Category: Working Together


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Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, the sun would rise and set with life-giving energy to seeds in a rich soil that were planted and nurtured with the sweat of my father’s brow and the faith in his heart. Faith that the sun would not bring days that were too hot and faith that passing clouds would release gentle rains. There was an optimal environment for growth that led to a bountiful harvest. There were years when drought or violent storms would destroy crops and bring times of sacrifice and rebuilding.

Over the years, the environment has changed and farmers have had to adapt with different types of seeds that grow disease resistant crops and irrigation systems that combat drought. Generations-old traditions have changed and creative adaptions have been embraced for farms to survive. This “way of the land” is similar in many ways to our academic environment and how we must adapt.

As we work with our students, we plant the seeds of knowledge and provide experiences that will result in optimal growth. The environment we create for growth requires the sweat of our brow and faith in our students as we inspire their best efforts. We nurture inner souls and challenge growth of the mind. Our collective efforts will make a positive difference for our students, their families and for our society if we do our jobs well. The students and our society are not the same as they were years ago and we, too, must adapt in order to survive.

The number of opportunities before us are endless as our adaptation results in revised and new curricula, new programs, and new delivery models. We cherish learning in our students, but also in ourselves as periodic storms in the education system come and go. These storms are represented by changes in enrollment, in budgets, regulation, and some might even say in pedagogy. These present opportunities that strengthen our will for the love of learning.

Over the last week, I attended three events where adaptation and change were focal points in the discussions. One was a gathering of North Country Thrive leaders along with Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of SUNY and Mary Ellen Elia, Commissioner of Education in New York State. The discussions targeted how our community can come together in better ways to support cradle to college/career development of students.

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Another event was a regional gathering of teachers, principals, superintendents, college faculty, and administrators who were lead by the Chancellor and Commissioner in discussions to address local challenges and opportunities, as well as improvement in our education system at the State level.

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Finally, I attended a How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion that was hosted by Black Onyx where deep and meaningful discussions were held about improving relationships between racially diverse students and students and faculty who are white.  Creating the best environments for education for everyone at all levels of the system will require new neuronal pathways to be developed, something that happens best with collaborative models, deep relationships, and persistent effort.

Each of the aforementioned events was powerful and transformative with ongoing work that will lead to positive changes; each event was attended in its entirety by President Ettling.

 Evidence of Success: SUNY Plattsburgh Alumns

There was evidence of great success over alumni weekend when I spoke with recent SUNY Plattsburgh graduates. Annette Romano (’86) National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), teacher at Niskayuna CSD and Co-Director, National Board Council of New York, was at the regional event with the Chancellor and Comissioner.

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Annette Romano (’86) on the left.  Also pictured is Amanda Zullo, NBCT chemistry teacher at Saranac Senior High School and recent recipient of an atward at the Whitehouse from President Obama for Excellence in Science and Mathematics.

Lateef Wearrien (’16), who is working on his Master’s degree at University at Buffalo in Student Affairs and Higher Education, led the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion.

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Edmund Adjapong (‘12) graduated with a degree in biochemistry and is currently working on his Doctorate at Teacher College, Columbia University; his words of leadership in the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion were powerful.  He also uses Hip Hop in the classroom to engage learning.

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Josh Modeste (’16), graduated with his BA (Biology)/MST in Teacher Education is currently teaching in New York City, was at the How Do We Become More Comfortable panel discussion too. Seeing the success of these former students was rewarding beyond measure and represented a harvest that feeds the masses.  Each is a powerful agent of positive change in our society.

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Speaking with Josh Modeste is Randi Randi Weingarten, President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers.  She visited Sarah Hackett’s class last year.

As we work collaboratively to meet the challenges and opportunities before us and to create optimal learning environments for students to become positive agents of change, we do so with sweat on our brows and faith in our hearts for the bountiful harvest that is students’ success. Be the sunshine and the gentle rain.

Bonus: Here is an abstract from an article recently published by Edmund Adjapong:

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chancellor-an-maria                          Maria Veloz, Teacher Education major, with Chancellor Zimpher

 

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted:
–  Lifelong Learnning/Growth
–  Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
–  Helping Students Achieve Goals
–  Collaboration

Reaching the Summit Together

False Summits

Above the tree line, in the rarefied air of the Rocky Mountains, Andrew’s glacier rests with a small pond at the bottom.  Each carefully-placed footstep up the glacier is motivated by not slipping and sliding down into the rocks or the pond.  If you are a “flatlander” and have not spent enough time acclimating to the altitude, each step reminds your heart and lungs that you are in new territory.  As my climbing partner and I made our way up the glacier, the summit was in sight.  We avoided crevasses and made our way to the top, so we thought.

