Monday, October 16, 2017

Are We Witnessing the Death of General Education?

The state of New Mexico is undergoing a conversation about the nature of general education. Recently the Secretary of Higher Education has invited stakeholders to weigh in on a general education proposal developed by a state-wide committee.  The state-wide committee reduced the number of required credits from 36 credit hours to 31 credit hours with the idea that each institution would have flexibility to include first year experience courses, or interdisciplinary courses that emphasis an institutional held value or perspective.  Additionally, the state-wide committee emphasized the inclusion of essential skills that need to be embedded within the general eduction courses.

On the surface these principles seem like common sense, and they may be.  However, the heart and soul of the conversation will be about the details of general education.  As knowledge has expanded, faculty debate what subjects or disciplines should be included.  How many credits should be devoted to the Arts and Humanities?  How many should be devoted to Mathematics and/or Science?  Should Rhetoric and Speech Communication be included as separate options or should those skills be imbedded within broader disciplines?  In the end the final product will be based on a series of compromises.  I suspect the debate will not end when the final product is finally approved and adopted.

As this debate has progressed in New Mexico, I find myself asking the following question.  In the knowledge economy is there a base level of knowledge all people need to have?  If so, what knowledge should be mastered at each level of the education sector?  If the minimum level of expected education is a high school diploma, then what is the knowledge each high school graduate needs in order to move into post-secondary education or into training for work?

As I contemplate general education, the knowledge economy, the growing diversity of society and work I am beginning to question whether or not there is a notion of general education or whether or not there needs to be a series of several "general education" paths. If someone knows they are going to post-secondary education after high school do they need a different general education than someone who knows they are going to train for a particular career?  If someone is going to train for a particular career is there a different type of general education for a police officer than a nurse than an aerospace technician?

It is on this point that I appreciate the approach New Mexico is taking to general education. Allowing individuals an opportunity for choice within broader discipline categories with an emphasis on essential skills has the potential to address the differing needs of individuals pursuing the wide range of jobs and careers that exist in the world economy.  As I look forward to the debate over the details of general education in New Mexico, I hope that the final product keeps in place the emphasis on skills and flexibility.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell

The Powell Principles: 24 Lessons from Colin Powell, the Legendary Leader was written by Oren Harari in 2003 and published through McGraw-Hill.  Oren Harari claims that the 24 lessons contained in the book are “lessons in leadership” that “Powell has practiced throughout his career”.   According to Amazon, Oren Harari is a professor of management at the McLaren Graduate School of Business at the University of San Francisco.  He has written two other books that include lessons based on studying CEO Jack Welch and football coach Vince Lombardi.

Oren Harari claims that the 24 leadership principles contained in the book are based upon studying Colin Powell and his philosophy and practices of leadership that include metal maps, decision making habits, and “other behaviors that characterize effective leadership”.   The book does not provide a time frame when Harari studied Colin Powell or whether or not Colin Powell would affirm the lessons presented. 

These principles are presented in short chapters that can be read in five or ten minutes.  The content of the chapters invite contemplation and thought.  Each chapter begins with a short context followed by an explanation of the principle.  The author follows the explanation with two or three suggestions in the form of a statement or question.  The chapters end with a quote from Colin Powell that illustrates the principle. The simplicity of the chapter is not representative of the depth of the principle being presented.  Consequently while reading the chapter is relatively short; contemplation of the principle requires more time.  

What is missing is an illustration or example of the practical application of the leadership lesson.  This can be considered both a strength and weakness.  The inclusion of an application may dampen ones contemplation of the principles.  On the other hand, the lack of an illustration may lead the reader to contemplate the application of the principle in more robust ways. 


For someone looking for a book to prompt reflection about his or her leadership style and beliefs, The Powell Principles will satisfy that need.  The book is appropriate for individuals who are already in leadership positions as they can draw on their experiences when considering the appropriateness or application of the leadership principles.  For individuals new to leadership the book can provide a framework from which to develop a personal philosophy about leadership. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Be A Cheerleader

Do you remember all those times your parents coached you about saying "please" and "thank you"?  I remember many times when my parents not only coached me about saying thank you, but also reminded me to write thank you letters.  Little did I realize that such a simple lesson from childhood would be a vital leadership principle.

This leadership principle is related to the last principle of "being visible".  Opportunities to be out and about on campus do provide me with a perspective about what is going right on campus.  It also provides me an opportunity to thank people for the good work they are doing.  By learning about the things that are going well on campus I am able to not only say thank you, but also to share with the campus community about the things going right on campus.

