty want smaller classes, the Dean wants classes that are large enough to sustain our programs. After some conversations, we learn why larger classes are important and the Dean acknowledges the importance of small seminars for doctoral courses. From there, we collaborate on ways to balance class size with financial sustainability.

5. We are on the verge of a transition/transformation. Along with the entire university, we are responding to external mandates (i.e., creating transparent, meaningful learning outcomes) that have been the catalyst for conversations about our purpose, our mission, and our vision. We’re looking at what distinguishes us from other programs as well as how we want to define ourselves. This is probably the most exciting aspect of working in the BSE right now … We have the opportunity to shape the BSE in a very meaningful way as we honor our past & imagine our future.

6. We have a good group of people in the BSE. It doesn’t matter what one’s role is, we all make a difference. Sure we have our differences and disagree, but even the disagreements are usually resolved in ways that benefits the whole.

7. We can work in the cloud. As faculty we have tremendous flexibility in the ways we approach our work, when we work, and where we work. We’re not place-bound and I find that more of my work is “in the cloud” (as opposed to in the clouds).

8. Our Dean supports us. I’ve worked with administrators that haven’t supported my work before and I can say without a doubt that our Dean supports us. What I have always appreciated is that she doesn’t treat people differently based on their role with the BSE. She makes sure we have the resources we need to be successful.

9. Our work matters. We impact students in our program and the students they work with every day. Our reach is far & wide.

10. We have fun. Whether it’s line dancing, doing the hokey-pokey, hosting cookie bake-off’s or singing Don’t Stop Believin’ we do, indeed, have a lot of fun in the BSE.

Making Next Year’s Class Better Because of This Year’s Learning

This semester I taught two sections of a course called Applied Inquiry II. This six-unit class includes 3 units of intermediate statistics and 3 units of Introduction to Educational Research. I teach the Ed Research component of this course and each time it’s a different experience. In Fall 2010 I taught it for the first time and was pretty nervous about it. It was my first time co-teaching a course, the class was large for a doctoral course (about 27 students), and I had all the jitters associated with teaching a new course. At the end of the semester students provided a lot of feedback which my colleague and I incorporated this semester when we taught the course again. Essentially students in 2010 request that we not teach this as a blended case but instead more clearly delineate the content. So, in Fall 2011 we essentially taught this as two three-unit sections: stats starting at 4:10 and ed research at 7:15 (with a 30-minute break in between).

In general, I think this went pretty well and we plan to follow this model again in 2012. But…there are some things I’ll change in my portion of the course. First, after seeing the electronic portfolios students created in Applied Inquiry I in Fall 2011, I’m going to continue building on these portfolios when these students enroll in Applied Inquiry I I (AI II)I. Their portfolios include blogs and it will be easy to provide additional blog prompts in AI II. In addition, they can use their e-portfolios to build their research proposals, including their topic, research questions, methodology, etc. As they continue through the program the e-portfolio will nicely document their journey and learning.

In AI II students complete 4 major assignments: article critiques (analyses of articles), a qualitative research proposal, and a quantitative research proposal. This year students prepared solid proposals, yet also shared some areas that could use additional development. Next year I’ll spend more time with students to help them solidify the topic of the study. This sounds simple, yet it takes some work to clearly identify an area one wants to research. Once students have identified the topic, I’ll ask them to locate 10 articles/books (peer-reviewed) and create an annotated bibliography of the 10 references. This will then allow them to better see what has been studied in relation to their topic and identify what needs to be studied. Based on this information, they’ll be in position to describe the “problem” or “issue” that needs to be addressed — one that can be studied using qualitative methodology, one that will use quantitative methodology.

The next step in formulating the study is to identify in one sentence the purpose of the study. This is an extremely difficult sentence to write for veterans and novice researchers. This semester when students worked on the quantitative proposals we actually worked together on the statements. By working together the students were able to strengthen their statements and since the research questions & research design emerge from the purpose of the study statement, getting this right is critical to the success of the entire proposals. Students provided such positive feedback about the experience that I knew right away I’d incorporate this into class next Fall.

As I reviewed the proposals I noticed that many of the students are still making errors in relation to APA formatting. To help address this next Fall I’m going to create some quick assignments that I can integrate into the beginning of a class session to check APA. It can be as simple as posting a reference and asking students to identify and correct any errors. It would be also easy to use “clickers” so students can vote on whether or not the reference is correct.

As I read through the papers I made notes on the assignment guidelines especially if there seemed to be one area where several students could have improved. I looked to see where I could clarify the guidelines and also added information to fill in gaps that were consistent in the papers. Making these notes as I worked on the papers allowed me to keep reflecting the assignment as I was working on it rather than waiting until next summer & relying on my recollection of the papers.