When we reached what we thought was the summit, the real summit loomed above us in the distance.  Reaching the summit would take a lot more effort.  It is at that moment of reflection when you have to determine if you have enough resources, mental and otherwise, to reach the real summit.  Will the summit need to be reached on a different day?  Is a new trail necessary?  Are there new skills that might need to be learned to reach the summit?  Is it possible a guide is needed? Is a higher self possible?

There are false summits in everyday life.  Here are three recent examples of false summits with a student, with a client, and with colleagues:

  • While working with a student last semester, the false summit was presented when the student thought sufficient effort and dedication were being given to reach a successful goal. When grades were given, that perceived amount of effort and dedication turned out to be a false summit.  Deep reflection, discussion of new study skills, and approaches to learning needed to reach the real summit took place over the winter break.  The student is on a new trail this semester, but as is often the case, reaching the summit is taking a lot more effort than what was originally believed to be necessary.  Guides will be a key to success too.
  • In the Speech and Hearing Clinic, I had a client who had been to many doctors in search of a diagnosis for voice and health concerns. Each visit, test, and ineffective medication, up to the point of my evaluation, presented as false summits.  While I was not legally able to provide a medical diagnosis for the client, I was able to serve as a guide to help the client move further up the trail to getting the answer.  Two students joined my in the evaluation and learned a lot about the diagnostic process.  Mentoring the students about the false summits and helping the client find the right trail provided insight for everyone involved.
  • I attended a diversity workshop recently, led by several national experts, who underscored some perceptions about our academic environment. SUNY Plattsburgh is a friendly, supportive college where people are willing to go the extra mile for each other; however, as with many institutions of higher learning across the country, there was a false summit by thinking this cultural belief permeated deeply into all groups on campus.  In other words, from the lens of the majority, a summit had been reached, but it was a false summit.  New tools are being acquired, new trails are being taken, and expert guides are being used to make sure everyone on campus can reach the real summit together.

There are common lessons on journeys from false summits to the real summits.

  • There is the lesson of perseverance. The determined path will lead to new lessons about the self and reaching the summit will provide a new view of the self.  Once on top, the view provides more summits on the horizon that invite life-long learning.
  • As educators, it is important to keep our skills honed to better guide our students. Talking about the trails is not enough; our students need to see that we are on our own self-actualizing trails.
  • We will climb higher together if we are willing to be guided as well as guide. The lessons we learn from each other will allow equal access to the summit.
  • There also is the lesson of the heart. While working hard in the thinner air of new territory, the heart beats best when accompanied on the journey by the hearts of friends and community members, and by guides who have traveled the trails to similar summits.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

  • Helping Students Achieve Goals
  • Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
  • Lifelong Learning/Growth

False Summit Image (September 2, 2015). Retrieved February 15, 2016 from:  https://timbdesign.com/appalachians/

Andrew’s glacier (July 13, 2012). Retrieved January 31, 2016 from:  http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/man-dies-in-fall-on-glacier-at-rocky-mountain-national-park

Reflection: The Connection to Our Future

reflective

When I was chairperson of Childhood Education and to this day, I hear the Teacher Education faculty speaking to their teacher candidates about reflective practice.  Great teachers, and professors, develop the skill and discipline of thinking about the lessons they just taught and how instructional practices can be improved.  There are always opportunities to update lessons and to create new activities that will inspire and bring deeper engagement with the material and other students.

What would it look like if we were able to engage in reflective practice as a community?  There were a number of forums recently where reflection led to plans for improved practice. There are powerful lessons from this semester for us to embrace and use next semester so we can enhance and improve our teaching and our community.  It is important that we be intentional about this work.

As a nation, it also would be nice if there was a better process for reflective practice.  Unfortunately, there are too many examples where this work has not been done and history seems destined to repeat itself in response to differences of race or religion, particularly when xenophobic feelings prevail.

Learn from History

Doug Skopp

Historians have a unique ability to reflect. When reading some Facebook posts the other day, I came across one from a historian who has my deepest respect, Dr. Douglas Skopp, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus of History; also author of the amazing book, Shadows Walking.

Dr. Skopp’s words are powerful and eloquent whether in person, in one of his books, in a Facebook post, or an email.  Here is part of a comment he posted on Facebook when talking about refuges:

We live in perilous times.  As a historian, I know it has always been so.  The pages of our history books have always been written in blood and viciousness.  Historians of the future –if we manage to survive these current crises and the chaos and the destruction that currently will envelope us if we do not – will never run out of any grist for our mills, recording man’s inhumanity toward our fellow man.

Still, I hope we can somehow come to realize that only by recognizing our common needs, hopes and desires – food, shelter, security, peace, a life of freedom and justice for all – will we able to find ways to love and live in harmony with each other, all of us as a responsible, respectful human family.

