Shift Happens

Although this blog is “On the Road to Tenure” the journey really isn’t about tenure but about what is happening inside of me as I continue to grow & develop as a faculty member. What does it mean to be a university faculty member — a big question, bigger than it may seem at first. For me, it means to be alive, to be making contributions to an academic community in ways I never have before. In contrast to my prior administrative work, being a faculty member means there’s a different way of working with others, a different way of creating change in an organization, and such a different way of impact the students I work with (and indirectly, the students they work with).

One way that I’m able to contribute is through scholarship. The age old question is whether or not anyone actually reads our articles. I’ve received phone calls and email messages from students who have read my articles, which is immensely satisfying, Knowing that an article I wrote is helping with their research is a good feeling.

I’m working on a series of articles related to first-time community college presidents in the first-year of their presidency. Understanding how people chart their path to the presidency can impact the experiences of the students in the colleges served by future presidents. There are doctoral programs and professional development programs currently helping prepare future community college presidents. Mentors play a big part in the development of future leaders usually by identifying the gaps in skills and strategies for filling those gaps.

What I’ve learned from my study is that in addition to professional experiences, professional development activities, and mentors (all of which have been identified in the literature), presidents experience a key moment in their career when they realize, “I want to be a president. Now, what are my next steps?” This moment of awareness is facilitated by outside influencers, people who say, “You know, I think you’d make a good president because…” These comments help create an awareness of a possible future. The presidents in my study all said they didn’t begin their careers with a presidency in mind. The path to the presidency began when they listened to these outside influencers and asked themselves, “Could I be a good president? Is this something I want to do?” For most of the presidents, the outside influencer was a person. For one it was an experience (leading a disparate group of people through a difficult project). One president intentionally sought advice from a group of influencers when the presidency opened at his college. These external influencers led the presidents to adopt strategies that would prepare them for the role: completing their doctorate, participating in key professional development activities, broadening their professional experience, and working with a mentor. For the presidents in my study, the mentors were most influential in identifying (and creating) key professional experiences. The participants themselves identified the doctoral program that would be the best fit for their interests as well as professional development activities that would help them either understand the presidency or apply for a presidency.

These professional experiences, professional development activities, doctoral studies, and mentoring relationships helped transform the person from thinking about a presidency to knowing “I am ready for a presidency.” They served as transformative leaning experiences — external activities that created an internal shift in how these then-aspiring presidents came to see themselves. This is the pattern I came to see through a short conversation with a journal editor and further reflection. The editor encouraged me to create a visual model to depict this … I haven’t quite figured that out yet, but I do know a very creative graphic artist who can probably help.

What also shifted for me as I thought about this was the timeline for (re)crafting the manuscript. I prepared a first draft of the manuscript in about 40 hours of concentrated work plus additional reflection and research. Prior to my conversation with the editor, I thought I might be able to revise the first draft and submit it this summer. I suppose I still could and it would be a technically solid manuscript. Recrafting the manuscript using transformative learning as a theoretical framework brings a richness that I wanted, but didn’t realize was possible prior to talking with the editor — so it’s worth the time and effort to revise the manuscript.

As a result, I’ve switched my thinking about the manuscript and am taking a longer view of the project. I have some publications coming out this year plus two other manuscripts I’m working on that are in the “revise and resubmit” process. Knowing this, gives me the freedom to take the long view with this manuscript. It feels like I’m giving it the attention and thought it deserves. This also means that I can prepare conference proposals that will allow me to fully utilize the conference presentation process to vet this manuscript and receive feedback.

I’ll be able to prepare conference proposals, get feedback on those proposals prior to submitting them, and increase my chances of being accepted for a paper presentation. While I enjoy the casual experience of the round table sessions I’ve led, they are usually attended by fewer people than a paper presentation session. Being able to present at a paper presentation will help increase the visibility of the work.

My sense is that I’ll be challenged during this process. But much like the presidents in the study, an outside influencer (in this case the editor) is encouraging me to delve deeper to fully develop the potential of this paper. He has opened me to consider the possibility that I can be more than I am right now.

A napkin moment

A few weeks ago I was talking with a student over a cup of coffee about budget cuts, layoffs, and priorities in higher education. We agreed that it often seems that student services often take a bigger hit than other areas of the campus. We also agreed that student services professionals don’t always do a good job of telling our story, of identifying the contributions we make to student success. After the student left, I sat thinking awhile longer  … thank goodness for my pen and a nearby napkin.

Writing: Getting it Done

In March I attended a faculty workshop sponsored by the university Center for Teaching and Learning.  The speaker, Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, was inspiring and engaging. She had been through the tenure experience and realized that there were a lot of things she wished someone had told her along the way. Inspired, she decided to make that her life mission and has gone on to found the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.

Designed for tenured faculty, but attended by tenured and pre-tenure faculty alike, her presentation March 16 focused on how to keep writing even after being granted tenure. As a pre-tenure faculty member, I found the ideas for overcoming resistance to writing especially helpful — and thought they might also be helpful to students working on their dissertations. Here are two action steps I’m taking as a direct result of this workshop: (1) I’m offering a similar workshop to doctoral students in the Benerd School of Education on April 26 @ 6:00 p.m. (2) I’m going to prepare a course proposal for a two-unit writing class designed specifically for students working on their dissertations. The course will incorporate many of the elements recommended by Dr. Rockquemore, including a committed, weekly session where students set writing goals for the next week and report on the previous week’s writing goals.

As for my own writing … My goal is to write every day (as research has shown this is an effective way to reach our writing goals), but I haven’t yet actually scheduled daily writing sessions — one essential key to writing every day. I’ve incorporated Dr. Rockquemore’s recommendation that we establish a “Sunday Planning Meeting” to review our annual goals, identify the projects we need to complete in the next week that move us toward those goals, and schedule time for the projects. This is a concept I had learned about from Julie Morgenstern‘s writing and although I have begun planning out my weekly activities on a (gasp) paper calendar, I hadn’t actually scheduled that “Sunday Planning Meeting.” It’s now part of my electronic calendar & I get a nice reminder each Sunday evening to sit down to prepare the next week. It’s very easy to simply plan out appointments; meetings to attend; papers, grant applications, and proposals to review; and interviews to conduct … it’s much harder to schedule things like writing and, oh, yeah, exercise! What I’m going to do this week, is put first things first (thank you, Steven Covey) and then add the other essential projects to the calendar. I’ve had a lot of success this year using Morgenstern’s ideas and can see the value in integrating Rockquemore’s suggestion with Covey’s 3rd Habit. So, tonight, I’ll add both writing and exercise to my schedule for the week. I’ll let you know how it goes!