This has been a fun class to teach because I’ve been able to engage in a process of teaching, reflecting, improving, teaching, reflecting, improving … this has made it possible to continuously assess my teaching, the course  learning objectives, and extend my own thinking about the craft of teaching. Teaching the class a few times has also made it possible for my colleagues (who teach the other courses in this Applied Inquiry series) and me to connect the learning objectives for one course to the others in the series. We see students’ work improving as they engage in their own reflective practice & scholarship — and we see our teaching improving as we engage in our own reflective practice.

Keeping things in perspective

Several good things happened today: One student presented her dissertation proposal & it was accepted by the committee! YAY!! The committee worked together in the way we envision and hope as they supported the student in her work. She has a good question to pursue and we’re all excited to see the results. Another student had an “ah-ha!” moment as she wrote me the following: “I reread my proposal once, but with the eye of an outsider. I am now thinking that the goal of the study is …” And she’s right on target now … she had been hovering around the topic and I had confidence she would land on the very point she has discovered … How truly lovely that she has found what she has been seeking.

I also got the summary of my 3rd year pre-tenure review. So many great comments from the committee, from students, and from colleagues … why is it that as humans we focus on the 3 – 4 negative comments while overlooking the 20+ pages of positive comments? So I’ll try to use this blog post to keep all of this in perspective. The comments (positive and negative) actually correspond with my self-evaluation, which is a good thing, right? It means that my self-perception is on target and I can feel good that there’s not a major disconnect between my self-perception and others’ perceptions of my work. On the good side, research, scholarship & teaching all received very positive comments from the committee. In these areas, then, if I keep on doing what I’ve been doing, I’m meeting my professional responsibilities. The main area of concern from students is that I tend to be too flexible with my course scheduling. Because this had been identified in previous student evaluations, I’ve been able to address this and really resisted the urge to change the syllabus throughout the semester. At times when I was tempted to adjust deadlines, I stuck to what I had set up. Students also noted how they’ve seen my teaching develop during my time here at Pacific. This was especially gratifying because, I have also seen changes. Having been trained as an administrator rather than a teacher, I’ve had a lot to learn but feel I have some innate skills that support my teaching. Students also said I was supportive, nurturing, helpful, and responsive. All things that really make a difference in students’ experiences here at the university.

So, what was the bad news? Well, it was actually in relation to interactions with colleagues. And, in all honesty, the comments, which are definitely few & even the committee acknowledged they are the minority opinion, are things I might have said myself: I can be argumentative, I stand my ground, I may sometimes go on a bit if I’m passionate about an issue, and I may come across in a condescending manner. My first reaction was, “Well, what faculty member isn’t all of these things?” and my second reaction was, “Am I really such a b****h?” While the comments are consistent with what I might said, it’s much less gratifying to have self-perceptions of our negative traits reinforced than it is to have the positive ones reinforced. I expect this feedback, though hard to take, will offer many opportunities for increased self-awareness.

Addendum — the morning after: Last night I shared the comments with Bill and had the chance to work on that whole “perspective keeping” thing. I was able to better see the comments from the committee, which acknowledge that the feedback from faculty is mostly positive with a few negative comments. It’s also unclear whether the comments are from one person or two, three, four. And I was able to acknowledge that, yes, sometimes, I may be argumentative but this is not how I typically act. We talked about ways to better manage situations when someone has offended me — for example, rather than call the person on their behavior when I’m having a strong emotional reaction, it might be better to approach the offending person one on one and share how their behavior impacted me. Definitely a more satisfying approach than feeling like I can only respond in the moment or stay silent and one that allows us all to grow, become better colleagues to one another, and work on ways to build community together. . .

Transitions

We’re currently interviewing candidates for our next department chair. We’ve met with two of the three candidates so far and I have to say I’m really excited. Our former department chair retired last summer after a nearly 30-year career at the university. He oversaw the development of the department, including the graduate programs for aspiring administrators. Our programs are  solid and on the verge of transition. The newly retired department chair helped move us toward this transition by hiring new facultywith a variety of skills — two of us who had careers as adminstrators prior to coming to Pacific and two who joined us fresh from their doctoral studies. These hires really set the stage for the department to move in new directions.

The department chair candidates have focused in immediately on the opportunity to be part of a major transformation of an academic department. They see the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. They have ideas for supporting the work of “junior faculty” (a common, if somewhat demeaning, term used to describe pre-tenure faculty at the rank of assistant professor), including ways to sustain our publications, secure grants, develop our teaching, and participate in service. I spoke with today’s candidate about my individual journey of becoming a scholar after having spent my early career as an administrator. As I travel this journey, I still grapple with the essential question of what it means to be a scholar and my own identity development as a university faculty member. Today’s candidate was curious about my research, sugested ways to develop my ideas even further and offered ways that my research on community college presidents could be integrated into a course on leadership in higher education.