These are the lessons wisdom brings from someone who is enlightened about humanity and is an expert on reflective practice.  As the semester comes to an end, it is important to reflect on our instructional practices and on the application of Dr. Skopp’s ending sentence as it relates to daily interactions in our departments and our EHHS community.  This also holds true when examining our institutional practices.  Dr. Skopp’s words resonate strongly with our shared values.

I am excited about providing opportunities for us to engage in reflective practice as a community during our community gathering at the beginning of next semester.  It is this collaborative work that will expand our ability to improve instructional and institutional practices and ensure our students’ success.  It is their success that will have a positive impact on our world.

Bonus: “Reflective practice is an active, dynamic action-based and ethical set of skills, placed in real time and dealing with real, complex and difficult situations.”  Jennifer Moon

References

Mirror image (Feb. 2, 2012)  retrieved on Dec. 6, 2015 from: https://www.healthylifestylesliving.com/enlighten-the-soul/law-of-attraction/autosuggestion-and-the-person-in-the-mirror/attachment/baby-kissing-on-mirror/

Signs Image (n.d.) retrieved on Dec. 6, 2015 from: https://www.facebook.com/TheAntiMedia/photos/a.156753707783006.14385.156720204453023/532128160245557/

Picture and Quote from Dr. Skopp used with permission.

Moon, J. (1999), Reflection in Learning and Professional Development: Theory and Practice, Kogan Page, London.

How Deep Is Your Curiosity?

Magnifying-Glass-150x150

In The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge et. al. (1994), there is an emphasis on organizations that learn.  The authors said, “The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization.”  Interestingly, the  book starts at the level of the individual with a description of how members of the Natal tribe in South Africa greet each other.  The expression “Sawa bona” is described as a greeting not unlike “hello” in the US, but with a deeper meaning that means “I see you.”  The authors also explained an expression from Zulu that means, “A person is a person because of other people.”  The importance of these perspectives, embedded in some cultures more than others, does not escape me when I think about how successful organizations function and how curiosity is needed to discover deeper meanings about how we think and work together.

Organizations that value curiosity and learning, even at the level of relationships within groups, have a wiser approach to internal and external challenges and opportunities because the they are seen through the lens of curiosity.  It takes curiosity, rather than quick judgment, to explore and deepen understanding about how someone sees challenges and opportunities differently than you.  We know different perspectives in a group make the group stronger if an egoic “fight to be right” does not ensue.  Curiosity and respect are the keys to deeper discovery when perspectives differ.

Organizations that learn appreciate interactional patterns and understand the importance of the driving forces behind patterns that are positive and negative.  Senge et. al., stated,

In the realm of management and leadership, many people are conditioned to see our ‘organizations’ as things rather than as patterns of interactions.  We look for solutions that will ‘fix problems,’ as if they are external and can be fixed without ‘fixing’ that which is within us that lead to their creation.  Consequently, we are inevitably drawn into an endless spiral of superficial quick fixes, worsening difficulties in the long run, and an ever-deepening sense of powerlessness.  In organizations, articulating the primacy of the whole as a guiding idea may be the first step in helping people break this vicious cycle (p. 25).

The authors further stated, “When we do not take other people as objects for our use, but see them as fellow human beings with whom we can learn and change, we open new possibilities for being ourselves more fully” (p. 26).   Again, relating back to the saying that a person is a person because of other people.

Higher education is a complex organization and the individuals within it make up part of the complexity.  It is important to consider individuals within the organization where initiatives may be stuck or relationships may be difficult in order to gain a better view of the whole.  While leaders can never completely understand the complexity and interrelatedness of all organizational pieces, there are approaches and concepts that help people work together better and help the organization be more successful.  Primacy of the whole is critical.  This is why Margaret Wheatley, in her writings about leadership, emphasized that everyone should “be at the table” when decisions are made that affect them.  When individuals are brought together, however, the loudest and most persistent voices must not be allowed to override what may be the quietest and wisest.  An insightful mentor of mine once said, “All voices will be heard, but no single voice will carry the day.”

All voices, whether loud, quiet, persistent, or reserved can be rooted in belief systems and cognitive maps that do not represent the territory; thus, adding further to complexity.  Senge et. al., said, “We develop a level of certainty that robs us of the capacity for wonder that stifles our ability to see new interpretations and new possibilities for action.  Such are the roots of belief systems that become rigid, entrenched, and ultimately self-protective” (p. 27).  The authors presented a powerful concept in their book entitled “The Ladder of Inference” that explains how some of the complex and often non-productive behaviors in organizations and groups develop.

