Friday, April 27, 2018

The Frog in the Water

The boiling frog is a fable describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death (Wikipedia)

However, the point of the fable has merit.  Often when individuals are engaged in the world of work over a long period of time they often miss the subtle changes that occur.  One day, they suddenly notice that things are different and they are left wondering, "when did THAT happen?"  

I believe many of us who have been employed in the higher education field have continued to work and may have missed the subtle shifts that have occurred. While many of us now believe various challenges and trends are part of a new landscape or accountability movement in higher education, they really represent eight (8) significant paradigm shifts that we should consider.  Over the next few blogs we will explore those shifts.  Lets consider the first two.  

Shift # 1:  A shift from a focus on teaching to student learning.  As I began my career in higher education I was involved in program evaluation.  That process included looking at the sequence of the curriculum to ensure that content was scaffolded in a way that introduced students from basic knowledge to every deepening knowledge.  Today, we focus on student learning and the examination of evidence to seek whether or not students have mastered the learning outcomes that are sequenced throughout the curriculum.  

Shift # 2:  A shift from grades to demonstrated mastery of skills.  Twenty-nine years ago when I began teaching in higher education, our end of the year department meetings focused on discussions about how grades were assigned in our courses.  We were very aware of the Bell Curve and how the majority of our students should fall in the middle while only 5% should receive high or low marks.  Every teacher assigns grades a bit differently.  Consequently, an A in one course may not represent identical learning or achievement in another course.  

Employers are more concerned about what skills, knowledge and dispositions a student can demonstrate.  Consequently, employers are less focused on someone's grade point average (GPA) and much more focused on what experiences and skills a person can demonstrate during an interview.  Correspondingly, community colleges are beginning to focus more upon "micro-credentials" as a means of demonstrating student learning.  These industry recognized achievements are fast becoming much more desired by employers.  Consequently, this shift should push higher education toward a greater focus on outcomes than course completions and grades.  

The first two shifts in higher education are closely related.  Further, they are important when one considers the larger discussion in the public square and media about the value of higher education and whether or not paying high tuition is worth the time and investment.  After my graduation from college, my degree represented the knowledge and skills that I was expected to have and the name of the college from which I graduated meant quality to employers.  Today, with the exception of a few institutions of higher education, industry recognized credentials and certifications linked to tests and skill demonstration is becoming more important to employers 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Keeping the Batteries Charged

Leadership and management is demanding.  I'm fortunate, I really enjoy my work and the people I work with to accomplish goals that really make a difference in the lives of our students and clients. The down side is that I can work many hours and feel happy and fulfilled.  Sometimes I don't recognize the symptoms of burn out as they are happening.  However, there are times the schedule is long and demanding, the breaks are few, and the problems come all at once.  In those moments I remind myself that the pace is temporary and I will soon "catch a break".   However, in order to get through those moments I have to prepare in advance and ensure that I keep the batteries charged. 

Stephen Covey's Seven Habit of High Effective People is a worthwhile read if you haven't already done so.  One habit, "sharpening the saw" has always been the most difficult one for me to practice.  However, as I have matured in my career I have learned a couple of rules that serve me well.  Let me share those with you.  Sharpening the Saw focused on self-improvement, self-care, and self-respect.  Taking care of one's self is important for improvement and professional development.  It is also important to maximize your productivity.  There are two general rules I follow to ensure I practice this habit. 

First, don't compromise your sleep.  Did you know that during the seventh and eight hours of sleep is when your mind processes so many of the experiences from the day before.  It is during those hours your mind makes sense of your experiences and files them away for another day.  Sleep is vital to clear thinking.  Clear thinking is vital for listening and problem solving.  Also, the thing you do right before bed time at night is generally the thing you process during those early hours in the morning.  Consequently, I cut off doing work at home after supper so I can concentrate on other things I enjoy before bed time. 

Second, make time for yourself.  This can mean many different things for people.  I enjoy reading, exercising, walking my dogs, spending time with family, cooking a good meal, watching the sun set, riding my bicycle and more.  I find that I need to ensure I continue to invest in me so that I have something to give others, students and my organization.  I have discovered that my old philosophy of answer just one more e-mail is less helpful than talking my dog for a walk.  This doesn't mean I'm any less committed to my career or organization.  In fact, I think ensuring that I give them my very best each and every day demonstrates my commitment even more.