One habit I have developed is sending out a communication each Monday morning during the traditional fall and spring semesters.  These communication occur less frequently in the summer and on vacation, but the habit of talking about the week ahead each Monday has become important to me. I use this weekly communication to highlight things on campus or in the state that people should be aware of as it may effect the college at some point in time.  I also use this communication to share the good news that I learn about during the previous week.

Sharing the good news also me to be a cheerleader for the college.  I do this when I'm out in the community working with stakeholders, businesses, alumni, and friends of the college.  When I'm in the community I'm sharing the message that we are good community partners and that people are getting a good return on their investment in higher education.

When I share the good news internally, it provides an opportunity for others at the college to recognize the good work of their fellow colleagues.  It also provides employees with information for their personal narrative about the college.  By reminding colleagues that there is good work happening on campus, I am creating an opportunity for employees to choose what they want to focus on.  In the absence of good news, the only news an employee has to focus on may be the negative news from colleagues.

Why do I think colleagues share the negative?  Have you heard of the old adage that people share a bad experience with many friends while they share a positive experience with virtually no one?  That adage holds true of employees as well.  Employees tend to talk about their negative experiences at work more frequently than the positive.  Sometimes, like the news media, only the negative is worth talking about.  I'm not saying that employees shouldn't talk about the negative.  What I am saying is that I believe a leader is able to share both the good news and the bad news.

Focusing upon only the  good news or only the bad news provides a less than realistic view of what is happening at the organization.  Consequently, I think it is important to highlight the good news whenever possible.  A balanced view will give employees the freedom to trust both the good and bad news that you must share as a leader.  

Monday, July 3, 2017

Be Visible

The last post talked about "walking the talk" or being the role model.  This principle supports that principle.  You can only be a role model if you are visible.  Being visible also allows you to see and listen.  The more you take opportunities to check in with people in your organization the sooner they will realize that you are just checking in not checking on them.

I enjoy the opportunities I get to walk around.  I wish I could have more opportunities.  Checking in with people gives them an opportunity to share with me something that is important to them or something they are proud of.  When I enter their space, I'm a guest.  It seems to me that they gain confidence when I'm in their space.  This allows them to take the lead and talk about things they are comfortable with and knowledgeable about.

Being visible also allows employees to get to know you on an more informal basis.  Meeting times are generally focused and structured.  When you walk up to someone and ask a question the setting is generally more informal.  The more often one does this the sooner employees learn that you are approachable and that you are interested in them as people.

Being visible also provides me an opportunity to celebrate the things that are going right in the organization.  So often my day is focused upon problem solving and I have little opportunities to hear about all the good things that are happening in the organization.  By getting away from the office and meetings, I am able to hear from people who are focused on the key responsibilities of the organization.  Generally, things are going right (or I would have heard about it already).  Walking around helps me realize that there is far more going right in the organization than going wrong.

Being visible is mutually beneficial.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Be Professional and Expect Professionalism

A mentor of mind once told me, "Don't expect from someone else what you don't expect from yourself."  I thought that was good advice.  I remember telling this same advice to the captains on the basketball and softball teams I would coach.  I would meet with the players who were selected captain and share with them my expectations.  My expectations for them were similar to the other players.  Be early, work hard, work hard every minute of practice, play every play hard, be a good sport, and most importantly be a good student.  I would also tell the captains that everyone is looking at you so you can't take any minute off.

This is similar for leaders.  If I expect our employees to deliver good service to guest, students, and prospective students then I need to do the same.  Leaders set the tone.  Leaders set the example. Leaders can't let down.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

First, Factual, Frequent: 3Fs = A in Communication

By far any area that consistently receives a "needs improvement" from faculty and staff on a survey is the area of communication.  Recently, we conducted a survey on campus about "competencies" around student success initiatives.  After the survey we conducted a data dive activity that had faculty and staff analyze the results and assess the institution's strengths and opportunities as indicated from the survey.  During the report out session about the data, almost every spokes person referenced communication in one form or another.  Some reported that departments needed to communication better with other departments.  Some reported that administrators needed to communication more frequently with employees.  Some reported the institution needed to communicate better with students.  Without a doubt the common theme was communication.

Improving communication is something I have pondered frequently as a leader.  Certainly based upon the results of the activity referenced above I can safely conclude we haven't figured it all out yet. However, there is one principle about communication that I have developed and applied that has improved communication.  That principle is to communicate first, factually, and frequently about an important issue or topic.  Lets examine each of the three elements of this principle.

First:  Communicate the news to the appropriate people before anyone else does.  I think of this as the concentric circle model.  Communicate the news to the most effected person or unit first, then the next effected unit and so on before you release the information to the public or to the news.  Be sure to communicate to your supervisor before anything goes public as well.