 

LadderOfInference

We must be extremely careful not to get caught in the reflexive loop on the ladder of inference because it results in beliefs and actions that are damaging to healthy group and organizational functioning.  Biased views are developed in the reflexive loop, limiting full view or understanding of external data and occurrences.  Each trip around the reflexive loop, without getting to the data, leads to increased misperception and the creation of untrue, biased stories.  I often say, “If you think you know, you don’t grow.”  Is your curiosity deep enough to get to a deeper truth?  Once the ladder of inference is understood, it is easier to remind ourselves to engage more deeply or reengage our curiosity to examine data and explore clearer perceptions.  Belief systems that are driven by curiosity and learning, and are based on accurate information, lead to unlimited potential within a community to create a powerful present and a promising future.

Bonus: If you are working with your students to improve collaboration skills, consider teaching them about the ladder of inference and the importance of curiosity.

EHHS Shared Values emphasized in this blog:

Respect and Empathy

Life Long Learning/Growth

Broad Minded

Collaboration

 

Senge, P. M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C. Ross, R.B., & Smith, B.J. (1994). The Fifth discipline fieldbook: Strategies and tools for building a learning organization. New York: Currency, Doubleday.

Wheatley, M.J. (2005). Finding our way: Leadership for and uncertain time. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Magnifying Glass Image (2011). Retrieved March 22, 2015 from:  http://masterkeysempoweru.com/week-6-beli/

Ladder Image (2011). Retrieved March 21, 2015 from:  http://theleadershipgroup.ca/blog/leadership-is-knowing-when-to-climb-down-the-ladder/

Success: It’s No Secret

Success

There are many people throughout history who have provided poignant comments about success.  Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”  Booker T. Washington said, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which [s]he has overcome.  Eleanor Roosevelt addressed success by saying, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Abraham Lincoln said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”  Malala Yousafzai, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke of the success by saying, “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world.”

I’ve been reflecting on several aspects of success following the successful reaccreditation of six program areas in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services over the past three years.  The most recent was Teacher Education, reaccredited last week with no weaknesses or stipulations.  Counselor Education, Communication Disorders and Sciences, Nutrition, Nursing, and Social Work, along with Teacher Education, all had stellar reviews from site visit teams.  I could not be more proud.  Mediocrity is not an option for us, something that is true for each program in the School of Education, Health, and Human Services.

Success evolves from the collaborative work of many with a clear focus on purpose.  Our purpose, which is to prepare students for academic, professional and personal success, is clear and we meet this purpose daily with a commitment to excellence.  There are ways of being we have had to overcome to achieve this goal.  Robert Haas, a former CEO of Levi Strauss, cared about the values and culture of his company.  Sonnenberg (1993) shared Haas’s perspective on the importance of overcoming conditioned ways of being in order to be successful.  Robert Hass said it is, “difficult to unlearn behaviors that made us successful in the past.  Speaking rather than listening, valuing people like yourself over people from different genders or from different cultures or parts of the organization,  doing things on your own rather than collaborating and  making the decision yourself instead of asking different people for their perspectives.  There is a whole range of behaviors that were highly functional in the old hierarchical organization that are dead wrong in the flatter, more responsive, empowered organizations that we are seeking to become” (p. 18).

Success champions our ability to become an increasingly more responsive, empowered organization where continuous improvement promises an even stronger tomorrow.  This exciting perspective is one that requires continuous growth beyond older and possibly more comfortable ways of operating.  We must be willing to stretch beyond our conditioned comfort zones and conditioned behaviors to achieve our goals at the highest level.

There is a lot in the media today questioning the value of college.  I sleep well at night knowing our programs are giving students the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to make a positive difference on others’ lives.  Our ability to work together toward the focused goal of helping students be successful would rev up Henry Ford.  Our resolve to help students succeed would make Abraham Lincoln proud.  Our ability to discuss great ideas and to develop new programs would cause Eleanor Roosevelt to pause and take notice.  Booker T. Washington would appreciate how we have overcome and learned from obstacles and would be respectful of the way we face new obstacles.  As for Malala Yousafzai, we can strive daily to live up to the power of her words.

Bonus: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now” – Chinese proverb

EHHS Shared Values highlighted in this article:

Excellence in Teaching

Helping Students Achieve Goals

Service

 

Howard, R. (1990). Values make the company: An interview with Robert Haas.  In Sonnenberg, F. (1993). Managing with a conscience: How to improve performance through integrity, trust, and commitment (p. 18).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Image (2004). Retrieved November 1, 2014 from: http://www.bloggang.com/viewdiary.php?id=moonfleet&group=218

When Cliques Go Clunk: Conflict Management

 

Clique Clunk

We place a high value on community and our ability to come together with diverse perspectives to achieve common goals.  There are natural affinities some have in communities because of similar experiences and/or viewpoints.  In a healthy community, there also is an appreciation and acceptance of diverse viewpoints.  This type of group energy can be a strong force for good and can provide a positive environment in which to thrive.  High-functioning groups have a positive approach to conflict with procedures for doing it well.

