Improvement

There are many times each year when Giltz Auditorium is full of prospective students and their families with hopes and dreams for the future.  The prospective students are preparing to enter an environment of accelerated growth where personal comfort zones will be pushed and expanded to create a new self with additional knowledge, skills, and possibilities.  Our responsibility for creating the environment that makes this possible at the college requires daily mindfulness and a commitment to continuous improvement.  We must never lose sight of the moral and ethical responsibilities with which we are entrusted when families send their children to us.

In the business world, models of continuous improvement often include words like assessment, planning, implementation, budget management, etc.  These words are important to our thinking about continuous improvement for the college; however, there is a wider focus in the academic environment that takes a more holistic view of students and our learning community.  This wider focus is grounded in our shared values.  For example, continuous improvement in the areas of respect and empathy, while not easily measured, are seen and felt in daily actions of faculty and staff between each other and with students.  Our interactions and modeling provide an atmosphere of expectations and nurturing for achieving higher levels of these and other shared values.

Here are a few thoughts incorporating our shared values  and strategic priorities from our Campus Plan in a wider-focused view of continuous improvement:

  • Trust increases with open communication and an appreciation for others’ perspectives.  This works best by understanding that all voices will be heard, but no single voice will carry the day.  This also speaks to our shared value articulation that says we are committed to understanding before being understood.  The opposite of this can lead to fractured communication.  In our non-professional lives, we can chose to allow fractured communication to remain, but we cannot afford this in a professional community.  Healing and moving forward comes, in part, from focusing on issues and not personalities while seeking deeper understanding.
  • It is important to establish clear expectations with support for achieving individual and community goals.  Our professionalism, how we interact with each other to realize our goals, is just as important as achieving programmatic/divisional goals – one does not occur optimally without the other.  We value collaboration.
  • It is important to establish an atmosphere where risks are allowed, often involving belief systems in academia, and if failure occurs, judgment and blame should not the first reactions.  When something does not work as well as planned, we must be compassionate with ourselves and others.  Learning from mistakes is crucial in a model of continuous improvement and requires the ability to build wisdom through embracing lessons that may be challenging.  It is important to have an appreciation for the process of improvement rather than jumping to conclusions and retreating to what was comfortable.  We must always envision what is best for students and find a way to get there together, even if it gets uncomfortable.
  • Related to the previous point, continuous improvement does not always mean striving harder within current paradigms.  Ashkenas (2012) said, “Too many continuous improvement projects focus so much on gaining efficiencies that they don’t challenge the basic assumptions of what’s being done.”  Sometimes disruption of a current paradigm is needed to create opportunities for maximal student success.
  • Provost Liszka spoke at the Celebration of Scholarship last Friday and discussed the bidirectional relationship of teaching and scholarship.  Continuous improvement to achieve consistent teaching excellence, along with other activities that support this, is central to the College’s goal of student success.
  • Being disciplined and mindful about our own growth is imperative; we value life-long learning.  For example, it is important to expand comfort zones to meet current and future needs of our students.  This may be done by learning new technology that will benefit students’ learning or will improve communication with others in the community.  It may be work that is needed to improve inclusiveness through multicultural competencies.  Imaging the best self possible for students and the community and developing personal plans for achieving this is not easy work.  It is this moral and ethical journey that calls us to become our best selves.  Parents who entrust their children to us and the young adults who entrust themselves to us deserve no less.

There is a beautiful line in a book by Christina Feldman (2005) that says, “Wisdom and compassion are like the two wings of a bird: Both are necessary for the bird to soar, both are necessary for our hearts to open and heal.”

I wish you well on your journey of continuous improvement and look forward to the times we do this work together.

Image (2013). Retrieved November 16, 2013 from:

http://www.i4process.com/1303/how-do-you-do-continuous-improvement/

Ashkenas, R. (2012).  It’s Time to Rethink Continuous Improvement. Retrieved November 16, 2013, from http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/05/its-time-to-rethink-continuous/

Feldman, C. (2005). Compassion: Listening to the cries of the world. Berkeley, CA: Rodmell Press.