Factually:  Your communication should be fact based.  Without opinions or defending the information.  Just be factual.

Frequently:  You may need to repeat your communication several times in several different mediums. You may also need to anticipate repeating the information in frequent intervals and in frequent mediums.  Not everyone is paying attention to things happening on campus.  Also, different audiences are on campus at different times and days.  The more critical or difficult the information the more frequent you may have to repeat the information.

The last principle I believe is helpful in communicating is to "correct the record".  Information is not always heard or understood the same way it is communicated.  Consequently, you may need to correct the information from time to time as people may not hear or remember the information as accurately as you need.

Remember, that communication is an important element of an organization.  That is why everyone is focused upon it and wants it to improve no matter how good it may be.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Data Competency

Periodically in higher education there are "movements" that drive behavior.  For example, I frequently hear from higher education professionals that they are working on being more "collaborative" with other institutions of higher education.  These "movements" often include terms that represent the focus of the "movement".  For example, assessment and evaluation are terms that are frequently uttered by professional in higher education.  Recently the term pathways , guided pathways, intrusive advising and data literacy have emerged as terms to represent the latest "movements".  

These movements and terms are frequently based upon research that identifies best practice.  These are important movements that administrators need to attune to and consider.  However, I have found that for administrators, faculty and staff who have been a part of higher education for many years, the terminology becomes challenging.  Why?  Because often these terms have been around equally as long and have been used in previous movements.  Consequently, the use of terminology and being very clear about what the terms mean within the current context of higher education and at one's institution is particularly important for ensuring clear communication.

"Data-driven decision making" is a term that has been around quite some time in higher education. The focus and use of data in higher education administration is not a new movement, but one that is a bit more timeless than some of the other fads of the day.  That is why the utilization of data by administrators is one of the leadership principles.  I do not see it becoming one of the fads that will ebb and flow like other movements in higher education.  Because of the timeless nature of "data-driven decision making" you may assume you are deeply familiar with its use and application.  However, have you ever stopped to contemplate what that means for your organization or what that looks like at your organization?

Prior to becoming a president at a community college I served as a professor of education at a university.  As part of my responsibilities I was to conduct research and engage in creative activities. In research there is a debate about the value qualitative versus quantitative data.  As a young instructor in higher education is was clear to me that there was a greater value place on quantitative data. Consequently, when I moved into administrative roles it was almost a natural for me to begin to use data to help inform my decisions.  However, just like research, there is a limit to what quantitative data provides. Consequently, the the discussion about the value of quantitative for qualitative data remained.  Other questions surfaced as well.  Questions about validity and reliability, distribution, and post-hoc analysis.  Rarely is a data strategy developed prior to the surfacing of a question or decisions.  Consequently, my research experiences only carried me so far in helping me figure out how best to approach data-driven decisions.

Using data to inform decisions as an administrator has taught me a more realistic approach.  It is not a matter of qualitative versus quantitative data, it is about data literacy.  "Data literacy is the ability to collect, manage, evaluate, and apply data, in a critical manner". (1)  Data literate educators:
  • know the different kinds of data that exist and which kind of data to use for which decision
  • evaluate the accuracy and sufficiency of each kind of data they will use
  • transform data from a variety of sources (classroom, school, district, state) into actionable information to guide decisions
  • hold themselves accountable for ethical generation, interpretation, and application of assessment data (2)
I have found that utilizing data to inform decisions is valuable, but even more valuable when the data is examined by a team.  Consequently, I find that I share data with my executive team when we are considering an institutional wide decision.  The multiple perspectives looking at the data provide a rich conversation that leads to an informed critique of the data.  This critique coupled with the multiple perspectives about the decision or issue at hand more often than not leads to a better decision than when the decision is made in isolation or the data is examined in isolation.  

Consequently, when I hire for positions, I often assess one's experience and comfort with data. Generally someone's comfort or experience with data isn't a hire or don't hire skill, but it is a skill I want to know about.  If someone doesn't have the experience with data I want to know about their comfort with data.  Understanding these perspectives help me understand how a prospective hire will fit with a team that does have a high commitment to data-driven decision making.  


(1) Ridsdale, C., Rothwell, J., Smit, M., et.al. "Strategies and Best Practices for Data Literacy Education".  http://www.mikesmit.com/wp-content/papercite-data/pdf/data_literacy.pdf.  Accessed, May 29, 2017.
(2) Dyer, K. (2014). "Data Literacy - What it is and How it Differs from Assessment Literacy". https://www.nwea.org/blog/2014/data-literacy-differs-assessment-literacy/. Accessed, May 29, 2017.