Other groups still need to develop better approaches to conflict.  For example, there are times when feelings and words lead to reactions and levels of upset that are less than positive.  Kern Beare (2010) said, “…disputes always arise from conflicting perspectives…different assumptions about, and ways of seeing, the world.”  In groups that do not have a common understating about how to have conflict, the road can be treacherous.  When disputes occur, there may even be those who seek others to help champion their perspective.  Cliques can form around various issues and even around conflict; it’s unfortunate that some groups don’t know how to function without the presence of conflict. This requires a paradigm shift with greater knowledge about conflict management.

The word “clique” often has negative connotations based on conditioning from youth.  It conjures up thoughts of possible behaviors such as starting rumors, disparaging remarks, marginalization, or discriminatory actions. These behaviors and others like them reduce the feeling of safety in a community, something that is crucial to functioning well.

Dr. Linda Black, a licensed, Mental Health Counselor, presented a two-day workshop in 2008 for the Teacher Education Unit entitled Guidelines for Managing Crucial Conversations where she went in-depth into the issue of creating safe environments for communication.  Her words of wisdom will resonate with those who attended the workshop and will provide insight for those who were not there.  Dr. Black brought deeper perspective to the concept of what damages the feeling of safety in a community.  She spoke about paying attention to whether people in groups or small groups of people were moving toward silence or violence.  The following helps re-frame these concepts:

  • See if others are moving toward silence or violence.
    • Silence
      • Purpose is to withhold information
      • Masking – understating, sarcasm, sugarcoating, sucking up
      • Avoiding – steering away from sensitive subjects, storytelling, diversions, inappropriate humor
      • Withdrawing – pulling out of a conversation by physically or emotionally exiting.
    • Violence
      • Controlling – forcing your views on others and into the pool of meaning, cutting others off, speaking in absolutes, changing the subject, directive questions, laborious storytelling.
      • Labeling—putting people or ideas under general stereotypes to dismiss them or distort their ideas
      • Attacking—belittling, threatening, bad mouthing, gossiping

Most have not thought of silence and violence in these ways or thought about their culminating negative effect on the feeling of safety in a community.  Dr. Black also emphasized the importance of not having “back hall conversations” that erode trust in the community.  When these behaviors occur, others don’t feel safe and the goals of the community are not reached.  Instead of moving forward smoothly, there is a perceptible “clunk” in the atmosphere of the community and in the movement toward goals.  The clunk occurs when any of the behaviors mentioned by Dr. Black are displayed or even when someone is a bystander to these behaviors.

Actions Dr. Black presented to encourage a safe environment:

  • We can talk about anything if we “stay in there”; emotional cut off is not the best approach.
  • Step back and explore mutual purpose.  Goals and mutual purpose need to be as clear as possible.
  • Get everyone around the table to have important conversations.  Build trust by respecting each other enough to not have back hall conversations.
  • Step out/pause when someone moves to silence or violence.  When safety is restored, go back to dialogue.  Ways of restoring safety include:
    • Check for understanding – When someone says something that results in a strong emotional reaction and threatens the safety of the group, pause and then explain how the words made you feel.  Then, ask the person if that is what s/he intended.
    • Pay attention to emotional bombs – Restoring safety requires everyone to pay attention to emotional bombs that get thrown into the group.  People need to be accountable for their words and the effect they have on the group.  Again, check for understanding.

One of the areas of need we have identified for our students is conflict management.  It is important to model positive collaborative approaches for working within a community of professionals.  We also must be explicit about helping our students develop these professional skills and dispositions.  Let’s do all we can to help each other and our students reach this goal.

Bonus:  “Disagreement is a gift. It’s an invitation to engage in the harder conversations that enable us to grow in understanding ourselves and each other.”  Rabbi Irwin Kula

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted in this blog:

Respect and Empathy

  • Seek to understand before being understood
  • Listening to each other
  • Share what is most important
  • Share our challenges as well as our successes
  • Trust
  • Open-mindedness, acceptance of perspectives
  • Embrace diversity of opinions

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • Self-reflection
  • Caring attitude
  • Continued learning, challenging and changing of our attitudes

Beare, K. (2010)  Perspective, Perception & Response: Thoughts on Evolving a Global Mind. Retrieved October 19, 2014 from: http://globalmindshift.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/perspective-perception-response-thoughts-on-evolving-a-global-mind/

Black, L. (May, 2008). Guidelines for Managing Crucial Conversations. Presented at the Teacher Education Unit retreat.