Both candidates we’ve met so far have discussed ideas for working with the faculty to clarify our mission, purpose, and vision for the program. They’ve talked about their own research. They’ve discussed classes they teach and their approach to teaching. I like the way their minds work: curious, questioning, connecting concepts to other concepts … and … realized in a moment of insight, “Hey, that’s how my mind works, too!”

I feel so positive about the candidates. Our difficulty will be in making a final selection. That’s how good they are.

Collecting Data: In person versus Phone Interviews

One of the reasons I like qualitative research is that I get to talk with so many people about so many interesting things. I’m currently interviewing community college presidents for two different studies. One study focuses on experienced community college presidents and the ways they integrate the AACC leadership competencies into their professional practices. The presidents in this study are from California, Michigan, Illinois, and Texas. The other study is about new community college presidents who are in their first year of their first presidency. All of the presidents in this study are from California community colleges.

When I initially started the study about new presidents my goal was to interview the 8 presidents in person. It really is no problem to either drive or fly to each of the campuses. There is such a value in the in-person interview: I feel a stronger connection with the participants, I know I have their undivided attention, and I get to see where they work (the world they inhabit as a president). The interviews with the experienced presidents have all been over the phone. What I’ve learned from this is that the phone is not a bad option when a face-to-face interview isn’t possible. And, as it turned out, two of the interviews in California have shifted from in person to phone interviews due to weather. Prior to conducting the out-of-state interviews, I probably would have resisted conducting the California interviews over the phone and would have attempted to reschedule the interviews. What I’ve also learned, though, both from scheduling these interviews and from my prior administrative positions, is that it can be extremely difficult to get on a President’s schedule and it’s often better to go with the appointment time I have (even if it’s a phone rather than face to face meeting). Rescheduling an appointment risks a long delay that may not be worth the trade-off.

So far I’ve completed 3 of the 4 out-of-state interviews and 7 of the 8 in-state interviews. Today’s interview was a little rocky at the start … I always make sure to get the questions to the participants ahead of time. This allows them to gather their thoughts and prepare for the interview. Today the President said he hadn’t received the questions … uh, oh, delicate issue here because I emailed them to his assistant and I knew they had received the message because they had returned the informed consent document which was also included in that message. Yet, well, I didn’t want to appear to blame his assistant for the lapse.  Who knows? She may have given them to him and he misplaced them. Nevertheless, he didn’t have them and I wasn’t logged on to my email so I couldn’t gracefully just re-send the original message. So, momentarily taken aback, I gathered my wits and forged ahead: I apologized, sent the document, and started with my first question. Of course, when he received them he needed to take a minute to look them over … so, awkward start, but we both quickly recovered. I learned from this two things: Continue to send the questions ahead of time and stay logged on to my email as I begin a phone interview so I can send a message if needed. (I usually log off so I can focus my entire attention on the interview without the distraction of the email … I was distracted momentarily during today’s interview while the cat stalked a squirrel in the backyard — I know I’d be completely distracted by email messages coming in, so it’s best to either minimize the window or log off all together.)

I was also reminded that we do our best to think of every detail prior to an interview and even so, something unexpected might come up. For example, about 45 minutes before the interview my phone had a frozen screen that read “app error” and wasn’t resetting … uh-oh … but, happily, it suddenly re-set and continued working as though nothing had happened. My pre-interview checklist (much like a pre-flight check list) is: One day before interview – charge the digital recorder and phone. At least one hour before the interview – check that the phone and recorder are in working order. Review questions. If the interview is via phone – Bring up the phone number for the interview. If it’s in person – arrive early, gather wits (I’m always nervous before an interview), go to the restroom, etc. I also minimize my coffee in-take in either case just to be sure I’m not over-amped for the interview. During the interview: I minimize my talking. I try to limit myself to the questions, a few prompts, and the occasional, “Oh, I see” or “Tell me more about that” or similar one word responses to let the speaker know I’m listening and engaged. This is especially important during the phone interviews when the person may not be sure I’m still on the phone or paying attention.

The phone interviews are still not as desirable as an in person, but I have come to value them for their convenience. What I’ve noticed (to my surprise) is that it I seem to have the Presidents’ full attention. They don’t seem to be multi-tasking and are quite focused on our conversation. They seem to be enjoying the opportunity to reflect on their experiences whether they are an experienced president or one of the brand new presidents. Several times people have said, “Gee, I haven’t thought about that before …” or “That’s a really good question…” And in relation to the study about new presidents, each participant has said how important the study is — some even saying they wish they had thought of this! It’s good to see that my work can make a good contribution and that others see it as worthwhile.