Image (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2014 from: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/social-networking/information/social-networking-cliques1.htm

Image (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2014 from: http://dunawaydietetics.com/the-water-cooler-overheard-at-the-gym/

Destiny and the Power of Collaboration

star

When we think about destiny, it typically is in the context of an individual.  Words and phrases such as “fate,”  “meant to be,” or “the stars were aligned” are heard when referring to destiny.  There are different cultural contexts related to destiny with themes of an internal or external locus of control; some believe they control their destiny and others do not.

 

As a leader, I think about internal and external risk factors that must be managed to reach goals regardless of or in addition to one’s belief about locus of control.  I also contemplate the destiny of groups.  One approach to shifting or strengthening the winds of destiny is to improve how we collaborate.  This is a 21st century learning skill we identified in our recent community gathering.  We know our students are expected to have this skill if they wish to be successful in today’s job market.  What is the relationship between collaboration and destiny?

 

It is hard to think of any successful person who achieved significant goals without the help of others, both family and non-family.  The success of an individual is based on multiple collaborative efforts.  When thinking about our students, there are many people in their lives, at home and on campus, who help them push beyond self-perceived limits to achieve a destiny some never imagined to be possible.  The more we align our individual and group efforts across campus (collaborate) for the common goal of students’ success, the more powerful our impact will be on their lives.

 

While these are things I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks, I have mainly been focused on how members of academic departments work together with a mindful eye toward what is best for students.  I’ve attended several meetings where it was clear that strong individual beliefs were held in check so the group could move forward with plans that will improve students’ learning.  We recognize that while some believe their way is best, strong individual perspectives can keep a group stuck.  My predecessor used to say that it is about alignment, not agreement (i.e., not everyone in the group will be able to agree, but we can align ourselves to common goals).  This approach appreciates diverse perspectives, and at the same time, helps loosen the grip of rigid individual views.  Ultimately, this collaborative approach shifts and empowers a group’s destiny.

 

What is the destiny of your group?  How well are individuals aligned to meeting common goals?  What internal and external risks must be managed in order to achieve the goals?  What collaborative skills could the group learn that would help achieve a better group and student outcome?

 

The Dean of Library and Information Services shared a powerful document with me last week entitled, Seven Norms of Collaboration: A Supporting Toolkithttp://opi.mt.gov/pub/pdf/RtI/Implement/ExploreB/SevenNormsToolkit.pdf     I encourage you to examine this document and to use it as a discussion topic in a department meeting and in class with your students.  What would it look like for us to hold each other and our students accountable for the seven norms of collaboration?

 

Some of our students’ best learning will come from us modeling and being explicit with the collaborative approaches we use.  Mindful attention to the ways we collaborate changes the course of group destiny and, consequently, the individual destinies of our students.

 

Shared Values addressed in this blog include:

  1. collaboration;
  2. challenging students to create connections and follow passions; and
  3. drawing on diverse perspectives.

creative thinking (1)

 

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I dare say you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  Lewis Carroll

What improvements need to occur to strengthen current programs and attract students to our college?  What new programs do we need to create, especially given that many of the programs in our division are at or above maximum capacity?  What is the best way to do the thinking that will answer these questions?  Do you have some ideas that seem impossible?

There were several interesting articles in the media recently.  One was entitled, “McDonald’s new menu item hints at new strategy” by Dan Moskowitz.  He said, “McDonald’s is slowly moving toward becoming a coffee shop. This might sound ludicrous to those who grew up while eating burgers and fries at McDonald’s, but any company that wants to succeed will implement initiatives that match industry trends or find itself dying a slow and painful death.” This almost seems like an impossible thought, but with current health trends, the author said the future is not in burgers and fries; of course, McDonalds will always sell hamburgers and fries.  There also are many conversations across the county about the future of colleges/universities.  What changes will we need to make to our curriculum (our menu) and what programs do we need to develop to meet the needs of our future students and the needs of society?

I used the Lewis Carroll quote and the McDonald’s article to make the point about the importance of having a creative vision to ensure a strong future.  I have discussed the type of thinking in previous blogs that will help provide answers.   I remind you of Tim Hurson’s (2007) concept of “reproductive thinking” and “productive thinking” from my 2011 blog entitled, “A Penny for Your Thoughts”:

Reproductive thinking is seen when a question is asked and the conditioned response answers are given.  These are answers that may have been used in the past, ones that people grab onto quickly because they are comfortable or familiar (they worked in the past).  Unfortunately, while the problem may seemingly be “solved,” the familiar solution leads to the end of thinking and better approaches are never discovered.

Productive thinking comes after all of the conditioned response answers are given.  Tim writes about breaking deep-thinking sessions into thirds when seeking solutions to problems.  The first third usually contains reproductive thinking, the second third might have some good ideas in it, but the final third is where you find the gold.  Creative, out-of-the-box thinking only comes after reproductive thinking is out of the way.  Tim once said, “The questions from which you learn the most are the ones you don’t know the answers to.”

Tim Hurson also advocates using a process for proposing ideas, even if they seem impossible, without making any positive or negative judgments about them as they are being proposed; judgments shut down creative thinking.  Critical thinking about what gets proposed comes later.  Tim sent me his newest book last week that will be published this July.  He and his co-author, Tim Dunne, addressed the process of developing ideas by saying, “…don’t take the first right answer.  Wait until you’ve been able to generate lots of answers and then decide which one[s] might be the most useful” (p. 13).  I think it would be fascinating for everyone in various programs in our Division and for groups in the college to go through this process.

The answers to our future around program improvement and around the development of new programs and services are within everyone who works at and attends our college.  Margaret Wheatley said, “We need each other’s best thinking and most courageous experiments if we are to create a future worth wanting” (p. 99).  She also said, “…we can’t design anything that works without the involvement of all those it affects” (p. 110).   Some of our best thinking and answers have already been revealed in action plans that accompany the new Campus Plan, but there is more gold to be mined.  What questions did we not ask in when developing the Campus Plan and action plans that need answers?

Be assured, some things will not change drastically in the future.  Another interesting article I read recently was entitled, “Future economy: Many will lose jobs to computers” by John Shinal.  He said:

The jobs that will persist in the future include those that either take advantage of uniquely-human traits – such as manual dexterity, creativity and emotional intelligence – or that improve the lives of other humans directly in a face-to-face setting.

For example, dentists, nutritionists, athletic trainers, podiatrists, elementary school teachers and occupational, recreational and mental health therapists all have a less than 1 percent chance of being replaced by computer software, say Frey and Osborne (2013; click here for the paper; see the appendix).

We clearly have many professions within our Division that capitalize on improving people’s lives in face-to-face settings.  It seems imperative that we be the best at what we do in preparing students for helping professions; thus, there is always room for improvement.  The better we do our jobs, the better our graduates will be at providing service to others; our mission of preparing students for academic, professional and personal success will be achieved.

It is important to think creatively and to understand the most productive process for getting results from creative thinking.  It also is important to understand those things that will not change due to the necessity of face-to-face interactions, but can still be improved.  As we do this work together, the power of positive relationships cannot be underestimated in the overall context of creating a powerful, positive future.  In the spirit of Margaret Wheatley, as we look to the future, I know it is the strength of our relationships and the number, variety, and strength of our connections that will create a motivating and meaningful present.

Bonus: Click here to watch Tim Hurson’s Ted Talk entitled, “The shock of the possible

Shared Values Highlighted in this blog: Broad-mindedness and Creativity

Carroll, L. (1865). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London: MacMillan Publishing Co.

Frey, C.B. & Osborne, M. (2013). The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?  Oxford, UK: Academic Publication.

Hurson, T. (2007). Think Better: An innovator’s guide to productive thinking. New York: McGraw Hill.

Hurson, T., & Donne, T. (July 2014). Never be closing: How to sell better without screwing your clients, your colleagues, or yourself. Taylor Fleming Portfolio/Penguin Group USA.

Image (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2014 from:  http://smart-decisions.net/articles/things-you-didnt-know-about-yourself-12-facts-about-your-creativity

Moskowitz, D. (2014, March 21). McDonald’s new menu item hints at new strategy. USA Today. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/03/21/mcdonalds-new-menu-item/6705499/

Shinal, J. (2014, March 21). Future economy: Many will lose jobs to computers. USA Today. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/2014/03/21/software-tech-economy-work/6707457/

Wheatley, M.J. (2005). Finding our way: Leadership for and uncertain time. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

We Are A Mighty Ship

Wind Spirit

We are a mighty ship, built with the support, sacrifice and love of our families, as well as our determination, passion, and the will to make a positive difference. As Maya Angelou said, “Someone was here before me and someone has already paid for me.  I have a responsibility to pay for someone else who is yet to come.” Our teachers and mentors taught us how to sail and, as Maya Angelou would say, paid our way as did those before them who never knew our names.

Members of the Leadership Learning Group recently discussed the ship metaphor in the context of our academic community and leadership.  As we played with our thoughts, we talked about the students on our ship with their hopes, dreams and determination being the wind that fills our ship’s sails.  The power of our hopes, dreams and determination fill the sails too.  As an academic community, we have the responsibility to teach our students how to sail.  The ship’s rudder, our compass, and the stars represent our shared values, our strategic initiatives, and our mission. There is an almost magical quality to our ship because we have the ability to change its design as we go.  The seas capture multiple meanings of our ever-changing environment, including requirements from outside entities, that sometimes make the water rough.  And yes, there are storms, but as a community we adjust the sails to protect and focus on what is most important for our journey together.

This semester, the Leadership Learning Group is reading Margaret Wheatley’s book, Finding Our Way.  She wrote about our ability to come together and organize by saying, “Organization is a process, not a structure.”  She said, “…the process of organizing involves developing relationships from a shared sense of purpose, exchanging and creating information, learning constantly, paying attention to the results of our efforts, coadapting, coevolving, developing wisdom as we learn, staying clear about our purpose, being alert to changes from all directions” (p. 27).  Our leadership group talked about what leadership looked like on the ship.  It is important to realize we all have a responsibility for leadership.  As for the Captain, we trust s/he has had the experience of sailing long journeys with a good crew and knows when to make appropriate course adjustments to protect the community.

Our traditional, hierarchical model of leadership is necessary at some level, but a rigid hierarchy can result in people placing too much responsibility on leaders.  Margaret Wheatley addressed this by saying, “We observe a world where creative self-expression and embracing systems of relationships are the organizing energies, where there is no such thing as an independent individual and no need for a leader to take on as much responsibility for us as we’ve demanded in the past” (p. 22).  This speaks to the responsibility of leaders to continually appreciate the power within groups to create a powerful present and a promising future.

We are a mighty ship with a top speed that gives us time to be thoughtful and caring on our journey.  There are multiple ports of call where our students will get off of the ship to rest at the end of a semester and as they return, new passengers will join them.  This is a dynamic process with a final port that brings a graduation ceremony where some of the passengers will disembark to create their own professional communities.  The ability of our academic community to engage students’ learning of knowledge, skills and dispositions will determine their ability to be effective community members. Whether the sea is calm or rough, this is our primary focus as we pay it forward.

Wheatley, M.J. (2005). Finding our way: Leadership for and uncertain time. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

LaNae’, T. (2012, July). A Conversation with Dr. Maya Angelou. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from  http://mayaangelou.com/news/13/

Image (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2014 from: http://www.windstarcruises.com/deckPlan.aspx?plan=wind_spirit

Meaningful Conversations

Convergence Blog

An American philosopher, Tom Morris, when asked what mattered in life, responded by saying, “I believe everything matters.”  This is especially true of communication, it all matters.  When you come into my office, you see the abstract painting shown above on my wall.  This painting represents a conversation. The green and blue lines symbolize two speakers with multiple perspectives.  You will notice that the brightest colors are in the middle of the painting where the speakers multiple perspectives intersect.  These four brightly colored areas symbolize discovery and a deepening of understanding.

Our shared values contain a statement that came from Stephen Covey who said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  He also said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  One of my early mentors in the field of Communication Disorders and Sciences was Dr. Kenneth Burk, who used to say that listening well is hard work.  When people are “in the zone” of good communication, they listen and then ask questions that clarify or reveal more depth about what is being said.  After someone says something, it may take a few seconds to develop a good question.  Herein lies another important skill modeled by Dr. Burk, the ability to be comfortable with a few seconds of silence as meaningful questions are formed.  He knew the power of silence and was comfortable with it when forming questions and when waiting for responses.

As a Speech-Language Pathologist and a leader, I understand the complexity of communication and the extra effort needed to do it well.  The speed, tone, consonantal stress, nonverbals, and the right words all matter.  Maya Angelou once said, “Words are things, I’m convinced. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes, and finally, into you.  We must be careful about the words we use.” Whether it is with students or colleagues, it is worth the extra effort to bring your best self to the conversation by paying attention to the subtleties that expand horizons, heal wounds, or warm hearts..

Some conversations are difficult and may require courage.  The difficult conversations invite us to be mindful about the previously mentioned communicative subtleties.  This mindfulness preserves the dignity of all who are communicating or conveys empathy with others in clinical/practicum sites.  I challenge my graduate students each week with clinical scenarios where they practice coming up with the right words to respond to patients or parents; this is time well spent.

Good communicative interactions create positive energy.  We feel a deeper engagement with students and our colleagues as this happens and experience a warping of time where minutes evaporate quickly.  Those instances where we say, “Where did the time go?” provide an energy all their own.  You feel this energy, for example, when teaching classes where students are highly engaged or when communicating with colleagues where the sharing of multiple perspectives creates deeper understanding or new ideas.

The name of my painting is Convergence, a coming together if you will.  Thoughtful conversations empower our community to come together for the betterment of everyone so we can fulfill our mission of preparing students for academic, professional and personal success.  As in the painting, this is where you will find the brightest spaces.

Maya Angelou quote (2012). Retrieved February 16, 2014 from: http://jewishpostopinion.com/?page_id=1608

Covey, S. (1989 ). The seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Free Press.

Thomas V. Morris http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_V._Morris

Dr. Burk2
Dr. Kenneth Burk

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